Time to evolve

This is a wondrous time to be a gadget freak--especially where home theater is concerned. Where once it was just the TV in the living room, we have gone through the VCR, laserdisc player and DVD player and moved on to DVRs, Blu-Ray players and now dedicated set-top boxes for streamed content. With a minimal investment, people can get all kinds of online content streamed directly onto their TV screens.

Yet as peachy keen as all that is, there is one area that has lagged far behind: industrial design. Here's the problem. TV are not only getting larger on average, but people are increasingly mounting them on their walls--often very high on their walls. What we watch is decidedly vertical, yet the devices that feed these screens are almost all legacies of the Victrola ethos: flat & wide.

The reasons I understand. It makes sense for disc-shaped media to be played flat. However, we moved away from the 12" platter over a dozen years ago. More importantly, we are now well on our way toward a complete separation from physical media itself. Flat & wide no longer matters.

The point is that if content is no longer being delivered on discs, why stick with flat horizontal devices? Why not design DVRs and streaming boxes vertically? Think about the personal computer. There used to be a time when all PCs were flat & wide boxes sitting beneath monitors. Now I defy you to find one like that.

So it should be with set-top boxes. Even the name exposes this fundamental flaw in thinking. When the TV is only two inches deep, you no longer have the option of resting a 12" DVR on top.

It's time for the industrial designers to rethink the notion of the set-top box. Start thinking more about the device's placement and usage in current terms. Big spinning discs are going the way of the dinosaur. Video devices need to evolve. Now.