Gear: Taking Home Theater to the Next Level
These days eight hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and you can download many Hollywood films to your PC with just a few clicks. But despite the convenience of online video, most people still prefer watching a movie from a comfortable chair in front of a big HDTV. Fortunately, if you have a high-speed Internet connection, the following new devices can deliver your favorite movies, songs, and Web videos to your television instantly. If only you could download popcorn and Milk Duds.
Curl up on the couch with a good YouTube video
From the company that created the Slingbox, a device that takes what's on your television and broadcasts it to your computer, comes the SlingCatcher, which basically does the opposite. Hook it up to your TV and your router, and you can send audio and video files from your PC to play in your living room. Unlike Apple's iTV, which is limited to playing your iTunes library, the SlingCatcher lets you view many file types. Plus, it displays downloaded movies from services like Amazon's Unbox, as well as Internet videos. (Keep in mind that low-resolution online videos will look grainy on large screens.) If you own a Slingbox (prices start at about $129), you can also use the SlingCatcher to stream TV shows from one room in your home to another. So now you'll be able to catch up on your TiVo recordings from the upstairs bedroom. $249; slingmedia.com
No more waiting for the red envelope
With a library of about 5,000 movies, the Vudu was made for spontaneous types who would rather not wait for DVDs to arrive by mail or trek to the video store. Just plug the box into your TV and your router, use the remote to select a movie, and the film starts playing immediately. Most movies become available to rent (from 99 cents to $3.99 each) at about the same time they are released on DVD. A few weeks later, they can be bought for up to $19.99 each. The Vudu's hard drive can store up to 100 purchased films. Video quality is clear and smooth, and high-definition titles are being released. $399; vudu.com
Download old (and new) favorites right to your television
Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE:HPQ) MediaSmart TV makes it easy to torture friends and loved ones with the home movies and photo albums stored on your computer. This LCD television, available with a 42- or 47-inch screen, uses an ultrafast 802.11n Wi-Fi connection to find and display media files stored on any PC in your home network. It also connects to the Internet to let you rent movies (for about $3.99 each) from CinemaNow's selection of more than 1,000 titles, including classics and new releases. The MediaSmart's high-definition 1080p resolution and 176-degree viewing angle make for crisp images. $1,899 for the 42-inch, $2,399 for the 47-inch; hp.com