When Computers Marry Televisions

In an article at Slate, Paul Boutin muses about the lack of television/computer convergence. While his final conclusion — keep your television close, but keep your laptop even closer — makes sense, he doesn’t seem to consider the way our homes work in his analysis.

In order for a hybrid television/computer to work effectively, we will need a solid broadband connection to the spot where the television works. Cable companies will need to be able to deliver programming and the Internet to the same device. Phone companies will need to do the same — TiVo users generally have a phone line nearby for those nightly calls home. Satellite users will need to either figure out how to Google via DirecTV (not likely at this time) or install a second input method (more likely). Then the television will need to converge all this stuff.

It’s going to happen, make no mistake. The product that hits the shelves in the next few years will not resemble the clunky device from a vintage issue of MPC World. In the world of sleek Apple monitors (ah, lust, I know you well) and slick plasma screens, we’ll be looking at smaller devices that play DVDs, music, manage household wireless connections. Attractive, compact, powerful…hmm, we’ll be looking at something like the Mac Mini.

Of course, all of this assumes that the television as we know it survives. The hybrid model assumes that the computer will hook up with the television. What if the television submitted to the computer? According to the Los Angeles Times series on youth culture,

Nearly half (47%) of respondents ages 12 to 17 say they would watch a movie on a PC, well above the interest in doing the same on a cellphone (11%) or video iPod and similar devices (18%). A similar share of those 21 to 24 said they would watch movies on a computer, although they are much less willing to do the same on a cellphone (6%) or video iPod (7%).

As more programming becomes available online, making the time-shifting dreams of the TiVo cult even more lovely, watching programming on your laptop, desktop, and/or television will become a matter of what device serves the mood of the moment best.

Ten years ago — a lifetime in our technological world — we were bound by clunky machines, slow connectivity, and tangles of wires. The best we could do was the WebTV interface, complete with its infrared keyboard. As more homes achieve the necessary infrastructure to support hybrid television/computer devices, Boutin will see more of his friends hacking systems together — but I think we’re going to go in the opposite direction. It will be the computer that rules the kingdom.

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