With seriously large amounts of content online from YouTube to Hulu to Vimeo, there’s never been a better time to get a TV that can access online content. But there are pitfalls: Certain sets have content restrictions, while others lack key features you might want. Here’s our helpful guide to getting a better grasp on these web-connected sets.Connection Issues
Depending on the manufacturer, you’ll need to hook your TV to the net through an ethernet connection or — better yet — purchase a set with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, such as Sony’s XBR-LX900 or many of Vizio’s sets. Some models like the LG 55LE8500 require you to purchase a separate dongle to get hooked into Wi-Fi.
One word on your internet connection: We’d recommend having a download speed of 2.5 Mbps or more in order to stream content without experiencing buffering or hiccups.
Applications (sometimes called “widgets” depending on the TV brand) can access different forms of web content and are either pulled up through a selective list (LG, Sony), a task bar on the bottom of the screen (Vizio), or iPhone-esque tile interface (Samsung, Panasonic).
Sony’s new Google TV stands out from this crowd, because it’s search-centric instead of widget-centric. The idea is simple: Type in the name of a program you want to watch, say, The Daily Show. Google TV will scour the internet along with your cable feed and give you options for watching clips of Jon Stewart on YouTube, catching his show live on Comedy Central, or recording the program directly to your DVR. It can even multitask, allowing you to pull up web pages while watching TV.What You Can Access
Different sets have different apps and methods of accessing content. Here’s a dance card of which apps are baked into which manufacturers’ TV sets.
Amazon Video On Demand: Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Vizio
Blockbuster On Demand: Samsung, Vizio (coming soon).
Hulu Plus: Samsung, Sony, Vizio.
Netflix: LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio.
Vudu: LG, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Toshiba, Vizio.
Pandora: Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio, Mitsubishi.
Skype: Panasonic, Samsung.Cost
Outside of your internet service provider’s fee, you’ll pay a few bucks more for web TV, depending on where you get your streaming content. Vudu’s high-quality movies run anywhere from $2 to $6. Blockbuster charges around $3 or $4 for adaptive standard streaming quality. Amazon VOD runs about $2 per TV episode and $4 for a movie rental.
A cheaper alternative, if you watch more than one or two shows per month, is to sign up for Hulu Plus or Netflix for $10 a month. However, Hulu runs advertisements and has a stingier selection of movies than Netflix. Plus, the $10 Netflix subscription includes unlimited free DVD rental, one disc at a time.Limitations
Your internet bandwidth may not be the only restriction you’ll have to deal with. Sony’s Google TV search engine hit a wall with blocked content from Hulu and major networks, including ABC, CBS and NBC. The upshot is that Google TV users can still view cable and over-the-air content from these networks, but can’t access their web-video feeds.
The streaming market is new, and some corporations are learning to play along better than others. In other words, expect a lot to change in the coming year.