When I was a kid, I thought it was oh so very cool to have personalized stationery. And I still enjoy a monogrammed shirt. But far more rewarding is the personalization of entertainment that is accelerating dramatically in this new century. We are finally beginning to see the long-promised and rewarding convergence of the personal computer, stereo system, and television.
Being 39, I can recall when there were only four channels on our family’s black-and-white television: the NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS network affiliates. I remember the excitement of finally seeing a Star Trek re-run in color after my folks finally bought a color set in 1973. A decade later the VCR and video stores appeared. I remember putting down $300 deposits so I could rent a machine to watch the movies. That launched the personalization of media entertainment that is still dissolving a shared culture of conversation and cultural reference.
But it was music that led the way into a personalized digital world of entertainment. I now listen to all of my music via my laptop computer or my iPod, using songs either ripped from my extensive collection of CDs or downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. Now that transition is underway for television, with movies to follow.
My current cable service gives me 91 television channels and 47 music channels, and I could elect to get up to 81 more pay-video channels. But out of that huge pool I only regularly watch two weekly shows: the wonderfully dark re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica and, on the other end of the spectrum, the comedic satire of South Park. Sadly, neither is shown on the handful of high-definition channels. So I’m thrilled to see video moving towards personalized downloads. I already spend more time watching downloaded video podcasts than watching cable. For now the podcasts I watch are all free downloads focused on computer technology: This Week in Tech (TWiT), Digital Life TV (dl.tv), and Diggnation. But Apple has already starting selling a few regular TV shows as downloads. Eventually I’ll be able to purchase high-definition episodes of my few TV shows, and can dispense with cable TV. CableOne knows that, hence their transition into a broadband internet provider.
Movies and television series are next, once the bandwidth barrier is overcome. I watch lots of feature-laden DVDs from Netflix, plus a few from Hastings. Why bother with arriving at a movie theater on time only to then suffer through twenty minutes of ads and previews, a noisy audience, and long movies without intermissions? But mailing or carting DVDs back and forth is a pain. Once they get a bigger internet pipe to my house and the movie folks get their act together, I’ll be rid of that nuisance.
So my advice is to not waste any money buying the forthcoming high-definition DVDs. They’re a stopgap measure and will have a limited lifetime. CDs will be essentially dead in a few years, and DVDs will follow. Convergence is underway, and it is a wonderful thing.