Back in the age of acid-wash jeans, my dad brought home our first home computer: a MacPlus with 512 kilobytes of RAM. I would stay up late into the night playing Zork and Planetfall, all the light radiating from its small CRT screen keeping me warm. We kept the beige box in the spare bedroom of my house, far from our TV room. My parents claimed it was so I would not disturb them as they watched the nightly news, but, in my mind, it was just the opposite. For years, the computer and television were in separate rooms so that the use of one would not interfere with the use of the other. Now 512 K has turned into 512 mega-bytes or more, and PCs are begging to be near the TV. Only recently, while reviewing games for www.htgamer.com, have I started integrating my own PC into my home theater. But it is still a rather bulky, unattractive proposition to permanently move my computer to my equipment rack. HP has an aesthetically pleasing solution that can act as the source hub for the home theater of the future.
Dual-core and other Intel technologies are a boon to heavy users of multimedia PCs.
One wife, two kids, and one cat later, it hit me: There are just not enough hours in the day. My leisure hours, like work, have become a matter of multitasking—watching a DVD in one window as I write a review in the other, downloading photos, and sending e-mails. I can no longer use the "I'm already busy" excuse since, frankly, I'm expected to walk and chew gum at the same time around here. And what of my poor PC, which is charged with performing all of the above and more? At least I know I'm not alone, here at wit's end, as the fundamental usage model has evolved and one-thing-at-a-timers have gone the way of the Timex Sinclair.
A controlling interest in your home theater can turn into a wholehouse-friendly takeover.
Silly girl. My wife thinks our home theater system ought to sound great and be easy to operate. She also wants one remote control to work the gear, the lights, and whatever else she desires dominion over.
Three quick glimpses into what's hot in the convergence world.
I don't talk much about my one and only year at NYU Business School (short version: not a good fit), but I did learn this: Making a successful product is only the beginning. To survive and thrive, manufacturers need to enhance, improve, and give consumers the added value and new features that will keep them coming back. Here then are three essential pieces of audio gear from Logitech, Creative, and Apple; refreshed, redesigned, and rethought for an ever-changing market of technophiles.
Let's fantasize a bit. Let's run wild. Let's say your hunger for music has genetically transmitted itself to your kids. Now let's postulate that every member of the family has different musical tastes. Fortunately, your McMansion is big enough to let everyone blast away with impunity. Now all you've got to do is serve up, say, four audio feeds. In your designer home, local systems would be a recurring eyesore—you want your multizone system to do the serving. All you've got to do is find an audio server that'll satisfy four mutually incompatible music lovers in four separate zones at once.
Computers are everywhere, from our desktops to our phones to our planes, trains, and automobiles. If we look at movies like I, Robot (strictly from a conceptual standpoint, not a why-did-Hollywood-ever-make-this standpoint), there is a possible bleak future ahead of us. I prefer to look at Star Wars, where machines help, even if they can be annoying know-it-alls. Granted it's not our galaxy, but it is a lot more fun to watch than I, Robot (no disrespect to the Fresh Prince).
What better way is there to improve your home theater experience than the addition of a PC? But what should you look for when setting out to buy one?
Programming delivered fresh from the Internet to your set-top box.
Not to date myself, but I'm old enough to remember when video on demand was one of those coming technologies that made the hip groovesters at the malt shop say, "Neat-O!" even if they had no idea how it would actually work. But video on demand has been a fact of life for some time now, and everyone I know who actually uses it simply adores the power and convenience.
Comedian Robert Klein once did a routine about those ubiquitous old K-Tel TV ads for huge collections of music on a cassette or CD box set. "Every Elvis Presley song for just $9.99 plus shipping and handling," he began. Riffing on the increasing grandiosity of those ads, he ended with a flourish, "A trailer truck will pull up to your house loaded with CDs filled with every piece of music ever recorded!"
I must admit, onboard video and audio have come a long way. It used to be that they were just a line item on a features list. Now both are far more capable. Compared with what you can get as a separate card, though. . .well, let's say it's not worth comparing (although I did, of course).
I like to think of myself as a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I'd like to think of myself this way, but, in reality, this is not the case. I don't change my own oil (you want me to go under where?), I'm on a first-name basis with my mechanic (honestly, what Ford owner isn't?), and I call my landlord when the kitchen sink leaks (hey, that's why I pay rent). The two things I do myself are haircuts (thank you, King C. Gillette) and computers (sorry, no funny joke). I've been fascinated with computers since my parents bought me an Apple IIc in the mid-1980s. Since then, I've been modifying and building my own. A few months ago, some part of my brain came up with the idea to build a home theater PC from scratch—and make it silent. Keep in mind that this was the same part of my brain that thought it would be a tremendous idea to build a 13-foot-long subwoofer. Thanks to the deluge of e-mails I received after that piece (one—thanks, Mom) and the difficulty in finding a company that makes an HTPC (last count at CES, there were only 13,002 or so), I figured I'd design and build Home Theater's HTPC, the ugliest and quietest ever.
Any signal, anywhere? Yeah, pretty much.
Increasing droves of con-sumers are installing networks in their homes to accomplish boring feats such as sharing printers or perhaps more diverting applications like music sharing. But, not until I reviewed the offerings from SkipJam did I fully understand how much entertainment a home network can provide. SkipJam has designed a platform-agnostic networking system in which a single wholehouse configuration can work seamlessly with an existing CAT-5 (Ethernet), Wi-Fi, coaxial cable, or power-line network—or any combination of these different standards. You will need a properly functioning network in place, independent of the SkipJam installation. But, if you want to add one more location wirelessly, for example, it's no problem.
If you're like me, with a large library of DVDs (I think I'm over 1000, but I haven't counted them lately), just finding the one you want is a chore. Try as I might to keep them in some sort of order, it never works for long. I pull out a few to watch, and before you know it there are little piles scattered all around the house.
Over the past quarter-century, consumers have been bombarded by portable electronics. From the Walkman, to the PDA, to video players and handheld games of every description, the allure of technology-to-go has proven irresistible. But what constitutes a truly great portable? Ask anyone who has juggled three or more disparate devices, and he'll tell you that a convergence of different technologies is key to pushing the entertainment experience forward, in the same way that camera and PDA phones have enhanced productivity, as well as the coolness factor. Quality is at issue, too, as is a supply of worthwhile content.
My medication is obviously not working because I'm still talking to myself. Marveling at the redesigned PlayStation 2's jaw-droppingly slender form factor for about 10 minutes straight, I caught myself actually saying "Wow" out loud, even though I was alone. It's comparable in size to a paperback book, but it reminds me more of a portable DVD player, sans screen, in black. While some of the accessories designed for use with the original PS2 are not compatible with this new design (the vertical stand and the Multitap to allow four players instead of the standard two, although new versions of each are now available), I was happy to find that my step-up Monster Game products all still fit. The digital optical cable and component video adapter plugged into the obvious places, while the replacement AC cable now patches into the breakout AC adapter (the 8.5-volt power supply is now located outside the console, which is another secret to the PS2's profound weight loss). At just 2 pounds, it's half as heavy as its former incarnation and takes up one-quarter the space, leaving me with vast amounts of open air in my under-TV gear stack after a quick, new-for-old PS2 swap. I do wish it had a catchier moniker, rather than simply "the 70000 Series."
At this year's CEDIA Expo, two technologies ruled the day: A/V servers and Internet Protocol (IP). It's safe to say that convergence really has invaded every part of the home theater arena. If your eyes tend to gloss over when your computer-savvy friends toss around words like IP, network, and Ethernet, I've got some bad news for you: You can run, but you can't hide. First, the computers took over our offices; now they're invading our entertainment space. Someday, they'll kill us all—but hey, we'll probably be gone by then, so let's talk about how IP can enhance your home theater experience.