Home > Articles > Home & Office Computing > Entertainment/Gaming/Gadgets

Connecting Your TV to the Internet: InformIT's Guide to Set-Top Boxes

Do you want to stream movies or download music to your home TV? You'll have a lot of options to consider when choosing the right equipment for your family's needs (Apple TV, Google TV, and Roku to name a few). To help you make a more informed decision, Ryan Faas examines the top options that should be on your list of possibilities, pointing out the pros and cons of each system.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

The ability to connect your TV to the Internet or to your digital media library isn't exactly new. Microsoft's failed WebTV existed over a decade ago, and people have been attaching Macs and PCs directly to televisions for years. Apple's Front Row environment, which displays iTunes and iPhoto libraries as well as DVD content through a simple remote, has been around for half a decade. Windows Media Center has offered similar features and more (including Internet content) for just as long.

However, 2010 has seen a huge uptick in the number of relatively inexpensive non-computer devices that can connect a high-definition television (HDTV) to your home network; access an array of video, photo, and music content from your collections; and use various forms of web content with minimal effort. One thing driving the development and adoption of these devices is the ability to access streaming video and audio content from services such as Netflix streaming, Pandora, or Last.fm; specific broadcast and cable channel websites; YouTube; and others.

The ability to have instant free or low-cost access to thousands of movies, TV shows, and web videos plus all your home movies, music, and photos is the Holy Grail of home entertainment. There are so many devices, web services, and setup options that finding the best device to meet your specific needs can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.

That's why I've put together this guide for choosing the best set-top box this holiday season. You want to get the most bang for your buck, but you also want something that won't take you all day on Christmas to hook up, or is so complicated that your family won't want to use it.

Begin with the Basics

Before we start examining individual devices and options, I have a crucial piece of advice: Determine exactly what you want in a set-top box before starting the decision-making process. As you'll see, set-top boxes vary widely in capabilities and cost. Having a solid understanding of what you need from a set-top box (as well as how much you're comfortable spending) will help to make sure that you get exactly the features you want.

Focus on Features

To determine the features you need from the set-top box, consider the following questions:

  • Do you need a device that can give your TV all the Internet capabilities of a computer[md]web surfing, Facebook and Twitter, audio/video chat, and so on?
  • Do you want to play games and/or expand the device with additional interactive applications?
  • Will you record TV programming? If so, do you prefer to burn the programs to DVD, or export them to a computer, iPad, or smartphone?
  • Are you looking for something that's easy to use, giving you access to common streaming media services and little else?
  • Is having access to your home movies and photos a major priority?

The various devices all excel in different areas. Having a clear idea of what you want or need will help you to stay focused, rather than being attracted to features that you may not use once you purchase your set-top box.

Consider Your Connections

Look at the various connections on your HDTV and the receiver of your sound system (if you use a separate system) to find out what types of connections you have available. Some devices offer limited options. If you'll be replacing your current devices, you'll need to know what connections the new equipment offers. Find out whether you can use alternate connections for your existing or new devices, if that turns out to be necessary to connect with the set-top box you want.

Check the packaging contents of whatever devices you choose, to see whether they come with the appropriate cables (some do, some don't). If not, you'll have to pick up the cables as well.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020