Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


They Converged – Unexpectedly...

It seems like a long time ago – and yet it’s not so very long ago. Can you remember when your PC was mostly a word processor and a spread sheet creator, with maybe a few simple games thrown in for good measure? Then along came Windows 3.1, e-mail, and subsequent versions that added to and enhanced these basic capabilities.

This all happened during a decade near the end of the last century. As the PC was growing in popularity, so was Microsoft. This company’s influence grew and it soon became dominant in the world of PC operating systems and “office” applications. And as the leader of this domain Bill Gates was developing a vision of the future and the role he wanted his company to play in creating a new world-order. I can still vividly remember seeing an interview on a major network news program in which Gates described how PC technology would soon be converging with television technology to create a unified computer/television user’s experience. To explain this new world-order, he had positioned himself sitting next to the television set and was pointing out how the typical PC functions could be performed by connecting a PC to a television. Also prominent in the presentation was how various household functions such as heating, lighting, and home security systems would soon become integrated into a centralized PC that would make all of these functions programmable and remotely controllable.

Should we be surprised that his vision was PC centered? Of course not. That is, unfortunately, what happens to all of us. We extrapolate our successes and sometimes those linear extrapolations can get us into trouble. Something new may come along that we didn’t expect because of our success-narrowed vision.

While I watched this interview, a number of puzzling thoughts went through my head. The first was -- how would I do word-processing from my normal TV viewing distance on a screen that had barely 400 lines of resolution? Big print, I guess. (Remember this was before HDTV and before the larger screens with higher resolution had become available.) My second thought was -- why would I even want to do that? Combining television entertainment with work-like activities seemed like a bad way to spend an evening. And what about other family members? Would they want to watch me create some document that perhaps was interesting to me but not to them? Next, came the rather obvious question about tying home heating, lighting, and security systems into a PC that needed to be rebooted and/or scanned for viruses every few days. One other “minor detail” was the two- to three-year life expectancy of a typical PC compared to the 30-year or greater life of home heating and lighting systems. How would one maintain such a “combination-system” that was subject to frequent technology upgrades and new product generations that were often incompatible with the previous ones?
Consumers must have had similar thoughts and doubts. The Microsoft vision of the home-of-the-future and the PC-driven convergence of computers and television did not happen. But something else did happen, and it’s creating a new world-order far more interesting and exciting than the one envisioned during the intense growth period of PC technology.

A number of events that were just barely visible ten years ago have come to pass and have combined in previously unexpected ways to create these changes. The easiest one to see and predict was the evolution of HDTV. More than ten years ago, the display industry was already on a path to create high-resolution images on screens of just about any size. Electronic communications (now known as e-mail) were also beginning to become important and further expansion could be (and was) predicted.

But perhaps the biggest and least predicted new influence was Google and all the related search capability that has grown with it. Who would have believed a few decades ago that in just a few years we would be able to get an answer to just about any question, on any subject, by simply typing a few words, or even numbers, into our computers? Are you looking for an obsolete vacuum tube? Just “Google” the tube number and every likely source anywhere in the world will instantly be before you. Need the definition of a technical term? Just type it in and there it is. And along with this rich information resource has come the ability to purchase any of these items with similar ease. Of course Ebay has also helped this process along by creating the world’s largest market in new and used “stuff” of all kinds.
This interactivity and information-availability has encouraged the development of web-sites that today provide us with the latest news and other items of interest that we formerly found in daily newspapers and various trade publications.
With all this interesting information now at our fingertips – literally, the computer has evolved into more of an information resource and entertainment tool. While the traditional PC functions are still there, they are no longer dominant. Suddenly, the convergence of television and computers begins to make more sense. If I’m already accessing video clips about various events and items of interest on my computer, why not do that on a large-screen television in between watching favorite programs? That way I can entertain myself with a conventional video program, with a recorded movie, with an electronic game, and combine those activities with surfing the Internet for interesting items. The bridge between video entertainment and computer-accessed information has now been completed. There is a continuum of uses from pure video entertainment on one end, to a combination of computer-accessed information in the middle, to the more traditional PC–like world on the other end.
Could we have foreseen this more than a decade ago? Most of us did not. The key to this change was not the vision that Bill Gates had of pushing the PC into controlling the home. The key, instead, was what Google made happen with information search capability and the impact that this has had on other sources of information and commerce being added to the Internet. The process is now in place for television and computers to become inextricably linked. The convergence is happening. But it took a path markedly different than the one envisioned during the early growth years of PC technology.

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