Hooking up a PC to a TV using cables. That’s so 2008.
So proclaims the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, whose recent article summarizes the many options consumers have for getting Internet video onto their TVs. Xbox, TiVo, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, smart TVs: these devices purport to make online video just as easy to watch as more familiar broadcast television. Click a button on your remote, sit back, and watch.
Why does Mossberg exclude the possibility of just hooking up your PC to the TV? He dismisses this as the “most complex” option. But is it? Connect a single cable, and your set-up is done. Now watching the TV means simply browsing the web. There’s no new interface to learn. No peripheral device you have to buy. No flaky proprietary streaming protocol that may or may not work reliably (a la Chromecast, Airplay). No extra monthly subscription fee (a la Xbox).
More importantly, your content options are simple, too. With all other Internet TV devices, choosing one locks you out of some video services. Apple TV lacks Amazon Instant Video. Roku has no YouTube app. Use your PC, though, and you get everything. Anything that can play on the web can now play on your TV. Not only do you get the major video services (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.), but you can play live streams from the major news networks. You can peruse less-familiar sites like Funny Or Die, Vimeo, and Daily Motion. You can watch sports broadcasts using your subscription to MLB.tv or NHL GameCenter. You can even project your less… (ahem) “legitimate” content sources to your television.
The main complaint about this set-up? You lose that mindless, “sit-back and browse” experience so familiar from traditional TV. Hauling your butt off the couch every time a show ends can get annoying. There are options to improve this experience: hard-wiring a long HDMI cable to your recliner would work. Or you could download a smartphone remote app that lets you control your PC while sitting down.
But, then again, do you want to watch mindlessly? One of the scariest things about traditional TV is how easy you can blow your weekend, watching shows you hardly like. Conversely, an advantage of the PC-to-TV set-up is its occasional inconvenience. While it’s easy to watch what you want, it’s just enough of a hassle to discourage those lazy, trashy marathons you later regret.