Build your own TV

Certain parts of the 'net have begun talking about building your own TV. Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes on rainy days was poring over the Heathkit catalogue. Heath of Benton Harbor, Michigan had a whole catalogue full of electronic kits, ranging from simple transistor radios to things like electronic keyboards and color televisions. I eventually built a shortware receiver, among other home-designed projects.

But with the advent of the microchip, Heath went out of business. Electronic stuff got so cheap no one was interested in putting things together themselves. So why the sudden interest?

We're beginning to see "perfect storms" in several areas. The phone business is becoming a perfect storm. Skype's CEO announced the other day that the company has 29 million users and is adding 155,000 PER DAY. Skype is free for Skype to Skype calls, and they charge a small fee for completing calls to non-Skype users. Skype is using the Google model--mostly free service and offering an optional fee-based service. And we all know what happened to Google.

But Google was not disruptive in the same way that Voice over IP is destroying the phone business because there was no global search business before Google. But the steady increase in broadband users, excellent voice telephony software from companies like Skype, and monopoly pricing from the telecoms has created a perfect storm in telephony that will shortly also swallow the entire cellphone industry, since WiFi carries Skype and other VoIP calls just as easily.

Similarly, the television business is also on very rough seas that will build quickly to a perfect storm. Again, broadband winds have increased the wave height. We're very close to a time when some innovative and brash content developer says, "Heck with the TV industry. We're going to produce a "tv" show and broadcast it over the Internet." The show will be so compelling (I'm guessing a comedy will be first) that millions will download and watch it, even if the picture quality is a little fuzzy. Once we have a single breakout show, the wave height will only get higher and eventually the existing model for television will be swallowed by the monster wave of Internet TV. This storm could start anytime in the next year or so, and TV as we know it will hang for a few years, but with fewer and fewer viewers day by day.

So what does all this have to do with building your own TVs? The Federal government has, using the law of unintended consequences, created a storm that will destroy the entire TV industry. Note that Japan will be more affected than the U.S. The V-chip requirement is looming, and we are only months from the requirement that all new TVs have a V chip. This is causing a current spike in TV sales for one thing, but that's not the real story.

Regulators keep forgetting that the 'net is intelligent. I don't mean the network itself, but rather the people connected by the network--that's the real 'net. And the real 'net is mad as heck. When the 'net gets mad, get out of the way. The 'net doesn't take to the streets, they don't write their congressperson, they don't go on talk shows to complain about how they feel. Instead, they go to work.

Hence, the 'net has decided to build their own TVs, without V chips. That's right, Open Source television. It's not going to be like the days of my youth, soldering together hundreds of electronic components and hoping you did not make a mistake. Hoembrew TVs are going to be mostly software, and you'll download and install a TV program--not a program like "Seinfeld," but a program as in software code. You'll need a cheap card that the cable TV connection plugs into, but it will be a lot less than a new TV. And then, presto, your computer will be a television. A V chip free television.

Regulators and the entertainment industry keep forgetting the basic premise of the Internet. Remember the origins of the Internet--it was a Department of Defense initiative. The DoD wanted a network that could continue working in the face of a massive nuclear attack. American genius designed just such a network, and that's what we use today. And guess what? Over-regulation, excessive fees, and monopolies, to the 'net, look like attacks. The 'net routes around such attacks and keeps on going.

It's a perfect storm.