Monday, November 18, 2013

Thinking : Connections ...

And why we can't have nice things.

This one's been triggered by something I spotted on the Register today. It's partly about some Sonos sound kit but mostly about connectivity.

We have great expectations these days, we like to be able to plug one piece of electronics into another and we expect them to work together. It used to be pretty easy, just plug a SCART lead into the dvd player or the video recorder and send it to the telly. And on things that didn't have the room for SCART, there was the yellow lead for picture and the red and white leads for audio.

It used to be simpler back then, we didn't have the expectations for things to work together. Now, we have a wonderful replacement for SCART that takes audio and video in the same lead. But ... it doesn't work that well.

My hifi is connected up along reasonably traditional lines - it has leads that go to the speakers and I hide them behind various Stuff. There's only one lead that runs across the floor (speaker lead). The rest map up as follows :

TV cable box to Telly (through 5 leads)
Telly to hifi (through 1 lead)
Xbox to hifi (through HDMI)
Bluray player to hifi (by HDMI again)
Hifi to telly (by HDMI)
Littlewhitebox to hifi (by 1 lead)

The reason everything possible hooks up via HDMI is because of Trust Issues - the money people in media made it so that the device sending the picture needs to be able to Trust the devices it's sending everything to or it will send a degraded picture. I have to use HDMI for the bluray or I don't get the best sound.

However ... it's not a particularly great connection. It's prone to bad equipment causing problems :

TV cable box can't send a stable picture by HDMI
Bluray player can't send stable sound with dvds

Yep. I have to use my Xbox as a dvd player. I think it's actually a problem with the hifi rather than the bluray player but it shows that the shiny new connection isn't as good as it should be. I think it's those Trust Issues getting in the way. I also have to start things up in a particular order or I get problems.

Where's this going ? Lol - I'm wondering that myself.

I'd like to be able to connect anything I have to everything else. And I'd like to do that without :

Interference (the audio streaming suffers from this)
Wires on the floor
Reliability issues.

It's a shame the Trust Issues happen. They're in there because piracy is so rampant these days that the money people demand protection is built in. That's why we can't have nice things. It's because there's a tonne of people out there who can afford shiny pcs and internet subscriptions but are too cheap to pay for dvds, cds and blurays. And in doing their pirating, they make things more expensive for the rest of us.

I'll close by saying what I would like to make in an ideal world. We'll assume the multimedia house has to be around other people. We'll have :

Network. I used to think an Ethernet socket with each power connector would be the thing to do. And you'd put the router as close to the phone as possible for a good connection. Then ? Wifi comes along and makes things easier. However ... wifi is very susceptible to interference and not just from other wifis. Now ? I'd use Powerline networking to hook everything up.

If ... you could send the video and audio around the network. (The Apple TV looks curious here) Apple's Airplay works pretty well for audio and I understand there's a few other potential methods out there too.

Airplay ? It's what the Airport Express does. It takes in wifi and sends out audio from iTunes or other stuff that knows about Airplay. It's a fantastic little device, easy to move from place to place. You just plug it in and it does its thing. Means I can take it up to my parents' place and use it like I do here.

Video - I think people overcomplicate this. They expect to squirt video around a network. Nah. Better to have a tame laptop and send the video that way. Or one of those little boxes that looks at the internet to stream things. To have it in the telly ? Madness. It rarely works properly and you have totally inadequate ways of finding what you want. It's bad enough to find things on my V+ box when you're navigating the On Demand area.

That's what I'd like - to have a simple way of hooking everything up that works time and time again. Powerline networking might be a good way but ... it would be handy if you could build it into things like laptop power supplies. Hook up the power ? Get network too. That would be great.

We're a long way off having that multimedia nirvana. Hopefully it won't be too long away but I think for now we'll have :

Lots of different boxes doing lots of different things
As many different leads as boxes
And still more conflicts where things don't play nicely together

And all because the pirates cause us to not be able to have Nice Things !

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