Watching old "Dexter" without much new equipment?
December 8, 2010 7:11 AM   Subscribe

How can I watch old "Dexter"s and new movies from Netflix, etc, on my HD TV, the cheapest, simplest, least-techy way? I've got Verizon internet, cable and phone package, and a new Apple desktop, and don't want to add much more hardware.

Should I get Apple TV? Or a Samsung blu-ray dvd player? Or what? My real problem is I'm cheap and I'm pretty apathetic about learning new tech stuff. Just thinking about how to plug in a DVD player makes me nervous--my ex used to do that stuff and pat me on the head. What's the easiest solution that doesn't cost a lot, hooks up easily and won't be obsolete soon?
posted by fivesavagepalms to Technology (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you going to watch most of your stuff through streaming video or on disc? Or a mix of both?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:13 AM on December 8, 2010

If you have a HDMI input (look here), most newer devices can be plugged in with a single HDMI cable. I'd look into the AppleTV or Roku. The ATV works seamlessly with everything you can do in iTunes, including accessing the iTunes store. It also works with Netflix Instant. The other option is a Roku, which also works with Netflix. It has Hulu Plus as well, at additional cost. You can buy movies through the Amazon store.

I'd stay away from a Blu-Ray unless you feel you need a player for the discs already. The solutions I mentioned are a lot more flexible, generally.
posted by uaudio at 7:22 AM on December 8, 2010

Also, both the ATV and Roku are <$100.
posted by uaudio at 7:23 AM on December 8, 2010

I recommend just buy a PS3. You can use streaming Netflix through the built-in software, plus you can use the Blu-Ray player to watch DVDs. Bonus is that you can also stream content from your apple desktop and use it as a game platform if you decided to. Probably best bang for the buck.
posted by white_devil at 7:24 AM on December 8, 2010

Do you have a Wii or Xbox? You can get a free disc from Netflix that will let you stream through those hook-ups.

Otherwise I really like my Roku box. Very simple interface (with a remote, even!). Buy an HDMI cable to hook between the Roku box and the HD TV and a network cable to hook between your cable router and the Roku box and you are done.
posted by jillithd at 7:25 AM on December 8, 2010

I had this same question and recently bought a Panasonic DMP-BD65 from Amazon. It's not as hip and trendy as Apple TV or a Roku box, but Blu Ray + Streaming for $150 seemed like a better deal than streaming only for $100. Super simple interface and really easy to set up for Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, and Pandora.

In terms of hardware set-up, you plug the blu-ray into the router via ethernet (there's a more expensive wifi option which is probably more complicated), plug the HDMI cable into the TV (purchase a $6 one from Amazon if it's no included), and plug the Blu Ray into the wall. Really quick and easy.
posted by eisenkr at 7:29 AM on December 8, 2010

I nth the suggestion of a Roku box for you. I know you're nervous about new appliances, but the Roku box is the simplest TV-related appliance I have ever seen. It doesn't even have an off button -- easypeasy. The remote has only nine buttons, and four of those are directional (up, down, left, right)! You just plug it in once, and you're set forever. I've never had a problem with it.
posted by meese at 7:30 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I solved this problem by plugging my computer into my tv. New units usually have a VGA input with RCA connects for sound. Get a wireless mouse/keyboard and away you go.
posted by gnutron at 7:48 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Minor, but important correction: In order to use Netflix on the 360, you have to have an XBOX live account as well as your Netflix account which is $59/year.

If you use the Wii for Netflix streaming you can't get HD content because the Wii doesn't support HD.

The PS3 is the only games-console option for HD streaming with no additional charges for Netflix, which as a bonus also comes with a Blu-Ray player & video game system built in.

Having said that, given your needs fivesavagepalms I'd probably say a Roku box is your best bet. Also, setting up a system with an HDMI cable is pretty much as simple as it gets.
posted by The Captain and Ten Eels at 7:51 AM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: But wouldn't I need some kind of in-house wi-fi network or whatever you call it for the ATV or Roku to work? I mean there's a Verizon router here that the TV's hooked up to, but I don't think it broadcasts wi-fi so that a second computer or the TV could work off it. Damn, it's embarrassing to be so ignorant. Thanks for bearing with me!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:53 AM on December 8, 2010

You can use wi-fi with the Roku, but you don't have to. You can plug it in, just like you have plugged in the TV.
posted by meese at 7:55 AM on December 8, 2010

Also nthing the Roku - Great feature set, dead simple to setup.

If you're looking at the various Roku models, the biggest differences them are the resolution of HD and wireless capability. If you're planning to plug it into your internet connection rather than do the wireless setup then don't bother with the XD|S. If you have a 1080p HD TV (rather than 720p - you can google the model number to find out, but unless it's quite new it's probably 720p) then the XD will be a bit further outside of obsolescence because it supports a higher resolution picture.

Also, it won't come with an HDMI cable to plug into your TV. HDMI cables are quite cheap, there's no need to buy any HDMI cable that costs over $10 for 6ft.
posted by sub-culture at 8:02 AM on December 8, 2010

Is your Verizon service the FiOS fiber service? If so, your router almost certainly does WiFi as well as wired.
posted by dforemsky at 8:10 AM on December 8, 2010

Strong recommendation for the Roku XD. It's $80 and has the added benefit of a Hulu Plus app and Amazon VOD.
posted by shew at 8:13 AM on December 8, 2010

You can use wi-fi with the Roku, but you don't have to. You can plug it in, just like you have plugged in the TV.
Same goes for the AppleTV. Roku is going to be the cheapest option, however.

(I just finished watching seasons 1 & 2 of Dexter via Netflix on my AppleTV. You're in for a treat. Unfortunately, as of this writing, ONLY seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix.)
posted by BurntHombre at 8:16 AM on December 8, 2010

Doh. Good call, The Captain and Ten Eels. :)
posted by jillithd at 8:29 AM on December 8, 2010

3rding the PS3.

You can even take those box sets of DVDs you own and, with some tech know-how convert them down to avi files which can be put on your PS3 or streamed on your network. The same can also be done with the XBox360
posted by zombieApoc at 9:17 AM on December 8, 2010

I hate to say it, but a $30 DVD player coupled with a Netflix subscription is the cheapest and simplest option.

Connecting a Roku or any other gadget is not going to be any easier than connecting a DVD player.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:39 AM on December 8, 2010

Apple TV. It's $99 and very easy to use.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:04 AM on December 8, 2010

And don't buy an HDMI cable—the places the sell them usually charge a lot ($20 at the Apple store). If you're a Comcast customer you can just go to the Comcast store near you and ask for one and they are free. Call ahead though to confirm inventory... once I went and they were out.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:05 AM on December 8, 2010

Yeah, I'd just go with plugging your computer directly into your TV. I used to just plug my laptop in, but now we have a dedicated mac mini that is always attached to the TV and runs Plex.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:09 AM on December 8, 2010

Best answer: I agree that the cheap DVD player and a Netflix subscription is the cheapest, simplest, least tech-y way. You won't be able to stream, though.

If the TV's the kind with an HDMI input, it'll be really simple:
1) Plug the DVD player into the TV using the HDMI cable.
The DVD player will probably only have one possible place to put the cable. You'll plug it into the TV in the "HDMI In" spot.
2) Then you plug the DVD player into an electrical outlet or power strip.
3) Hit the "Power" button on the DVD player.
4) Whenever you want to watch DVDs on your tv rather than cable, you might have to switch the A/V In option on your TV. It'll probably be a special button on the remote, where when you hit it, you can pick either "Cable," "DVD," etc. That just tells the TV what to show you when it has a lot of options.

That's it. The old systems where you had to do audio and video separately, or route your cable service through the device, etc, were slightly scarier, but this is just one connecting cord and a power cord.

However, you probably will have to buy an HDMI cable, since you aren't a Comcast customer and I've never seen anyone else giving them away for free.

If you go the computer route, it may be two cords (one for audio, one for video, depending on what outputs your computer has and what inputs your TV has, as well as either setting up wifi or plugging it into the modem), and there is occasionally some trouble getting your TV to read the signal properly. It's not really hard, and it would definitely give you the most flexibility, as well as the ability to stream, but if you don't like fiddling with tech stuff at all, I wouldn't recommend it. Plus, if you only have a desktop, you'd then have to either constantly unhook the thing and move it around, or do all of your computer using by/on your TV.
posted by wending my way at 1:15 PM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for helping to educate me. This has helped a lot, especially wending my way's careful step-by-step view. I'm open to other ideas on how to stream material from my desktop to the tv, which is in another room. If I buy roku, is there another apparatus to buy and plug into my Verizon modem, that will in turn send the signal wirelessly into that other room where the tv is? (If you know what I mean?)
posted by fivesavagepalms at 2:18 PM on December 8, 2010

To get the internet from your modem to your Wii/Roku/etc in the other room, you'll need a wireless access point to attach to your modem.

If your computer has wifi, you can attach something that's just an access point. (ie, network cable in, antenna out)

If not, you'll need an access point that's also a switch: network cable in, network cable AND antenna out. This D-Link is pretty standard gear.
posted by epersonae at 4:28 PM on December 8, 2010

Here's a nice tutorial on Lifehacker on setting up a wireless network.
posted by epersonae at 4:30 PM on December 8, 2010

Best answer: This may vary depending on the kind of modem Verizon gives out, but it probably only lets you plug one computer in and get on the internet. That's because it only gives out one 'IP address', which is like a phone number for the internet. One number, one connection.

If you go out and buy a device called a 'router', you can connect more devices to the internet, and to each other. To continue the phone metaphor, a router is like a switchboard that gives all of your devices extension numbers; they can then all talk to each other internally, or dial an outside line to get on the internet.

Just get a WiFi router and follow the directions - plug the modem's Out into the Router's In, then all your other devices will either plug into the router's several wired Outs (if the cords reach) or connect over WiFi radio waves. If you buy your WiFi router from a place like BestBuy, you can pay them to come over and set it up for you, or have a friend or relative help - but it's not very hard, so you should be able to do it yourself. Setting up or fixing a home network is the modern equivalent of being able to change a flat tire.

Now that you have a home network, you just have to find a device that speaks both network and TV, and hook it up to your TV. This can be a Roku, PS3, Xbox360, AppleTV, or any number of other devices. The PS3 is the only one that also does Blu-Ray, if that's a dealbreaker. They all do a lot of the same basic media-to-TV stuff.

But the one that will work most simply, and automatically play nice with your Apple desktop without extra fiddling, is of course the AppleTV. Once the AppleTV and your Mac are on the same home network (wired or wireless doesn't matter), you'll be able to play anything that you already have in the Mac's iTunes on your TV, as well as shop for new things from the iTunes store right from the TV, and also stream Netflix.

With about $200 for a WiFi router and an AppleTV, and a rainy Sunday to set it up, you'll have a home network and a TV that can play anything on your Mac, or in the iTunes store, and stream Netflix.
posted by bartleby at 4:53 PM on December 8, 2010

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