Once upon a time we had 3 TV channels, a “wireless” set, a Dansette record player and no computers or mobile phones because they were still the stuff of science fiction.
That was then and now is now. A visit to any electronics store or supermarket reveals a huge array of baffling items, many of which perform functions way beyond the understanding of mere mortals. What is a sound bar? Or a hard disk recorder?
For many people the world of home media is confusing, and the reason is that it is complex, with many partially overlapping functions. A computer can record and play video and a TV can connect to the Internet. There’s little on show that offers a complete solution in an understandable form at a price most of us can afford.
The good news is that such a solution does in fact exist, but it’s not found in the usual shops because it’s part of the Open Source movement, which delivers good value without making huge profits for suppliers. I’ll be describing such a system in my next blog page, but before I do here’s quick history of how we come to be where we are now.
A history lesson in one page
Remember when the CD first appeared in the early 1980s? Well no, you probably don’t, being of a much more youthful persuasion than an old fossil like me. Anyway, CDs replaced vinyl records, those huge black discs that took up so much space, with a much smaller and more durable item. And our record libraries were able to expand until all the available space was once again taken. That’s the way these things go.
In the mid-1980s came the computer revolution, and very quickly the ability to store music on your hard drive, for immediate access. Capacities were limited at first, but with time and the help of the MP3 format we were able to hold entire music collections, ready for instant replay. Imagine, no need to get out of that chair!
Soon after that the first digital cameras arrived, giving us all the ability to get perfect photos simply by taking a hundred instead of just one. No need to send off a film, no processing costs and the results stored on your computer, ready for instant viewing.
While the computer was gobbling up all our music and pictures, TV sets stayed pretty much unchanged until about 10 years ago, when LCD technology was finally able to deliver a sensibly priced, slim, flat-screen device that wouldn’t give you a hernia when you moved it. This also provided a spur for rapid development of set-top boxes, with various antenna, satellite and eventually internet options gradually adding to the mix. We soon ended up with two systems; a TV with access to various live or recorded media and a computer with huge picture and music libraries. You could connect your computer to the TV with an HDMI cable but it was a rather clunky way of doing things and only geeks were really interested.
More recently the mobile phone and tablet also joined the party. These are able to replay most of the media on offer and are great while travelling, but although copying stuff from computer to phone is easy, getting off-air recordings from a set-top box into a phone remains a challenge. Most of the available systems are proprietary, with all sorts of licensing restrictions on what you’re allowed to do with music you’ve purchased or TV programmes sent out as a free broadcast. It’s easy to record broadcasted material on a VCR, DVD or hard disc recorder so why should it be so hard to transfer the same stuff to a phone?
Perhaps there’s some easy to use device that holds all your media – all your music, photos and video, that connects to the TV, to your computer, your phone and the internet, without imposing restrictions on what you can do with all this media. Does such a thing exist?
Yes it does, though it’s not specifically a single device. It’s a clever piece of software that can be run on a number of different devices, most usually a set-top box or a laptop computer. It’s called Kodi, it’s free and you won’t have heard of it because nobody makes enough money out of it to spend on a huge advertising campaign, without which it goes unnoticed by the majority of people. I’ll describe it in my next blog page as it deserves all the publicity it can get.