Friday, June 10, 2005


Going digital without discs

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've had it with CD's and DVD's. I love the quality and cost-effectiveness of digital technology, but the media is just not durable. Half my CD's skip and a lot of my DVD's do as well. Having your machine freeze up on you during a great song or movie is enough to ruin the whole experience.

When MP3 players came along I happily made the transition from plastic to magnetic. Most of the music I now listen to resides on a hard drive, be it on the computer or on the iPod. The CD's went into the closet and I hope they stay there.

Finally, my CD's will have some company in the closet, with the DVD collection soon joining them. A friend of mine helped me put together a "media center" by modifying an Xbox with a chip (which enables you to play games, movies, etc. off your hard drive without the need for a disc) and a hard drive for storing all of my movies and downloaded TV shows. The used Xbox was $99, a remote control kit was $20, a 160GB hard drive was $40 after rebate, and the chip was $30. The Xbox already comes with a DVD player and ethernet port, so -- voila -- now I can use games, movies, music, photos, and various Internet-enabled applications all in one place. I'm now converting all of my DVD's into Xvid format (similar quality as DVD but files are a fifth of the size).

The Xbox Media Center OS software that makes it all run is very slick and, because it's open source, is filled with features and is updated constantly. And it's free, legitimately. I've drooled over the XP Media Center PC's that are available, but you have to take out a 2nd mortgage just to buy one. This modded Xbox, on the other hand, cost me less than $200. Aside from the fact that it won't record live TV (like a Tivo) it seems every bit as good as a Media Center PC (which are 10x the price).... but even the TV limitation is overcome if you have a fast connection and know where to find your favorite shows on the net.

In my mind, this is the future of the living room... once it's cheap enough and consumer-friendly enough (which it is not... yet). People will get entertainment on their terms, and there will invevitably need to be an iTunes equivalent for movies and TV shows. If PS3's and Xbox 360's are marketed and developed as entertainment hubs -- not just game machines on steroids -- by allowing consumers more flexibility with how they use these devices, these devices will be the new killer app. I wonder if it wouldn't be a bad idea for Comcast, DirecTV or Dish to sign a distribution deal and market these things as set-top boxes (an optional upgrade for people that don't like their crappy PVR's). Then they could sell their video-on-demand wares and everyone would be happy. Ok, probably not gonna happen, but it sounds good.

In any case, the open source model for software and hardware, for all of its hippie ideals, is starting to look better and better to me... especially given the enormous value a cheap chip and a free operating system has just unlocked from a one-trick-pony game machine.

posted by Ryan : 12:17 PM | permalink

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