System Wars 2: The Console of Tomorrow

    The year, 2007. I come home from work, sling off my coat, and plop down in my nice recliner with a wireless keyboard across my knees. Fifteen minutes later, I have paid my credit card bill and printed off the statements, answered two e-mails, ordered a pizza, watched highlights of the Cubs World Series win the night before, and set up the programming to record tonight’s game. Laying aside the keyboard, I pick up a controller and hop into a nice online game of Quake V while waiting on the pizza boy. While cheerfully dodging rockets on my lovely 27 inch display, I listen to the day’s headlines streamed from NPR to my in-house sound system. When the pizza arrives, I wander about the internet, looking for more information on Diablo 3 while munching on my nice spinach alfredo pie. Sound pretty good? Of course, this whole time, I have only been using one machine.

    Count it up, that is only four years away! Ok, so that may be a bit early for Diablo 3. The rest of it is not only possible, but likely. With one machine, I will be watching TV, surfing the internet, handling e-mail, recording TV, running my sound system, and playing games. For starters, that is. Millions of people already have the predecessor of my wonder box. They know it as a console.

    No, not a PC. The desktop PC as we know it today is nearing the end of its life. Almost across the industry sales of desktop computers are down (I will address laptops in a bit). Major manufactures of desktop systems, like Dell and Apple, are shifting their strategies away from the tower. Apple now makes MP3 players, and has declared this the year of the laptop. Dell is moving into the handheld market, looking to add another revenue stream to offset the lackluster sales of traditional desktop towers. Personal computers are getting smaller and more multifunctional with each passing generation. Fully functional desktop systems can now be bought that are no bigger than a paperback novel. Some machines are shipping standard with capability to watch TV on the monitor, or even send the video to a TV instead of a monitor.

    TV, monitor, is there a difference? I have seen numerous models of ‘new’ LCD TV’s in my local electronic stores. These ‘new’ designs have a lovely LCD screen that ranges in size from 12 to 18 inches. These TVs look a lot like normal, flat LCD monitors. In fact, if you add a VGA input, they would be monitors. There are a variety of companies that for over a year have been selling LCD screens with TV capability built in, blurring the already fuzzy line between a TV and a monitor. Now, there is no line. Hook it up to a cable jack and watch the local news, it is a TV. Hook it up to a computer, it is a monitor. Why should we buy both? Does it not make more sense to let one big screen handle both jobs? After all, who wouldn’t want to read the latest Diablo news on a big screen while lounging in a nice comfy couch?

    So, someone must be asking, why is it going to be the console that takes over? Why will the desktop die? Money. Look at the numbers. Consoles sell like hot cakes. At several million sales, the XBox is the weakest of the big three in global market share. Of current models, the PS2 reigns supreme with over forty million units sold. And the original Playstation has a total far more impressive still. There is no doubt that an updated SuperConsole would sell units, if nothing else just to the console gamers.

    Secondly, consoles are cheaper. They have one configuration. That means they can be more easily mass produced than can desktop computers, which are often custom built. There are not a lot of options when buying a GameCube, for instance. Compare that to buying a Dell. This ability to mass produce cuts down production costs, which in turn cuts down the cost to the consumer.

    Third, Microsoft. They have the XBox, arguably the console with the most raw horsepower of any of them. They also have Windows, and more specifically, that nifty new Media Center version of Windows that will let desktop computers do a lot of what my SuperConsole can do. How unimaginable is it for Microsoft to load a similar operating system onto the XBox 2? I cannot see Microsoft failing to take advantage of this enormous market potential. Right now controlling all multimedia systems from one machine is something most people see only as an idea, be it a weird idea or something that sounds pretty cool. But then, how long ago was it that giving up on floppy drives was a weird idea? And today, CDs have all but pushed floppies out the door. As the technology comes available and easy to use, people will adopt it.

    Finally, Sony. They make the Playstation, which has sales records. They make a score of multimedia devices. And they have lined up some impressive partners for the Playstation 3. Along with Toshiba, IBM and Sony have worked out the design for a “Cell” processor. This chip is expected to be able to do four things at once (current processors only do one thing at a time). Package that with the fastest memory on the market, and you have the predicted backbone of the Playstation 3. Did I mention Sony makes a ton of other digital appliances? So does Toshiba. Imagine all appliances made by those two companies being controllable through the PS3 sitting by the TV in the living room. Why would Sony not do this? The potential for profit is enormous.

    With such factors at work and such players on board, will any computer survive the surge of the console? Yes. The desktop may go, but the laptop will stay. Some people will always want a second system. Businesses will not want to install big screen TVs in every cubicle. Even a few gaming houses may not switch altogether from PC to console. For some jobs, a smaller, personal system just works better. And the laptop will fill that role. As for the desktop… been nice knowing you.

    Now, to watch those Cubs highlights…


    Disclaimer: Salem’s Fire was written by Luke Blaize and hosted by diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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