Monday 19 March 2012

The future of home entertainment

I remember a time years ago when my dad arrived home one night with our very first video recorder. As a 7 year old it must have been one of the single most exciting things to happen in our house in my life. We could actually record programs and films, from the TV, and we could watch them later, and as many times as we liked. We could rent films from the local video library and the player itself even had a remote control (which was on the end of a long wire which had to be plugged in to work). It was thrilling at the time as suddenly we weren’t restricted to watching what was in the TV or Radio times, a whole new world of entertainment had now opened up to us.

In our house, video really did kill the radio star.

Fast forward a few years and along came the DVD player. At first this was a very expensive device but the improvement in quality over VHS was tremendous. You could even hack most devices so that they would play foreign DVD’s which again, opened up even more content and availability. The advent of CD and DVD burners some years later also meant that video files kept on a computer hard drive could be burnt onto a blank disk and then played on the DVD player itself. The advent of faster internet connections brought the ability to actually download movies which again, could be burnt onto disk in a number of supported DVD formats, such as VCD, SVCD or full DVD copies. Some DVD players could even play raw video footage without the need to convert then which was often a laborious and time consuming affair.

Now, one of the greatest and possibly the worst leaps forward in home entertainment (certainly in my opinion anyway) was the ability to stream films and music from a hard drive or computer, to a television set using a hardware media streamer. What this means is that a person can convert all of their DVD disks, store them on a hard drive and then access them over the home computer network.

Good you may think. Lots of space to be saved and no misplacing disks or getting them mixed up any more…. Well indeed, there is that. But, this creates a new problem by making the whole process far too easy. What I mean is that with Video cassettes and DVD’s, you had to physically pick what you wanted to watch, take it out of the box, put it in the player, sit down and then enjoy the film. But now, everything is available as part on an on screen menu system and there is often far too much choice.

There have been many occasions where I have spent ½ hour flicking through all the many choices of what to watch only to press play and then 15 minutes into the film decide that no, I’m not really in the mood for this particular thing after all and then promptly spend another ½ flicking through the rest of my choices. Before you know it another evening has passed by. Whereas, if it had been a DVD, then it would have stayed on, and I would have watched the film to its conclusion, especially if I had rented it from a local store.

We now have online streaming services such as Netflix, the Apple Store and Love Film. All of these services are fantastic as they offer so much choice from their cloud based libraries but the same problem exists. Is there too much choice? Well, it seems that the answer is probably a resounding ‘yes’ and things are only going to continue in this manner. I can see a time when all homes will have television connected to the internet and therefore the cloud. Physical copies of films and music albums will no longer exist and I think it will happen a lot sooner than we think.

How do we cope with all of this additional choice? We change, just as we always do.

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