5 Mar 2008 12:18 am   //   Filed under: Technology

The Internet saves television

The first computer I ever used was a Tandy TRS-80. Software came on cassettes that we played on a tape player, or black plastic cartridges that we mashed into the side of the CPU. Data was saved on 5-1/4″ floppies. What possessed my dad to buy this machine remains a mystery. But I learned how to negotiate a command prompt and write BASIC at an early age, skills that have served me well. Interestingly, we did not have a dedicated monitor for this computer. It plugged right into an old analog TV set.

Twenty-plus years later, we’ve come full circle. Yesterday I went by the Apple Store to buy a connector so I can plug my Mac Mini into my old analog TV set. Lately I’ve been watching an increasing amount of TV and movies over the Internet. The networks are streaming their shows online with a clearer picture than I can pull in with my rabbit ears. Impressive new services like Hulu.com are making full-length movies available for free. (Netflix is streaming movies now too, but not yet on the Mac for reasons apparently related to DRM.) Now I can play Internet video on my TV, which is closer to the couch than my computer monitor. We are finally witnessing the “convergence” that people predicted in th 1990s, during Dot-Com Bubble I.

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The new Apple Store on 14th Street – the third one in New York City – is an instant landmark. (Who knew there would ever be a good reason to visit the Meatpacking District?) The store spans three floors connected by an expensive-looking glass spiral staircase. It was easy to find the connector I wanted, but where were the cash registers? It turns out Apple has a better way. Salespeople wander the floor with wireless computers that act as checkout devices. (Curiously, these aren’t Apple devices; they’re more like the computers carried by UPS drivers.) A roaming salesguy scanned my purchase, swiped my credit card, and transmitted my receipt to a small printer hidden under a table near the exit. It is assumed that everyone pays for everything with a credit card. How very West Coast!