Untangled Web

15 11 2009

When I was a young boy, we had one television set. It was a 19″ black-and-white model. Because we were distinctly middle class, my parents could not afford the then-newfangled color sets. We had to use your imaginations to set the color on those grainy images, not knowing until the 1970s (and our first color TV) that Gilligan was marooned in a red rugby shirt, that Batman wore gray tights, and Jeannie looked great in pink.

And, of course, your content was limited to the dozen over-the-air stations being broadcast from Chicago. No VCRs. No DVRs. No cable or satellite. Don’t like what’s showing? Go to bed. Miss it? Tough noogies.

Of course, all that changed as cable brought us dozens of stations, and we could time-shift our viewing to suit our lifestyles.

But while revolutionary changes were being made in television all those years, another more profound yet silent revolution was afoot in another room in the house. That room was where the family’s personal computer resided. You see, TV and computer were very separate products. But recently we have been able to access many TV shows on our computers, on sites like Hulu. Convergence has become a buzz word of late as boundaries have blurred. And that silent revolution is about to converge on the final frontier with the introduction of web TV-enabled televisions, like the Samsung LED HDTV with web connectivity.

In other words, coming soon to a big box retailer near you, TVs with ethernet ports will be available to push web content to viewers in the living room.

In fact, analysts and retailers alike are convinced we will go TV ga-ga over these new sets, and they will be all the rage this holiday season. Recession be damned, it’s time to buy yet another expensive TV! At prices equal to or slightly above those of standard LCD sets, the new web-enabled TVs will bring even more content that is viewable from the comfort of our sofa. What a kingly idea!

That said, there are some limitations to the whole thing. The TV will be tethered via ethernet cable to your router (cables are so 2004!), and it won’t exactly be like being on your computer. In fact, the emphasis is on not allowing the TV to just be a remote computer. There won’t be a keyboard; everything will be controlled by a standard remote or something like a Wii remote. Web browsers as we know them won’t exist on these sets; instead, there will be clickable widgets, which are small programs (or apps) residing within a small image. Initial content will most likely focus on weather, sports, stocks and related information.

Now if you’ve been around a while, you will recall there was a WebTV and an AOL-TV about 10 years ago, but those failed miserably. Hopelessly mired by slow dial-up, these early attempts (complete with full keyboards) were just lame attempts to turn an idle TV into a dumb computer monitor. The new-and-improved web TV is vastly different.

And you know what? I’m glad that web TV won’t be like the computing I do in my office. I can always balance a laptop if I need to surf from the sofa, but I want my TV experience to remain as much like TV as possible. Go ahead and enhance the experience with some web content, but leave the hard core computing to computers.

Because the sofa is for relaxing, not thinking. And I think I’d like to disconnect and watch some old television shows this afternoon. Anyone want to join me for a Gilligan marathon?

Dr “3-Hour Tour” Gerlich



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