There’s no need to sit on the couch or lay in bed watching Netflix on your laptop. There are many ways to watch streaming video on a proper TV, whether you have an HDMI-enabled computer, an older machine, or a Netflix-ready device.
You can watch Netflix movies, other streaming videos, and TV shows on your television by using a computer hooked up to the TV, with any one of the Netflix-ready devices, and now with Google’s ChromeCast.
Got an HDTV? Got a computer with an HDMI port? Then getting Internet video rolling on the big screen is probably easier than you thought — connect the two with a standard HDMI cable and you’re good to go. That single cable will carry both audio and video from your computer to the television.
When it comes to choosing a cable, I always go for the cheap option. While I’m no video pro it seems like common knowledge that the fancy cables are marketing hype with a big price tag.
An HTPC — Home Theater PC — is simply a computer dedicated to your media and hooked up to your TV. It sits in the entertainment center with the other set-top boxes and uses the TV as its monitor. This is one of my preferred methods of watching Internet video because it doesn’t involve rearranging machines or continually disconnecting and re-connecting a laptop.
Some companies sell pre-made HTPCs, but I chose to build my own the first time around. It’s just like building any other computer… you pick a board with the right outputs and a processor that can handle high def video. My circa-2009 HTPC consisted of:
- 4 GB of memory
- ASUS HDMI micro ATX motherboard
- Two 1 TB hard drives
- DVD Burner
- Blu Ray Drive
- 2.5 ghz AMD Phenom processor
- Silverstone Media Center case with 6 hard drive bays
I’m not going to link these specific parts since they’re outdated, but hopefully this list will give you a few ideas.
Lately, most retail systems come with HDMI output and enough power to process high definition video. After this machine ran its course I went with a Mac Mini and a Drobo for extra storage.
Older computers without HDMI ports can still be connected to a TV. Some have s-video, and others can be hooked up with a simple adapter going from HDMI or composite video (the yellow video jack) to whatever the computer’s display output happens to be. Here are the various types of display ports you’ll find:
These outputs carry video only, and HDMI only carries audio and video in certain situations. To hear sound, your options are:
- Turn up the speakers on your computer.
- Connect your computer’s audio output to your sound system.
- If using composite video, use an adapter to connect your computer’s audio output to your TV’s composite audio input (the red & white inputs). Be sure to use the same input that’s connected to the video cable).
Apple Macintosh computers made after Q4 2008 have a Mini DisplayPort for connecting to external displays. The Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Cable allows them to connect to an HDTV via HDMI cable (sold separately).
Older Macs may have Mini-DVI. There is an Apple Mini-dvi To Video Adapter which has both composite video and s-video.
Still older Macs have built-in s-video output.
Windows PCs have a mix of different ports for connecting to external displays. Check your computer’s technical specifications to find out if it has built-in HDMI, composite video, s-video, DVI or VGA. If your TV has an input matching your PC’s video output then you can connect them with the appropriate cable. If not, you will need to get an adapter.
Many home entertainment devices now come Netflix-ready. Connect these devices to your TV and your home network, and you can sign into your Netflix account and watch streaming video from your Instant queue.
- Apple TV
- Logitech Revue with Google TV
- Nintendo Wii
- Playstation 3
- Roku Streaming Player
- Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player
- Sony Network Media Player
- WD TV Network Media Players
- Xbox 360
- Various Netflix-ready Blu-Ray players, HDTVs and home theater systems.
The Netflix site has a full list of compatible devices.
The latest option, and one of my new favorites, is ChromeCast. It’s a brilliant device by Google that can wirelessly play content from your computers, tablets, and smartphones on your HDTV. Here’s how it works:
- Plug ChromeCast into your TV’s HDMI port.
- Flip the TV to that input and connect ChromeCast to your WiFi network.
- Install the Google Cast browser plug-in and update any ChromeCast-compatible apps.
- Hit the ChromeCast button to send content wirelessly to your TV from any computer or device.
Even though I have a Mac Mini hooked up, the ChromeCast is so cheap and easy to use that it’s a no-brainer.