My take on what's interesting and what's irritating.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What's wrong with DRM?

At some point, we all come to the realization that it's just too hard to enjoy the content you already own. Nothing's quite as frustrating as realizing that frightened media executives who can't yet figure out how to monetize the world of digital media are arbitrarily limiting your ability to enjoy the content you ALREADY OWN.

My realization has been formulating over the last month or so as I work to put together my new home theater system.

There's some great technology out there today - the iPod, TiVo, the latest versions of Windows Media Center, Netflix, etc. Wouldn't it be nice if they all worked together? They don't and there's no immediate solution on the horizon.

In some sense, Napster ruined it for everyone. Not that it's all Napster's fault. If it wasn't them it would have been someone else. MP3 was fun and widely ignored until Napster's P2P network scared the crap out of the music industry - so much so that the labels started suing their own customers. Here we are SIX YEARS later and outside of the iTunes Music Store, there is no truly successful online music model.

Bought a song at the iTunes Music Store? Want to play it over your Windows Media Center in your living room? Sorry. Apple's FairPlay DRM doesn't work with Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Yes, you can burn protected AAC to CD, then rip back to MP3. And yes, tools like the Hymn Project make it possible but it's still way too difficult - needlessly so, IMO.

It sure would be nice to purchase a song from the iTMS in either the format of your choice, or better yet, if FairPlay were supported on non-Apple devices like my TiVo or Windows Media Center.

I've taken to using AAC on my iPod (both protected songs from the iTMS and unprotected songs converted from my existing CDs) since the quality is very good. I've also recently begun the task of converting all my CDs to FLAC. I like that FLAC is open source and lossless. I've set aside 100GB for archiving my CDs (I'm getting about 2:1 compression) and I'm going to put them in a box in a closet somewhere. There are lots of good audiophile-grade FLAC tools to be found and it's pretty easy to transcode FLAC to AAC or MP3 for listening on my iPod (which doesn't support FLAC - surprise, surprise).

Netflix has a great selection. Much better than my (or yours!) local Blockbuster. I just wish it was integratred into Media Center. Yeah, there are plugins like the one here but I want an even higher level of integration. Imagine this scenario:

As a Netflix customer, I've signed up for the 3-at-a-time $17.99 package. Instead of waiting for CDs in the mail, why not download my queue in the background? This should run as a background service and be integrated in Windows Media Player interface. When my connection is idle, use my bandwidth to be sending the next 4.7GB movie. I reguarly keep 40 or so movies in my Netflix queue. Allow me to download them all or allow me to specify the amount of storage to set aside. Use DRM to only allow me to unlock my 3 movies at a time. And unlike MovieLink, allow me to watch these same 3 movies as many times in a row. When I'm ready for my next movie - force me to delete one of my unlocked movies. Instant gratification and no DVDs to mail!

Proprietary camera RAW has got to go. Every camera maker should be using Adobe DNG as a standard - I get NO value from another proprietary RAW format. I'm paying for an image sensor, lens/flash integration and a camera system, not crappy software from a camera maker.

Due to the nature of HD, being about 10GB/hour, this one has been a little less painful. Intel's HDCP standard is at least that - a standard - that everyone's gotten behind so we're on the right track there. I feel for the folks that bought into HD at very high prices before DVI-D or HDMI was widely adopted. I've also heard the next version of the Windows Media Center extenders will support HDCP.

HDCP is supposed to protect the content providers to keep HD from getting out in the wild on P2P networks. Since HD is still (relatively, from an adoption standpoint) in it's infancy, this is a workable solution for the most part. Also, since HDCP is built-into HDMI you'll see a big push for HDMI in the consumer electronics world.

Interestingly, the technology world is not on board with HDMI nor HDCP. Perhaps since the PC OEMs know best what standards mean, they're not going to be paying the HDMI consortium (Phillps, et al) nor HDCP (Intel, Silicon Image) but are instead proposing a different standard for PCs. Sigh. Be on the lookout for DisplayPort - an open interface standard based at the physical layer on PCI Express but with a different, new DRM technology. History and politics say this is not going to be a good thing from an interoperability perspective.

There are no easy solutions in the near term. Apple's FairPlay is no better than Microsoft's Janus - both are proprietary, closed formats. HDCP is at least a little more forward looking in terms of ability to move content around a local network. There are a few open source DRM projects out there but none have any serious momentum, especially comapred to FairPlay or Janus.

Any DRM can and will be cracked. FairPlay has been cracked. DVD CSS has been cracked. Janus will be. The industry knows this and is aiming for a pain threshold where most people just won't bother.

I just wish the 'industry' would focus more on interoperability and standars rather than re-inventing the next wave of DRM that is 10 minutes from being cracked.



Blogger Julia Elvarado said...

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4:19 PM


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