Where’s the technology I want at CES?

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Veg...

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Nevada in January 2010 (cc) David Berkowitz http://www.marketersstudio.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My technology needs are simple. I want my phone to check the weather half an hour before I get up. If there’s likely to be frost, it will communicate with a gizmo in my car that will not only defrost the windows, but it will warm up the seats and the steering wheel for me. My heating should also be given a little boost so that downstairs is nice and toasty. Five minutes before I get up, I want it to switch the kettle on downstairs. I want it to gradually bring the lights up in the room so that I wake up gently.

My tablet should automatically download today’s copy of the Times rather than dumbly waiting for me to fire it up and press the button. My phone should check my diary to see whether I have any appointments in London. If so, it should check that the trains and tubes are running OK. If for any reason I need to deviate from my normal route it should be ready for me by the time I look at my phone. I want my phone to check the balance on my Oyster card, If it’s running low, it should automatically top it up. The TV should switch on and automatically turn to my favourite news channel.

If it’s dark and I walk into a room, the lights should automatically come on. If a room is empty for any length of time, the lights should switch off. If any bulbs are blown, and we are running low on replacements, something will magically buy some best value ones from eBay. I should be able to watch or read any media on any visual device in the house. My wife and I should be able to start watching something on the TV and half way through independently watch the remainder on our mobile phones.

The fridge should have a touchscreen that shows the contents in order of sell by dates together with suggestions for recipes. There will be buttons next door to everything so that we can add them to the next order from the supermarket. The cooker will be told what temperature to warm the oven up to and how long the dish needs. The microwave should be clever enough to work out what’s inside it and set the timer accordingly.

The car should go and fill itself up with fuel. As it sits there most of the time not doing anything, it should also automatically check all those annoying comparison sites and renew my insurance and my tax disc. The car should also book itself in for a service, preferably on a day I’m taking the train into London.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Everything connected up intelligently. The frustrating thing is that much of this technology is here today. The reason I can’t do all these things is because consumer technology is so disjointed. You might be able to get some of these things individually, but making then all work together is either ridiculously expensive, difficult or both.

So what do I think we’ll see at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? Higher resolution TVs, flexible phones and a sea of tablets.

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The time has come to say goodnight…

Danger Mouse (TV series)

Danger Mouse (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Entertainment on an aeroplane has come a long way since the first time I flew, but even so, it’s amazing how many times I find myself flicking through umpteen channels struggling to find something to watch. I try the documentaries first, but they are usually ones I’ve seen before. I then try the movies, but often find nothing I fancy. My secret is that I then turn to the children’s programs.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an episode of “In the Night Garden” on one particular flight. The guy sat next door to me looked at my strangely, so I leaned over and told him “This is the one where Iggle Piggle gets in Upsy Daisy’s bed”. Strangely enough, he didn’t speak to me for the rest of the flight.

When we were growing up, there was a fraction of the children’s TV programs that there are today. There were only a few channels and the schedulers of the day squeezed the entertainment for the young between the chat shows of the afternoon and the news at six. It was formulaic at best, typically starting with something for younger children, followed by a cartoon, then maybe some drama and rounded off by John Craven’s Newsround – a kind of round-up of the news for youngsters.

If you want to make yourself feel really old, change the office wi-fi password to the name of your favourite children’s program from your youth and then despair at how many people are too young to remember it. I couldn’t believe hoe many people in our office hadn’t heard of Grange Hill, a kind of school based soap opera – required viewing for any school child in my younger years.

Despite the limited viewing, there were some classics. Dangermouse was my favourite cartoon – and I loved his faithful sidekick Penfold who was forever coming out with “Crikey!”, “Crumbs!” or something similar. Jackanory was an unlikely formula. A star-studded cast read out children’s stories. If you haven’t heard a scary story narrated by Tom Baker – you haven’t lived.

These days, there are umpteen channels dedicated to children’s TV day and night. Nickelodeon, Nick Junior, Cbeebies, the Disney Channel are just a few of the stations on offer. In case you missed something, most of them have a +1 channel too. Not only that, but children can catch up on iPlayer. And if that weren’t enough, most programs are also available on YouTube. It’s a wonder that kids get any homework done these days.

If I get the opportunity, I like to watch the bedtime hour on Cbeebies with Maisie. It’s worth watching if only for the song that finishes it off;

The time has come to say goodnight,
To say sleep tight, ’til the morning light.
The time has come to say goodnight
at the end of  a lovely day.

We’ve had so much fun today.
Tomorrow’s just a dream away.
The time has come to say goodnight
at the end of a lovely day.

HD, Blu-ray, 3D – it’s all a conspiracy!

Kicking Television

Kicking Television (Photo credit: dhammza)

A salesman accosted me at an exhibition once and manoeuvred me over to his stand where there were two identical TVs side by side. He was blathering on about the difference that High Definition (or HD) makes to the viewing experience. I looked carefully at the two screens which were showing the exactly the same program.

When the salesman finished his pitch, I asked him when he was going to switch on the HD. He looked at me as if I was a mooncalf and told me it was already on. Puzzled, I asked him which screen was HD. By this time, the salesman thought I was making fun of him. If there was a difference in the fidelity of the display, it was far too subtle for me to pick up.

When our TV needed replacement, we bought an HD model, but only because every TV on display was HD by that time. However, in order to view HD on our TV, we would either need to replace the satellite box or the DVD player and we can see no compelling reason to do so. The satellite box would cost us more money for the same but slightly prettier content. If we replaced the DVD player with a Blu-ray player, there would be no difference unless we also replaced our DVDs.

If I was a cynical man, I would say that such advances come along every now and then and are manufactured to keep the consumer electronics industry and the film industry ticking over. For the consumer electronics industry, they get to sell yet another TV set and another media player. For the film industry, they get to sell the exact same content all over again and usually at inflated prices.

There’s many a good tune played on an old fiddle and not only were some of my favourite films shot in standard definition, they are in black and white to boot. They are compelling viewing because of the acting and the storyline, not because of the technical flash-bang wizardry. Don’t get me wrong, I love the impressive special effects that are possible these days with CGI, but in far too many recent films, there is very little else on offer.

If you are one of the people who likes to keep up with the entertainment revolution, take a good long look at your shelf full of blu-ray discs. You are going to have to pay for the privilege of downloading them all over again in 4D holographic projection format (or whatever the next giant leap in home entertainment happens to be).