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What Gear Do You Need to Watch TV on the Web?

High-quality video is a major bandwidth hog. If you plan to stream television from the Web, the bottleneck of greatest concern to you will be the downstream bandwidth you get from your ISP, not your system's limitations.

Most streaming-video sites call for a minimum broadband connection speed of about 800 kbps. You might get away with a little less (if you're in the vicinity of 700 kbps), but your experience will vary.

System minimums can vary wildly, too, but a typical configuration including a 1.5-GHz CPU is sufficient to handle ESPN360.com.

At the upper end of the range is ABC's player: To watch in high definition, you'll need a dual-core processor (AMD or Intel), 128MB of video memory, 1GB of RAM, a monitor with at least 1300 by 770 resolution, and a beefy broadband connection of 2 mbps or more.

Keep an eye on your ISP's bandwidth allowances. In an era when ISPs are intent on limiting bandwidth usage, the quantity of data involved in regularly streaming video can add up fast, especially if you already use your connection for other bandwidth-intensive activities. At Hulu, for example, 1 hour of video translates to about 200MB of data at 700 kbps, the default stream's bit rate.

The bandwidth issue becomes more critical when you deal with sites like Joost that rely on peer-to-peer networking to distribute their content. Under such an arrangement, you could be serving up video in the background without realizing that your PC is engaged in sending video out. Upon installation, Joost warns users that the player application runs in the background and uses a "relatively high amount of bandwidth per hour, which means that it could exceed a 1GB cap in a few hours."

Beyond bandwidth and system configuration issues, your online streaming video experience would be greatly enhanced by a high-quality, large-screen LCD monitor. A model such as the HP w2007 (from our most recent chart) can help make streaming video seem less of a computer experience and more of a living room experience.

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
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