Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Bandwidth, glorious bandwidth
The latest issue of Time magazine showed up in the mail the other day. (You'd think a modern, high-tech guy like me would have already sworn off the dead-tree version of weekly news, but I still have a weakness for reading material you can hold in your hand.) I flip through a couple of pages and come across a spread they call "Dashboard." Seems everything these days has a dashboard. When I use my Blogger account for this fine product you're reading now, I go to the dashboard. The customer relationship management software I use at work has an "executive dashboard." And my car, which apparently was way ahead of its time, also uses a dashboard.
Although it seems like a thoroughly appropriate term for the software interface (and a term that is ultra American - if we can't eat it or shoot it we want to drive it) it's kind of pathetic that Time wants to work in reverse and take this computer screen term and paste it into their printed magazine. "Hey look, our magazine looks kind of like your computer screen! See it has words and pictures! It's a dashboard! And no worries about battery life!"
So as I am shaking my head at how hopelessly obsolete the magazine has become, darned if I don't run across something worth knowing about. Granted, it's something I've heard about before, but this time I had a page to dog ear and that helped me remember to check it out. This grand discovery is hulu.com.
Hulu is a website where you can watch TV shows and movies on your computer. What makes it different from You Tube or other sites where you can get video is that Hulu has been created by NBC Universal and NewsCorp. This is the establishment getting a grip on the fact that people want to get content this way and trying to do it right (albeit with some ads in there, you knew that had to happen) rather than trying to fight the inevitable (remember the Napster battles?) In addition to Hulu, there are content-serving sites called Joost and Miro, says Time, and who knows how many others, in addition to the content you can pay for from iTunes or steal using any of the peer-to-peer file sharing products, so what makes this different is that is free, legal, and industry supported all at the same time. You can watch a little Dragnet or Remington Steele or WKRP in Cincinnati with a clear conscience and save $1.99.
Not only do you find your episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy and stuff you'd expect, but there are scads of other shows, both current and really, really old. (I sampled a little I Dream of Jeannie - like a fine wine, it just gets better with age - and a few minutes of Lost in Space, featuring the most atrocious painted backdrops in the history of the media. They must have budgeted about $12 a week for sets on that show.) And there are full length movies, too.
You won't see me passing over my HD widescreen and my comfy chair for most of my tube time, but there are plenty of people who are more than ready to make this fusion of TV and computer, and it's all possible if we just have enough bandwidth and the wisdom to see the next big thing. We're on the way to an ultimate on-demand entertainment nirvana, where any visual or auditory experience will be just a few clicks away. We will have gone from the two channels of TV of my childhood, to the "57 channels and there's nothing on" of my youth, to a world in my dotage where it will take me all night just to scroll through the viewing options.
I guess if it all gets too complicated, I can always read a magazine.