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Dialog Box /
Richard Castagna
Richard Castagna

No TV on My PC
Why are thousands of people trying to crack the code that will finally turn a computer into a television set?

Imagine going into that nice little Italian restaurant around the corner and ordering an appetizer or two, a salad and maybe the pasta primavera, just to have the waiter reply, "Si, and I'll bring your dry cleaning, send over a CPA to review your taxes, and, oh, your mother's on the phone...."

You'd probably run screaming. All you wanted was a nice plate of pasta and a night off from your kitchen. But this is a full-service restaurant.

It's the same story with the Web. If it doesn't stop trying to be all things to all people, it may well collapse under its own weight.

Remember when it was simply the information highway? Armed with only a PC and a modem, you had the world's knowledge at your fingertips, and you were in the driver's seat. But before you knew it, you were getting shocked, plugged into and added onto-all to make your Web experience even richer. You loaded up your browser with every new gadget that came along so you could hear Web sites and watch them move.

I admit, my own browser's like a magnet. If a plug-in gets too close-thunk!-it attaches itself to my little window on the Web.

What pushed me over the edge was a comment I heard while watching a demo of the latest in streaming video technology. The proud presenter could barely contain himself: "It's not quite TV quality, but we're getting there!"

Why even try? Am I missing something, or is this a solution to a problem we didn't know we had? Why would I want to turn my $3,000 PC into a $200 TV? I already have a TV. I keep it in another room, and it's just what the doctor ordered when I need some passive, undemanding entertainment. That's not what I use my PC for.

Sometimes it seems technology is being developed just for the hell of it. And the technology needed to send streams of video over the Web and into your browser is pretty heady stuff. I just wonder why the wizards who spin those webs don't turn their attention to something more important-like making the Web faster or improving the information resources.

I'm not against entertainment, but why do we need to spend thousands on a PC just to stare slack-jawed at a 17-inch monitor while Bon Jovi thanks his mom and dad and tattooist for his latest Grammy? We can do that in the living room, with a 25-inch screen and remote control, too.

There's got to be a reason why thousands of people are burning the midnight oil to crack the code that will finally turn a computer into a television set. And these are really smart people-mathematicians, engineers, logicians. Sure, many do it just for the sheer joy of figuring things out. But a lot of money's being spent, and surely not everyone's motivation is altruistic. There's got to be a payoff somewhere down the line.

But who stands to benefit? Is it the PC user? More likely, it's TV broadcast executives who are rubbing their hands in glee as computer scientists work out the kinks. Finally, they'll be able to deliver the interactive TV they've been promising (or threatening) for years.

I guess this is supposed to be what will happen when personal computing meets TV. The idealists in the "convergence" camp predict a universal appliance that will serve us equally well for entertainment and for serious stuff like making a living. But those who see the two technologies colliding have even more serious things on their minds-like beaming The Terminator and its 11 sequels into our homes via whatever means necessary-TV, PC, the phone, the toaster oven, the Cuisinart-until all we want to do is go out and buy more appliances.

And when you fire up your browser to take a spin on the Web, what do you have to look forward to? Sure, you'll find lots of cool sites where you can while away the time you should be spending doing something else. But the TV-ing of the Web is just in its infancy. It's going to get better, a lot better-as good as TV itself. That's when you-the Web user-will reap the rewards of this expensive and highly developed scientific technology. No more discrete banner advertising at your favorite sites; you'll see full-motion, Surround Sound, grab-your-attention-and-don't-let-it-go commercials. Just like the real thing. Just like TV.

Richard Castagna is editor-at-large of WINDOWS Magazine. Contact him in the "Dialog Box" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe, or at the e-mail addresses here. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those held by WINDOWS Magazine. Have an opinion (or a gripe) about Windows computing you'd like to share? Send it to Nancy A. Lang at the e-mail address here.

Why are thousands of people trying to crack the code that will finally turn a computer into a television set?

Windows Magazine, June 1997, page 51.

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