System Requirements for Watching Internet TVby Rebecca Burdick
Watching TV on the Internet is highly dependent upon the provider serving the programming. There are many different methods of watching television programming over the Internet, and each will require its own computer requirements. Most television streams on the Internet are streamed by different providers. However, there are a few requirements that are common to each provider.
Video that can be viewed over the Internet is first compressed to save space, and then decompressed on your computer. Most television networks that stream content over the Internet using compressed video do so using a dynamic compression scheme. That means that the video quality streamed to you will be directly dependent upon your computer and Internet connection specifications. A faster Internet connection, or higher bandwidth, means that more data can be streamed to you, and can possibly improve picture quality. A dial-up connection will not suffice for most Internet video streaming, but most DSL and cable connections will do just fine.
The speed of your processor and video card are very important for decompressing the video stream. The speed of your processor will directly affect the speed of decompressing the video stream, and therefore the quality of playback. Your video card is partially responsible for scaling the video to full screen for viewing. As of March 2010, the major video sites that stream television for viewing over the Internet use 420 lines of resolution for their standard streams. For this, a 2.2-Ghz processor and a PCI-express video card with 512MB of RAM will suffice to display a picture on a 17-inch monitor.
As the compressed video is streamed through your Internet connection, it is stored temporarily on your computer until it is ready to be decompressed and displayed. Most frequently the compressed video is stored in memory (RAM) in what is called a buffer. As far as displaying the video is concerned, there is no real system requirement here. But the buffer determines how smoothly the video will play. The more RAM you have, the more information you can store in the buffer. If the information in the buffer cannot keep up with the processor, then the video will halt until the buffer stores up an adequate amount of information to resume playback. Four GB of memory should suffice to make a large enough buffer for most operating systems to decode video streamed at 420 lines of resolution at DSL speeds.