Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More DRM woe

More DRM woe
by Claire

I spent the weekend setting up my new MacMini at home and researching HDTV options for our media center at work, which may have to accelerate hi def implementation due to a looming building-wide construction project. Both were painful and eye-opening experiences.

About two months ago, when a software incompatibility temporarily prevented me from playing them on my iPod, I finally did what I should have done long ago, and vowed to never again purchase albums through the iTunes music store. I still succumb to the occasional must-have-it-now urge and buy a track, but I can't in good conscience buy content I know is DRM-protected if I can get a truly compatible version from another source. And I'm talking about buying CD's here, not using P2P. I'm one of those law-abiding users who will always pay for my content, but the music industry punishes me with DRM.

The wisdom of this decision, and regret that I ever bought albums through ITMS, were reinforced as I attempted to migrate my music library to the new mac. Apparently that hard drive failure last June cost me one of my 5 precious authorizations, and I'm now 3 down instead of two. Even if this is reversible, it's so incredibly offensive that I can't move around the music I've purchased. I dread what will happen when we migrate my husband's Windows-based iTunes library to the mini. Then I found that I have even less access to all those streaming sites than I used to, thanks to Microsoft's refusal to continue Mac support for the Windows Media Player. As boneheaded as I think Apple's FairPlay support is, at least other forms of OS-wide DRM support are at bay for now.

The next media experiment was to try to shift an off-air recording from our Dish DVR to the Mini so that I could burn to DVD and free up some room on the DVR. I'm not planning to sell this content, or even give it away. Just want to format shift it. Of course, I'm screwed. That little USB port on the cable box isn't enabled; the only way to get the recordings seems to be to break the hard drive out of the box, voiding the warranty, and jump through any number of questionable software hoops to get the content. No thanks. Wish we'd set up our own DVR last summer, when the broadcast flag stuff was looming, or gotten a TiVO instead of the Dish-supplied DRM nightmare DVR that we are now stuck with.

Finally, I went to BestBuy to actually look at the current crop of HDTVs. Woe to the consumer who doesn't know exactly what HDMI is, and what HD-ready versus HD-capable are. I had a salesperson tell me that HD DVD players are only $150 already! I knew this was wrong, and it turns out he was talking about regular DVD players that can "up-convert" to HD. The Toshiba HD-DVD player, which at least can play current generation DVDs, is still a $450 bite. Jimmy Palmer covered this much better than I ever could a few weeks ago. It's just shocking to me how quickly we're getting locked down, and how easily we slip in to these unconvertible formats. Because I do what I do, I am fairly well-informed about the various video formats and about DRM, yet I still find that it has insinuated itself into my life, and that I have to consider buying content that cannot be preserved. It's bad enough to waste my own money on it, but spending the university's money on it seems almost criminal. Yet this is what we are forced to deal with. The rise of the network has given us licenses instead of purchases, less access to backfiles, and rapid obsolescence of video formats that will require us to purchase the same titles repeatedly, year after year, with no guarantee that we can ever preserve them, or even play them.

It really makes me sick at heart.

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