Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Is Convergence Finally Here?

Connecting your TV to your broadband-connected computer opens up a world of possibilities. You can download movies and television shows to your PC and then watch them comfortably from the couch. There’s all sorts of services for doing this, both paid and free. You can pipe music through online services to your home stereo also. There even exists open-source versions of a TiVo like service that enable you to turn your home PC into a DVR/PVR.

That’s all great stuff but these days it seems you need an engineering degree to hook it all up. Industry leaders talk of the “last mile” being the limiting factor to delivering internet powered media to the average home user. But I say it’s really the “last ten feet” that are the real challenge. If you want to connect the typical television to the typical desktop PC you’ll need a few things. First you need a video card that can convert the VGA signal to a composite video signal that the TV can understand. Next you need to run cables to your TV for both the video and the audio from the PC. You’ll probably need adapters to connect to the audio-output jack on the back of the PC. Then there’s the dreaded “hum” noise and other sources of interference from flouresent lighting. Next you need to...

OK, so at this point you get the picture – it’s a pain in the ass. My parents still can’t program their VCR, so this will never go main stream. Linksys, Microsoft and Apple (to name a few) have attempted to develop their own set top boxes that interface the TV to the PC but if you’ve followed these products you’ll see hardware that has failed to meet acceptable performance levels and still is difficult to use. You still have to deal with all the cables and adapters. Then there’s the software you need to run on your PC – let’s just say it’s lacking.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the consumer electronics world it’s that we can get a pretty good idea of what the future will hold by looking at what the Japanese are up to. Matsushita, Sony, Toshiba, Sharp and Hitachi have joined forces and created a joint venture called TV Portal Service Corp. The firm will run a portal for broadband connected TV sets, called acTVila, that will offer video-on-demand, payment processing, and a variety of other media related offerings. The platform also includes and integrated digital rights management scheme that enables users to move content around on their various devices. What makes it all so simple is that these TV’s have built in networking hardware. You simply connect your TV to your broadband connection and now it’s on the internet too. They also have built in capabilities for integrating with your home network.

1 comment:

Elena Postal said...
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