Digital convergence is all about sports

What will it take to put a PC in most living rooms? I have seen the hairy edge of digital convergence, and it is spelled S-P-O-R-T-S. It is ironic, in a way. But before I get to the reasons, first let me tell you a story from my own experience.

When I moved into my new home in St. Louis earlier this month, my wife and I had the big Where Do We Put the TV discussion. Of course, we started out by saying that we weren’t going to have it in the living room, but faster than you can say “What?” we had changed our minds and that is where it is today. I don’t quite understand this process, but have come to accept it as a fact of life.

I should state up front that I am not a big TV watcher – there are few if any broadcast programs that make it on my “Must See TV” list where I reserve a portion of my evening to watch it – Stewart and Colbert are about it, and they haven’t quite gotten on my schedule since the move. Mostly, we tend to watch Netflix videos.

My wife tends to have the TV on as environmental filler, but when she does sit down in front of the box, it is usually on one of the design-oriented channels like HGTV or Fine Living. She likes listening to the Today show, even post-Katie.

We ended up getting DirecTV, after some recommendations from my step-son who knows the gear. It costs a bit more than cable, but what tipped the scale in its favor for me was the music programming. Of course, we haven’t really begun to tap into that yet, what with one thing and another. We got the DVR model that is Tivo-like, but not quite Tivo, so we can pause, fast forward, and record our favorite shows, or so the literature says. I haven’t had the time to figure it all out yet, but my wife is happy, and my step-son stops by from time to time to show us a few new features when he thinks we are ready to learn a few New Things About Our TV. This leads me to Convergence Fun Fact #1:

CFF#1: The kids know this stuff better than the grown-ups. It is their demographic, their medium, and their touchstone after all. So listen carefully when they explain stuff the first time.

It pays to have a kid nearby to help with the installation and setup and training of the parents in the use of their new TV equipment. Those of us that are firmly planted in the IT tradition can learn from this experience, and finally understand what our users have been dealing with all these years with recalcitrant PCs. But I digress.

Then my life got more complicated, when I got a chance to test a new HD LCD TV from HP – that is a lot of initials. I thought, okay, let’s see where this baby will end up in the house and what if anything we can watch with it.

Well, the unit came with HP’s Digital Entertainment Center that is basically a PC combined with an HD DVR that runs Windows Media Center. Of course, it ended up in the living room, replacing the old tube TV that we had formerly planted there. My wife thinks of it as a huge black box that has too many wires coming out the back and offending her design sensibilities. And that leads me to Convergence Fun Fact #2:

CFF#2: If it is going to be in the living room, you have to Hide The Wires if you want to gain spousal design approval.

My wife was not happy with all the extra gear that we now “needed” to watch our Super Big TV. What, you are going to listen to the crappy speakers that come with the TV? No way, we need an amplifier and nice speakers! Well, they do sound a heck of lot better, but that means running those damn wires all over the place.

The second issue with HD specifically is: where is the content? There are over-the-air HD channels, and you can also bump up your TV subscription (on either the dish or cable providers) to include a few HD channels. This is where I begun to understand the problem. Convergence Fun Fact #3:

CFF#3: People don’t want to watch HD versions of the news, or soaps, or other normal programming. They want to watch sports.

Seeing what the actors look like in HD isn’t flattering. It so happens that the first HD program that I was able to get was a soap opera, and you could see the lines on the actors faces and other makeup imperfections just as clear as if they were standing in front of you in real life.

But the biggest problem is now we have 17 different boxes to power on to watch TV, and they have to be powered on in a certain order and with a certain remote control. And running Windows as the core OS of a DVR is just lunacy: I don’t want to deal with the blue screen of death, or spyware, or not having enough RAM to run my TV – I want it to just work. One night, my wife watched for several uncomfortable minutes as I tried to play a DVD on the HP DVR – there was something wrong with the disc, and eventually we gave up and watched it on one of our laptops in bed. All the while, she is mumbling how life has gotten so complicated that she can’t even operate our TV anymore and what is she supposed to do when I am not around to provide the necessary tech support?

Note: my wife is no techie novice. She has learned that when there are problems with the satellite box how to reboot that. And it takes almost as long to reboot that box as your average PC. Convergence Fun Facts #4, #5:

CFF#4: The TV can’t depend on any software to work.

CFF#5: The DVR should work effortlessly with the remote, and not depend on navigating 100 on-screen menus.

Comparing the HP DVR that runs on Windows with the DirecTV DVR that runs on whatever is no comparison. To do the same tasks is about five times more complex on the Windows box.

You can see where this is heading. Microsoft and the rest of the computing world are desperately trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It won’t work. But let’s say Bill and his crew can work miracles and fix all of these issues. There is one remaining problem with convergence, and it has nothing to do with the technology per se.

Most of the geeky guys (and they are mostly guys) I know aren’t into sports at all, or if they are, they were watching the World Cup, the Winter Olympics or something outside of the baseball/football/basketball American Axis of Evil. And this, quite frankly, is the problem with digital convergence, and why we are still mostly talking about it rather than reaping its benefits. All of the HD sports programming is firmly inside this axis. You can watch HD versions of college sports, pro sports, and of the 5,000 channels available to us of programming on our dish, 4,900 of them are devoted to sports (or so it seems).

Until geeks get more interested in sports, or until there is compelling HD content outside of the sports axis, convergence won’t happen. It is pure and simply this. Convergence has nothing to do with all the Fun Facts mentioned above, or how many Microsoft software engineers it takes to make Windows Media Center stable, or how many ways I can record programs digitally and pause and fast-forward through commercials on my DVR. It is all about sports. If you are in a household with a sports fan, you will have convergence, with a nice TV and all the digital trappings to follow your teams. You will deal with the extra wires, the kid to program your box, and your 17 remote controls with 16 of them to just turn that particular box on and off.

If you are in a household with the average geek, you will be forever damned to be upgrading your gear, experimenting with some bits and pieces with the latest firmware upgrade and network improvements, trying to figure out remote control IR codes, and a complaining family that wondered what happened to their “ordinary” TV that normal folks just sit in front of and turn on and off with a single remote from the couch.

0 thoughts on “Digital convergence is all about sports

  1. I think your observations are right on, but I reach some different conclusions. First, I eparate HD from converged media in the living room. I’ve got converged media and I love it. It has little to do, however, with broadcast TV, HD or not. Like you, we watch little of it. But my evolution of digital video in the family room is following the same path that audio took: ripped and downloaded the music to my PC; moved it all to a server to be able to share it around the house on the network; found the family room friendly device to play the music through the stereo system (I’ve used Turtle Beach’s Audiotron for years).

    Video is going the same way. Video is home movies, Hollywood productions, YouTube clips, obscure animation, public domain stuff. TV is last on my list. I’ve now got a terabyte of ~1,500 pieces of video from all over the place. OK, a bunch of it are classic movies I’ve “ripped” from my hacked Tivo, but I don’t count that as TV. The key to the whole system though is the best hack I’ve ever installed: Tivoserver. This magical piece of software serves up video in virtually any format (specifically whatever a full ffmpeg compile can handle) through my Tivo. All the video appears in the “Now Playing” list. Select the clip and it gets transcoded and served up on the fly. The WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is max’d out: she can find and play anything she wants.

    We also just threw up a folder full of photos on the TV/monitor that we took on our family cruise. Yup, through the Tivo interface again. I’d do my music this way too, but I’m too happy with the Audiotron.

    So, I agree: it ain’t gonna be Windows in MY living room. It might have been MythTV, but I know I’d spend 10 hours fiddling for every hour of watching. Once Verizon finishes the Fios install in my neighborhood, I’ll get Slingbox or the equivalent and I’ll be able to serve this stuff up anywhere I am. I also agree it ain’t gonna be sports that gets me to HD. Frankly, I don’t know what will. It’s not likely to be TV of any sort. The DRM crap that Hollywood is imposing on HD DVDs of either format will keep me away until that gets cracked.

    But without any of that, I’m as happy as a pig in you-know-what with the setup I’ve got. My only problem: I keep running out of disk space. But that’s a good problem.

    — Rich Bader,, Portland OR

  2. My husband has a MONSTER of a TV in the family room in the basement. It has no less than 7 remotes including the one to turn the antenna on the roof so he can get HD from a city north of us.

    God help me if I have to turn it on and no amount of praying will give me the knowledge to turn it to a different channel. And, I need divine intervention when it comes to switching from Satellite to regular TV. Cussing a blue streak used to help me when raising the kids…they knew they were in trouble when the swear words started spewing forth. So, here’s my solution. I gave up. I gave the room to my husband entirely and it shows – wires hanging out all over, the davenport sags in the middle because he lays down on it while watching TV, and the numerous remote controls overwhelm my end table.

    I also said I’d never put a TV in my living room, but things change. When my mom comes over, she wants to watch a TV and NOT have to go down the stairs to the basement. So, we bought a flat panel screen TV and it hangs on the wall instead of one of the paintings I so dearly love…sigh…It has a DVD player hooked to it but that’s all…NO MORE!

    Oh, BTW, we used to have DirectTV and I hated having to switch over to Satellite and back again and then try and figure out which button to push on which remote. So, we switched to Dish and it’s wonderful…one control, no switch box and I can get local channels on it, which I couldn’t with DirectTV, thus the switch over to Satellite. Check out Dish!

    — Sue Nail,

  3. Amen to your CCFs…you’re not telling us anything we don’t already know. The ones who need to pay attention to these issues, however, are the vendors.
    — Joan Nadish, PR consultant

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