From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
And as we begin this segment, we want to remind our listeners that we're experiencing some technical difficulties that prevent us from bringing to you all of the sounds that you normally hear in our reporting throughout the world, but we are able to speak to our reporters, and right now, we turn to Laura Sydell.
She's going to talk to us about March Madness. Are you ready for March Madness? Well, pull up a comfortable chair in front of your computer. College basketball's big event is now going to be streamed on the Internet, high - live in high-def. Of course, that means that no comfy couch, perhaps a comfortable chair and you better be careful not to spill your beer on your mouse pad.
Laura Sydell is with us now to talk about this. Laura, instead of watching TV and the Internet, why can't we just get the whole Internet out of our TVs?
LAURA SYDELL: Well, that is a complicated question. The truth is is that at this point, there really is no technological reason. For a long time, you had people who didn't have broadband, so you couldn't get really high-quality video, and indeed, people didn't have it.
Now, you have - basically 60 percent of Americans have broadband. So there's no reason, technically, they can't get it and there's even a lot of content online now. You mentioned March Madness. That's just the beginning. You can go to Web sites, for example, like Hulu where you can get hit Fox and NBC shows like "The Simpsons," or you can go to Juiced. You can get CBS shows like "CSI." You can even get all these pretty wonderful, archived classic movies, Shirley Temple movies, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, all kinds of great stuff. It's all out there, but you're not actually able to get it on your TV.
NORRIS: And now, you have to explain that. Why exactly can't we get it on our TV? You held out the promise. Why can't it happen?
SYDELL: It's a good question. Well, many people will tell you that I've talked to that right now, there's - the cable companies really have no interest in seeing it happen.
If you're a cable company right now, you have two streams of revenue, right? You have broadband and you have cable. So I pay a certain fee, you pay a certain fee, we get our cable programs. They give us 70 channels; we watch maybe nine of those channels. Plus, you're paying for your broadband, so you're getting that. So they don't particularly want to rush it. The people who actually make the content, who I think eventually are perfectly fine with the idea of us getting it over the Internet aren't quite ready because right now, they're making most of their money from television ads. They haven't really figured out: How am I economically going to get this to work online? Are people going to pay per show? Are we going to do it via ads? So they're perfectly happy to slow down this - what is probably an inevitable transition.
NORRIS: So the cable companies don't necessarily want to see this happen. I imagine there are a lot of employers who probably don't want to see this happen either because it might step on productivity.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: But I'm wondering if the cable companies and the TV networks, if in the end, they're going to be able to actually slow this down or if that train has already left the station. It's just a matter of when we're actually going to see this.
SYDELL: It's starting to leave the station. I mean, you have - there's, for example, there's a company called Boxy, and Boxy provides you with this software you can put on your computer, and if you can sort of jimmy rig and connect your computer to the television set - but of course, the problem is right, you'd have to use a keyboard, and who wants to sit on the couch with a keyboard? Boxy is this software you put on your computer and then you can sit there with a remote control and navigate certain places, video places on the Internet.
They actually got into a little trouble because Hulu came to them and said stop putting our stuff on your program. We're not ready for this yet. So there's a little bit of a struggle going on there right now.
NORRIS: One last question, Laura, what about quality?
SYDELL: You know, at this point you really can get pretty high-quality stuff. You know, already, you're seeing, you know, Juiced and Hulu, they have some pretty high-quality stuff. There are - I want to say there are some devices, too, like Apple TV and a variety of devices where you can get some Internet access.
I just want to leave you with one last thought, which somebody had pointed out to me, which was that, you know, the advent of television was actually slowed down back in the days of radio by David Sarnoff, who was the CEO of the Radio Corporation of America. He basically put it in the basement for about 10 years so he could milk all the money he could out of radio.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SYDELL: That's what I'm told, at any rate.
NORRIS: Well, Laura, thank you very much.
SYDELL: You're quite welcome.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Laura Sydell.
This year you'll be able to stream all but one of the March Madness basketball games live online in high definition right onto your computer. This is just the tip of the iceberg of all the great video content that can now be found online.
There are no simple or cheap ways to connect your TV to the Internet, but there are a growing number of limited and partially satisfying options for those who want to get out of their desk chair and onto the living room couch.
This little box starts at $229 for 40 GB of memory and $329 for 160 GB. All you have to do is hook the Apple TV box up to your Internet connection through an Ethernet cable or wirelessly. Then, using a remote, you can purchase and download movies and television shows — available in regular or high-definition — from the iTunes store. The downside is that it doesn't provide you with access to anything on the Internet but the iTunes store, and you have to pay for each show or movie (the latter can also be rented).
Like Apple TV, Vudu — available for $149 — allows you to rent or buy movies in high-definition. It also will provide access to some television programs. But the emphasis is on movies, which start at $4 to rent.
For the rather reasonable price of $100, Roku hooks your TV up to on-demand streaming video from both Netflix and Amazon.com. On Amazon, you can rent or buy TV shows and movies for as little as 99 cents. Amazon promises as many as 40,000 titles. For those who already have a Netflix membership, you no longer have to mail back DVDs and wait. Some 12,000 films and shows are available instantly from the online Netflix store at no additional cost with a regular monthly membership fee of $9.
This is the best option right now if you want complete access to the Internet. This isn't just for game players, although it's hard to imagine that anyone but a game lover would be willing to fork over $400 for it. Sony has designed the PS3 as both a gaming console and a home entertainment center. You can use it to watch HD Blu-ray movies, store photos and connect to the Internet. For those who want full access to the Internet and the ability to surf the Web with a remote control rather than a keyboard, this may be the best option out there. When you're not playing games, the PS3's game controller acts like a TV remote and allows you to easily click on icons and navigate around your media files and the Web.
Televisions Connected To The Internet
Several manufacturers now make TVs that offer limited access to the Internet. Samsung is among the best: It has a television that will connect to your in-home wireless Internet access. Samsung's TV offers limited connectivity (so far, no one gives you complete access), but it will allow you to get the stock ticker and local weather from the Internet. You'll pay for this connectivity. Best Buy says these Samsung TVs go for around $1,499.
Several Blu-ray players will connect right to the Internet. But like TVs, at this point they only provide limited access.
Come spring and summer, televisions offering more robust Internet connectivity will hit the market.
Some will let you access services like Netflix without purchasing a set-top box. LG Electronics promises to have a Netflix-connected TV.
Others will introduce TVs capable of connecting to open-source software widgets, such as Yahoo Widgets. This will allow people who are creating Internet-only programming to broadcast directly to these TVs, opening up an entirely new world for program producers.
Although this first generation of Internet-connected televisions will have limited access, Forrester Research entertainment analyst James McQuivey says that in the future — as access opens up — manufacturers will find ways to upgrade the devices you already own.