FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2004
make sense anymore? I am an avid TiVo user, but I doubt that will be the case much longer. I'm getting ready to sample all the PC-based PVRs
, and I bet I won't come back.
The TiVo fees.
The fees for TiVo basically pay for the program guide database. Sure, they add new software updates once in a great while, but really you're paying for the program data. I don't like that because I think TV listings are a very effective form of advertising. I shouldn't have to pay for that, program licensors and broadcasters should.
The TiVo intransigence.
The above-mentioned fee is unavoidable. I paid for a "lifetime" subscription, but it doesn't transfer to a new or different TiVo box. Very annoying.
The TiVo lack of features.
When it comes to capabilities, PC-based PVRs will blow past TiVo like it's tied to a post. Just the built-in ability to burn shows to a DVD is a huge incentive to make the jump. You ought to see what I go through now to burn shows from my TiVo. Granted, I could upgrade to a TiVo that burns DVDs
, but they're still pricier than a PC.
The lack of sharing.
Programs on my TiVo box are trapped there, unable to play anywhere else in the house. Yes, I know, TiVo does have a feature that lets me share programs if I want to plop another TiVo at every TV. That's like using an MRI machine to find loose change in your pocket. I love the idea of wireless repeaters like the one Microsoft just added
to Media Center Edition 2005 (MCE 2005).
Our reviewers tell me MCE 2005 and other PC-based PVRs just don't have great video output to a TV. That's a problem.
TiVo boxes are quiet, PCs seldom are. If I build one myself, I can make sure it's silent, but it's hard to tell if a prebuilt machine will be quiet enough until it arrives at home.
I don't want a machine that is either unstable or hitting me with other applications' pop-ups and windows while watching a movie.
Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by TiVo sycophants. Everyone who has it loves it. I've never seen a tech product so loved right out of the gate since the original PalmPilot. How about you? What would it take to get you to join me and jump ship from TiVo?
TalkBack | Read all comments WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2004
The analog hole
That sounds like a sci-fi sex flick, I know, but this topic is actually something more obscene: Hollywood's effort to control the analog jack.
Here's the current situation. No matter how much digital copy protection gets slapped onto CDs and DVDs or into players and software, the analog jack on my gear will always let me dub music or video by connecting analog outputs to inputs. No, it's not a digital transfer, but most people can't tell the difference anyway.
Digital connectors belong to The Man; analog is the people's jack. But not if Hollywood gets its way.
This summary to the Senate Judiciary Committee
(it's a PDF) details the very clear steps the movie industry would use to take control of analog inputs. Scroll down to section 1.2 and shudder. Here's a taste (italics added):
"The primary means to address this issue, dubbed the 'analog hole,' is via embedded watermarks (which have additional applications as will be discussed below). In order to help plug the hole, watermark detectors would be required in all devices that perform analog to digital conversions
. In such devices (e.g., PC video capture cards), the role of the watermark detector would be to detect the watermark and ensure that the device responds appropriately."
If Hollywood, Inc. succeeds in putting cop technology into analog jacks, it will yank the noose tight. Studios will have absolute control over the way you use the media you buy. Rules that let you make copies of music and movies for personal use (or even for backup) would probably vanish over time. A CD or DVD, for example, would have complete copy protection on it--meaning it might play only in a player that recognizes that protection, and no others, and it would be unrippable on a PC. And the last outlet you have to get around that--the analog jack--wouldn't play ball either.
You'd be trapped and might have to pay for everything you want to do with a piece of media outside of a narrow, perhaps single, application. I have little doubt that studios would love it if DVDs were authorized for use on a single player only, with additional fees required for them to play on additional decks. I mean, why not? The fact that today a single disc will play in all players is basically rooted in quaint tradition and is not some immutable aspect of physics or law. That tradition can be changed.
Now I know that a lot of people have no problem with absolute copy-and-use control by media companies. For example, my pal David Lawrence--a smart guy, normally--is completely hypnotized by the music industry
. But I think copyright law is whatever we make it, and keeping the "analog hole" alive should be a protected element of fair use.
Where do you stand? Over there with David, hanging out at the Polo Lounge with a bunch of Hollywood suits, or over here with me, demanding that analog jacks remain open and free?
TalkBack | Read all comments TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2004
The digital TV hustle
Everyone is leaning on you to buy a digital TV, which really means an HDTV. The fact that the FCC just launched a new public pressure
, er, awareness campaign would suggest that HDTV is as big an advent as the Internet. It's not. It's just a better picture. And as I've said again and again, quality alone has seldom--if ever--sparked a consumer revolution in the U.S. market. Most of us just don't care that much. Good enough is good enough.
If I took 10 people off the street and walked them into an electronics store, I doubt even 4 of them could correctly identify which sets are showing HDTV. In the lab or on the show floor at CES, HDTV does look a lot better, but you and I live in neither of those locations.
So I was rather delighted to see this press release by Commercial Alert
asking the FCC if HDTV is actually: (a) something the government needs to be promoting right now, or, (b) something the government needs to promote at all. The whole FCC campaign is just a little too slick. This takes the FCC out of the role of regulator--it's now a comarketer with Sony, Matsushita, and the rest.
The 2006 deadline for the United States to switch to digital TV has been giving the FCC and consumers fits. We simply aren't tracking to hit it, and consumers don't know what it means. By end of this year, there will be about 14 million homes with the gear to see HDTV, which will increase five times by 2008. Also by 2008, about 35 million homes will have HDTV programming
coming into them. That's about a quarter of the total households in the States. So you can see why the FCC is already talking about pushing back America's switch to digital TV.
Most new consumer technologies that were successful brought more to the plate than just better quality. They offered convenience, choice, portability, durability of media, or coolness--something more than just an incremental bump in fidelity. That's not to say HDTV won't take off; there are too many major forces behind it for it to fail. You will get it--whether you get it or not.
TalkBack | Read all comments MONDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2004
Get behind the spyware crackdown
Planting spyware on someone's computer should be a federal crime, just as if you snuck into someone's house and installed a wiretap. There's no difference, depending on the software.
The House passed two bills this week
that would raise spyware to the level of a federal felony. It would put $10 million in the DOJ's coffers to prosecute spyware cases and create penalties as high as five years in the joint if you distribute the stuff.
Spam, most viruses, and even phishing pale in comparison to the dangers of spyware. Nothing is more consistently and reliably damaging. It aims straight for your life and your privacy. Luckily, I'm told, spyware is relatively traceable, at least compared to viruses, which are more of a hit-and-run attack.
The bills we want to support are the Internet Spyware Prevention Act (H.R. 4661) and the Spy Act (H.R. 2929). Expect the two to be combined into one bill that could be passed before the end of the year.
You can find your representative on the home page of the U.S. House Web site
, and the bill numbers are above. Write him or her a short, simple note saying that you expect these bills to pass and become law.
I know all the usual vagaries of international law will cloud prosecution of spyware, just as it does viruses and spam, but this is one online malfeasance we can actually do something about.
TalkBack | Read all comments Now, Howard, that's finally funny!
I think Howard Stern has the most boring show on radio. But he finally said something I found funny: that he's leaving
broadcast radio for Sirius satellite radio and will "bury" the big broadcasters in the process.
He knows better. So far, the only thing satellite radio threatens to bury is its investors. Especially those behind Sirius, the distant second place in a two-horse race. XM is far more successful, and even it is far from guaranteed a permanent place in the broadcast biz.
Like GM's OnStar and other new subscription services that digital technology has made possible, satellite radio is running into a wall called "no, thanks." Most of us just can't see paying for yet another service, primarily because we have become accustomed to a better one coming just around the corner. We get into an infinite loop of holding off for the next hot technology. PC makers learned this when they noticed the CPU speed wars were just giving consumers checkbook paralysis.
And another point: The best thing that ever happened to Howard Stern was the FCC and the Christian right. You can't be a bad boy unless you're flaunting someone's rules. A big part of what makes his show good (assuming you think it is) is that he's challenging The Man, flirting with the line, taunting the establishment's boundaries. On satellite radio there are no boundaries. Stern can do his poo-poo/ca-ca/boobie schtick until even Larry Flynt is embarrassed--and it still won't have the tang of taboo, because it won't be.
People who know Stern tell me his show and persona are a crock. He's supposed to be one of the nicer, smarter guys you'll meet in broadcasting. His agent is one of the canniest. They're doing everything right: Getting a big payday from Sirius (what would you pay a guy to save your company?), making a technology-forward move, and setting Stern up for a ballyhooed return to analog radio in a few years. See who's laughing?
While we're on the subject, why haven't you signed up for satellite radio?
TalkBack | Read all comments