Wild, Wild Web

by happy2000usa - 10/29/10 8:44 PM

In Reply to: What can the Internet do for me? by Lee Koo (ADMIN) Moderator CNET staff

Hi Ruth,

Before you can decide what you can and cannot do with the web, you need to know the speed of your connection. For instance, if you want to watch an HD movie or program, most sites suggest a connection of 5.0 Mb/sec, though I have very few "jerks" at 2.6--the fastest DSL available where I live. (As a rule, cable internet access is faster than DSL.)To check you speed, you can visit one of several sites. I use speedtest: http://www.speedtest.net/

The second item to consider is your internet reliability. If you do put all of your eggs in the internet basket, and it goes down, you've lost your phone and entertainment. As such, it is a good idea to maintain your basic phone--about $10 a month--for a cellular phone for emergency calls. (Like to the DSL repair center.) If your internet is reliable, than you can do all of those things you wanted to know about.

First the phone. A lot of people have gotten into the internet phone business. Since you use Skype, you're used to a headset. Google now offers a free internet phone service. The best thing about Google is the voice-mail translated into text emails. It can also forward the call to multiple other phones.

If you want your phone to act like a real phone, Vonage will cost you under $30, including tax. This really pays for itself if you make a lot of out-of-country calls. (I have relatives in Canada and Germany.) You can add a second line for around $10, or have a remote line for $5. (A remote line is a line in another area code so people calling you are making a local call.)

The downside of Vonage is it can be a little technically challenging if you have a router. With older routers, you go from the modem, through the Vonage modem, then to the router. If you have a failure there's a lot of wire switching to access the Vonage modem and router. The good news is Vonage tech support is excellent--if you have a phone to call them.

Before going further, you need to understand bandwidth. Basically speaking, there is just so much water you can pump through a hose. If you have four sprinklers attached, each sprinkler gets one quarter of the flow. The same is true of the web. If you are surfing on one computer, while watching a movie on another--then answer the phone? Depending on the demand, something has to give. Vonage allows you to decrease quality to minimize band usage, but surfing and watching TV doesn't have that option. This is why the higher the speed you got from the speed test, the more flexibility you will have for multitasking.

If you have a reasonably modern TV, you've got computer connections. Basically, you need a video input to your TV and an audio input. If you have an older TV, you can solve the problem with an RF converter box.) If your TV has an HDMI or S-Video input, you can buy a video card for your computer that has those outputs. It's reasonably easy to set up. I personally use my laptop for the TV as I only use it when traveling--and if I'm traveling, and if I'm away from home, I don't need my laptop for the TV.)

Once your computer and TV are married, you have a lot of options. You will still need an antenna for your local TV, but there are many websites allowing you to watch TV programs and movies. Some, like Hutu, are free. Others come with an inexpensive subscription--like Netflix. You may not get Showtime or FX, but many of those networks--all of the major ones--offer full episodes online. (You may have to wait a few days after it was first aired.) There are also many sites offering access to European channels. The big difference is you spend a little more time to gain access than just changing the TV channel.

The cable and satellite companies make a big deal about music channels. That is a real plus of using the web for TV entertainment. There are a myriad of free programs for streaming music, all with many more options than offered by the cable or satellite providers. Just boot them and listen to the music over your TV. (My TV is hooked to a home entertainment system amplifier to take full advantage of this.)

Another use for this setup is home movies and pictures. Rather than cramming everyone around a computer to view pictures sent by email, or stored on the web at Picasa or other photo sharing sites, you can sit around your TV and look at them.

Bottom line: Since phone companies started offering bareback DSL--DSL without phone service--many have opted to replace their phone with VOIP, voice over internet protocol. This is easily done with a reasonably fast, reliable ISP connection. I do recommend maintaining a basic phone for emergencies and service calls. (This is also useful with VOIP carriers who will forward calls to another number if they detect your internet is down.)You can, of course, substitute a cellular phone if that's more convenient.

As to setting up your TV, you will most likely need a router because you will use more than one computer. If you want internet access to more than one TV, you will need a computer per TV. (I personally watch TV on my monitor in my office.) That can get moderately expensive. The good news is you won't have people fighting over the TV remote. The bad news is they'll be fighting for the keyboard and mouse.