Cyberclinic: Will these new gadgets kill off the TV set?

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The Independent Online

A huge range of products claim to be "the future of television" by blurring the line between the telly and the computer. In fact, with the imminent release of the Meivo - a high-spec Windows PC built into a 22-in LCD television - that line will vanish altogether. As Richard Heawood says in an email: "The idea of using a computer as a 'media centre' doesn't seem as ridiculously futuristic as it did 18 months ago."

So, assuming you have a TV in one room and a computer in another, how would such a media centre bolt together? First are the devices that plug into your computer's USB port and act as a mini Freeview box, receiving the 70-plus digital terrestrial channels. Made by companies such as Miglia for the Mac and Pinnacle for the PC, they come with software that lets you record broadcasts to your hard disk for watching later - in effect turning your computer into a PVR (personal video recorder), the successor to the humble VCR.

Then come the "media extenders", such as the SageTV Media Extender or the new AppleTV. These sit under your television, feeding it a video signal that's being received wirelessly from your computer - a Freeview broadcast, say, or a pre-recorded file being played back.

Judging by this week's email inbox, the AppleTV hasn't met with universal approval. Sean McGrath comments that his old Xbox gaming console, running the Xbox Media Center software, "can already play videos from across a home network - and deal with many more video formats that the Apple box can." Jeff Plummer notes that an old laptop, plugged directly into a TV, already makes a more versatile and capable unit for storing and playing video.

And last, there are the "placeshifters", which intercept a video signal in your home - say, from a set-top box - and send it wirelessly to another device. This could be a Windows laptop hooked up to the internet, an iMac in your bedroom, or even an internet-enabled mobile phone. The highly-regarded Slingbox, made by Slingmedia, comes top of the pack; a bittersweet test run over the Easter weekend saw me watching England's cricket team slump horribly - but with crystal clarity - on my Nokia N73 phone, while sitting in the sunshine in Hendon Park, north London.

One day, all these gizmos will be rolled up into one astonishing device - at which point your only worry will be finding time to watch the staggering amount of video material you've amassed.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Ed Foster:

"Now that Ofcom has supposedly made it easier to switch broadband suppliers, what should I be looking out for when an ISP offers me a tempting deal?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be emailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

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