Incorporating the Internet into Your Home Theater System

Samsung UN46F8000 LED/LCD Smart TV - Photo - Apps and Apps Store Menu
Photo of the Apps and Apps Store Menu on the Samsung UN46F8000 LED/LCD Smart TV. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to

Internet-Enable Your Home Theater System

As a result of increased audio and video content available via the internet, there is now a big emphasis on the integration of the internet with the home theater experience. There are several ways to integrate the internet, as well as PC-stored content, on your home theater system.

Connect A PC To A Home Theater System

The most basic way to integrate the internet and stored content is by simply finding a way to connect a PC or laptop to your home theater system.

To do this, check to see if your HDTV has a VGA (PC monitor) input connection. If not you also have an option to purchase a device, such as a USB-to-HMDI or VGA-to-HDMI converter that can also allow a PC to be connected to an HDTV. In addition, to connect the audio from your PC to your home theater system, check to see if your PC has an audio output connection that can be connected to your TV or to your home theater receiver. This may require an adapter plug as well.

If you are able to connect both video and audio of your PC to your TV and home theater system in this fashion, you can then use your PC's internet access capability to view your Web browser or store images and video on your TV and listen to the audio through either your TV speakers or home theater speakers.

Also, an increasing number of newer PCs and Laptops have an HDMI output connection built-in. If you have an HDMI-equipped PC, you do not have to use an adapter to connect to your HDTV.

The downside to a PC to TV setup is that you need to have the PC, TV, and home theater system all in the same room, in close proximity. You also are depending on the capabilities of your PC's video card to send good-quality images to your HDTV, and this does not always deliver the best result, especially on a large screen.

Connect a Standalone Network Media Player to Your Home Theater System

A second option that would enable you to better integrate either the internet or stored content with your home theater system is a standalone set-top box or flash drive-sized plug-in device, usually referred to as a network media player or media streamer (such as a Roku box/Streaming Stick, Amazon FireTV, Apple TV, or Chromecast) .

The way these devices work is that they take advantage of home network connectivity. In other words, if you have a wired or (in some cases) a wireless router, a network media player or streamer will connect to your router via Ethernet or Wifi connection.

Network media players and media streamers can access audio/video content streamed directly from the internet, and network media players can also access audio, video, or image files stored your PC if it is also connected to the network.

The advantage of this type of setup is that your PC doesn't have to be to placed near the TV or home theater system - it can remain in your home office or another location in your home.

On the other hand, the disadvantage with this type of setup is that you have added yet another "box" to your already cluttered home theater setup.

Also, the brand and model of network media player/extender you purchase will dictate what online content providers you have access to. One box may give you access to Vudu, another to Netflix, and another for CinemaNow on the video side, while on the audio side, some units may give you access to Rhapsody or Pandora, but maybe not both. It is important to match your favorite online content preferences with the brand and model of network media player/extender you want to purchase.

Check out my periodically updated listing of available Network Media Players and Media Streamers

Use a Blu-ray Disc Player with Network Connectivity

Another increasingly popular method of integrating online media content with your TV and home theater system is a network-enabled Blu-ray Disc player.

A lot of consumers are not aware that many Blu-ray disc players, besides being able to play Blu-ray/DVD and CD discs, also have built-in Ethernet or WiFi connections that allow direct access to a home network.

This capability allows users to both access online content that may be associated with the Blu-ray disc they are playing, and may also provide access to streaming video and audio content from additional internet content providers, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, Flick, and more.

The advantage of this option is that you don't have purchase a separate Blu-ray/DVD/CD player AND network media player/streamer - you can get both in one box.

On the other hand, just as with a separate network media player/streamer, you are tied into what services the Blu-ray player is associated with. If both Blu-ray and Internet content streaming is important to you, then you also have to make a decision based on what Internet content providers are important to you.

Check out my periodically updated listing of available Blu-ray Disc Players, most of which are Internet-Enabled

Access Internet Content Via Cable/Satellite Service or TIVO

Even cable and Satellite TV services are getting into the act by beginning to provide some online content streaming for viewing on TV or listening on a home theater audio system. It is interesting to note that they do not offer access to sites that would be in competition with their own cable or satellite content. For more details, check out DirecTV's TV Apps and Comcast's Xfinity, or Cox Cable's Watch Online services.

In addition to cable and satellite services adding access to internet-based content, TIVO offers its TIVO Bolt Unified Entertainment System. In addition to over-the-air and cable TV access and DVR functions, the TIVO Bolt adds access to streaming and downloadable internet-based content from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, and Rhapsody. The TIVO Bolt is also touted as being able to access music files stored on a PC. In addition, some content can also be transferred from the TIVO Bolt to portable devices, such as the iPod and Sony PSP. For more details, check out the TIVO Product Page.

Use a Home Theater Receiver with Network Connectivity

A fifth option, which may be practical if you already have a Blu-ray Disc player that doesn't include internet access and aren't interested in connecting another box to your system, is to look for a home theater receiver that has internet access built-in. The advantage here is that your home theater receiver is already the central connection center for your home theater and has all of the connectivity and features you need, which may already include satellite radio, video upscaling, and iPod connectivity and control, so why not add internet radio and other audio/video streaming functions to the equation?

Some of the internet streaming services available through a growing number of network-enabled home theater receivers include vTuner, Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, and Apple AirPlay.

Check out my periodically updated Midrange and High-End Home Theater Receivers that feature Network/Internet Connectivity.

Use an Internet-Enabled Television (Smart TV)

The final (and most popular) option to combine the internet with your home theater is to go directly to the device that is already the most used and easiest to use - the television. All of the major TV manufacturers are on board with Smart TV Technology.

Each TV brand has its is own name for its Smart TV platform, for example LG uses WebOS, Panasonic (Firefox TV), Samsung (Samsung Apps and Tizen OS), Sharp (AquosNet+ and Smart Central), Vizio (Internet Apps Plus and SmartCast, Sony (Android TV), Also, several TV brands incorporate the Roku platform (referred to as Roku TV) into some of their sets, including Haier, Hisense, Hitachi, Insignia, Sharp, and TCL.

The big advantage in using an internet-enabled television is that you don't have to turn on anything else except the TV to enjoy internet content, instead of having to also turn on a home theater receiver, Blu-ray disc player, and/or extra network media player/extender.

On the other hand, just as with most of the other options discussed, you are tied into the content providers your brand/model TV is associated with. If you switch out your TV for another brand, later on, you may lose access to some of your favorite content sites. However, if current trends continue, most content providers will become available on most brands and models of internet-capable televisions.

For more on using a television to access the internet, check out the following articles from's TV/Video Site:

What is an Internet-Enabled TV?

Before You Buy an Internet-Enabled TV

For buying suggestions, check out my periodically updated listing of 32-to-39-inch 720p/1080p TVs and 40-inch and larger 1080p TVs, as well as 4K Ultra HD TVs, most of which incorporate Smart TV platforms.

More Info: The Pros and Cons of Accessing the Internet on a Home Theater

Original Publish Date: 03/05/2010 - Robert Silva