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Switched On: Hi-Def and Dumb


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Every Wednesday Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, an opinion column about consumer technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

In the long-running rivalry between the PC and consumer electronics worlds to provide the best entertainment experience, both sides have recently been dealt blows by an increasingly paranoid content industry. The Blu-Ray group, made up of three performance artists named Ray whose Vegas show has been voted best on the Strip, recently announced that it would add more stringent copy protection to its high-definition DVD successor in order to woo studio support. Blu-Ray discs may even be able to render compromised players unusable, after which they will doubtless sprout ninja star blades, emit a piercing battle cry, and eject themselves from such players with a force deadly enough to decapitate most pets.

Similarly, Microsoft is planning to put a sandbox around media playback in Windows Vista amidst a host of technology initiatives by itself and partner-against-crime Intel to ensure that content stays far from the screens of P2P file-sharing service users. According to a CNet article, Microsoft did not give in to everything that Hollywood wanted, which we can only presume included automatic deductions from your bank account to buy soundtracks and sequels and keyboard-administered electrocutions until you break down and cry "Gigli is the finest cinematic masterpiece ever filmed!"

Members of the MPAA were fortunate enough to observe largely on the sidelines as their sister companies in the RIAA struggled to fight the original Napster bloodbath. Hollywood�s sudden skittishness about the next generation of playback devices is generally attributed to their ability to play back high-definition content. Sure, DVDs looked good especially compared to those fuzzy tapes. As far as Hollywood is concerned, though, it is on the precipice of releasing its crown jewels into the grubby hands of the thieving public (the same desperados who created the multi-billion dollar home video market). If someone figures out a way to make a perfect copy of a high-definition original, Hollywood forever forfeits its most valuable assets (see earlier Gigli comment).

The fatal flaw with this reasoning is that the high-definition version of a film will not need to be cracked in order for Hollywood to lose virtually all of its sales potential � as dubious as it is � to committed pirates. Many pirated DVDs sold on the streets of major cities, for example, are incredibly poor. I recently saw the opening credits of a bootlegged DVD shot so that the left and right sides of the frame were simply not visible � no pan and scan here.

Meanwhile, as purists bemoan the lack of true high-definition prerecorded media in the digital world, progressive-scan and upconverted DVDs have been compelling enough to help upsell many an HDTV. Those who are taking the time to rip DVDs frequently convert them into more efficient formats so that they take up less space. Video is creeping into PSPs, 1.5� OLED screens on MP3 players, and of course cell phones taking advantage of advanced data networks. People are all too willing to forego hi-def if the price � or even the context � is right.

Copy protection on DVDs was a smart move on the part of studios if the aim was discourage ripping. But as tough as they may want to make the locks surrounding their high-definition content, pirates will be all too eager to break into vaults guarding less valuable booty.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at
In this article: features, hdtv, switched on, SwitchedOn
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