Colour TV, stereo, flatscreens, HD, ambilight, 3D, Dolby 5.1, interactive and internet TV. Why is TV technology outdated even when still in concept stage?
Many years ago, in the late '90s, I was involved in the introduction of interactive TV or iTV as a new way of living. Personalized TV settings, direct on-screen e-mail, interactive planning based on online TV guides, on demand pay TV. The idea has just now reached a form of adolescence but in the meantime internet has changed.
A few years ago my CD player proved to be somewhat of an archaeology find. First of all it failed to play MP3 sound files. Music CDs created on my computer didn't work. It couldn't read DVDs. It couldn't be updated or upgraded. It was time for something new.
The new craze was the DVD player that could read all three letter codes: MP3, AVI, MPG, JPG, WMA, PNG, WMV and many more. It was available in a 2.0, a 2.1 and a 5.1 surround version. I took a 2.1 system. It was named a micro home theatre system, which sounds fine. Impressive in one word.
Then a new version of AVI or MPG came out, two-layered DVDs and again my system couldn't cope. Even though my bulky and heavy, 10 year old, glass TV was able to receive all broadcasts, my accessory systems couldn't handle new developments. And there was no way to update them, you were forced to buy new hardware.
Once our car started to die I decided I wanted a new, free flatscreen TV to go with it1. Not HD, not 3D, not 5.1, not even 2.1 and certainly no ambilight. Just a TV that could handle regular broadcasts. Not much bigger than the old one but a lot lighter, that is a relief. I didn't even choose digital broadcast with my cable provider, no need for that so-called improvement - I seldom watch TV and had just decided to reduce the number of boxes in the room. So, it is functionally nothing more than a TV set.
The TV however has an HDMI connector which provided me with the option to use it as a 2.0 stereo set. That would save me three speaker boxes. All I had to do was to replace the old home cinema set with a new one with HDMI. But how do you go about preventing functional loss due to the introduction of yet another new technology, multi-media formats, codecs? And, in fact, how do I get Youtube on the tube?
Because, the new craze which has been promised to us since ages is of course access to the internet from the TV. Which will conflict with the SOPA2 in the US by the way. But, anyway, TVs are not multi-purpose computers, cannot be updated or upgraded and you have to live with the internet functions chosen by the manufacturer. Reading your local newspaper on-line is not included. And internet TVs are expensive. Which certainly is not what you wanted or expected.
But putting a full-blown computer in the living room is not the same as a portable on the dinner table. So I looked around and found the concept of the mini-pc attractive. The BookPC says “... refer to them as a Mini PC, a Small Computer, a Cube PC, a Micro Computer, a Small Form Factor Computer, a Mini Computer or a Book PCs ...” and Apple calls it a Mac Mini3. I might add Small Footprint Computer and ended up with a Dell Inspiron Zino. But all are in fact small, soundless, inconspicuous full-blown PCs, smaller than most cookie boxes. Nothing to show for or brag about, which is exactly the idea.
These mighty machines run Windows, Linux or an Apple OS so choice enough. They all connect to your (home) network. Add wireless input; I went for a small form factor keyboard with a touch pad on-board instead of a mouse, charged by a small station next to the TV. But anything will do.
Now you have internet TV: real full internet access, updates, upgrades, flexibility. You can run Youtube films full-screen or play flight simulators on an absurd big screen. It will play most DVDs and if someone really wants the functionality of a Home Theatre System, you can add some software like XBMC, a free and open media hub. If you really want 2.1 or 5.1 multimedia you can of course add boxes to the PC, instead of using the TV speakers. And you have a TV as well.
So, the problem is in fact addressed by smart software not by dumb hardware. That is the future that you have in the house at little cost, if any. Going for the best and cheapest solution? Install a user-friendly version of the Linux system, such as Ubuntu, on a hi-end micro PC. Or go life-style with Apple or familiar with Windows.
Is it all rosy and shiny? Well, no. Some non-cabled keyboards do not last long on a battery charge. If someone wants to go online, other family members might go for the sitcom. And some commercial films with copy protection locks will not run. On Linux systems you will have to separately install codecs available from the copyright owners, often for free (not difficult but still).
Why is TV technology outdated even when in concept stage? It is my guess that the providers of television, the broadcasters and the cable companies, want to prevent you from having free access to the biggest multimedia inventory in the world. They know they are expected to move towards the internet but they crawl instead of run. Their business model will not hold.
Also the producers of screens have a vested interest in selling both TVs and PC screens, while anyone under 30 considers these to be the same. Which they are. So, selling you a TV with a PC connection might prevent you from buying a separate PC screen.
Get the future now: connect a small pc to your tube and enjoy internet TV as it is intended to be!
1Yes, that's how it is these days. Buy butter and you get a smartphone for free. Don't ask me why.
2The crazy Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as House Bill 3261, October 2011
3Do not confuse a Mac Mini with Apple TV. Price alone will show that Apple TV is but a shadow of the functionality of internet.