Convergence: Count On It

1999: Convergence is the coming together of separate streams. In this case, the streams of personal computers and television. In Why Convergence Won’t Happen, Rabbe Sandelin says that it isn’t going to happen.

He quotes Steve Jobs saying, “You go to your TV to turn your brain off – you go to your computer to turn your brain on.” Nice sound bite, but is it really true?

Early Personal Computers

Some of the early personal computers, notably the Commodore VIC-20/64 and the various Atari 6502-based models, were specifically designed to work with your TV set. That is, they used your TV as a computer monitor.

Earlier computers, disguised as game systems, did the same thing – and it still goes on today with N64, PlayStation, and other gaming systems.

People play games on their TVs by turning their brains and reflexes on, not by becoming couch potatoes.

Amiga 1000Then there was the Amiga, a computer and operating system specially designed to make it easy to work with video. This was long before the Centris 660av and Quadra 840av made video processing a Macintosh feature.

Today video processing isn’t quite mainstream, but it is certainly popular. With the growth of digital camcorders, expect the trend of using personal computers as video editing tools to continue.

This integration of computer and video technology is anything but passive.

Other Areas of Convergence

Most personal computers use CD-ROM drives – and they can equally well play music CDs. By year end, we may see DVD become the norm on all computers. Not only will that let you play incredible games, but you can also watch DVD movies on your computer.

That means you can sit at your Mac, pop in a DVD, and turn off your brain.

More likely, as I’m finding in places like the DVD Resource Page, you’ll carefully select the movies you buy or rent, sitting back to enjoy them while developing a deeper appreciation for cinematography, storytelling, acting, etc. At least at this point in DVD history adopters seem as interested in the quality of the movies as in the coolness of the technology.

Another area that overlaps without converging is the telephone. Macs (AV or Power Macs) can be used as digital answering machines and can make phone calls over the internet. Many modems have speakerphone capability. And, of course, most of us use phone lines to connect our computers to the outside world.

Further, there are now phones and pagers that double as personal organizers (complete with computer interfaces) and even as email readers.

Although the two technologies have not converged, they certainly overlap.

Computer and Television

Steve Jobs is simply wrong about television. Sure, there are a lot of couch potatoes and video zombies out there, but some of us are more discerning of the hours we invest watching TV. We have favorite shows (The Pretender) and videos (The Prisoner) that are not simply entertaining but intriguing as well.

After all, if that weren’t the case, would you be discussing the latest X-Files, Ally McBeal, or Oprah episode with your friends?

Public TV is based on the premise that television serves the community by educating. Daily newscasts also strive to be more than mere entertainment.

There are already several competing standards for internet video, letting you watch movies or clips on your computer. Apple has invested enough resources in QuickTime that it should realize that convergence to some level is inevitable.

No, I don’t think computers and TVs will completely merge. It hasn’t happened with phones and computers, either. But they will overlap more and more. Digital TVs may have graphical operating systems and CPUs much like those in Wintel or Macintosh computers.

VCR and DVD makers could certainly learn a thing or two about visual interface from the Mac OS. At the same time, Apple has tried to adapt the TV/VCR remote control metaphor to QuickTime 4 (with mixed results).

TVs will get smarter and will readily interface to the internet. At the same time, computers will become even more personal and portable. For text and number work, the computer will dominate. But for experiencing the web, digital TV may become the medium of choice.

TV and computer will continue growing together.

Count on it.

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