It’s 8:30 in the evening. You sit on your couch, grab the remote control and click through your 42 cable TV channels. Same old stuff. So you suffer through the slowly scrolling program guide. Finally, you find a good movie-but it doesn’t start till 10:00 p.m. Darn.
It’s then that you realize you could be watching that big soccer match in Rio de Janeiro, but your cable company isn’t carrying it. A Richard Pryor movie would brighten your outlook, but you’d have to rent a video. One of those amateur Internet movies might be interesting, but that means sitting in your stiff desk chair staring at a small screenand, oh yeah, the movie will take an hour to download. You smirk. After a half-century of television, you’re still hostage to a few tired broadcasters.
Stay tuned. Much of the broadcast, reception and display technology needed to let you see whatever show you want, whenever you want, on whatever screen you want, exists. The pieces just have to be improved and linked together in the right way.
Connecting the chain will be no small feat. But it will be forced by a much larger convergence already under way in digital entertainment. As digital movies and television programs become increasingly common, they are morphing with video games, Internet video and music into one uniform stream of digital content. At the same time, the distribution channels for that content-cable TV, satellite and the Internet-are widening into one big broadband pipe to your home.
What’s missing is a commercial platform-a box in your home containing electronics and software that will let you receive the digital entertainment, interact with it and display it on any screen. Your TV, even a digital one, isn’t powerful enough, and neither are the set-top converter boxes that receive signals from cable or satellite providers. The need for a radically new platform “has created a massive opportunity for technology companies to innovate,” says Banc of America Securities analyst William Bao Bean, who specializes in digital entertainment. A new industry composed of startups and veteran electronics firms is emerging to supply that platform, which could be an advanced set-top converter, a personal video recorder or a souped-up version of a game machine.
And what of the television set? Once the magic box arrives, we will no longer need it.