Media center vs. grandma's telly

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Before we begin, allow me to say that I have delayed writing this blog for a long time... why ? Because such pieces are doomed to be archived somewhere and used as laughing stock ten years after their publication when it has become obvious that their author was completely blind and narrow-minded... Still, a recent visit to my news agent made me realize that I had to write a word about "Media Centers" and the "convergency" trend that every single self-respecting computing or consumer electronics magazine is praising.

Apparently, in a few years, we will all look at movies on iPod Mini-sized players and run our iPhoto slideshows on our TV screens. Furthermore, our iTunes libraries will be available around the house, thanks to AirPort Extreme networking and AAC-compatible Hi-Fi equipment.

I must say, the idea sounds quite tempting. When reading the recent flurry of articles one can only be left wondering why such devices are hitting the market so slowly and, more importantly why we aren't all using them...

After all, all these new convergent devices have been available in an form or another for quite some time now. Even old Macs can be hooked up to a TV monitor, many pre-iPod music players could be connected to hi-fi equipment... Sure, lots of improvements have been added and the experience you can get by connecting devices together now is a lot better than the one you would have had a few years or even months ago but the basic functionality was there...

If this has been available for a long time, how come so few people did actually do it ? When TV first appeared, the image was tiny and not very enjoyable to look at. Nevertheless, since it answered a need people had, it was quite successful from the beginning...

The answer came to me when I looked at a recent HP advertisement. The ad was built around the picture of a family, lazily watching a home movie on their flat-screen television, in a huge, sun-lit room. The television was neatly placed in a wooden bookshelf, surrounded by beautiful books and two loudspeakers, that were visibly part of some high-end stereo system. On the far left was a computer, also tucked in the bookshelf, complete with flat monitor and custom mini-tower.

In other words, an HP-driven heaven. Now, how many of us do have custom-designed bookshelves to put our computer and our TV ? In order to watch this movie, the computer and the TV had to be networked or linked together in some way meaning that there were wires running behind the shelf. The two appliances were so close to each other that the presence of the other was too distracting to do some serious work or enjoy a relaxing movie. Also, try to put your tower into your bookshelf, along with your monitor : do they fit and can you wire them to AC power without it being noticed or would you have to have your bookshelf custom-built -- keep airflow issues in mind too?

As soon as the ad and reality were put one in front of the other, this technological heaven began to strangely look like hell... In fact, the whole house had to be designed around the computer, for the pleasure to view slide shows on a TV screen or listen to an MP3 on good speakers...

I am probably very narrow-minded but I cannot seem to understand why someone would want to do that... Of course, importing photos into iPhoto, burning a DVD to view them later, hooking up an iPod to a stereo system through the Dock do make sense to me : you have the pleasure of enjoying your media files "in big" but the system remains, at the same time, convenient and easy to manage...

I am sure digital convergency and media centers do have a bright future in a way. However, right now, the devices we are asked to admire by most PC manufacturers do not look very attractive or even useful to me... There is a good idea for sure but there still lacks a bright mind to find how to apply it.

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different !

And you, what do you think of media centers ?


4 Comments

garymill
2004-05-30 12:44:48
Media Centers PCs
In theory the idea of a Media Center PC sounds like a good one, I still remember when the first Gate Way Destination PC's came out in 1996, they were the first with this concept. I guess though when you put this into practice, it does not work as well as say a regular tv with a Tivo. I have read that the picture with any of these media center pcs just does not match the clarity of a regular tv set. Then you have the issue of it being a regular pc, so who wants to hear a computer cooling fan going while watching tv, haven't you heard at while working on your PC all day. I did read that AMD is now going to come out with their own media PC's. Their newer pcs run cooler than Intel's so the idea is that fan noise will be much less. I think for myself, the next purchase rather than a Media PC, will be a DVD player with wireless internet built in, so I can watch Media content pulled from my PC in another floor in my house.


It is nice not to have to look at the computer any more at the end of the day so viewing a regular tv seems nice.


Just my thoughts.


Gary Miller
www.juicersforless.com

garymill
2004-05-30 12:55:17
The link to AMD's announcement for Media PC's
The AMD Announcement From The Register May 28th


Gary Miller
Juicers For Less

peter_g_22
2004-07-07 07:24:01
Slightly off topic
..we will all look at movies on iPod Mini-sized players..


2 weeks ago I would have laughed at this, but then I bought an NEC E313 3G phone and started downloading multimedia content. Mainly news bulletins at first but I've graduated onto pop videos and comedy + movie clips.


The point is that I'm viewing it on a 176 x 176 pixel screen, and the clarity and contrast are admirable. I use the supplied hands-free earpiece but I believe that a stero version is available.


I feel that rather than moving toward media centers we may instead all be watching content on our own portable devices. It will become a personal experience rather than a group activity. It may even be that we sit down as a group and watch individually :-)

ferdfarnsworth
2004-08-17 16:54:14
Not all PCs are big towers running Media Center
At least one PC out there is stereo component sized and runs a Linux based entertainment server software package - check out www.interact-tv.com - this box seems to fullfill the HP dream scenareo without the size, noise, or expense