Will $90 DVD Players Replace Home PCs?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

DVD players have advanced so far that they’re beginning to take over functions that we normally associate with home PCs. For example, I bought a Sony BDP-BX37 unit for a little over $90 a few days ago. With an ethernet connection to a cable router, I can now bring many web resources to the widescreen, high-definition (HD) TV.

Except for newscasts from time to time and special documentaries, I seldom watch TV programs. Instead, I use the TV primarily for viewing DVDs. Thus, when my old, pre-Blu-ray DVD player finally died, I went shopping. I was amazed at the wide range of models, price drop, and value for the buck. I was especially impressed with the LAN (local area network) capability and USB port.

When I got the unit home, I couldn’t wait to try it out. I inserted the cables — HDMI to the TV and ethernet from the router. I also plugged a keyboard into the front panel USB port. The onscreen setup went smoothly, prompting me through a few simple steps.

My first test was YouTube, to explore the unit’s web capability. At the YouTube screen, I used the keyboard (instead of the buttons on the remote) to type in a search term. I selected videos at random from the ones that emerged. They played without a problem. The default viewing frame is very small, about 20% of the screen. Clicking on the remote’s center button (in the circular direction controls) zooms in to full-screen mode. In full-screen, results are generally poor with standard low-resolution videos. Those with higher definition are fair to very good.

I quickly tested other devices. My older external hard drive wasn’t recognized by the DVD’s operating system. The newer was. I quickly ran through video, audio, and photo files. I found that the system works only with MP4 (for video), MP3 (for audio), and JPG (for photos). However, this test wasn’t exhaustive so your results may differ. Also, I haven’t researched or experimented with other makes and models so these limitations may be unique to the unit I tested.

As I played with this Sony unit, I couldn’t help but think that this is much, much more than a DVD player. Its networking and interactive capabilities are rudimentary, but it provides a glimpse into things to come, into the future of information and communications technology (ICT). In that future, the ubiquitous home PC could easily be replaced by an enhanced version of this type of unit, which combines web browsing with what we normally associate with TV, programs and DVD videos.

With web browsing, we open the door to potentially unlimited sources of on-demand videos and music as well as TV programs. The line between TV and web content will blur. With HD TVs capable of web access, services such as YouTube will increasingly move toward HD offerings, eventually making today’s low-resolution videos obsolete.

Once users become comfortable with these TV player-browser (or PB) devices, they’ll quickly and naturally feel the need for more, including personal productivity applications such as email, social networking platforms, microblogs, blogs, word-processing, spreadsheets, video and sound editors, etc., and PB designers will add feature after feature in response to market demands until their products transform into player-browser-applications (PBA) devices.

Thus, in the near future, PBAs will be able to replace home PCs. Instead of maintaining two separate and redundant systems, users will gravitate toward only one.

Hardware additions will also begin to include live cams and microphone input features for video conferencing, as well as multiple input ports such as USB that will allow for connections to a wide range of digital tools and equipment. Large capacity hard drives will also be an option. Cloud computing will offer alternatives to onboard apps and storage.

The PBA will eventually render the home computer obsolete. On PBAs with widescreen HD monitors, users will be able to:

  • Watch TV programs.
  • Surf the web for information and entertainment.
  • Read and write email.
  • Read and post in social networks, microblogs, and blogs.
  • View photos.
  • Listen to music.
  • Work with applications such as word processors and spreadsheets.
  • Conduct video conferences with friends.

In split-screen mode, they’ll be able to do more than one of these activities at the same time. Furthermore, with Microsoft acquiring Skype as a sign of changes to come, PBAs will also include live phone chats with live cam (for video conferencing) as an option, allowing all parties to see and talk to one another.

On their PBAs, users will be able to do everything that they can now do on home PCs — and a lot more.

This integration of entertainment and information, of passive and active communications, is part of a natural trend. In the early days, home computers were primarily game devices. From these humble beginnings, they evolved into personal productivity devices and, eventually, into social networking systems, combining entertainment, information, and communications. On a parallel course, TVs are gradually moving from entertainment to information and, soon, to communications. At some point in the near future, the twain will collide and only one will emerge. I’m putting my money on the successors to my $90 DVD player.

2 Responses

  1. That’s a remarkable development and insight, Jim.

    As more course support materials find their way into the cloud, this device will become important in learning.

    I can imagine a group working on a cloud-based project while interacting personally on the other halves of their split-screens. It all can be recorded for review by their instructor if that’s useful.

    I have to wonder who will choose a $500 tablet when $90 brings (or will bring) such magnificent results. Works for college students for sure.

    What happens to this concept when you move to secondary school? What about elementary school? Anyone care to comment?

  2. Harry, good questions. When I first got my iPad, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a crippled notebook computer. My focus was on what was missing — not on what was actually there. When I began using it as the most efficient portable window to the web, the braces came off and the iPad took off. It gives a whole new dimension to anytime-anywhere computing.

    Other companies are following Apple’s lead and beginning to offer their versions of iPad. The competition is a good sign — all the way around.

    In an article I wrote almost a decade ago, I describe what I called a Voice Internet Pad, or VIPer. I believe it’s the general form that iPad-like devices will eventually take. The description is in the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs at the beginning of the article.

    For whatever reason, when we begin with entertainment and personal communications as the primary use, the innovation takes off. Once it’s off the ground, then additional apps increase its value and practicality.

    I think the two basic player-browser-applications devices at home will be the TV and the pad — one will serve as the base station and the other, anytime-anywhere satellites. Home PCs and notebooks will be a dead-end in the evolution. -Jim S

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