Farewell to con­trol freaks

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television - TIM MARTAIN

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.

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