Look around the majority of households in 1995 and you’d find that the TV was the undisputed king of the home-entertainment world. A big fat CRT that dominated the front room. And in 1995, in most cases that meant only analogue TV – in those days a four-channel affair, as the world was as yet mercifully unaware of the hilarious ironic in-joke that would grow up to be Channel 5.
The birth of the Premier League in 1992 massively ramped up the number of subscribers that Sky had, but it wasn’t until 1998 and the launch of the Astra satellite that modern digital TV became available. Cable TV, initially from NTL and Telewest and later from the unified Virgin Media, was a localised niche product until 1996, and free-to-air digital TV was a pipe dream (or a non-pipe dream, depending on your method of receiving it). As for streaming TV from the web – what web?
In those houses that had a PC, the old beige box was unlikely to be found anywhere more prominent than the spare bedroom. A word processing, printing and occasional gaming device, functional, hidden and unloved by all but geeks.
Fast-forward to today and Sky TV alone has more than 10 million subscribers, each of whom is able to watch literally hundreds of channels 24 hours a day. They can view programmes on demand, remotely record to a hard-disk-based recorder, and pause live programmes, returning to watch the remainder later. Netflix, Amazon Prime and other online streaming services deliver whatever you want, whenever you want.
The PC now sits at the centre of entertainment. And even if the device you’re using to consume media isn’t recognisably a Windows PC, I bet that beneath its branded, set-top box clothing, it’s nothing but a computer, processor, RAM and all.
In my own front room I can see an old Mac hooked up to a speaker set used principally to play music. I watch Blu-ray Disc, DVDs and TV on-demand from BBC iPlayer and others via apps built into the TV. Also a PC. The PlayStation is somewhat neglected as a gaming device since I got a Wii. Finally, the Sky+ box sits under the telly, which is now little more than a flat-screen display, as the Sky-branded PVR – itself nothing more than a locked-down PC – streams all the TV I want to watch, when I want to watch it.
If I want to listen to radio I stream it from my laptop, a device that nominally lives in the office upstairs, but rarely makes it back there unless it needs to be charged.
And that’s before we address the way that devices more traditionally recognised as PCs now take up space in the lounge. Rare is the TV programme so gripping that I can’t be found pootling about on the web using a laptop or tablet. And if all else fails I’ll be fiddling with my smartphone (much to Mrs Matt’s annoyance). Indeed, there are plenty of households that no longer have a dedicated TV, choosing instead to watch programmes on-demand from a laptop or PC.
The TV had a good run. But the PC is now the king of the home.