Connecting Your Computer to Your HDTV for Streaming Video

March 2011

What? Another column about watching Internet video on your HDTV? The fourth one in a row? What is your Internet columnist thinking?

He’s thinking, “Man, this is so cool I’ve got to tell my readers about it, even at the risk of boring them with my one-track parade of articles.” Next month it’ll be something different. I promise.

After using an Apple TV, and after connecting my computer to my TV, it turns out that the latter is my favorite solution. I had an old MacBook laptop in my closet, and this is a perfect use for it.

The range and quality of programming available is amazing — including a lot of high-definition content. Briefly, I can use the Hulu and Boxee applications with a remote to watch movies, TV shows, documentaries, Internet video, and more. And I use ESPN3.com for sports.

I’ve had my setup going for the past couple weeks, and have sampled the Australian Open, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, NBC Nightly News, part of a movie on Hulu, a Nova program on human origins, Wired.com reports from the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, CNET reports also from CES, and more. Boxee even streams movies from the VUDU service that are Blu-ray quality at 1080p. A lot of content is free, while other content, such as VUDU, requires payment.

So let’s talk a bit what’s available:

Boxee — To access Boxee content you need to download their free software, which runs on both Mac and PC. The really cool part is that you can use a remote to control the software. You boot up the application on your computer, but then you never need to leave your couch. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or an Android phone, you can also download an app to use your phone or iPad as a remote.

Boxee gives you access to two broad sources of content: music, video, and photos already on your computer; and music, movies, and TV shows on the Internet. It integrates both sources into one, handy, remote-controlled interface.

There are over 40,000 TV episodes and movies available through Boxee. You can browse by category or do a search. Some providers have blocked Boxee from streaming their content, but so far the major networks haven’t done so.

In addition to Boxee’s browse and search function, it also has over 200 apps integrated into the interface. Essentially these are windows onto the offerings of specific web video sites, such as Netflix, YouTube, Google Videos, College Humor, Wired.com, CNET, and Break.

Hulu — This service can be accessed either via a regular web browser or via the Hulu Desktop software (free). If you use the latter option, it also works with a remote. There is quite a lot of free content, but a much wider selection of content is available via Hulu Plus, which costs $8 per month. Hulu’s navigation is somewhat more intuitive than Boxee’s, and it has a wide range of finely grained categories that you can browse.

Both Boxee and Hulu have some neat features, such as the ability to create a playlist or queue, as well as a social networking component. Boxee even lets you view your Twitter and Facebook feeds.

ESPN3.com — To access streaming sports via ESPN3, your Internet provider needs to subscribe. Most of them do. The quality is excellent. I watched the Australian Open in high definition. There’s no application to download; you simply use your web browser.

So how do you connect? The Boxee website has excellent instructions. In general, you need to look at your computer or manual to see what kind of output ports you have, and then see what kind of input ports you have on your TV. The TV acts as an external monitor for your computer.

I tried connecting both via HDMI and VGA, and both looked great. I ended up going with the latter. My laptop has a miniDVI port, so I bought a miniDVI-to-VGA adaptor and a VGA cable, which connected to my TV. I also connected the audio-out port on my laptop to the audio-in port on my TV using a standard 3.5 MM male-to-male stereo cable. Then, to connect my laptop to the Internet, I got a D-Link wireless router for $25.

Ok, that’s the last streaming video column. Until the next one.

This month’s hot tips:

Dropbox is a popular online service for storing, backing up, sharing, and syncing files. You get 2GB of free storage. Livestation lets you watch live streaming TV stations from around the world. If you want to get TV the old way (over the air), use AntennaWeb to see which antenna to get.

© 2011 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen