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Consumer Reports finds that streaming online movies directly to TV is ready for prime time

Posted Saturday, April 10, 2010

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YONKERS, NY — Getting online content on TV is easier than ever. A growing number of Internet-capable TVs and Blu-ray players allow consumers to stream video from the Web to the big screen via a broadband connection. Consumer Reports latest Ratings of TVs and Blu-ray players that can stream movies online includes more than 20 sets from $1,000 and four players from $150. Lab tests also revealed that set up and access to online content was easy and picture quality was decent if not quite up to the claimed resolution.

Consumer Reports tests also found another dozen or so TVs that can stream other types of content aside from movies; however, Internet browser capabilities on Web-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players are limited. Viewers can watch videos from YouTube; news, sports and more from Yahoo!; digital photos stored on Picasa and Flickr; and music from Internet radio stations such as Pandora and Slacker. Some of the content is free. Movies and TV episodes are pay-per-view or, with Netflix, included with a subscription. Other online streaming services include Amazon Video on Demand, Blockbuster on Demand and Vudu.

Aside from Web-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, there are other devices available that offer access to streaming movies and online content including the TiVo HD DVR, $250 and two game consoles: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, $200 and up, and Sony’s PlayStation 3, $300, which includes a Blu-ray player and a Web browser. There are also dedicated boxes that connect to an existing broadband service via a wired or wireless (Wi-Fi) hookup. Some of the streaming services, such as Vudu also offer their own boxes for a fee.

Things to Consider

Which Net-cable gear? Each hardware brand has partnered with specific services; content may vary for different players or TVs within a brand. Consumers who are upgrading from a standard DVD player to a Blu-ray player should consider an Internet-enabled model as it costs much less than upgrading to a TV that can receive the Web and gets the same content. Boxes dedicated to streaming video are available from Roku, HD, $80, and MediaPoint, free with $99 worth of Blockbuster movie rentals. AppleTV, $229, allows access to the iTunes video library, and Vudu has a box for $149. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3 can stream content from Netflix.

Which brand? Each hardware brand has partnered with specific services; content may vary for different players or TVs within a brand. Consumer Reports’ March issue identifies which online streaming services have partnered with what brands of TVs and Blu-ray players or other devices. Just because a TV or Blu-ray player is Internet-capable, it may not be able to stream content from a desired service. For example, Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players that are Web-enabled can stream content from all the service providers Consumer Reports looked at; however, Panasonic enabled devices can only stream content from Amazon Video on Demand from among the streaming services Consumer Reports looked at.

Which movie services? The major streaming movie services offer immediate access to tens of thousands of titles and most are available on demand. The vast majority of offerings are standard-definition, but there are some HD videos. Vudu’s HDX movie format was the only movie stream that looked like real HD but required the high end of most broadband providers’ standard service (4.5 to 9Mbps). Most charge per rental except for Netflix which offers unlimited streaming which is included with monthly plans starting at $9.
The complete report “TV meets Web” is available in the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports available wherever magazines are sold. Portions of the story are available for free online at ConsumerReports.org.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

 
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