technological convergence

Contributor(s): Margaret Jones

In general, convergence is a coming together of two or more distinct entities or phenomena. Technological convergence is increasingly prevalent in the information technology world; in this context, the term refers to the combination of two or more different technologies in a single device.

Two of the most common examples of convergence are taking pictures with a cell phone -- which combines the functionality of a camera and a telephone -- and surfing the web on a television, which brings a task normally associated with a computer to a TV.

Technological convergence may influence consumers to accept new technologies. According to some studies, people who aren't computer literate are more likely to embrace the internet and video on demand if they can -- at least initially -- access these technologies through their televisions. In general, TV is familiar and non-threatening. Displays are large and TVs are easy to operate; using them to access the web requires almost no training.

Personal computers, in spite of their GUIs, tend to be more text-oriented. They are highly interactive, geared toward business and education uses, and displays are smaller. Computers can be very challenging to use, and they often require formal education or come with a certain personal learning curve.

A major barrier to more rapid technological convergence is the large investment required to bring cable TV to households. Satellite wireless service is another approach that is only beginning to bring its subscribers access to the internet. DSL technologies offer the possibility of sufficient bandwidth connections over ordinary phone wires for streaming video to TV sets.

In this video, Purdue University's
Mark Lundstrom discusses
converging technologies.

A consortium of leading computer and telecommunication companies, including IBM and Microsoft, are working toward common standards that will help speed up technological convergence. These companies worked together to sponsor a standard for a relatively low-cost digital TV. They endorsed a subset of the recommendations of the Advanced Television System Committee that sped up a transition to digital TV. The recommendations could also eventually give personal computers the ability to receive digital video and data.

This was last updated in December 2016

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