Rich Warren: A reader wonders about best online streaming movie source

Rich Warren: A reader wonders about best online streaming movie source

You want your movies, and you want them now. Not when the mail arrives. Not when the cable channel deigns to show them. Thus, this reader query:

"I have DVD Netflix by mail service now and wish to drop this mailing program. I wish to subscribe to Netflix through my PC as advised. Is the best dedicated hardware box the Roku box? My Vizio 44-inch TV is 720p, not 1080p. I wish to get movies directly at a convenient time. Do I go through the PC to the TV for viewing? And how can I do it?"

Your multifaceted question is too complex to answer completely in print. Netflix is an excellent source of online movies, but it lacks contracts with all the movie studios. Thus, you will find quite a few movies missing from its online service. The same is true for other online services such as Amazon, iTunes and Blockbuster. Assuming you settle on Netflix, the Roku box is a good and economical choice, eliminating the need for a PC. Most game consoles can stream Netflix (PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Wii) as well as most DVD and Blu-ray players.

A TiVo DVR also can be programmed to work with Netflix, but it requires its own monthly fee that's considerably more than the Netflix subscription. A Kindle Fire, iPad, iPhone and Windows phone also can stream Netflix (and other services). Each choice comes with advantages and disadvantages that it would take this entire e3 section to list.

Let's return to the Roku box, probably the easiest and cheapest way to enjoy Netflix. The Roku LT costs $50 and delivers 720p. If you want instant video replay, spend $10 more for the Roku HD. For full 1080p high definition you have to spend $80 for the Roku 2 XD.

Apple markets the most elegant and perhaps simplest Internet box, Apple TV, for $100. When it comes to memorable names Boxee makes a versatile box for $100 that also works with broadcast or cable.

If you wish to use an existing PC, the computer must incorporate outputs compatible with the inputs on your TV; in most cases that would be HDMI. Assuming your PC is up to the task, you need no additional hardware to view Netflix and other video services on your TV. However, for $60, I'd recommend the Roku box instead of a PC if all you want is movies.

Connecting Roku or Apple TV should be a snap. Just follow the prompts for subscribing to Netflix, and you'll be watching movies in 10 minutes. If you don't feel comfortable with this, spend the extra $60 or so and ask someone from Good Vibes, Premier Sound and Design, Picture Perfect Sound, or an independent contractor such as Jesse Swinderman to come over and connect a system for you.

A somewhat related question comes from this reader who wants to avoid cable:

"My father lives in the Champaign area and was considering DirecTV, but a friend of mine said dish (satellite) based Internet isn't the best compared to cable. What is your opinion?"

Satellite Internet connectivity is very expensive, slow and can be disrupted by severe weather. It is mainly for those without other options.

Cable or DSL Internet is far superior. If, for some reason you don't wish to connect with Comcast, Mediacom, AT&T or Frontier, a cellular modem using the cell phone network (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, et.al.) can provide Internet connectivity. Again, this is more expensive and slower than cable or DSL but superior to satellite-based Internet, and packages are available to work with your smartphone.

If you have questions for or issues with Comcast, please email them to me as I will be meeting with a Comcast representative shortly and would be pleased to be your ombudsman with the cable company.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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DEB wrote on February 28, 2013 at 9:02 am

In Champaign (and Urbana), Volo Broadband also provides a number of excellent internet options, usually faster and cheaper than the cable alternatives if one does not also purchase a tv subscription. (Volo also has TV options for streaming, but does not have programming packages.)  Yes, I'm a Volo fan, our own locally grown alternative.

Second, I think it should be noted that attaching the computer to the TV is the better option for some people because-- as Rich stated in an earlier column on this same topic-- none of the boxes (ROKU, Apple, etc.) allow you to access all of the streaming media sites. If all you want is Netflix, any of the boxes should be fine. But if you also want Hulu, YouTube, AllMyFavs, etc (there are many), you need to look closely at the box to see if it covers the ones you want to use since none to my knowledge are universal web browsers.