Sunday, January 28, 2007

Does Bill Gates have a crystal ball when it comes to television and the net?

Not in my opinion. Most web users are unaware of the fact that Gates and Microsoft completely dropped the ball on the whole "internet, world wide web" thingy. That's right. They didn't see the potential of it and even after they decided to make an attempt to slash and burn their way to the top of the world of search, they haven't been able to come up with more than a few market percentage points (though, I should be fair in pointing out that their lackluster performance applies to search---when it comes to portals, microsoft has a definite could it not be so when MSN is the default on so many new computers sold).

Here's Gates' latest prediction: within five years, the internet and high definition television will have merged in a way that could be described as "transformational". Hmmm. This is my guy-on-the-street opinion, but I don't think so.

If you look at the high definition tv market as it is now, it's not hard to see that it is stalling. Reason? The same reason I have for not watching my high def set very much: there' nothing to watch. Yes, you can watch discovery high def and HBO and Showtime, but even on those channels, the range of high definition programming is extreeeemmmmmeeelly limited. In fact, its so limited that I have told every friend who's expressed longing and admiration for my LCD high defintion tv to save their money. It's just not worth purchasing, not at the moment.

High definition sets are 1. too expensive and 2. lack programming. And this is further complicated by the fact that trying to watch non-high-definition programming on a high definition tv is like being returned to the age of rabbit ears. Yes, regular tv on an expenseive lcd or plasma tv looks horrible. And it gets even worse. DVDs, that look so crisp and colorful on a standard tube set, look awful on a high definition set.

Will things get better for high def tv owners? Not in the dvd realm for the forseeable future. Until the backers of blue-ray and hd-dvd finish slugging it out, there will continue to be two separate standards for high definition dvd watching. And two standards means that, depending on how well you chose your purchase, your expensive high definition dvd player could turn out to be obsolete, very fast.

This fact is not lost on would-be buyers who sit patiently on the sidelines waiting for a clear standard to emerge. But until a winner becomes obvious, don't count on high definition dvd players to start flying out of stores and into homes.

And, likewise, don't expect users to start buying high definition televisions in droves. And, further, don't expect the price of either piece of equipment to drop significantly, because that is a factor of economy of scale, i.e. the more they sell the lower the prices can drop. If you don't sell much of either product, the prices will continue to float around in the stratosphere, where most prospective-buyers are too sensible to go.

So, back to Gates and his prediction. Will he end up being right about the convergence of tv and the web. Perhaps oneday, but don't count on it happening within the next five years. There are simply too many other factors that play into it. And, of course, there's this. Many home users would simply rather use a computer for "computer things" and a tv for "tv things".

It's easy enough to see why Gates would latch onto the idea of convergence. After all, we see that on a daily basis with cell phones, which have now become portable cameras, video recorders, game players, and mp3 players all rolled into one.

However...cell phones are portable. And even they are not likely to ever replace standalone digital cameras, music players, or game consoles. In the home, it's likely that users will prefer to keep their television and computing devices separate and distinct, simply because the best experience (tv or net) is rendered by the device that distinctly serves it purpose, versus a device that attempts to be the at-home equivalent of a "jack-of-all trades" mobile phone.

Just my opinion, but I'm betting that Gates is wrong on this one.

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