Dimming the lights on smart(arse) TV
When consumer devices go bzzzt
Something for the weekend, Sir? "The TV has stopped working."
This is the kind of announcement that I both dread and am accustomed to in the Dabbs household. A bit like the bath-fitter who is expected to know how to fix blocked sewers, as a computer journalist I am held personally to account upon the failure at home of anything electronic... or indeed electric, gas-fired or petrol-engined.
In fact, it seems that it merely needs to have hinges for it to come under my all-encompassing 'tech' remit.
Surely some of you must have to deal with something similar from partners, family members and/or flatmates from time to time. There are days when you arrive at work, drenched in rain, whereupon the phone begins to ring incessantly, your boss is on a stomp and someone has swapped your nice office chair for a milking stool. Your project is on a dive, orders haven't been received and your colleague has set fire to the wastebasket.
Then your spouse/mum/mate/teenage daughter sends a text message from home to say: "The internet's not working."
Have you tried turning it off and then on again?
Source: Channel 4 / 2entertain
As The IT Crowd would have it, such potential disasters are usually resolved by switching the offending item off and then back on again.
In the case of the non-working TV, I tell myself it's usually a case of having to explain – yet again – what the 'Source' button on the remote control is for. Perhaps this time, I fantasise, I'll perform a PowerPoint presentation on the subject in the living room to assembled family members, complete with breakout sessions and ending with a buffet networking lunch.
Secretly, though, this time I am excited. The living room TV's been on the blink for ages and I've been biding my time until its complete failure forces my hand (to my wallet) to replace it with a so-called 'smart TV'. My old TV was the last CRT-based device in the shop when I bought it earlier this century and recently the screen has been going weird. My excitement is tinged with slight disappointment, however, because I was not around to witness the TV's demise this time.
My previous TV went out with a bang – literally, a loud retort accompanied by a demonstrative (and smelly) plume of smoke, reminiscent of a performance by Ali Bongo – whereas this one just sat there with a blank screen, making quiet clicking noises as if tutting at my hesitancy.
Smart TV: Spotted on Thursday, looked up on Friday, bought on Saturday, out of date on Sunday
That evening, I consulted a shortlist of smart TVs that I had drawn up some weeks ago for a might-never-happen Top Ten roundup for El Reg. Horror of horrors: these are all on sale at discounted prices. This means my list is already out of date and whatever I buy now will be incompatible, non-upgradable tat by the time it gets delivered.
Telly Selly Time
Worse, despite my old TV's impeccable timing in keeling over in the week that Google was expected to announce its new generation of TV products, Google ruined the fun by doing nothing of the sort. Instead, it wasted everyone's time by showing off a $300 Pokéball.
I choose you. Not.
The original Google TV product – a service embedded into other manufacturers' TVs and set-top boxes – was a commercial failure, so the company seems to be holding back on doing it again just for the moment. It's probably waiting for Apple to come clean on those 'iTV' rumours.
Good luck with registering that as a brand name in the UK, by the way.
I suspect what I'd really like is a shamelessly gadgety product such as the Sony NSZ-GS7.
Of course, this could only work out in a scenario in which I lived as a childless, friendless, orphan bachelor. Back in the real world, I repeatedly have to talk family members through the process of locating the on/off button on the back of the Virgin Super Hub, so can you imagine what it would be like phoning home to explain how to stop accidentally pressing keys on the keyboard on the back of the remote control?
It would be like a scene from Airplane: "Pull up! Pull up! You're coming in too low!"
Now, have you ever flown a dual-band 802.11n router before?
Source: Paramount Home Entertainment
A trip to my local electronics emporium to see the things in action was inevitable. A shop assistant with a heavy Indian accent summed it up beautifully – "Your television is just like a big mobile phone" – which is just about the most off-putting yet perfectly accurate thing you can say about the current state of smart TV.
I bought a non-smart TV at sale price and will bide my time a little longer before Google, Apple, Sony and whoever (Samsung?) get their acts together to produce a product that isn't like a big mobile phone. In the meantime, I will continue delivering my weekly domestic training course on how to access the internet using the Playstation 3 – at least until the notorious YLOD provokes another call to the Dabbs support hotline. ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. His spouse often asks why he still isn't a dot-com billionaire. By the way, have you ever tried doing a Google search for 'Google TV' using the Chrome browser? All it does is search for the word 'TV'.