I was opening files on an old hard drive and found this article. The creation date said “May 3, 1998”. Broadband DSL was a year or more away. The bzzz at the time, much like the current web 2.0 is now, was convergence, convergence, convergence. But it never happened. Almost a decade later we’ve just started seeing “tv like” content show up on video.google.com, yourtube, iTunes and hundred of other places. While I wrote this all those years ago, much of it is still true today.

The one thing that I didn’t predict was TiVO. This is a computer/tv convergence device that worked. Most people don’t consider a TiVO to be a computer running Linux. Rather, it is a TiVO controlled with a remote control. Maybe TiVO success came from the failures of WebTV which desperately tried to shoe horn “the internet” into the living room.

Anyway. Memory lane. Here it is:

A computer is not a television.
Thoughts on the convergence of two mediums

You sit a foot and a half from a computer and 8 feet away from a TV.
Images on a computer will look pixelated and jumpy because TV works at 60 frames a second, 4 times that of typical computer video. As bad as the NTSC standard is at least it delivers a usable image. In addition an NTSC signal is analog. It scales well as the image gets larger. Computer video is digital and when scaled will look “blocky” unless it is processed. If you could watched computer video like you watch TV it would look a lot better than it does now.

It’s hard to read text on a TV or a computer screen.
But TV text is at least formatted for the medium. Text in web browsers are often very hard to read. Computer text is made from pixels. At 72 DPI typical 12 point type looks blocky. As text gets larger it also becomes softer, easier to read. That happens because the type is anti-aliased as long as the font is made from trueType or rastered by ATM. When small type is displayed on a TV care is taken to insure it’s readability. Often small text is static – like a score board or a title. This information stays on the screen for more than a few seconds. Small text is often abbreviated and the viewer can derive the exact information based on the content of the show. Somehow what we learned from TV does not translate into computer

A computer demands interactivity while a TV is passive (other than changing the channel or muting the sound.)
Fortunately keyboards and mice don’t travel very far from computer screens. Most if not all TV’s are not equipped with a Mouse and if they were people would be driven to another level of frustration watching an inept mouser trying to click something 8 feet away. It’s bad enough sitting next to a rabid channel surfer. A computer by comparison is a very personal experience. Very rarely does a computer work with more than one person. And when they do they are connected via a network so that each user is using their own computer. Two player games sometimes work on the computer or the tv. Generally the object is to blow the other guy away so no matter where it’s played it can still be fun.

Band width problems are caused not only the delivery pipe but by the server as well.
Where and how are you going to put all that stuff? There is no fast way to save gigabytes of data.

One to many. Many to one.
Many people can view a TV at the same time. A computer is generally a “personal” experience. Part of the “viewing” experience on a computer is “using” the software. It’s hypnotic watching Doom or Tetris, but it’s even more engaging when you are the driver.

The amount of time, people, and talent it takes to make one hour of tv is small compared to it what it takes to make 1 hour of interactive entertainment.
Engineering vs. art. Compare Quake to Titanic (the movie). It takes are very smart person to program a world like Quake. It’s mostly in one persons head and no amount of extra people can make it come any faster. Titanic is a linear process as well EXCEPT that many different elements can happen in parallel. All of which lead up to a single linear production that anyone can view. No tech support is required to view a movie. Where as Quake is technical in nature and therefore not accessible to as wide an audience as a movie.

Computers are very expensive when compared to TV. The cost of getting into TV is relatively cheap. $200 (more or less) for the TV and $25 a month for cable. Or find a free TV (http://www.craigslist.org/zip/) and get programming for FREE from the air. The internet requires a $500 (at least) computer and $30 a month for high speed access. And that’s just the low end. Software for either medium is also required (Video tapes, DVD or CD-ROMs). Again the computer version are much higher in cost then the TV versions.

Most computers in the office do not have enough power to play video.
Circa 1998 when this was written. And what I meant by that back then was that lacked power to play full screen video using scaling methods to make video look less blocky. The 2006 computer does not have this problem. Modern video cards and processor speed more than handle the requirements of making video look good. Which brings up that even if the computer can do video the office is not the place to watch tv. TV is seen as an idle task. If you are watching TV at work then you are not working. Even if the video is related to work in the form of training for employee betterment. If a computer in the office makes any noise other than “Beep” it distracting to other workers.

Watch once. Play again and again.
After I watch an episode of Wings (very dated reference as I haven’t watched this show on airplanes in a long time) it’s very rare that I want to watch it again. But I’ll play Quake or Mars Rising over and over.

The bad and the bad
Interactive infotainment CD-ROMs are a good example of bad iTV. The amount of information they serve up isn’t very much considering how much it costs to make or purchase. Alice to Ocean, Passage to Vietnam, Ocean Life (Sumeria) are just a few examples of CD-ROMs that didn’t deliver the person more information compared to a book or talk.