We are all surrounded by media, more so than ever before. Enjoying media used to consist of sitting down in front of your TV and then watching a TV show or your favourite movie on VHS. VHS was an important step forward to increasing the availability of media. In 2011, not a day passes where someone does not watch a video on YouTube. This can be taken a step further by noting YouTube’s availability on mobile platforms. No more are the days where you must be sitting in front of your TV to watch media. We are immersed in media and this will continue into the future.
Not only is the influx of media present with YouTube but a large portion of the population who uses the internet has some collection of media archived on their computer. These pieces of media may be either videos, music, or photos. Along with personal media collected over the years there are also online retailers like iTunes that can be used to buy TV shows instantly. Another source of media might be imported VHS tapes, a project which I have recently undertaken. In the first decade of the 21st century it might have seemed like a good idea to burn our media collection to DVD for archiving and then playing back on our TV sets. The truth is that presently one can buy a 1TB hard drive for under $100. This means that we can just store the media perpetually on two hard drives (one to act as a backup) and access it via the network.
I have been fortunate to have a solution for accessing media anywhere in the house practically walk up to me. All computers used for media in my house use iTunes. My house has an Apple TV, we also have an iPad. This combination of devices and software creates a media experience that just works. As an example if there’s a YouTube video that I want to share on the big screen TV I just favourite on my computer, then log into YouTube on iPad, and then tap the AirPlay button on iPad’s YouTube player. AirPlay is a feature available in iTunes and iOS to redirect video you are watching to a local Apple TV. The Apple TV also acts as a solution for accessing media archived on disk in that it can access anything you place into your iTunes library. The iPad can also do this and access any media you have placed in your iTunes library. Apple has done a superb job in making it easy to access all of your media from anywhere in your house.
Microsoft currently does not have a solution that is as encompassing as the Apple method. If you use Windows Media Center you can use an Xbox to access media stored on your computer. Microsoft also doesn’t have a tablet sized device that can be used to view media from say a bedroom, you would have to take your laptop with you. I am hoping that with Windows 8 Microsoft makes advancements in this area. For now the best option is probably the Xbox + Media Center + Laptop for accessing media anywhere in the house. For those using Linux I am not sure of what the state of this area is like, only that Google TV may provide a similar experience.
There is one final hurdle in creating a system where your media can be accessed anywhere. This hurdle is the cloud, as in cloud computing system. It is currently unclear as to whether or not someone will be able to access their media anywhere. The cloud becomes a hurdle due to the immense amount of bandwidth that would be required to sync media to a cloud. A more feasible solution than a total sync might be to allow a user to access their home network media from anywhere. Thus far the company that has shown the most interest in the cloud has been Google. Google certainly has the resources to accomplish such a task but will the user experience provided be worth it? The cloud is a relatively new concept that is often greeted with skepticism. What if the company disappears? What if my data disappears? Those kinds of questions often accompany the cloud. Cloud storage for important data is fine as long as one is able to maintain a local copy as well, that is, use the cloud as a central point for getting and putting data. Only the future can tell us what direction media consumption will head towards.
I hope that this month I have inspired you to look into creating a universal media solution for yourself. Once your house is set up so that you can access any media anywhere in the house from any device, it truly shows how far technology has come in just the last 5 years. If you have an iPod, iPhone, or iPad I highly encourage you to go the Apple route. In the next 5 years I would like to see more integration for our computers in general, not just media. What would you like to see? If you have a better solution for Windows or Linux please send me a private message on the forums. Also send me a message if you have any suggestions about what you’d like to see in future articles.