Charles Arthur: The Geek

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The Independent Online

Turning the TV on was OK, but how did you get it to talk to the cable box, or the DVD? And did the hi-fi connect to that or not? Eventually, we had to ask the hotel staff, who pressed one button which cycled through all the options.

The internet question was easily answered; there was a socket in the wall, but no internet coming out. (Though the hotel, in a coastal part of Australia, had recently installed a wireless hot-spot in the lobby.) While travelling I'd been wondering about the question of when - or should it be if - our living room technologies are ever going to meld.

Various people and companies keep telling us that in time our TVs will be as one with our PCs, and that we'll effortlessly transfer files between the two. Thus the question of: "Shall I watch this on the TV or my PC?" will be meaningless, because we'll just have a TV-PC that'll do the lot.

My feeling now, after a couple of years of expecting it to happen, is that it won't. There are three reasons for this: the interface for TVs and PCs is too different; the owners of the content won't let it be moved from closed devices (TVs) to open ones (PCs), and you'd never get the average user to work out which cable goes where.

The first point, about the interface, is the general one that is often made, but is still true. Even in a hotel, you don't watch your TV from a few feet away, as you do a computer screen.

Then there's the content. In the US, companies are very nervous about letting their content leak from TVs on to PCs. They have lobbied, mostly successfully, for the viewing hardware that goes in the living room to obey a "content flag", which will mean a programme won't be copyable if that flag is on. It sounds trivial, but it would be very frustrating if you wanted to move that content from place to place. That's why ideas like Slingbox seem to be doomed to failure at the content owners' hands.

Slingbox would let you transfer a signal from any source, such as a satellite receiver or cable TV, across a home network, to a laptop or desktop PC. The idea is that eventually you'll be able to transfer content from home to a hotel room halfway across the world. But such ideas add an extra layer of complexity to a task that is simple. You want to watch TV in a hotel? You turn on the TV. That's usually easier and cheaper than getting a broadband connection. And as for home networks, most people find those too complicated.

The final point: connecting all the systems together is way too complex. So stop worrying. You're not going to have to wait for your TV to boot up like your PC does. And it'll never need antivirus. That, at least, looks like a plus from where I sit, watching CNN dissolve thanks to another Windows worm.