How to connect a computer and TV wirelessly?
December 28, 2010 7:46 PM   Subscribe

So I got a fancy new TV for Christmas, thing is, I'm completely TV illiterate. How do I connect my computer to the TV wirelessly?

I know you're probably laughing at my stupid question but I've owned the same crappy analog TV for the last 12 years which was used for watching the occasional movie. I'm not up to speed on TV tech culture.

The computer is all the way across the room from where the TV will be so doing it the cable route is out. What are my options for connecting the two wirelessly? I want to be able to stream Netflix movies and torrents. This is the TV in question if spec details are needed.

I'm actually kind of embarrassed that my parents got me such an expensive gift for Christmas. I do love the TV and I will love using it, it's just that I kind of feel weird about it. My parents definitely do not have a lot of money so it almost makes me feel bad that they didn't spend or save the money for themselves.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Netflix actually sells a device that does this for you.
posted by hermitosis at 7:48 PM on December 28, 2010

You might want to look into a Roku.

Psst....your link to the TV model is broken.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:50 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: Oh haha! Hold on, this is the link.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:51 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: Oh and if it matters, I have a PC. Will the Apple TV still work?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:08 PM on December 28, 2010

Is this a mac or a pc, and what other devices do you have, gaming consoles?
posted by TheBones at 8:09 PM on December 28, 2010

Yeah, you need another thingie here. You know how you can connect a VCR or a DVD player or a PlayStation to the TV, and then they're set to one certain input, and the video you watch comes from that device? The TV is just a dumb display that shows video/audio from something plugged into it.

So you definitely need to plug something into your TV, and that thing could be either your PC itself (which is too far away, you say), or a small "network video player" box like the Roku linked above (the WDTV Live is another great cheap choice for the non-technical, I have given it to parents/elders who figured it out and love it), or the best possible choice, a PlayStation3. ("Best" because it does the playing-of-network-video plus Netflix, games, Blu-Ray movies and so much more.) Some very recent DVD and Blu-Ray players also do "network streaming".

Whatever the box is, it'll be streaming content from your computer. Your TV will just display the results. And whichever box you use, an old fashioned ethernet cable across the room (or around the baseboards?) will work much better than wireless... full-screen 1080p video takes up a *lot* of bandwidth, and most wifi networks will choke at least occasionally with wireless streaming.

Hope this helps with the head-wrapping issue, anyway. You need to spend between $79 and $300 on a thingie of your choice.
posted by rokusan at 8:09 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The only other device I have is a DVD/VCR combo which I've had for about 4 years. Is that thing even going to be compatible with my new TV?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:12 PM on December 28, 2010

You shouldn't have a problem hooking up the DVD/VCR combo. It most likely has a composite video output (3 wires: red, white, yellow), which will match up to one of the inputs on your TV.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:27 PM on December 28, 2010

Your dvd/vcr combo will look better if you can use the component connections (3 wires: red/green/blue). Most newer DVD players offer "upscaling" which will look fanastic on your tv (honestly, as good as blu-ray for the size of screen you have).

2nding rokusan if you want the streaming.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:01 PM on December 28, 2010

The dvd/vcr combo, if it has component outputs at all, will probably only use them for dvd output.

How do you get your internet? Do you have cable/sat/fiber tv?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:04 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: I have cable internet and I have a wireless router.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:06 PM on December 28, 2010

While there are some (really expensive and kinda dumb) TVs with computers built in, you do not have one of those.

You will need some kind of direct connection (cables) to run across the room, or directly connect some wireless device which can receive content from your computer or the internet (PS3 or Apple TV). There is no way to connect a regular TV to a PC or the internet wirelessly.

If you post your computer specs (and what kind of video out you have) we can give you the kind of cables you'll need. They'll likely be under $15.

I love these cable clips, if you'd like to run it along your baseboard to your PC.
posted by fontophilic at 9:17 PM on December 28, 2010

What about moving the computer across the room to connect to the PC with a wired connection, and then getting a wireless keyboard/mouse or keyboard/trackpad type deal? If your computer is a laptop, then you can use it on your lap for web browsing, then for streaming movies just plug it in next to the TV and sit on the sofa with the wireless keyboard.

Otherwise, an apple TV or similar.
posted by Joh at 9:50 PM on December 28, 2010

Duh, when I said PC, I meant to type TV.
posted by Joh at 9:50 PM on December 28, 2010

The right answers for you will depend on what happens to you after you watch some HD stuff. Maybe you'll end up not very fussy about picture quality, but maybe you'll end up being pretty demanding about it. I know both biscotti and I ended up pretty firmly in the "fussy and demanding" end of the spectrum. Borrow someone's PS3 or other bluray player with a good reference-quality program -- Planet Earth or Avatar would be fine. If you go "Oh holy shit," then you're likely to end up fussy about picture. If you watch either of those and don't see what the fuss is about, you're likely to go the other way.

I'm guessing that your router is a wireless G router. Here's the thing with wireless G. It's fine for standard def stuff. It's fine for the HD stuff that netflix sends, which is this sort of half-assed mishmash thing that, sure, is technically in 720p but is bandwidth-starved enough that it ends up looking a little bit better than a good dvd. It's okay-ish for 720p stuff you've downloaded from the internet, but you should expect that most of the files you stream will stutter at one or two points in the show. Still very watchable. It's not really okay for 1080p videos unless the gods of the electromagnetic spectrum happen to be smiling upon you that day.

So, if you end up being not so fussy about picture, you can just stick with wireless. Just remember not to download 1080p videos and expect your 720p downloads to play okay but not perfectly. There are lots of devices that will accept streamed videos from a PC and play them on a tv... a PS3 really does cover a lot of bases, but it's also $300. But it's a streamer, and a dvd player, and a cd player, and a blu-ray player, and a netflix player, and you can even play the odd game on it if you want.

If you end up being fussy about picture quality, there are a few things you can do.

One is move the computer. Leave the router where it is. Move the computer over by the tv, and use the tv as its monitor. Have the computer talk to the router over wireless. Netflix will still work then, and since you'll be playing downloads directly from the computer, the network connection won't be relevant.

Another option would be to leave the computer where it is and attach something to the tv that has its own storage. A PS3 would work, or something else with its own hard drive. Then what you'd do is *download* HD videos from the computer to the TV THING instead of streaming. We used to do this with the ps3... before bed, start a bunch of 1080p videos downloading from the PC to the PS3, and the next morning they'd be on the PS3's hard drive ready to go. Again, once they're on storage that's hooked directly to the tv, networking ceases to matter.

A third option then would be to do something other than wireless G. Maybe wireless N; that would rule out a PS3. Or just suck it up and run an ethernet cable around the baseboards. Or there are a variety of powerline and coaxial-cable networking schemes that should be fast enough for full-HD and that use cables/cords that are already buried in your wall.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:57 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

What you're looking for is generically called a media server. Under the hood it's a computer that uses a protocol called Universal Plug & Play (UPnP). It could be an Apple TV, a game console like an XBox 360 or PS3 or a PC running Windows Media Server edition (I think that's the right one). It'll connect directly to the TV, either with an HDMI cable or a 15 pin standard PC video cable, and also have either an ethernet interface (which you don't want in your case) or a wireless one (which you do). You then run some type of UPnP streaming software (of which there's lots for Windows, including Microsoft's own Windows Media Client) that streams your files to the media server, which displays them on the TV. You keep your movie & music files on your PC. As for compatibility, you should be able to use an Apple TV just fine, although if you go with Microsoft software you need to know it tends to be pickier than most in what devices it connects with.
posted by scalefree at 10:01 PM on December 28, 2010

To clarify on the media server thing, all consumer versions of Windows 7 can output to television just fine. It's really only a matter of hooking the PC up to the TV in that case.
posted by truex at 11:06 PM on December 28, 2010

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