Sunday, January 14, 2007

Better Solutions, Part 1

Ironically, if Sony and Toshiba had been able to get together and come out with a single standard for HD on DVD, consumers probably would have adopted it with glee. The fact that there are these two competing formats, however, has caused many folks to slow down and contemplate the situation. It's starts when we realize that we're not rushing out to buy Blue-Ray or HD-DVD for fear of betting on the wrong horse. Why is that scary? Because we don't want to spend a sizable amount of money building a movie library only to have to do it all over again in 5 -10 years. Wait a minute... it's that what we just did with DVD? The discs still play and look fine, its the technology that has moved on. That inevitably leads to the question: even if there were a single standard, would I really want to be purchasing & storing more physical media?
Enter three more recent announcements from CES: IPTV for the Xbox 360, Apple TV, and the SlingMedia SlingCatcher. Microsoft is clearly trying to make the Xbox into an entertainment hub. IPTV is interesting technology, but it's really just a way to let telcos provide the same closed-network services that cable and satellite TV providers do today. Next!
Apple TV is the company's take on the set-top box, allowing you to play anything from your iTunes library on your TV. A nice concept, but not that thrilling. First off, if it works anything like sharing your iTunes library with other PCs on your home network, it means that you have to be logged on and running iTunes on the host computer – really inconvenient if that PC is used by more than one person. More critically, iTunes doesn't support very many digital media formats and you can only purchase content, not rent or subscribe to it. I love my iPod, but I think Apple missed the boat on this one.
The SlingMedia's current product, the SlingBox, allows you to "placeshift" – streaming content from your home AV equipment to any computer, handheld or smartphone with an internet connection. While I personally haven't seen the need for this capability, the product has received high praise from the press. The SlingCatcher essentially reverses the relationship; it lets you display content from your PC on your TV. The statement from the manufacturer is "anything that can be viewed or played on [your] PC can now be slung to [your] TV". Price for this capability? US$200. If the reviews prove the manufacturer's claims, I'll definitely be buying one when they come out mid-year.
While the SlingBox is a great product, it's only part of the solution. It brings the content from your PC to your TV, but how do you (legally) get copyrighted media to your PC in the first place? Tune in for Part 2!

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