Remember the PC versus TV debates of years ago? Even back then, I thought the correct answer was “both.” But the differences between the two devices blur more every year and they both end up being a box connected to a monitor that displays content.
One trend that’s of interest is the ability to connect your cable signal to your PC. For example, there was an interesting set-up at the Microsoft booth. A coaxial cable is plugged into the back of this ATI TV Wonder digital cable tuner, which is equipped with a CableCARD.
The signal then runs to the PC, running Microsoft’s Media Center. Then, thanks to an HP extender, the content can be run to a TV in another room; I’m also told that there are sets with embedded wireless extenders, so you just hang the TV up on the wall and be done with it.
The way this works is that you can now switch back and forth between cable television and the digital media on your hard drive. Watch TV, listen to MP3s, write e-mail, watch digital movies, or whatever. And every TV in your house can have access to that content, including the cable signal running through the one tuner, thanks to the extenders.
We have something like this set up in the “cableINNOVATES” exhibit back at the NCTA offices in D.C.
Let’s move to something a little less sophisticated, and yet elegant in its own way, the SanDisk TakeTV player. You may recall that last summer, NBC Universal decided to part ways with Apple and its iTunes Store. NBC is pursuing several different strategies for video distribution; for example, they are a backer of Hulu, a project mentioned in a panel Monday. In December, NBC announced a deal with SanDisk to distribute content through the Fanfare service. (Keep in mind that SanDisk is a huge player in Flash devices and competes strongly with Apple in the area of digital media players.)
After you browse through the shows on Fanfare, the DRM-protected content can be downloaded to your PC and then loaded to the Sansa TakeTV, a flash-based device that can be plugged into the USB port on your computer. Then you take the TakeTV out and pop it into the dock (seen at right), which is connected to your TV. A remote control allows you to pull up the content and make your viewing choice. Someone described it to me as a bit of a sneakernet approach to getting programming from the PC to the TV, but it seems to work pretty well.
Finally, there’s an approach that may already be headed for obsolescence, but might be an appropriate solution for some people, Hauppauge Digital‘s TV receiver. As you can see in the left photo below, you run your cable into the back of the receiver. You then connect it to the PC through USB. The catch is that you can only tune to open QAM channels, and in today’s digital world, there are far fewer open channels than they used to be, and they’re only going to go away. However, you could also connect an antenna to the receiver and pull in digital television signals. If you were a college student in a dorm without cable service, that might be quite handy.
As you can see in the photo on the right, you can then watch TV, in a window or full-screen. You can also set up recordings, using the MPEG-2 format.