Movies, TV shows and other entertaining video are now so plentiful online that "Internet TV" may become mass-media entertainment. And much of it is free or relatively inexpensive from Hulu.com, TV.com, Netflix or Apple's iTunes.
But to become mainstream, Internet video needs to be viewed on the TV, not the PC. Fortunately, that's becoming easier. Several new products offer to bridge the PC-to-TV gap (see news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10189658-93.html.)
But many people don't need those products; they can simply plug an Internet-connected PC into the TV and watch. This is easiest if you have a home Wi-Fi network because you can just set your laptop PC next to the television.
The best picture and sound come from a digital connection between a new laptop and an HDTV, said Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media in Tampa, Fla. Both PC and TV need a plug-in for an HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) connecting cable, which costs $20 or more.
"People that haven't done it are locked into thinking it's complicated," Leigh said. "But it's no more complicated than using a TV remote." See his demonstration at www.futureofpodcasting.com/downloads/howto_ipod.mp4.
But you can get an acceptable, VCR-quality TV picture using older technology. PCs like my three-year-old HP laptop often have an analog video plug-in called S-Video. My analog TV, a five-year-old JVC 32-inch model, also has one. (For more about PC-to-TV connection cables, see www.amazon.com/gp/video/ontv/connect/ref=atv_ontv_connect_info.)
Setup was simple. I plugged in the cable, turned on the Windows Vista PC and answered "yes" when asked if I wanted the same image to appear on both PC and TV screens.
Because the S-Video cable transmits only video, I used the speakers on the laptop for sound. But I could have used a $20 audio cable to shift the sound to the TV or to external speakers.
While watching the streaming Internet movie "National Treasure Book of Secrets" (from the Netflix website, $9 monthly subscription required) I got an image that my wife described as "pretty good and certainly watchable." Videos from YouTube and TV shows from the NBC and CBS Web pages were equally clear.
In all cases, I was able to view the video in full-screen mode. And while Internet video will sometimes become jerky or freeze, I had few problems.
Although the TV picture wasn't as sharp as the digital image on my 17-inch laptop, it made online video available to family members who weren't going to watch movies on a PC. I expect that watching Internet video on the TV is going to catch on in a big way.
E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@ gmail.com, or write Tech Q&A, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488-0002. Include name, city and phone number.