Like many of you, my Mom always taught me that if you couldn’t come up with something nice to say about someone, then you shouldn’t say anything at all. However in wrapping up our discussion about Internet TV and home video solutions, I couldn’t help but note how much clutter, garbage in fact, I saw at CES.
I mean, there were some really cool geek devices that might be interesting to say, 17 people. There were more technology acronyms and protocols listed on datasheets than you could shake a stick at. And this was from both consumer electronics behemoths and start-ups alike. I was really left scratching my head in some cases, wondering if I was trapped in a parallel universe where the mass adoption of products by mainstream consumers didn’t really matter.
Not to pick on our friends from Panasonic
, but here are the headlines for two datasheets I plucked from their booth: “Panasonic BPL Technology Ratified as Element of IEEE P1901 Baseline Standard”, and my personal favorite, “PLC Super Compact PHY Module/MMDPMS250 Series” (“Hey kids, it’s movie night, let’s go cozy up in front of the PLC Super Compact PHY Module/MMDPMS250 Series”). Uhhh…no.
While powerline communications (PLC), especially broadband over PLC (BPL), has some pretty cool applications for using your home’s existing AC outlets and electrical wiring for media distribution (we’ll take a closer look in future posts), the point is the methods being used to promote these technologies are confusing and convoluted. I don’t mean to sound like a marketing or branding snob, but engineering-driven marketing does nothing to help move these technologies forward. Let’s be honest here. Technology is a wonderful thing, but at the end of the day it is meant to make things better for people, improve their lives, if only to entertain them in new ways. AND to make money for its inventors and manufacturers. For that to happen, people need at least a chance to understand it. And you would think even the geekiest of gadgets or technology standards has dreams of leaving the island of misfit toys some day. No one really wants a “Charley in the PLC Super Compact PHY Module/MMDPMS250 Series Box”, now do they?
So it was with this healthy skepticism that I came across Silicon Dust’s
HDHomeRun at CES. At first I thought, what’s the point? HDHomeRun uses a dual-tuner to take over-the-air signals from your home antennae or digital signals from your unencrypted cable coax and turns your computer into a TV/DVR. Any searching online will tell you the box has a loyal, but geeky, following of folks who want to do this sort of thing. But it really bucks the trend. More and more of the content you would ever want to watch has found its way online, including all the major network sites such as abc.com and cbs.com. I would say that between these sites, and others like Hulu, Joost, Netflix, Amazon, ESPN, and countless others, you will be able to find over 75% of the shows and movies you are looking for, both old and new, and much of it in HD. In other words, all of this content is already at your fingertips at your computers. And with the help of new Internet TV guides like Zinc
, and Sling.com
, why would you ever want to go through the trouble of setting up a device to record broadcast content that is already instantly available on demand off the Internet? The bigger problem folks are trying to solve, and the forefront of a major consumer trend, is ways to watch that same content from the comfort of your living room couch instead of the relative discomfort of the home office and the PC’s small screen.
But then I got off my high horse and thought about it a little bit more. HDHomeRun is really a poor man’s DVR for free content. Yup, free. Many folks don’t know you can already get a half-dozen HD channels for free over the air or in many cases over unencrypted cable. At $160 it’s relatively cheap compared to other boxes. And it is a crucial peripheral for a growing number of people who are using built-up computers called home-theater PCs (HTPCs) as the foundation for all their AV equipment in the home. And while it may be a little kludgey to have a PC and peripheral boxes stacked up near the HDTV in the living room, it’s probably no worse than the platoon of boxes most people already have in their entertainment center. And it leverages the under-utilized coax in your home. And finally, and most importantly, HDHomeRun gives folks yet another option to break the $100-$150-a-month stranglehold cable and other TV providers have over us.
So kudos to the SiliconDust team. It may be a while before the divide between our TVs and computers is fully breached for the everyday consumer, but every bit helps. Now, maybe they can put out a reverse-version of the HDHomeRun, and like ZvBox
, give folks another coax-based way to watch Internet content on their living room HDTVs without having a computer attached. They could call it the “HD Go-Around-Four-Bases 8-VSB ATSC/QAM 256 Using RG6 From PC to TV Box”. Catchy, isn’t it? :-)