Thursday, December 2, 2010

The iPod and I

I’ve never been one to ride on the cutting edge of commercially available entertainment technology.  I listened to 8-track tapes until well after my mission; I didn’t transition very quickly from cassette tapes to CDs (nor from VHS tapes to DVDs); and currently I’m resisting the move from DVDs to Blu-ray discs.  One reason for this is that I’ve never been much of an audiophile or videophile; I simply don’t insist on having the best available sound or picture quality—“good enough” is good enough for me—especially if the new technologies are still in their “expensive” stages of development and proliferation.  (There were some notable exceptions.  First, I bought a second-generation Sony Walkman portable cassette player in 1982 for $120 [+tax], which was ruined later that summer when I took it to the lake and got sand in it.  And, then, Dorine and I bought our first VCR for $440 [+tax] shortly after we were married in late 1984, a two-head unit that didn’t even have a random-access TV tuner [it had sixteen presets]; later on, even well before DVD players came out in 1997, you couldn’t have given that VCR away.  It’s almost scary to think what one could buy today with that kind of money, especially if one adjusts for inflation since the early 1980s.)

It’s interesting to me that as portable devices that store digital audio and video files have become available/affordable, the need for elaborate, bulky electronic components has gradually diminished.  The iPod doesn’t provide state-of-the-art sound quality, but its compactness and portability have rendered large, component-based stereo systems almost completely obsolete.  I guess I’m waiting for some similar technology to come along that will do the same thing to DVD and Blu-ray players and elaborate home-theater systems.  Netflix’s internet streaming is only a small step in that direction—and we’ll never eliminate the need for large-screen TVs due to our inherent desire for bigger and sharper visual images—but I foresee a day in the next ten years in which we’ll have the “movie” equivalent of iTunes and an associated portable (iPod-like) memory device that can be plugged directly into a TV to display a movie.  Disk-style media may still serve a purpose, but, as is the case with CDs currently, video discs will generally be used only to upload files to our computer-based libraries.  Video and audio quality may not quite be on par with a Blu-ray player working in conjunction with a high-definition flat-panel TV and a high-fidelity home-theater system, but I expect some “ease of use” feature of the technology to offset any diminution in the overall viewing experience.

The challenge for the film and television industries—and, by extension, for the technology itself—will be how to discourage the sort of piracy that severely impacted the music industry with the advent of the iPod.  I suspect that the people who make and distribute films and television shows don’t want the technology to advance any further until better controls on sharing digital files can be implemented; however, I greet with circumspection the news that the government has recently seized control of certain internet domain names that are associated with file-sharing.  I suspect it is just the first of a series of increasingly autocratic measures designed to protect “Hollyweird"; however, the more stringent the government becomes, the more likely it is that people will rationalize piracy and other copyright violations as justifiable civil disobedience, forgetting about the whole notion of stealing.

[Update 12/7/10: My 500MB iPod "Shuffle" finally ran out of juice last night after it stopped registering on the computer or charging a couple of weeks ago.  I'd used it at the gym for what must have been upwards of five years, but, alas, iPods don't seem to be engineered to last indefinitely.  I still have a three-year-old 2GB "Nano" that works, so at least I have another option.]

[Update 12/21/10: I've noticed that at least some flat-panel TVs now come with USB ports, but only for display of .jpg files (i.e., still images).  What I'm anticipating is that future-generation TVs will be able to "play" movies directly from an iPod-like "flash" memory device via a USB interface; I also suspect that the movie and television industries are already actively resisting the idea.]

[Update 1/21/11: I got an 8GB iPod "Nano" for Christmas, primarily because Kiley had lost my older 2GB "Nano" at church; however,the people who found the older "Nano" finally returned it to me -- they evidently saw that it had some tracks on it that I had done under my own name and deduced that it belonged to me.  The new "Nanos," by the way, are pretty amazing -- 8GB in a device that's only about 1.25" square and perhaps 0.33" deep.  It has so much memory that it holds my entire iTunes library, which consists of some 1500 songs.]

[Update 5/25/11: I got a Blu-ray player for my birthday this year (to go with the flat-panel TV I got for Christmas), and last week I bought my very first Blu-ray disc, Sherlock Holmes, which Walmart was selling for $10.  Interestingly, I've found my eyesight is so bad that I can't tell the difference in picture quality between a regular DVD and a Blu-ray disc, at least when both are played on the Blu-ray player and the flat-panel TV, unless I'm within 2-3' of the screen.  I guess I won't "waste" my money on more Blu-ray discs.]