Sony Internet TVI’ve been getting a lot of hi-def Blu-Ray screeners these days, and of course my old Sony DVD player can’t handle the new technology (how convenient, as the church lady would say).  And while the digital download is about to make Blu-Ray as hi-tech as VHS, I was curious to see how much a player was these days, so I went to Amazon and took a look.

To my astonishment, I discovered Blu-Ray players for under a $100.  I don’t know why I was surprised; in order to convince people to dump their perfectly functioning DVD players AND spend more on Blu-Ray discs, the barrier to entry has to be low.

The low price didn’t convince me to buy a Blu-Ray player (see the reference to VHS above)…but what caught my eye were slightly more expensive models with integrated wi-fi.  For well under $200 – shipping included – I could get the Sony BDP-S580…a Blu-Ray Player that also allows you to watch movies and TV on services like Hulu and Netflix…and much more.

Sony

Sony's BDP-S580 Blu-Ray Player

I received my box and had no trouble setting it up and connecting to the internet.  And the whole thing worked as promised.  I could watch my Dogtooth Blu-Ray DVD (OMG what a movie!) and watch episodes of 30 Rock on Hulu Plus.  I could even listen to listen to audio, like the Pandora music service, through my TV.

Yes, tech-heads, I know this isn’t new.  I know that boxes like Apple TV and Slingbox have been, well, slinging the internet to TV’s for some time.  I know you can buy web-enabled TV’s.  But this stuff only really gets interesting to me when it becomes truly mainstream…when your Uncle Dave in Detroit might go into the local Best Buy and…buy it.  One more box to set up (like Apple TV) adds too much complication for the average Luddite, and who’s going to buy an expensive internet-ready TV if you just bought your flat screen two years ago?  So the appearance of these familiar-seeming, low-cost, all-in-one boxes like my Sony means that the convergence of all our entertainment technologies is finally upon us.  Or is it?

Technology hasn’t really been the primary barrier to the digital convergence for at least the last decade.  It’s the business model.  The main question to be settled is: Who will have the relationship with the consumer?

In order to use Pandora, for instance, I had to register with Sony, which was a pain in the ass for me and can’t please Pandora – which already has a “relationship” with me to the tune of (pun intended) $3/month.  See what I’m saying?  With my name and e-mail, Sony can now sell me their electronics, movies, music and games…right through their nifty little box.

If we have to sign up for every service – for Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, iTunes and so on – and I have to buy a DVD player and a laptop and a smartphone and I have an ISP and services that allow me to access my stuff on all my devices, the whole point of convergence is lost.  Whereas if one company is the conduit to everything – that is, if there’s could be one place to buy stuff and there’s only one bill, then the convergence is ON.  But which one of these companies will be the gateway to the consumer?  Who will have the relationship?

Apple almost became the de facto purveyor of all things digital by making iTunes easy to use and pricing simple and understandable.  And while Apple single-handedly showed the networks, studios and record companies the way to the digital future, Hollywood is now rebelling against Steve Jobs’ hegemony.

It seems clear that the digital convergence will only really be upon us when all the players can create a platform that is a clearing house for content, with fair rules for all.  And when will that happen?  Well, let’s just say the same thing we’ve been saying for years and years about the arrival of the digital convergence…sometime soon.

PS – while my TV works great, entering search terms using the numeric pad on the tiny remote (eg searching Hulu for “30 Rock”) is really excruciating.  I’m told I can download a free app that will turn my iPhone into a remote…I’m going to give it a try!  Ah, the almost convergence.

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