Last week we said goodbye to a dear friend, our trusty old Sony Trinitron TV and, in so doing, severed a connection with the past but held-on to a view of a better digital future.
For the past 6 years or so, our old TV has been sitting up in the loft. You know, just in case. This big boxy Sony TV with its lovely picture and bassy audio was sent into the loft not because it had done something wrong but because we loved it. You see, we didn't want to get rid of it. The expensive TV was an early big purchase for us and had kind of become part of the family. When compared to flatscreens of the day, watching tennis on this heavyweight CRT screen made it easy to call balls in/out. Digital pictures of the day may have had high resolution but their slow refresh rates make for jumpy ball-flights and disputed line-calls.
Nevertheless, the trouble was that, 6 years ago, the hard drive and DVD recorder that decoded the digital signal and fed the Sony Trinitron with pictures and audio through a SCART cable blew-up. We were watching TV one evening and saw smoke billowing from the air vents of the short-circuiting hard drive. Thanking our lucky stars that this spontaneous combustion hadn't taken place when we were not at home, we set out to look for a replacement.
During the time that we'd owned this box of fireworks, streaming TV content had become viable and digital boxes were changing for good. Our problem was that none of the boxes we found did the things we wanted. Our needs weren't great - our minimum requirement was that the box output through a SCART socket because that was the only input our old TV had but our needs went unmet. During the time we spent with our big old Sony box, the digital world had quickly moved on and the world now consumed pictures and audio through HDMI. So we began hunting online for a box with a SCART output, meanwhile, making do with an antiquated Freeview set-top box.
It soon became clear that the notion of what digital services the later-day boxes connected to was broader and far more significant than simply the cable itself. A principled disgust for all that Fox/Sky/News International represents prevents us from being sucked into believing that Sky is better. Being an Apple household and workplace, the no-brainer consideration option was the Apple TV and we were both wooed by the way it integrated with iTunes, iPhones and iPads but soon realised that the low entry price point was merely a sweetener to (re)buy all your film and TV media through Apple.
I digress and openly admit to having a hang-up about subscription streaming services; I like the notion of 'buying' media and taking it with me. I openly appreciate too that this is an age thing. I've invested heavily in building a library of music through iTunes and am satisfied with locking-into the music platform & ecosystem. Unplug me from the Internet and my music still works and my DVDs still play. The same cannot be said for Spotify, Netflix et al. To date, no-one has been able to give me a satisfactory demo of Spotify and, until that time arrives, I guess I'll favour of my buy-and-download model.
Anyway, after much to-ing and fro-ing we soon realised that our problem wasn't the digital box but the TV. It became clear that life would become so much easier if we hung-up our dependancy upon the SCART socket and said goodbye to CRT. Moments later we bought a smart TV and haven't looked back. The mighty Trinitron was heaved-up into the loft as a backup because the memory of the all-too-recent spontaneous combustion remained with us. The hard drive DVD recorder was replaced and we now watch pretty-much all our TV through catch-up services. Wimbledon still doesn't look as good, line calls are still disputed but the HD picture does its best to make up for this shortcoming.
It seems that in order to move forward there are some things that have to be regrettably left behind. Not everything about being digital is necessarily better. A time will come when, like my battle-cruiser-sized Trinitron, DVD and BluRay players and media will be left behind and streaming will be the only option left.
I still have a problem with streaming and wish for a future where media downloads are recognised as being intelligent and reliable option.
I kind of like looking-ahead through a TV schedule for what's up and coming, programming my hard drive like it's 1983, downloading a programme to watch, if I so choose, over and over again without drawing this data afresh across the Internet and saving myself the unmatched annoyance of buffering. This might sound old tech but I believe it's the media model of the future and we've already been shown a glimpse of it.
As more traffic is pushed onto the Internet I fear that our comms systems will soon have the user experience of our gridlocked road network. Data carriers such as Virgin, BT and Sky have net neutrality conflicts when operating voice, data and TV services. Right now, with unlimited voice and data packages, the only upsell that media companies have is TV. If the more profitable TV and streaming services are given priority then website data runs the risk of being squeezed-out.
We're doing our bit by making our responsive websites as small and as fast as possible so that your website users aren't forced to wait.
Just like I held onto my old Sony TV, I'm holding-out on streaming for something better than the Radio Rentals model on offer right now. Looking ahead, I'm hoping for a smart media system where we can pre-order TV and film media and let packets be downloaded for owners ahead of time, to play locally at a time of their choosing and at a time when the network calculates the lowest possible impact. The good news is that it's not all that far off either. ITV have launched a remind me service via their website through which you signal an intent to watch a programme or series ahead of time in order to be reminded about its broadcast. Tomorrow's World is back on TV and I, for one, cannot be happier.