Internet TV – What’s On and How to Connect

Preliminary Remarks

On the topic of Internet TV, it was tempting to echo the tone of advertisers and say, in effect, that its all easy and simple. For the smart kids depicted on the TV adverts from the likes of Spark, Vodafone and Sky, that may well be so but the fact is that much of it is not simple at all and it is important to realise this in case you might think you are alone in being puzzled by the whole, rapidly unfolding scene.

Secondly, note that I make a point of not accepting free gifts or “encouragements” from any commercial firms so as to remain free to praise or condemn any and all of their products according to my own, hopefully objective, impressions of them. For those many products that I have never bought, I usually rely on reviews, mostly online, from a range of objective experts in the various fields but also feedback from actual users like SeniorNet members.

Existing Free Internet TV

Chances are, you’ve long been watching what amounts to Internet TV ever since, from your desktop or laptop, you clicked on a video story from a news site like the Herald or Google News, browsed YouTube or watched a few of the remarkable TED talks. Those examples, all free, still comprise a sizeable proportion of all the “Internet TV” that I watch every day – just sitting at my old desktop computer! Likewise, the rapidly increasing iPad users groups, including a flourishing one right here at SNEB, have the option of seeing Internet TV – free and paid-for – directly on their own, WiFi connected devices. That said, and as we’ll see later, iPads, tablets and smart phones (including iPhones) can also morph into Internet TV remote controllers when coupled with the Google Chromecast device to enable you to watch it all on your large-screen TV.

YouTube and the TED Talks

The vast YouTube collection contains DIY videos on almost every subject you can imagine. It also contains clips from films and TV shows from way back, right up to the present day. The TED talks are actually a subset of YouTube but, for those who didn’t know, they consist of 15 minute or so talks by experts on a full range of very interesting and topical subjects. I’m only half joking when I say that, once you have seen a few of the TED talks, you may not want to watch anything else – free or paid-for!

Recent Developments

However, more recently in New Zealand, the phrase “Internet TV” has come to be associated with two specific ideas:

  • Watching it all on your own, large, TV screen, versus on your desktop, laptop, iPad, tablet or smartphone (think Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku, Smart TVs, etc).
  • Paying for specific content, typically by subscription (think Netflix, Lightbox, Sky on Demand, etc).

However, in order to “sell” you on the idea of watching free and paid content in the comfort of your living room, it might be good to look at the second topic first and take a snapshot of what is currently available free, by monthly subscription or pay-per-view in New Zealand. Note that this is a rapidly expanding field and that any summary will necessarily be incomplete and not fully up-to-date. This is where I’ll be particularly indebted to SNEB members, content providers and the wider public for corrections and updates.

But first we should look at the role UFB and the future of your landline:

The Role of Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB)

It is no co-incidence that subscriber internet tv services are being strongly promoted now that Ultra Fast/Fibre Broadband is being rolled out, including in the Eastern Bays and, all things considered, I would recommend that you also have UFB installed, as I already have. You can choose between full speed at 100Mbs Download/30Mbs Upload or the “slower” rate of 30Mbs/10Mbs. I chose the latter, cheaper, option but you may want to allow for several simultaneous users and go for the full, 100/30 option, which will also allow for a high resolution version of Netflix. Even so, note that a high-enough resolution version of Netflix, can probably be sustained on an existing, copper-line-based, broadband – provided that the demand from all other connected devices is modest.

Note: As we’ll see later, if you have UFB installed, there are good reasons why, if your home architecture permits, you should have it terminating close to your main TV set but, if that simply isn’t possible, you can use a WiFi range extender.

WiFi Extenders

A Wi-Fi range extender is a type of wireless repeater used to expand the reach of your WiFi. The device is situated in between your base modem and your laptop, internet TV or any other devices that are not close enough to receive acceptable WiFi service. The two places might be separated by a wall or a floor or the range might be too far. So, at some strategic, in-between place, you can place your ranger extender. Good range extenders also have one or more ethernet ports on them to enable you to plug your device(s) directly into them with the usually blue-coloured ethernet cable. Local suppliers include Harvey Norman, JB HiFi, Noel Leeming and PB Technology. Prices range broadly from $50 – $200. To install one, you will need to have your WiFi password ready to enter but some models are able to automatically pick up the base station if that has a “this is the WiFi you need to tune into” – button that you can press followed quickly by pressing a corresponding “this is the extender I want you to tune into” – button on the extender.

Power-line Adapters

What a range extender basically does is save you the trouble of stringing a very long ethernet cable from the base station to your device but another way of effectively doing that is to use your electrical mains wiring to act as that cable(!). A particular model, supplied by a local retailer is here (and the video details it well) but there many other brands, models and local suppliers out there. Note that this method ignores WiFi. At minimum, it only requires a pair of devices – one plugged directly into your modem (and the mains) and the other plugged directly into your remotely located device (and the mains!), with the only constraint being that your mains wiring must all be on the same switch-box.

The Landline Question

If you do have UFB installed, Spark (for one) will likely offer to transfer your landline service onto the UFB connection as well – and thus entirely scrap your copper landline. If you were to insist on retaining your copper line, you’d continue to pay for its monthly rental. Then might be the time to consider whether you really need to have both a landline as well as the smartphone that I’m assuming most or all SNEB members should, by now, have. I scrapped my landline a few months ago and upgraded my (Spark) mobile plan to one that includes 300 minutes of voice calling per month. That’s actually quite a lot and I’ve yet to get near that limit by the end of any month. I’ve also found that not having to replay and co-ordinate the extra set of messages waiting on the landline is a welcome simplification. Note that most of the “younger set” have long since ditched their own landlines, without regret.

Anyway, lets now proceed with a snapshot of free and paid-for Internet TV services currently and legally available in New Zealand (but please use Contact Us to advise me about any others you use or know about):

Subscriber Internet TV Services Currently Legally Available in New Zealand

LightBox Has a 30 day free trial and $12.99, GST included, per 30 days thereafter. Supported devices include Google Chromecast.

Netflix Has a 30 day free trial and $9.99 per month thereafter. Starting in October, GST, will also be collected (or so I understand). Supported devices include Google Chromecast.

Neon Has a month’s free trial and $20, GST included, per month thereafter. Part of the Sky TV umbrella. Supported devices include Google Chromecast.

Quikflix Was the original streaming service for Australia and New Zealand. Standard monthly fee is $12.99 but, for $6 more, premium content may be also accessed.
Update: Quickflix has gone into Voluntary Administration.

Sky was originally a VHF based service but its MySky boxes can now also be linked to the Internet (see below). It offers many channels, movies and pay-per-view options. Click here for a list of all available Sky channels.

Sky on Demand Also part of the Sky TV umbrella. Existing Sky subscribers, once they link their MySky boxes to the internet, may then download and view content that their subscriber packages already include directly on their TVs. If you plan to install UFB it could be a good idea, if your home architecture permits, to have it terminate close to your TV, so that the above link to MySky can be done with just a short, ethernet cable. Even so, if an ethernet cable cannot be used, Sky will happily supply a WiFi extender that you can plug into your MySky box (see above).

Note: As we’ll see again later, the same advice – that of having your router within easy ethernet cable range of your TV – also goes for Smart TVs and most other streaming devices.

Sky Box Office Also part of the Sky umbrella and established some time ago. Existing Sky subscribers may pay for and view the latest movies and special events, on a one-by-one basis, directly on their TVs. Strictly, not internet-based but amounting to the same thing.

IGLOO Is also owned by Sky but is based on the idea of paying only for what you want to view. They supply you with a Sky-style set-top box (free with a 12 month plan or $119 on the prepay plan). This, for a start, shows all the free-to-air channels (for free!). Then, for a further $19.95 per month, you can also see the 13 channels on this list. Note that these are a subset of the Sky channels and, as with Sky, there are also movies and sports events that you can pay for on an on-demand basis. Also as with Sky, IGLOO can feed off either a VHF aerial or (now) directly off the Internet. The latter option, especially if enhanced by UFB, gives superior performance and extra choices. Here again is the case for having your TV set close to your router. Click here for more.
Update: IGLOO is closing down

3Now From TV3 and FOUR, this is a live and on-demand (free) service. It runs on Apple, Android devices and Samsung Smart TVs. Chromecast support is not yet implemented. Here you can catch up on any recent episodes in the last month that you may have missed, although not every program aired by the live TV channels may be retrieved. You can also view much the same subset of programs as they screen live on the above devices.

TVNZ on Demand From TV1 and TV2, this is a live and on-demand (free) service, although you have to register. It runs on Apple, Android devices and Samsung Smart TVs. Chromecast support is not yet implemented. Here you can catch up on any recent episodes in the last month that you may have missed. Most programs aired by the live TV channels may be retrieved as well as some that are exclusive to this on-line version. You can also view most of programs live, on-line as they also screen live.

Video Ezy This is essentially an online video store. There is no ongoing subscription fee and you can buy the latest movies for $30 or rent them for 30 days for $8 each. TV series cost between $23 and $50 to buy. To watch them on your computer, you need to download a player or use the website. Android and iPhone apps are available, as is Chromecast. There is also an app available on the latest Samsung smart TVs.

Apple iTunes Originally, iTunes was only concerned with downloadable music but it has long since extended to movies as well. The New Zealand version of iTunes offers movies costing between 99 cents to rent to $25 to buy a new release. There are no television shows, although you can access them if you sign up to the US version. All these need to be completely downloaded to your computer before you can see them but Apple is said to be working on a streaming service as well. Naturally, Apple TV (see below) will be 100% compatible with that.

Amazon has hugely expanded and diversified well beyond its original role of selling books online. It now stocks a large range of other physical items you can have delivered (although US customers have a greater range to choose from). More recently, it has also become a major supplier of Movies and TV show videos both for purchase and streaming viewing. At the time of writing, these Video – related services are confined to US customers but, as with Netflix, it is reasonable to anticipate that they might soon be made available to New Zealand users.

There are many other movie and video streaming services, including HBO, Hulu and Showtime but, like Amazon, they are only available to US residents or, in any event, not yet available to New Zealand consumers. That said, note that a selection of the content that these services provide is available on Sky. For example, Sky’s SoHo channel carries some of the HBO content, including Game of Thrones.

A word about the internet streaming of live sport to New Zealand residents: It seems that live English Premier League games are unlikely to be available next year. For Golf, the PGA Tour service is available for $20 per month.
Update: Sky has just added the beIN SPORTS channels to its network. For $11.96 per month, subscribers to at least the basic Sky package ($49.91 per month) can see live coverage of Premier League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Spanish La Liga, and the SKY Bet Championship. Note that this is separate from Sky Sport and no “all in one” deal for both sporting subscriptions yet exists.

There’s more about all the various paid content providers. A recent article on Stuff has a good comparative overview of who streams TV shows, movies and sports as does one from the Broadband Compare site. Finally, subscribers to the online version of Consumer Magazine can see their recent take on Streaming Video Services.

Ways to Watch Internet TV on your large Screen

Looking now at how you can watch streaming and downloaded content from the comfort of your own living room TV, we see from the above that, in the case of the fully connected, Sky-related platforms, you already can.

Likewise, if you are already the owner of a Smart TV, such as a Samsung, which has apps for Netflix, Lightbox, Quickflix, 3Now and TVNZ OnDemand, you also won’t need to bother with the next part. Equally, if your TV is small and old, an upgrade to the above or similar model of Smart TV may be the simplest and best way to go (but again, as noted above, your router should preferably be within short ethernet cable-range of your Smart TV).

That said, let’s look at what nearly all TV models released in the last 5+ years (smart or dumb) should have in common:

HDMI Inputs on Your TV

Take a look round the back of your TV and look for a spare HDMI input port like one of the three below:
HDM IPort
Your own TV may have some of its HDMI slots already taken. One might be for your MySky box, if you have one, and another might be for a DVD or Blu-Ray player. Your TV will have its own remote controller and the “AV” (Audio Visual) button should be near top on this. With your TV turned on, press that and view the various inputs that it displays as available. Hopefully, one of them will be a spare HDMI slot. It might typically be labeled “HDMI 3”, and you should confirm that the actual HDMI slot round the back is, indeed, unoccupied. This can be the one you could use for your Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast or other devices like the DVD or Blu-Ray players mentioned above. It is even possible, though neither optimal nor elegant, to plug your laptop screen directly into there via an HDMI-HDMI cable and see a TV-sized picture of its screen. Generally, most modern devices with a video/audio output will need to plug into a spare HDMI port.

Apple TV

An Apple TV is not a television set as such but rather an internet-connected, set-top box that can plug into that spare HDMI input on your TV, thus enabling you, using its remote control, to enjoy seamless, integrated access to all the legally available internet-based content you subscribe to as well as all the free content like YouTube and TED. That includes games, apps and iTunes movies from the Apple Store but also Netflix, 3Now and TVNZ OnDemand, with Lightbox another likely starter in the near future. Neither the latest ($299) nor the previous ($139) versions of Apple TV are particularly cheap compared to the Chromecast ($69 – see below) but its integrated, one-stop-shop features may prove to be money well spent.

Roku

Roku offers a range of devices for the easy streaming of TV streaming and Movies, including their about-to-be-released Streaming Stick, which outwardly resembles the Mark 1 Chromecast but which also comes with its own remote control. Here is a video review of it from the US but remember that many of the streaming services referred to, such as Amazon, Showtime and HBO are not yet available in New Zealand. It is priced at $US50, with New Zealand prices and availability not yet to hand.

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast is now in its Mark 2 version and is better than the Mark 1, although even the latter was hard to fault, given a strong-enough WiFi signal. What Chromecast does is enable what you can already view on your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone screen to otherwise, or also, screen on your “dumb” TV (but without needing an HDMI-HDMI cable). I bought a good HD TV (in terms of picture quality) about 6 years ago but it is “dumb”, in that it has no direct Internet link. That may well apply to your own TV but, like mine, it need only have a spare HDMI input port in order to work with Chromecast, which comes with its own, built-in HDMI plug.

If you do have a spare HDMI slot, the only other thing you’ll need to confirm is that your smartphone or tablet supports the Chromecast App and can therefore serve as the remote controller for the Chromecasting to your TV. So we’re talking any Android smartphone or tablet, recent iPhones and iPads and the latest Windows phones, tablets and laptops. If, like me, you choose your smartphone, you’ll need to go to the “Apps” or “Google Play” store and install the (free) Chromecast App. I don’t have a tablet or an iPad but it should be basically the same procedure. Whichever, make sure the chosen device is connected to your own WiFi (as it routinely should be when you are inside your own place).

Given success in the above, you can confidently go ahead and buy a Mark 2 Google Chromecast. Noel Leeming, JB HiFi, PB Tech and Harvey Norman usually stock them. The current price is $69 in all the stores I’ve browsed to date.

We are almost ready to proceed but first remember that you do not need to be an existing subscriber to something like Netflix or Lightbox. You can install Chromecast and start using it to watch YouTube and the TED talks for free on the big screen and only later take out a subscription to Netflix or Lightbox, etc. Also note that, if you run Google’s own Chrome browser on your laptop, whatever it shows in any of its windows can also be streamed – cast – to your large TV screen via Chromecast (again, with no need for an HDMI-HDMI cable).

One more thing to be prepared for: when your chosen device does assume its remote controlling role, as it will shortly do, be ready to spot the following Chromecasting logo/switch probably on the upper right of its screen.

ChromecastLogoWhen a smaller version of this appears and is coloured blue (or, at least, coloured), it means that the Chromecast is already streaming and you should be seeing the result on your TV. But the logo is also a toggle switch and, by touching it (or, in some cases, by clicking on it), you can switch the Chromecasting off, when it should then turn black. You can switch it on and off – between coloured and black – at will. Keep that in mind for what follows.

Ready (at last)? OK, switch on your TV, go to the AV selector and navigate to that spare HDMI slot on the screen. Have your WiFi password at the ready and then connect the supplied micro USB lead into the wall socket plug and plug that, in turn, into the mains. Then plug the Chromecast itself into the HDMI slot. Now fire up your smartphone-resident Chromecast App and  everything should happen automatically. You may need to supply your WiFi password and the Chromecast will probably want to update and reboot itself while a “running commentary” displays on your TV screen. I have found an excellent YouTube video that picks up the story from here and takes it all the way to the end. This might be the last YouTube video you’ll need watch on your desktop, laptop or tablet instead of your nice big TV but use full screen mode and, afterwards, don’t forget to hit the Escape (Esc) key (top left on your keyboard) to exit that mode.

OK, that was complicated (let’s be honest!) but, once it has been installed, routinely using it with any of the Chromecast-enabled apps like YouTube, TED, Netflix, Lightbox, etc is pretty simple. Its basically a matter of watching out for that Chromecast logo and being ready to toggle it to either stream the content or turn it off. If you do have Chromecast toggled off but still plugged in and your TV still displaying that HDMI channel, it will display a stunning set of photographic stills, taken by talented photographers, at the rate of about one every 30 seconds. You might well want to leave them running in the background while you relax.

Summary

As you can see, there are many possible ways you can enjoy Internet TV, or “Internet Enhanced TV” as Sky might prefer to describe their latest combined UHF and Internet technology. I intend to maintain ongoing updates of this Guide as time and feedback permits. So, log in and post comments in reply or use the Contact Us link to give your own, “real world” takes on this and all the other topics we are learning about together at SeniorNet.

Wayne Power

April 2016

 


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