HOWTO - Watching Internet TV on an HDTV

| Tips

In a world where some people are confused about the DTV conversion, composite vs. component video, and each industry player protecting its turf, Internet and TV convergence has a long way to go. However, for those who'd like to buy some cable and have a science fair mentality, it isn't hard to get Internet TV onto the big screen in the living room.

High Definition TVs are just now starting to appear with Ethernet connections. But with every vendor singing deals, protecting turf, and wanting to lock customers in, one has to think for a bit about how to get TV from the Internet onto the living room HDTV free of gotchas.

ABC- Lost

ABC uses its own browser Plug-in (Lost)

The first thing to remember is that prime content streamed on the Internet by ABC.com, Hulu.com (NBC + FOX) and TV.com (CBS), etc is generally standard definition. And, because it is streamed, content is not savable to disk. Some content may be in higher quality, but the streaming nature is intended to prevent saving the content. If all you want to do is watch TV, and you aren't too fussy about quickly finding the exact episode of interest, then getting one of these sites, in a browser, on your HDTV isn't hard to do.

For those who have a Mac with DVI output, one way to achieve this is to buy a DVI to HDMI cable. Because DVI carries only the video, you'll also need a 3.5 mm mini jack to Stereo RCA cable for the audio -- unless you're satisfied to hear the sound form the Mac or have a long headset cord. These cables should be available at any home electronics store like Best Buy. A workable wiring diagram looks like this:

Wiring diagram

I'd suggest having the Mac running, attach the video cable to the TV first on the HDMI side, then, connect the DVI side to the Mac. You'll need to be in "mirror" mode, via the System Preferences -> Display. Once you have the Mac's desktop appearing on your HDTV, and the giddiness subsides, then connect the audio cables.

Hulu - House

Hulu (NBC + FOX) requires just a browser (House)

For those who have a MacBook of some kind, note that lid closed operation requires the A/C adapter to be plugged in. Also, if you intend to sit on the couch and remotely operate the Mac, a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse help a lot. Apple has published a article on how to operate in lid closed mode.

Perhaps the best Mac for all this is a Mac mini sitting close to the TV. MacBooks with lid closed would be second best.

My wife and I tried this same set up over the last weekend, and it worked perfectly, just as in the wiring diagram shown above. All we needed to buy extra was the wireless keyboard and the DVI to HDMI cable (which came from Belkin). Total cost: about $100.

Numb3rs

TV.com (CBS) requires only a browser (Numb3rs)

Of course, as soon as you have the Mac OS X desktop displayed on your HDTV, all kinds of doors open, including watching (unprotected, i.e., no DRM) content from iTunes, as well as content from Miro, boxee, YouTube and so on.

The Gotchas

Projects like this can be tricky because there are so many options. I steered away from complications because one can get lost in details, cables, options, protected content, and so on. For example:

  • Older Macs, like the PowerMac G5 and early Mac Pros, can still output protected content because the only recourse they have is a DVI connector. Apple customers complained about this recently when Apple tried to clamp down, and Apple relented. All new Macs will have DisplayPort for protected content, so users of the latest Mac Pro will need to have the right kind of display: an HDMI capable HDTV plus the interface, or an Apple display with DisplayPort.
  • Modern Macs, MacBooks and iMacs, with built-in displays can display protected content on the native screen, but block it from external DVI connectors. However, there's no problem with Internet TV.
  • DisplayPort is like HDMI. It can carry protected content, audio and video.
  • Modern MacBooks with DisplayPort can use a DisplayPort to DVI connector before going from DVI to HDMI. That gets you unprotected content only because of the DVI in the middle.
  • If you want to send protected content from, say iTunes, on your MacBook to the big screen, you need either a USB to HDMI converter device or a DisplayPort to HDMI converter device. These devices are becoming more readily available.
  • Of course, the latest Mac mini has both DisplayPort and DVI outputs, so you can pick the way you want to go.
  • This setup doesn't take into account a possible A/V receiver in the mix, and if you have one of those units, I'll guess that you know how to set up the pass through.
  • Getting the Internet to the Mac is probably easiest with Wi-Fi and a wireless router -- unless you're fortunate enough to have a functioning Ethernet jack on the wall behind your TV.
  • I haven't tested this setup with Netflix and HD content. Netflix uses a Silverlight plugin, and whether it will send HD content out on DVI remains to be tested. I'll report when I do the test.

Summary

There is no wiring mode that does everything. Various products have different limitations, different connectors, and there are lots of sources to work with and modes to be in. However, if all you want to do is watch plain-jane Internet TV from major websites on your HDTV, this method worked for me on a last generation Merom-based MacBook Pro and should work for you with any modern Mac that has DVI output.

Audio

Audio cable: credit: www.youritronics.com

Video

Video cable, DVI to HDMI. Credit: www.tvcables.com


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Comments

Spider

For those that already have one, a PS3 is a good thing to have for this.

Sony includes the browser and the Flash plug in allowing a person to watch Hulu and more quite easily. YouTube recently even brought a TV interface so that watching videos on the TV through a browser is easier and looks better. Full screen works perfectly on these.

As for media from the Mac, one just needs a media server. EyeTV or EyeConnect software from El Gato has this. It won’t play DRM files to the PS3, and you are limited to files that the PS3 will read (although MPEG-4 and Divx are both supported, which means you can watch a hi-def MPEG-4 easily), but it works quite well.

Not as spiffy as having a Mac there waiting to be used, but it does pretty much the same thing and the PS3 is already hooked up with HDMI (if a person has it hooked up right wink )

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