The Custom Installer: Next Big Thing - Computers!

Considering the rapid way A/V technology evolves, I'll bet Charles Darwin would have been a Sound & Vision subscriber. And survival of the fittest and natural selection are definitely alive and well in my equipment rack. In fact, all you have to do is look at it to see the history of recorded video at a glance.

On the bottom shelf sits a VCR whose operational status is questionable, since I can't recall the last time I used it. (Note to self: remove VCR to make more room for technology developed in this millennium.) Next to the VCR sits the one-time videophile darling: a laserdisc player. Above that are players for the disc that usurped the video throne, the smaller and better-looking DVD. (My A/V museum actually includes both a single-disc player and a 400-disc megachanger controlled by an Escient media manager.) Atop my stack sits my beloved high-def digital cable box, which includes a DVR. Capable of recording not one but two high-def shows at once, it delivers some of the best video currently available and makes sure I never miss an episode of Lost.

From analog tape to digital data, I just about have it all. But it's my rack's latest "visitor" - the Xbox 360 - that has my mind whirling. I think the 360's Media Center capabilities offer a glimpse of the future, and I'm willing to make a bold prediction: soon, in one way or another, you will incorporate a computer into your A/V system.

If you just let loose a loud "Harrumph!" - bear with me. I, too, was an unbeliever. Who would want a computer in the living room? When I'm working on my PC, I want peace and quiet. Staring at a blank word-processing screen that's 61 inches across would be like some kind of horrible, Stephen King vision of writer's block. But think about it - most computers are rarely used for computing, and TVs do far more than display TV shows. They're both part of the larger family of digital entertainment, and a computer is the perfect hub for future entertainment experiences.

In fact, today's computers are virtually bred for this role. With gobs of memory and ultrafast processors capable of handling numerous tasks at once, they're ideal for streaming files to multiple rooms. Popping in a disc automatically grabs all pertinent info, including cover art from the Web. Many-gigabyte hard drives already store your music and photos, and when Hollywood sorts out this DVD-ripping nonsense, the drives will hold all your movies, too. With multiple TV tuners - including HD - and free program guides, you could even get TiVo-like DVR functions at no extra cost.

And when broadband gets even broader, you'll likely never buy another CD or DVD again - you'll just click a button and presto! There it'll be on your hard drive.

But you'll probably still keep the computer in your office for those times when there really is work to be done. Media extenders like the Xbox 360 will be the vehicles that shuttle all this entertainment to any and every room in your house - wirelessly! Plus, you'll streamline your entertainment rack to a surround receiver and a single player - but all the media in your library (and the world) will be at your fingertips. And that's evolutionary for sure!

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