Katsumi Kasahara/associated press
SMALL SCREEN GETS MORE EXPENSIVE: Ever since the home computer became an appliance almost as common as a toaster oven, the industry has been talking about “convergence” — that process by which our TV and computer, as well as our stereo, radio and telephone, all melt together in one technolicious, all-powerful unit. Every couple of upgrade cycles or so, someone comes up with a new piece of software or hardware that’s supposed to speed up the moment of convergence, with predictable results, at least so far: nothing happens.
Writing in the online magazine Slate, Paul Boutin wonders why even Steve Jobs and Apple haven’t been able to apply their iMagic to the chimera that is convergence: “It’s been nearly a year since Apple added downloadable videos and a couch-surfing remote to its lineup. How are those doing, Steve? One more question: How come none of my Apple-loving geek buddies have Macs in their living rooms?”
Nothing, not Intel’s Viiv, not Microsoft’s Media Center, not the multimedia PCs trumpeted on the cover of computer magazines almost 15 years ago, has married the home computer to the TV set in any but the geekiest households, where off-the-shelf technology is rarely employed in favour of elaborate propellerhead solutions.
The answer, according to Boutin, is in the different natures of our relationship with the screens. “Tech marketers talk about the ‘2-foot interface’ of the PC versus the ‘10-foot interface’ of the TV. When you use a computer, you want to lean forward and engage with the thing, typing and clicking and multitasking. When you watch Lost, you want to sit back and put your feet up on the couch. My tech-savvy friends who can afford anything they want set up a huge HDTV with TiVo, cable, and DVD players-then sit in front of it with a laptop on their knees. They use Google and AIM while watching TV, but they keep their 2-foot and 10-foot gadgets separate.”
But while the industry has been unable to force this shotgun marriage, a very different, and quite radical, change has been transforming our living rooms. According to a New York Times story, the days of the bulky, heavy picture tube are numbered; large retailers like Costco are pushing them off their shelves, and manufacturers are — with suspicious zeal — purging them from their catalogues. A year ago, Panasonic sold 30 picture tube TV sets; today they sell only one.
Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik points out that the cheap TV set is disappearing from stores, replaced by pricier LCD and plasma widescreen sets that will not, at least for the foreseeable future, be available at comparable prices. “But you have to wonder if TV as a medium will get more respect out of the transition,” he wonders, “not because it looks better in widescreen but because, if we’re spending so much money on it, it must be important, right?” That remains to be seen, but if I can make one prediction, it’ll be that TV might not get better, but it will certainly stretch to match the bigger canvas. Sometimes bigger is better; sometimes it’s just, well, bigger.