Digital Home Part II

Continuation from previous post.

As I’ve said in the previous post, I’ve been trying to lay an outline for what role I’d like to see computers take on in the future. Basically I would like them to integrate with the overall multimedia centre of the home as opposed to the mainly communications role that it serves currently.

So what changes will the computer have to undergo both hardware-wise and software-wise? Well, it’s not too much different from how they’re changing anyways. It’s just that they’ll have to focus in a slightly different direction. The three main aspects of change will need to be in usability, human interface and performance. Usability and interface kind of go hand in hand. However I’d like to discuss usability more in the aspect of software and human interface in a more hardware-oriented way.

So, usability. That’s probably one of the reasons why these game consoles will never replace computers outright in their current form. They do not satisfy the user needs. While great for games, they have little or no communications capabilities. What the average computer user wants is to be able to communicate effectively and easily. Take something like your HTPC and change it so that it not only satisfies the media requirements of the home but also the internet needs. While something like Windows MCE 2005 has come very close to what I’m talking about, it still lacks internet browser or email client integration into the actual media centre to name a few things.

Human interface will also have to undergo some changes. Currently game consoles rely almost exclusively on game controllers. While this is adequate for gaming, to expand past this sector, we will need more multipurpose interfaces. Even a remote only allows you to scroll, change channels, access menus and so forth. What we really need is a modified version of the keyboard. That way, we would have the full capabilities of a computer at our fingertips. Writing things would be much simpler. Truly, the keyboard would help broaden the use of these HTPCs.

Another path could be the use of voice-recognition software. Instead of using a remote to control your system, you would be able to talk to it. Writing things would involve you dictating it and there would be no need for any hardware interface at all. This is probably further off in the future than just some hardware changes, but there are speech recognition capabilities even now. We just need to refine them in order to better communicate with our computer systems.

And finally, onto the topic of ‘performance’ we go. I don’t mean performance in terms of CPU or GPU computing power necessarily. While those do need to progress and evolve as they have, I think less of an emphasis will be placed on that. Instead, I think we should focus more on features. For example, instead of booting up the system every time you want to watch TV (I can just see a large SuperBowl gathering where you say, ‘Oh wait a minute while I reboot the TV.’) I would like to see some sort of sleep mode. That way turning on your system would be essentially instantaneous. In order to record TV at HDTV quality or even higher in the future, we need a large jump in hard disk technology. Perpendicular recording drives are on the horizon and they may be one of the things that will drive the ability to record at high qualities. We also need to miniaturize the components. Aside from SFFs, the most commonly used form factor has not really changed in size. To really appeal to the general public, the current HTPCs need to slim down (some are already fairly small but then sacrafice features/performance) while keeping their capabilities. Multithreading would become more important for the average user as they could have multiple things running that same time. For example, they could be playing a movie on most of the screen while recording a TV show and talking to someone in an instant messenger type program. Thus multicore or multithreaded CPUs at least would be useful.

Now keep in mind that this is what I would like to see happen. By all means the computers we know today will not become extinct. Instead I see them and HTPCs switching their respective positions in the home. So your average person would have a HTPC-type device that would also satisfy his/her need for internet communications and general usage in addition to the media capabilities. The niche market would then belong to the enthusiasts who still require a desktop PC for their specialized needs. You wouldn’t do 3D modelling, for example, at your multimedia centre. However, the general public would probably find no need for that dedicated workstation-type computer.

Charlie.

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