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Date of review: 12-February-1999
Type Of Review: Flashman's
The New Living Room Appliance
I looked at my own living room, and I saw the following components today:
1) Sony Wega 29" TV
2) Toshiba DVD/VCD/CD player
3) Sony VHS video cassette recorder
4) AC3 amp
5) Yamaha tuner
6) A whole mess of speakers
7) SCV terminal
I haven't upgraded in a bloody year! This is so boring!
Luckily for me, I've seen what's the next thing I need - an internet appliance for the home. How many times it has been, that when I'm reading the papers on my couch at 10pm, with a cup of the most wonderful Java coffee I can find, I can't access the Java-based Bloomberg currency monitor in my living room? Yeah, US currency markets starts at 10 pm, and there's no bloody way I'm going into my study and sit on my work chair to monitor the currency in front of my PC while I'm so comfortable on my couch ....
"Yeah, US currency markets starts at 10 pm, and there's no bloody way I'm going into my study and sit on my work chair to monitor the currency in front of my PC while I'm so comfortable on my couch ...."
Yeah, I need an internet appliance. One which feeds my TV a browser window.
And you know, there's a new video standard brewing - SVCD - which I think will take over the world! SVCD is a new, how do I put it, PIRATE-FRIENDLY video standard which is just taking off now after being invented 6 months ago in China. It's based on 2/3 D1 MPEG2 encoding, with a 3 Mbit/s bitrate. The result? You get near-DVD quality video, all from a CD. And damnnit, there's no Macrovision scrambling, and that means I can record movies into my VHS tape, and there's no stupid region code protection. And it comes on normal CD media, not the new DVD media, and that means that a new SVCD player can be based on the dirt cheap CD mechanism. SVCD is a winner standard, and don't let any fool tell you otherwise, bud.
"And it comes on normal CD media, not the new DVD media, and that means that a new SVCD player can be based on the dirt cheap CD mechanism. SVCD is a winner standard, and don't let any fool tell you otherwise, bud."
And, ahhhh, MP3. Free music off the web. Great quality too! In fact, although the MP3 compressed audio is inherently inferior to true CD quality audio, there are a few modifiers which translate to better performance in real life. First, the Digital to Analog converter on most soundcards today is superior to the little pieces of shit found in audio CD players today. Second, new technology allows for a well designed MP3 player to interpolate the audio waveforms intelligently so that you get probably `better than CD' quality sound. The main weakness of MP3 players today, is that they can only play from flash memory and the process of transferring songs from PC to flash is tedious and bothersome. But I've seen new technology which allows a new generation of players to recognize the CD file format, and play MP3 songs direct from CD.
And let's not forget Magix Video-On-Demand. Face it, Magix movies suck today. That's because Magix's new, and they have not gotten their content licences in order yet. But once Magix gets to full steam, we'll get almost every movie ever published in the world running off the Magix video server, and now and then I can pull off Apocalypse Now off the ADSL network and view it in full MPEG2 glory with AC3 sound.
"Today we need AC3. Full 5.1 channel sound. And I'm not talking about those tinny little Creative Desktop Theater 5.1 speakers."
"Don't you know, that plastics sound shit? Use wood!!!! Wood!!! Get it, Mr. Sim??? Wood!!!"
Talking about AC3 sound, yeah, we need it. Gone are the days of stupid Dolby Prologic. Today we need AC3. Full 5.1 channel sound. And I'm not talking about those tinny little Creative Desktop Theater 5.1 speakers. I'm talking about real, full blown, AC3 sound from people who know what good sound is. I'd be embarassed to have the DT5.1 in my living room - it's white. When are they going to make those things bigger, more powerful, and in wood? Don't you know, that plastics sound shit? Use wood!!!! Wood!!! Get it, Mr. Sim??? Wood!!!
And yeah, there's one more thing - for news junkies like me, I need to have CNN playing in a small window while I browse the web in real time. So I need an overlay window so I can watch CNN in a small window while my currency charts, browser windows, pretty girls in websites, take the big space. True multimedia huh?
Newspaper, Java in coffee, Java in browser, CNN in overlay window and girls in browser ... wow!
So from these new formats in mind, and considering the space limitations on my IKEA audio-video rack, I built a wishlist for the new internet appliance for your consideration:
1) SVCD playback
2) VCD playback
3) DVD playback
4) MP3 playback
5) CD-audio playback
6) Internet browsing capability
7) Java capability
8) Tuner overlay capability
9) Basic email, send, receive and storage
You must be wondering, shit, why did Sir Harry Flashman leave out recording? OK, here's the straight shit: Recording digitally takes a whole lotta space. And it's expensive! Today, we use VHS tape to record, that's it. At 5 Mbit/s MPEG2 bitrate, you need 2.5GB of digital storage to store one hour of recording. Even with DVD+RW, you can only store 1.2 hours onto a DVD+RW disc. That's crap! I set my VCR to record all the comedies at the 7.30pm and the 11.15 timeframe on TCS5, that takes more than 2 tape changes per week of the new 4 hour ++ VHS tapes. With DVD+RW, that's 8 changes. That's crap! Can't cut it.
"It's the same form factor as CD, but it uses a new Blue Beam Laser technology with a shorter wavelength so that it can record 15GB per side. That's a cool 6 hours at full 5Mbit/s MPEG2 bitrate, and 9 hours of SVCD bitrate."
But luckily for us, Toshiba, Yamaha, Microsoft, IBM, is working with every consumer electronics tech company in the world to make a new generation of Digital Video Recorders, DVR, but the main technological hurdle is the storage. So all efforts are focussed on making the storage media of the future, the DVR disc. It's the same form factor as CD, but it uses a new Blue Beam Laser technology with a shorter wavelength so that it can record 15GB per side. That's a cool 6 hours at full 5Mbit/s MPEG2 bitrate, and 9 hours of SVCD bitrate. That's enough, thanks. But this tech will be released only in the year 2000, and that's too long for me. Because what I described above, will be with us in the 2nd half of this year. And let's face it - VHS recording now is plenty enough, and my VCR is dirt cheap.
Yeah, I've seen the future. Picture a little box, about 1.5' by 1' by 3" in size. There's no hard disk. There's a small computer inside to run Java and browser code, and to control the DVD, SVCD stuff ... You can watch TV, DVD, anything. You can overlay TV on DVD, DVD on TV, TV on browser, etc. etc. It can connect to a phone line and you get VOD. Stick in a MP3 pirate disc and you listen to cheap and good music. Stream MP3 music off the net. Read email. Shit - what else do you want?
The box as I saw it was ready for prime time, it just crashes a little, nothing a couple of months of debugging can't solve. There's no hard disk inside, everything runs on flash. The DVD player's optional, but you can buy a DVD drive like the Sony DDU220E drive and stick it into the chassis and you got a DVD player cum SVCD player cum MP3 player cum every damn thing player.
So, Mr. Toshiba DVD player, I've enough of you now, and the moment this gadget hits the market, you're going to the storeroom to join the ranks of the obsolete, like my Apple II machine, 5 old computer casings, about 10 hard disk drives, Mr. Sony CD player, tons of computer peripherals, Mr. Kenwood prologic amplifier, and other kinds of shit.
I'm counting the days ...
Sir Harry Flashman is a perpetually young-at-heart British soldier whose exploits have been documented in a series of books by Mr. George Macdonald Fraser. Some maniacs have fallen in love with the man, for example at http://www.geocities.com/~sir_h_flashman/ . Because of this, he has recently taken an interest in computers, mostly for the pornography and the comely wenches he sees when he types 'SEX' at http://altavista.digital.com. He accepts all adulations at firstname.lastname@example.org
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