Living Room Convergence. It’s a relatively old idea in the digital age: The idea that all the services and devices we use in our living room (TV, movies, game consoles etc.) would converge into a single appliance as opposed to 4-5 different devices. It’s been heralded as a coming inevitability for over 15 years now, with seemingly every major device maker trying to be the one that invades your living room and ties it all together. The most famous attempt was likely Microsoft’s original Xbox in 2001. The Xbox was a game console first and foremost, but Microsoft made no secret that it was their attempt at a foot in the door of the living room. Microsoft’s original strategy was the Xbox would eventually becomes a hub for all your movies, TV and games and that they could sell all these services through their Xbox Live service. The attempt, at the time, failed for a vast amount of reasons that are far too long to list in this post.
Somewhat ironically however, the attempt helped spawned something that currently could be helping lead the way towards the convergence dream, and completely outside Microsoft’s control: XBMC. XBMC, the precursor to what is now known as Kodi, stands for XBox Media Center, which ironically is no longer supported on the Xbox. Back then XBMC was still primarily “geek centric” software. The average Xbox owner wasn’t aware of it, never mind how to even install it and use it, but it did plant the seed for what we’re seeing today.
We’re now seeing a wide scale adoption of media devices in the living room, from low budget android boxes, HTPCs and now high end hybrid devices like the Nvidia Shield. With millions of media streaming devices sold, “cord-cutting”, whether that’s using Kodi, Plex, Netflix etc, is now fairly ubiquitous and becoming more so all the time, especially among the younger generation. Watching TV from the net isn’t new: Most of us have been doing some form of it for over a decade, even if it was downloading shows off the internet. What’s changed is the pure scale of it; the adoption of the idea outside of “geek” culture. Everyone knows about Streaming now, largely due to Netflix. But Kodi, who’s popularity seems to increase by the day, is is becoming a leader in the adoption of online streaming. But that’s just one part of the equation. We’ve eliminated the DVD player and the CableBox but when people talk about convergence they’re usually looking at a lot more. We were still missing some other pieces of the pie
Until now, unless you were running Kodi on a good HTPC or had access to a console to support it, doing any serious gaming on your Kodi box was a pipe dream. This has changed and is continuing to change. Fast. With services like Steam In-Home streaming and Nvidia GameStream we have the option to leverage any existing gaming hardware in our houses and pushing it to our living room using a low cost media box. The Nvidia Shield supports the ability to stream games to your shield device without the need of any additional hardware, although it’s bandwidth infrastructure requirements are steep.
The dream of living room convergence is finally coming to a head, and for a lot of people that drive is happening and will be built around their Kodi devices. The device they bought for one thing: movies and TV, is all of sudden now capable of doing so much more with little to no additional investment on the part of the user. Add on the ability to do Skype, control your IP security cameras or even control the lights in our houses and our tiny little boxes suddenly have the option to turn in the nerve center of our entire living room and house. To be clear, this has already been happening and has been for a long time, but always on the fringes and never part our mainstream digital culture. And it’s still in many ways is that way, but the change is happening and it’s happening FAST. We’re starting to be able to do so much more with so much less and just because the prices of hardware keeps falling (It;s always done that) but because the sophistication and breadth of the services and technology available to us has reached a maturation in this field that wasn’t there before: We’re streaming entire AAA quality games with minimal to 0 loss of quality at this point. That is a Big Deal. And the people who are willing to try these innovations are more often than not, Kodi people rather than your typical Netflix cord cutters
What started as a vision of the living room being controlled by a few single large players has organically turned into a loose web of unaffiliated parties who have largely coalesced around our Kodi devices to try and turn them into so much more. It’s not going to be a “Geek” thing to watch and play everything we do now on $30-100$ boxes spread among the various rooms in our house, where every TV is a video conferencing unit. For $99 you can turn your TV into a fully operation touch Android device – How long until that becomes $30? For a lot of us the desire to do all this will come from our tiny boxes that are already doing so much of our entertaining. Why not bolt on a whole lot more?