Tag Archives: blu ray

Does Technology Die?

I read a tech column that was posted on Yahoo about 15 devices that children born today will never know and it has followed a running trend in the field of technology writing that assumes wireless is the answer to all that ails the world.  This is a fallacy and a common mistake made by many who do not truly understand the limitations of the technology.  The article also makes some pie in the sky assumptions about where today’s tech—TV, computers, remote controls and optical discs—will go.
Wireless communication is a fabulous thing.  Being able to talk to people untethered, not chained to a wall or even to a building is a marvel of the modern age.  It wasn’t that long ago that if you had a long cord on your receiver that allowed you to walk around the room, you were living large.  Now you can talk to someone while walking throughout your house, outside to the drive way, getting into your car and even driving down the street (don’t talk and drive people).
Wireless internet on handsets is also fabulous.  Being able to lookup directions, settle arguments about trivia, find sports scores and now even watch streaming videos in the palm of your hand is quickly becoming commonplace.
These applications are the basis for techno neophytes to assume that everything needs to be wireless.  If watching a video on an iPhone is cool, then who could ever need or even want wires.  Surely those who make tech products understand that wires are dead.  But the truth is that wires are not dead and will never be dead.
While 4G LTE networks are making broadband speeds available to the wireless handsets, the speeds are nowhere near the speeds of which cable modems are capable.  Comcast offers 105 Mbps downstream and the fastest LTE network barely offers 10 Mbps (actual consumer speeds, not theoretical throughput).  That isn’t the only problem with wireless either.  In the wireless world there is a little discussed phenomenon known as frequency contention.  If you have too many wireless devices using the same frequency, they tend to get lost in the chatter.  It is kind of trying to have a conversation in a stadium where everyone is talking at the same time.  This slows down data transfer dramatically and high bandwidth uses get severely curtailed by packet loss.  Also, the more devices trying to connect to the same receiver also slows down data transfer.  Kind of like all lanes of a 5 lane freeway merging into a single toll booth.  Certainly, there are ways network designers can mitigate these problems, but the point is that wired connections are more stable and wired networks are far more secure and wired networks are always faster.
The writer of that article also maintained that remote controls will soon go the way of the dodo as capacitive touchscreens get big enough to become televisions.  I seriously doubt this will happen.  Two things will prevent the television from becoming a touch-controlled device: eye strain and fingerprints.  To interact with the television by touch, one must be so close that it becomes difficult to take in the whole picture, especially when the size of the TV is larger than 36 inches.  And who wants to constantly be windexing the fingerprints off the front of the set?  Kinect style motion capture and voice control may replace the push button remote, but not capacitive touch.  I have used my Kinect; I still prefer the remote control.
3-D TV will never become mainstream.  I realize that I am in the minority with this assertion, but trust me, no one wants to watch TV wearing glasses all the time.  If manufactures can develop a successful 3-D image that can be viewed without glasses, then maybe—and only if content producers are willing to invest in that technology to produce shows in that format, which they probably won’t.  We still have a lot of TV shows produced in SD and up-converted for HD sets, but they are not true HD.
The death of the PC will never happen, though the PC will not look like it does now.  Apple and HP have shown us where the PC will be going.  The desktop/tower/workstation will evolve into a slimline footprint integrated into the viewscreen.  Keyboards and mice will continue to exist for the same reasons that TVs will not go touchscreen.  People do not want to get too close to the monitor when the monitor is larger than 30 inches or so.
Optical Discs are falling out of favor for mainstream consumers in favor of streaming.  This is more convenient, to be sure, but streaming does not come close to the image quality of Blu Ray.  Streaming offers at best progressive scan DVD quality, which is not bad at all, but it doesn’t offer the immersive experience of watching a blue ray on a 52-inch or larger display.  Add the fact that owning a library of DVDs which one will always have access to is preferable to accessing content on the internet which may rotate the titles every few months (as Netflix and Xfinity do).  Having the movie archived to an optical disc in how true film buffs will continue to operate as long as discs are produced.  Hollywood is, sadly, the only entity that controls how long Blu Ray will last.
Technology is ever evolving, and new products are being developed every day and others are being improved.  And while many products have died (video tapes, laser disc, 8-tracks, etc) not everything that exists today will disappear.  Even the vinyl LP record, which people predicted would die when cassettes came out then again when CDs came out is still hanging in there in niche markets.  Yes, that means the record companies are still pressing new vinyl records.  So, while young people can dream of a day where there are no wires and everything fits in the palm of your hand and is controlled with a swipe of your finger, some things just won’t die.

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Resistance is Futile

That you are reading this means that you and I have both figured out how to get online, which means we both know how to use technology. I have always had a fascination with all things tech; I even work in a business that is at the forefront of new technologies. I like to assimilate new technologies into my collective—resistance is futile.

I have several computers; each with a specific purpose. I use a netbook to write these blogs and my book and anything else I compose. I have a Dell XPS that I use for graphics work such as scanning pictures and we have the media computer that is tied into the home theater, which is the machine that has given me fits of late. We also have two laptops, plus I have my work laptop. I also have a few more computers at work that I have to use as well. As a direct result, I have learned much about these machines, such as the fact that they don’t like people.

Why would they? We build them out of fire, smelting the metal compounds to make the wires and contacts and frames, casting the plastics for the cases and moving parts and we charge electricity through them constantly. It can’t be a comfortable life for these things, and we constantly demand that they do more and more. In fact, we have gone from asking machines to do our math for us to having them keep track of our inventories and finances to having them entertain us. Now we expect that they will not only keep track of our groceries in the refrigerator, but that they will order restock items for us. Which actually gives us an excuse for getting that Sara Lee pie or the extra can of whipped cream: the refrigerator did it.

So the media computer has been running pretty much 24 hours a day since I built it 5 years ago, even after the rebuild two years ago. I added a blu-ray player and upgraded the video card and added memory so it would be a viable blu-ray disk player for the home theater. Well, the machine had been complaining for months about the workload. It staged strikes and work stoppages, but I always managed to coax it back to work. Once I even had to fire the whole system and reload it. I have no qualms about strike busting my computers.

Well, over Christmas 2009, the media computer staged one last strike. When we came home, we found that it had crashed and it would not reboot for anything. This strike resulted in the death of the media computer, so it was time for a replacement. Now, I have minimum requirements for a media computer. Since it is performing a specific function, it has to have specific components. Well, I noticed that no new computers are being sold with Blu-ray players in them. This confounds me, since Blu-ray is the only way to watch true High Def on 1080p TVs. Oh, I found a few machines, but they were high-end gaming systems and I do not need that kind of computer; particularly when it costs $2300. Building a machine from scratch is no cheaper these days.

I decided to harvest the surviving organs from the corpse of the old media system and transplant them into a lower end, off-the-shelf computer. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about time or refrigeration. In order to use the transplants required that I get a computer that can accept them. Organ rejection can be a tough obstacle for any computer to overcome. I found a low end HP with the required slots and I opened it up for the operation.

The installation actually went very well. The problem happened during the driver installation. It seems that Windows 7, which is a vast improvement of Windows Vista, but still not as intuitive as XP, is still so new as to have some backwards compatibility issues with older equipment. The Blu-ray player developed an HDCP issue which caused intermittent flashing of a green screen during the playback.  It took a week of trial and error to find the problem and correct it. The new computer now works the way I need it to work and it seems rather stable, finally. But more to the point, it seems to like doing what it’s doing. It hasn’t given me any fits since I fixed the driver issue. Maybe this machine will like me.

I have to say that I am impressed with the Windows 7 version of Windows Media Center. It works with the TV tuner much better than the OEM software that came with it, and it integrates with all media seamlessly, including the Blu-ray. It makes computers act like they like entertaining us.

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Time For The New Toys

The technology we use to entertain ourselves is in a state of constant flux. It is always changing; some things shrink while others grow. New features make that which was intricate simple and the obvious complicated. One thing that never changes, however, is that customer whim drives the technology. The latest medium has had a rocky road, but 2010 will finally be the year of the Blue Ray.

Once upon a time, the only way to watch a movie in the home was to buy a projector and a copy of the actual celluloid film. In the 70’s, home video came of age with the aptly named Video Home System (VHS) which beat out rival Betamax in a heated contest for consumer hearts and minds and wallets. With video, a new industry was born and flourished with many companies manufacturing tapes and selling copies to rental houses across the country. Soon, the cost of reproduction fell so low that people could afford to buy a copy of their favorite movies to own. Home libraries grew to rival the rental houses and as more stores popped up selling tapes, the rental houses began to fall away one by one.

Then the first real challenge to VHS market dominance came in the digital versatile disk (DVD). This CD-sized medium offered startling resolution when compared to VHS as well as surround sound. It filled the hole in the market left by the failed laser disk and overflowed all over the VHS market. Soon, the remaining rental houses began stocking only DVDs. Wal-Mart decided to do away with tapes altogether. Now the video tape has gone the way of the 8-track.

DVD has enjoyed total market dominance for almost 10 years, surviving the HD wars that caused such a stir three years ago. Two new formats of DVD fought it out much in the same manner as Betamax and VHS. HD DVD and Blue Ray both offered significantly better picture and uncompressed 5.1 digital surround sound. They used improvements in laser technology to cram more data onto disk the size of a standard DVD. Drives that read either disk could also read standard DVDs as well. So the battle was fought not in the TV, but in the shopping centers and box stores as releasing companies tried to outmaneuver each other with the new format. Blue Ray finally won and HD DVD has joined Betamax in the annals of failed but superior technology.

But Blue Ray’s victory was not complete. While it emerged as sole High Definition format, the Venerable DVD was still the big boy on the block and wasn’t going gently into that good night. Vendors and movie companies failed to realize the market and thought and planned on Blue Ray as a premium medium. They priced players in the $500 range and movie titles were double that of standard DVDs. Well, customers just thought that wouldn’t do, so they stayed away in droves from the Blue Ray section and bought more titles in standard DVD.

Even as HDTV took off and more and more people bought LCD and Plasma flat panel TVs, they were not spending the extra money for Blue Ray. Many market analysts predicted that Blue Ray would die a death of market apathy. People wouldn’t elect to buy a Blue Ray version of a title they already had in standard DVD, especially with the premium price tag. Some stores only allocated a half a shelf for the entire blue ray section, while the standard section was four or five shelves.

The rebound happened with Christmas 2009. After the summer FCC mandated digital transition, HDTVs started flying off the shelf even faster than before. Prices for flat panel sets dropped well below the thousand dollar mark. Movie companies finally began to realize that customers will not pay more for a blue ray title and so stores started marking them down to almost as low as standard DVDs. Many titles are actually cheaper on Blue Ray. Blue Ray players have also dropped in price, making the whole high def home theater experience affordable.

For those still on the fence, it is time to get in the game. Prices will only drop so low, and with the economy being the way it is, specials abound making it the perfect time. Besides, you will be doing your part to stimulate the economy to help bring us out of the recession. It is time for the DVD to join the VHS tape and the LP in the age of obsolescence.

Next, 3D-TV?

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