Streaming, Online, and Broadcast Content

Learn how to get even more entertainment from your home theater.

Online Movies, Music, Radio, and More

Online is by far the richest—and most rapidly evolving—source for video and audio. Connect your home theater to the Internet, and you’ll probably find anything that’s available on disc or TV, in some form. And nearly infinite content is available only online.

Where to Start

First, you’ll need a broadband connection from your Internet provider. It should be able to provide a consistent download speed of at least 1 to 2 megabits per second (Mbps) for normal video, and 4.5 to 5 Mbps for high-definition video.

Next, you’ll need one home theater component that  can connect to the Internet, either through Ethernet or Wi-Fi®:

A/V receiver (or preamp/controller)

Blu-ray Disc player

TV

Game console

If you have an existing home theater setup but no components that can connect to the Internet, you can add a dedicated box. Some of the better-known examples include:

Apple TV®

Boxee™ box

Roku® box

WD TV® Live Plus box

Connect to the Internet directly through a broadband modem or through a router to your home network.

Streaming Online Content

You name it; it’s probably available online. Major streaming services offer movies, TV shows, homemade videos, sports, and more. Here are a few of these services, some of which offer streaming content with Dolby Digital Plus:

Vudu™ with Dolby Digital Plus

Netflix® on PS3™ with Dolby Digital Plus

YouTube™  

Hulu Plus™

Yahoo® Widgets

Facebook®

Pandora® Internet radio

Some of these require subscriptions. Although most content right now is standard definition (SD) and stereo, high definition (HD) with surround sound is rapidly becoming more available.

Getting the Best Sound from Your System

You’ll access these services through portals built into your connected component; you’ll see the logo on the screen. Not all components provide all services, so look at the manufacturer’s specification sheet before you buy.

Also, some components are better hubs for audio. We recommend a Blu-ray Disc™ player. It connects directly to your audio system and is designed to use onscreen access and navigation effectively.

With a few exceptions, the TV itself is not a good hub for multichannel audio. The sound has to be routed back to your home theater system, and the results may be unpredictable.

Discs, Cable, and TV Broadcasts

It’s popular right now to declare that optical discs—DVD and Blu-ray—are passé. Maybe. But they’re still very much a presence. And they have many advantages.

Take a look.

Blu-ray Disc

Best picture quality anywhere and usually the best sound

1080p video, lossless audio

Best source for 3D movies and programs

Interactive features over an Internet connection

Growing inventory of feature films

DVD

Lots of titles

Good picture and sound quality

Inexpensive players

A Blu-ray Disc player will also play all your DVDs and CDs. Some, called universal players, will also play Super Audio CDs (SACDs) and DVD-Audio (DVD-A) discs.

Check out Blu-ray players and Internet-enabled Blu-ray players with music, movies, and TV series.

Cable and Satellite

Cable and satellite services give you the widest range of HD programming. Other widely available advantages include:

Set-top boxes with built-in digital video recorders (DVRs) for time shifting

Extensive video-on-demand (VOD) offerings, both free and pay-per-view

HD quality varies. Services often use very aggressive compression in order to carry the maximum number of channels. This can degrade the signal and even cause pixelation.

Plain Old Broadcast TV

Somewhat surprisingly, over-the-air digital TV broadcasts may offer the best HD quality after a Blu-ray Disc. If you were able to receive analog TV through an antenna in the past, you are able to get digital TV now.

Advantages and considerations:

Service is free.

Programs generally use much less compression than cable or satellite broadcasts.

An indoor antenna may work well; you don’t need a special digital antenna.

Viewing is limited to local broadcast stations and their coverage areas.

Games, Movies, Photos, and Mobile

Games

Games become even more involving when you play them on a home theater system. Simply connect your game player to the receiver, and select it as you would any other source.

Even if you don’t play games, consider a video game console. The most advanced offer considerable additional capabilities:

Internet connections

Wi-Fi

Full-featured Blu-ray player

Internet portals to streaming services

Home Movies

Many newer HD video cameras will connect directly to your system through an HDMI connection.

Photography

Similarly, many newer digital still cameras have HDMI outputs, so you can view your photographs on the TV screen.

Mobile Devices

Many receivers include docks for popular players. New players and smartphones can also connect via HDMI or USB. Smartphones with Dolby Digital Plus, like this Nokia® N8, can let you play downloaded movies and videos on your home theater in full surround sound.

Insider Tips: Maximize Your Entertainment Investment

Cutting the Cord

Canceling your cable or satellite TV service may be a viable and money-saving option, depending on your viewing priorities and your location. Ideally, you’ll need the following:

4.5 to 5 Mbps broadband connection

Access to a wide variety of streaming services through your choice of equipment

Ability to receive over-the-air network and local TV broadcasts

Of course, if your cable or satellite company is also your ISP, cancel only the TV service.

Wireless or Ethernet?

A wired connection has these advantages:

Faster

Less prone to interference from cordless phones and Bluetooth®

Less need for extra hardware for your components

But wireless connections have their own advantages:

Less clutter than wired connections, more visual appeal

Easier to install if your Internet access point is in a different room

Often able to connect to a wider array of devices

If you use Wi-Fi, be sure to set up Wi-Fi security so that nearby computers can’t “borrow” your bandwidth. Your Internet provider should be able to help.