Web TV 101: Making A Connection

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.

Set-Top Boxes

Apple TV

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).

Vudu

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.

Roku

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.

Game Console

PlayStation 3

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.

Blu-Ray Players

Several Blu-ray players will connect right to the Internet. But like TVs, at this point they only provide limited access.

What's Coming

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.

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