Tablet PC as media gizmo

There’s discussion about using the Mac mini as a media center: “the central brain of our system; the glue that holds all the devices together. It can serve the role of scheduler, controller, audio/video recorder, audio/video playback, audio/video download, and it even makes a decent audio/video production unit, as well.” The cute li’l box has processing, storage and network to serve, slurp, and schedule.
But what I’m missing isn’t just processing power — it’s interface focus.
Right now, my laptop is a fine media machine if I want to focus on watching video or listening to music. But it’s useless for background tasks. Any media – related task steals 100% of focus and processing power.
What I really want is a good-sized, networked, tablet that I can use for social software like Last.fm for simultaneous playing and browsing. An iPod UI is fine for selection, but it’s just too small for the social and topical browsing that’s key to my media experience. I want it to be portable, not tied to a desktop display. The storage doesn’t need to be tied to the display — a networked storage gizmo would be ideal.
The mini combines the storage, networking, and processing, and leaves off the display. I want the display and processing, which can be decoupled from the storage.
This is all possible today with a good-sized budget. A table is $1600, a network storage gizmo is $800. In order to make a tablet practical, vendors would need to cost-optimize for a configuration that splits display from storage.
Note to more advanced home media hackers — what do you think?

5 thoughts on “Tablet PC as media gizmo”

  1. While I don’t consider myself an advanced home-media hacker, I’m intrigued by the whole entertainment-gizmo sector. There are at least a couple of products that recognize the need for a better, handheld, screen-based controller that I’d like to have a chance to play with: the smool and the sonos (the smool seems more feature-complete). Both are really closed boxes, near as I can tell, though the smool apparently does have net connectivity.
    It’s an interesting problem, because you really need two screens (one for watching stuff, one as a controller). Perhaps remote login from the tablet to your account on the hard-wired media center, with a custom app as a front end? I dunno.

  2. Adina,
    When you say
    Any media – related task steals 100% of focus and processing power.
    do you mean steals your focus and attention, or steals the computer?
    One fix to the latter of course is a more powerful laptop – my iBook handily plays MP3s and doesn’t break a sweat at 10% of CPU.
    If the problem is that it steals you focus, one approach would be to have the media center (hard disk, cpu to play them, speaker hookups) running somewhere else, and then a VNC session to it so that you can change the controls. Though that seems like overkill.
    This I suppose is one reason people run “shuffle” – less cognitive overhead in picking songs.

  3. I think I’m missing something here, but aren’t video monitors commonly hooked directly to CPUs and disk drives by fat cables because video uses too much bandwidth to separate them physically?
    But maybe by “media” you mean audio, or the controls for the video to be displayed by a separate device, or something else.

  4. Ed, I’d like a separate display, easy to hand, to which I can deliberately shift focus, browse, select, play, and return to primary focus.
    The problem with multiple windows in a single display is that calls for attention steal focus.
    So a VNC window in my primary machine, running in the background, wouldn’t help either.
    Perhaps it’s just a personal preference. But after all, the arrangement of furniture in a living room is a personal preference also.

  5. Prentiss, yes. I’m not suggesting separating display from CPU and basic storage. I suspect that a used, light touchscreen notebook from Ebay would do the trick, maybe with some stationary speakers and some wiereless speakers?

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