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The Thin Line

11 Sep, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold

For years, the buzz in the consumer electronics world--and in Hollywood, for that matter--has been the convergence of TVs and computers. Remember WebTV about a decade back? The idea was to bring the computer, email and Web access and all, to the living room. Users had to buy subscriptions to access the Internet, and could then surf the Web from the comfort of their sofa. But the concept never really caught on, even as convergence talk continued and studios began making their movies available digitally over the Internet for easy streaming and not-so-easy downloading. The concept of digital copy also plays into convergence, under the premise people are increasingly on the go and may want to watch the rest of the movie they began watching on their high-definition widescreen on their laptop while waiting for a flight, or on the flight. And BD Live--hey, that's another convergence technology, this time harnessing the Web to make some wonderful things happen on the TV, provided you have a Blu-ray Disc player and, of course, a Blu-ray Disc.

But if you analyze what's been happening, you'll see that true convergence is no longer the goal. Rather, the goal is to bring some TV capability to the computer (watching a low-res copy of a movie, for example), and some computer capability to the TV (BD Live, which can offer the user limited chat-room or networking functions as well as the ability to grab some new content from the Web).

No one's talking about interchangeability anymore. No one's going to watch a whole movie on their home computer if there's a beautiful home theater system, anchored by a 65-inch plasma, just down the hallway. And, similarly, no one's going to check their email or surf the Web to scan CNN headlines on their TV, between Spongebob episodes. The teens among us may have a laptop with them in the family room so they can IM while watching the remake of The Last House on the Left, but one device for both? No way. We're just not culturally equipped to handle it.

And that, friends, was pretty much the message at CEDIA, as our senior reporter, Chris Tribbey, writes (to see his story, click here). The consensus at the Atlanta trade show was that while HDTVs will be connected to the Internet, they will never replace the computer. First and foremost, they are TVs.

As Dan Schinasi, Samsung's senior marketing manager for HDTV, told the traveling Tribbey, "It's a big challenge with a full Web browser, because it needs to be constantly updated. Then you have to worry about viruses, install a hard drive, licensing. That all increases the price."

So there you have it, folks. Convergence, at least from the perspective of today's paradigm, doesn't mean interchangeability. TVs will still be TVs, computers will still be computers, and while there will be some overlap they will never replace each other.

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