How to get started with Internet TV

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Over the past few years, Internet TV has gained significant ground as an alternative to traditional cable television. The benefits are clear: Internet television is often significantly more affordable than most cable packages, and allows viewers to watch exactly what they want, without the need to channel-surf or sit through endless commercial breaks. Here's how to get started with Internet television:

Choose your provider
First, you'll need to shop around to choose the Internet TV provider that suits your own personal tastes. For example, Netflix offers a broad range of movies, while Hulu Plus offers up-to-date television programs, but with a more limited film library. Major TV networks like ESPN, NBC and FOX allow video streaming directly from their websites, often free of charge.

Ways to watch
There is a range of ways that you can choose to watch Internet television. Of course, the more traditional method is to watch the videos straight from your web browser, but the medium's growing popularity has brought a variety of other options. Special devices have been developed by companies like Apple and Roku, which allow you to stream and download movies and television programs directly onto your TV set. Similarly, if someone in the household owns a games console, you can browse and stream movies straight through your PS3 or Xbox 360.

By analyzing some of the benefits associated with Internet television, it's easy to understand why the medium's popularity has exploded in recent years. While most traditional providers now offer an impressive video on demand (VOD) service, customers remain somewhat limited in terms of choice and accessibility.

John Kraszewski, assistant professor in communication and the arts at Seton Hall University, explains: "Internet TV offers viewers more flexibility in the ways they integrate TV viewing into their daily lives. While TiVo and DVRs let us control the times we watch programs, Internet TV offers us mastery of viewing times, viewing places, and viewing devices. This is very appealing to people who live in a mobile society and who are constantly wired to the web through portable devices."

Many Internet companies provide this service for a fraction of the price charged by most cable or satellite providers. Flat monthly fees usually cost less than $10, and the latest releases can be rented for less than a dollar.

As we've seen, the benefits of Internet TV are numerous. However, it's also not without its drawbacks. For example, streaming video requires a significant amount of bandwidth, which means that it may affect your Internet speed, particularly if you've got a limited connection.

Image quality can also dip occasionally with certain providers and devices, particularly during peak traffic times when Internet connections tend to run more slowly. In addition, most services don't offer live streaming of sports or other events, so you may have to wait a few hours before catching up the latest developments.