Farewell to control freaks
THE past few years have been characterised by rolling changes to the way we watch television: digital television, set-top boxes, Blu-ray, hard-disc recorders, time-shift viewing and so on.
One of the drawbacks of all this has been the tendency for remote controls to multiply endlessly in living rooms across Australia.
As each new gadget comes out or gets superseded by something else, a new device is tacked on to the existing TV set-up.
Each one comes with its own remote and its own set of cables and, before long, you have electronic spaghetti cluttering your entertainment unit and need a caddy to hold all those remotes.
The more tech-savvy will know how to minimise the clutter – usually by upgrading to more expensive equipment with more features included – but for others it is just a headache. The good news is that, of all things, video-gaming consoles seem to be coming to the rescue.
Sony’s PlayStation 3 is becoming a popular device for decluttering TV units, because the game console also functions as a combined DVD and Blu-ray player.
For the cost of a cheap set-top box, you can add the PlayTV device to the console to give you dual high-definition digital TV tuners and the ability to time-shift and record shows on the PS3’ s hard disc.
The PS3 also connects to the internet through your router. If you have a Sony Bravia TV to go with it, you can catch up on TV through ABC iView.
With a PS3 console only costing about $ 400 and PlayTV an extra $ 100, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a digital tuner, a hard-disc recorder and a Blu-ray player separately. You can even listen to music on it and drive the whole shebang with just the one remote.
The ability to play games on it as well is basically a bonus.
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 doubles as a DVD player, however, it does not yet support Blu-ray or TV tuners – except through being connected to a suitably equipped Windows PC.
But Xbox LIVE subscribers have the option of bundling Foxtel pay-TV channels into their package, viewable through the console. By Christmas, access to five online streaming channels ( ABC iView, SBS On Demand, YouTube, Crackle and The Daily Motion) will be part of every Xbox LIVE Gold subscription.
In the US, this service includes premium channels such as ESPN, HBO GO and Netflix. With an annual subscription fee of $ 79.95 ( pay-TV can cost that much each month), it is a more expensive option but demonstrates an interesting trend.
Consolidating all your audio-visual entertainment into one or two pieces of equipment is an attractive idea and Sony is all over it.
Meanwhile, Microsoft’s console-based TV concept gives TV and film distributors a new way of guaranteeing a revenue stream: bundle premium TV access in with the online gaming account people are already paying for.
Deciding between playing a game and watching TV could become a battleground for families, though, so let the buyer beware.