Are We Near The Pinnacle Of Digital Entertainment?

Categories Technology, Television

Over the last thirty or so years the world has experienced rather rapid innovation in electrical technology. One area which has seen dramatic improvements from this is the entertainment industry. Take, for example, the music industry which has seen it’s leading mediums move from vinyl to tape to CDs and then onto MP3 digital format. One issue I can see now though is that there is very limited scope from this point onwards. If you look at each of the preceding mediums to MP3 you can find faults and see scope for improvements. For example, vinyl was too big, had a very limited capacity and poor sound quality. Tapes suffered from all the same problems as vinyl but just to a lesser extent whereas CDs were only limited by their physical presence and relatively small capacity. But when you look at the MP3 format what can be improved without it still remaining as an MP3 file? If capacity is a problem then bigger hard drives are needed as the compression is unable to be improved sufficiently to reduce file size without a major loss in quality. There is no physical aspect so therefore this is not an issue with the medium and more with the players which I believe are already at the optimal size that anyone would require (Take a look at the new iPod Nano and the various iPod Shuffles). It is also of my belief that sound quality has reached it’s peak and any new improvements would be indistinguishable to the human ear and thus worthless. It is actually possible to represent the technological progress of musical delivery mediums on an economic PPF (production possibility frontier) diagram as shown below.

As the diagram shows, the progression between the various mediums has improved both capacity and sound quality at each stage. The fact that the MP3 point is directly on the PPF curve is significant as it means that neither sound quality or capacity can be improved without yielding a loss in the other variable and hence there is no room for further advancement without the actual PPF curve shifting something that is only possible through new technological advancements in this case. If the PPF were to shift outwards then it is likely that a new medium stiull won’t be created as it is possible that the MP3 format could just move and take up the excess space up to the new PPF curve. A possible shift in the PPF curve could be caused by the cloud revolution which could make the MP3 files theoretically volumeless and thus sound quality will only be limited by internet connection speed.

Another area at which we may have reached the pinnacle is that of the home television. There are two main variables which account for the improvements in the hardware side of televisions both of which cannot be seriously improved with any reasonable gain. The two variables are the resolution of the screen and the physical size of the television. The resolution of the screen has become insignificant for the average viewer as the HDTV revolution takes full hold. It has been observed that the human eye cannot tell the difference between 720p and 1080p from a distance of 6 feet on televisions of between 40 and 50 inches in size. This means that any further improvements in resolution will be futile as they will go unnoticed by anyone who isn’t sat extremely close to the television screen. In the case of television size it’s not really feasible for televisions to increase in size past their current standards as they will be to large for average rooms and will be a strain on people to see the full picture. A decrease in size is also not seen as an improvement by the general populous as bigger television have been consistently marketed as better by producers and hence a smaller television would be seen as commercial suicide.

It seems that producers new strategies for most forms of digital entertainment is to innovate horizontally by adding new features and gimmicks that enhance the experience without improving the overall quality of the product hardware. For example Apple bundles music in with a phone and other applications in it’s popular iPhone and several television producers have started releasing “Smart” TVs with internet capabilities. The advent of 3D television could also be seen as a horizontal innovation as most 3D televisions at present are not seen as much of an improvement over their 2D counterparts.

It would be ignorant to say for definite that technology won’t evolve any further but there are signs which point towards a change of tactics and a slowing down of innovation in the entertainment sector.

Currently studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Annes College, Oxford University. I have a keen interest in applied economics, food and most types of sport.

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