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.

Digital Home Part I

It’s not much of a vision; hardly revolutionary. However I do hope that at least some of my views will come to fruition in the future.

I’ve spent a lot of time working with computers and I’d say I know quite a bit about them. More than your average Joe Blow for sure. For those kinds of the people who use their computers for the internet, email and some word proccessing, they’re still too complicated and take on a sort of ‘geek factor’. They’re not slick and very task-oriented. It’s not like a radio you turn on to have in the background. That’s why I see the computer migrating to a more integral as opposed to a specialty part of the digital home.

I was actually partially prompted to write something on this topic by the launch of the new generation of game consoles. They’re incredibly advanced and incorporate a great deal of feature improvements from the previous generation as well. They’re just another step that brings us closer to what I believe is to be an inevitable place for computers. Instead of the role of internet communication, I believe a modified form of the computer will take the central role in the home theatre/tech centre of our homes.

For the most part the HTPC crowd consists of enthusiasts. They buy specialized HTPC cases and components focused on building quiet, powerful systems to place in their A/V rack and use as DVD players, TiVO, and sound systems all in one. However it’s a very small minority. The people who do this know exactly what they need from their home theatre and the HTPC satisfies their needs. For the most part, you cannot get the same quality of home theatre from a computer as you can from dedicated high end equipment.

A great topic of discussion recently has revolved around the topic of these new generation consoles. Many are saying they’re going to make comupter gaming or perhaps even computers obsolete. They’re basing this one the fact that they’re quite a bit more powerful than PCs and they’re going to be quite a bit cheaper than a top end desktop as well. I for one cannot see it replacing computers in general though. They do not have the communication requirements met. While you can go through cyberspace in the search of other players and friends, you cannot use it as a dedicated internet browser for example. While they may be great inventions for gamers, the majority of computer users are not gamers.

However, they computer industry must recognize the threat that these consoles present. They have the potential to take away a large portion of the gaming community. I do have the feeling they do see the potential of the HTPC. For example Intel has previewed a bunch of tech platforms that have very strong basis in the set-top box arena.

I would much rather have all my multimedia needs met in a single location in the home. Instead of switching back and forth between the home theatre and the PC, both of which are very task specific, a combination of the two would provide a very integrated digital environment. I believe that many people would appreciate this type of setup in the home. But for this to occur we need several hardware and software changes.

The XBOX 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution should all become available within a year or year and a half. Now in their stock form, they’ll be primarily gaming machines, but like the current Xbox, they’ll probably be hacked and modded to perform the duties of a HTPC. They’ll come even closer to what people are looking for. They’ll be sleek, silent and powerful. All they need is more support and they could take out many of the reasons for having a dedicated ‘computer’.

This ends Part I. I’ll be writing up another part on this topic with some specific ideas I have and some things I’d like to see in the future of computers.

Charlie.

Why 18?

I’ve never really understood the significance of this age. Eighteen. It’s supposedly the age you transition from a non-adult to an adult. But what comes with this ‘honor’? You can buy lottery tickets and rent pr0n? Seriously, it’s not like all of a sudden you become wise and mature on that day. You’re progressively growing older and 18 is just another year in the life of…

Now I’m not dissing or putting down the importance of the 18th year as many see it. I’m just questioning why it’s so psychologically important. Many laws are also built around this age. It’s really quite peculiar if you stop and think about it for a while.

I dunno, maybe I’m just weird?

I’m still working on the two main articles for this weekend. They’ll be up relatively soon.

Charlie.

Where Did All The Nice Weather Go?

Well during the week of our musical, we had nice sunny days with 15C+ temperatures everyday. Now that the musical’s over and we finally have time to go out, we’ve had generally crappy cold weather. You may have read that it actually snowed here a couple days ago. That was weird/insane.

If you take a look at the ten day forcast in that little weather applet thingy, you’ll notice that almost all of those ten days going to be filled with mediocre temperatures and crappy cloudy or rainy weather. I mean come on, that just plain sucks. My last days here and I’m going to be cooped up in the house.

Speaking of which, we sold our house and all about 2 weeks ago and whatnot, but I recently noticed that there are quite a few people up to some selling. On our street alone (a relatively new neighborhood) there are now 5 houses for sale. That’s out of a total of like 12 houses on our street. It’s pretty coincidental that everyone all of a sudden put their houses on the market. I wonder if there’s something we don’t know… Hmmm..?

In any case, just a short little update as I continue to work on my calculus homework. God it’s boring and tedious. We’re doing derivatives right now where you find the limit of sloped lines and that sort of stuff. The thing is, it’s much of the same thing over and over again. Ah well, at least the teacher makes classes pretty interesting. That can’t be said for the homework though. I’ll just have to labor through them; I’ve got a test on this stuff this coming Tuesday so I need some practice.

Charlie.

Procrastination Is Fun

One of my greatest failings: My tendency to procrastinate. It seems like in recent times it has gotten worse. I don’t specifically remember having all that much trouble even as recently as grade 11. It really has been late grade 11 perhaps and mostly grade 12 that it’s really become trouble.

Oh the examples I could give you from the past, such as applying to unversity, studying for exams, scholarships and so forth, but perhaps to really anchor it down, I’ve left something to the last minute and it’s taken me all night to get a start on it. My jazz transcription.

You see one of the projects in our Jazz Studies class is to do a transcription of a solo. Essentially, you listen to a jazz tune and then rip the solo from it. Then you bring in the song (and your memory) to class and play the solo back along with the song. The goal is to basically cover up the solo being played on the CD and make it sound like you’re soloing. This project is designed to help you develop your ears and perhaps learn a few licks in the process. Well it was a project assigned many weeks ago and I just started on it tonight. Yes, it’s that bad.

So since about 8PM tonight, I’ve been hard at work, labouring, trying my hardest to get all the notes down at least so that I can have tomorrow to practice and memorize it. It wasn’t until about 10 minutes ago that I finally got it all down. My eyes are dying and I think my brain’s about to explode. But hey, these are the joys that are associated with procrastination. What a wonderful thing it is…

Why do I do it? Well I almost have an excuse this time. I’ve been really busy with musical. However, I can’t say that I haven’t had any free time. Far from it, but it’s so much more appealing to be out in the sun and having some fun with cast and crew. Work isn’t everything I guess. Unfortunately, most of the time, the reason for my procrastination can be traced back to solely laziness. Ugh.

They say the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging it. Well, I’ve done that now, so hopefully I can get myself better organized and maybe fulfill my obligations before the last possible moment. I’m sure I’d feel a lot less stressed if I did that too. Eh, who knows, but for now all I care about it getting some sleep. Sleeping in class after missing a week of school probably isn’t the best thing to be doing. Toodles.

Charlie.