In a move that would surely delight advertisers but enrage consumers, Philips is trying to patent a method for flagging digital TV content to not only prevent viewers from changing the channel during commercials in live broadcasts, but to actually lock out fast-forwarding capabilities during ads in recorded programs as well. Even worse, the patent specifically applies to the already widely-deployed Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) middleware system standard, meaning that many Europeans' current TVs would be susceptible to these Orwellian controls. Since the US version of this platform, OCAP, is largely based on the MHP architecture, it's not a stretch to imagine such flagging being applied to American sets as well. Although we're certain that a workaround would be developed if Philips' evil plan ever actually materializes, just the thought of our DVRs going impotent is enough to fill us with fear and trepidation.

Update 1: Reader Paul B, who also happened to chair the group that wrote the MHP PVR specification, writes to inform us that "there is no such flag as standard in the spec. Philips could add one as a Philips-specific flag but it wouldn't apply to the other manufacturers. Secondly, as currently specificed there is no way for an MHP application to take control of the channel switching function, so changing channels always works." There you have it folks; it seems that all your MHP-equipped gear is safe -- for now.

Update 2: Royal Philips Electronics, ever mindful of their Engadget-reading customers, had this to say in a note to us: "(Philips) filed a patent application, as yet not granted, that enables watching a television movie without advertising. However, some people do want to see the ads. So, we developed a system where the viewer can choose, at the beginning of a movie, to either watch the movie without ads, or watch the movie with ads. It is up to the viewer to take this decision, and up to the broadcaster to offer the various services. Philips never had the intention to force viewers to watch ads against their will and does not use this technology in any current Philips products, nor do we have any plans to do so."

[Via New Scientist]