We bought a digital-tv set top box as an after-christmas present for ourselves. I went for the bells and whistles with the newest ProCaster1 , yet... it wasn't the most exciting tech gadget I ever have seen.

Let me start by saying that dissing digital television and the bureacratically led transition to it seems to be a common pastime for many IT columnists in Finland. With this blog I'm not trying to become one of those, uh no. These are just some general observations, also observations about my own expectations I didn't know I was having.

So, I bought this box with a 350GB hard disk for recording tv-programs (for US residents, this is like Tivo), two antenna receivers so I can watch one channel while recording another, HDMI support, whatnot. These things have been around for a couple of years now.

First of all I was surprised that nobody is producing a model with integrated DVD-R, ie. ability to burn my recorded programs on DVD. Now I can record tv-programs conveniently, but should I want to save them on some movable media, I must plug a computer to the USB outlet and manually copy the files and master a DVD. Guess how many times I have bothered to do that...?

You guessed it, none! There has been many other "why can't I..." experiences too. This has been kinda healthy I think, it shows me how many things I take for granted being used to Internet and general purpose computers. For instance, from the Elegtronic Programming Guide it is easy to pick a program, press record and ok and you're done. But internally it is just like those old VCR's, the stupid box sets a channel, a start time and end time. So for instance, if the program is late or its weekly time slot is altered in the schedule, the ProCaster faithfully records during the given time, it doesn't pay attention to the name of the program being sent. It makes sense, but being used to web addresses and such - you click a link and you download exactly what you want to download - it feels so last millenium.

Another thing I see myself wanting is the ability to have an internet connection to this box. Say I've left home and realise some good movie is on tonight. So why can't I open up a browser on my mobile phone, point it to my set top box and select the movie to be recorded.

While I'm at it, why can't I stream the recorded programs to a device over the net.

And so forth, you get the picture. All reasonable things to expect, but science fiction when compared to current digital television standards.

So it seems instead of a normal set top box I should have bought a Media Center type of computer. Of course I don't mean the Windows XP Media Center things, none of that in our house! But MythTV looks more and more likely to be our next digi tv box, in some future. In fact, some friends of mine are working on a MythTV based digital entertainment center, and it seems they have already reached a stage where the product has a nice web page. Maybe something for next Christmas :-)

At the same time I think maybe this is the start of the end of TV as we know it. I'm more and more convinced that future television will be something like Joost, Democracy TV or The Pirate Bay for that matter. For instance, this stupid box we have isn't smart enough to
1) record the news each day
2) and then automatically delete it the next day, in favor of fresh news
Moreover, it isn't smart enough to automatically record the programs I'm likely to like. Comeon, Amazon and Google have been doing it for years and it's quite simple - if you live in the Internet world. But in old-fashion television it's still science fiction.

  • 1ProCaster is an OEM brand of TopField, and usually the ProCaster versions come out first, kind of like Fedora before RHEL.

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