Only one of the devices in your entertainment setup needs to be Internet-enabled. For instance, you can connect a set-top box or Blu-ray player with online connectivity to any TV. With any setup, consider the following:
You must connect an Internet-enabled device to a broadband service that's fast enough to provide smooth streaming. Lower-speed DSL services might not do the trick. All devices have Ethernet ports for a wired connection. Many can also access a wireless home network via Wi-Fi, handy if your entertainment setup isn't near the modem and you don't want to run wiring all over the house. Wi-Fi is built into some devices or can be added via an external adapter that comes with the device or sells separately for about $80.
Most devices we've seen can access one to four paid video streaming services, Netflix being most common. Manufacturers can add new offerings through a simple firmware update. Updates are sometimes delivered to your gear automatically, but in other instances you might have to search for them. In addition, you can generally get free content from the handful of websites that have partnered with the equipment manufacturer. They include YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, Twitter, and various news, sports, and local weather feeds.
Most Internet-enabled devices don't provide unlimited access to the Web, but some devices and TVs have full browsers that let you go anywhere online, just as you can with your computer or smart phone. The Sony PlayStation 3 and the Boxee Box by D-Link allow full Web access through proprietary browsers. New Sony TVs and a Blu-ray player, which shipped late last year, are the first to use the much-talked-about Google TV platform, which provides full Web access through the Chrome browser. Some Dish satellite receivers and the Logitech Revue set-top box support Google TV, as do a new Samsung Blu-ray player and new Vizio TVs. Other TVs from LG and Samsung offer full browsing via different browsers.
In our tests, we've found that the picture quality of streaming video doesn't vary so much by device as by the service you choose and the quality and speed of your broadband connection. In general, you'll trade some picture quality for the convenience and instant gratification that streaming offers. The quality of HD streams doesn't match what you'll get from Blu-ray high-definition discs but is usually DVD quality, which can be very enjoyable. Standard-definition streams are closer in appearance to VHS videotapes.