Saturday, April 29, 2006 

Intel VIIV

The Washington Post is out with a review on Intel VIIV in an article titled, Intel's Hard-to-Define Viiv Doesn't Live Up to the Hype.

Their conclusion is:
"But in the meantime, Intel is only embarrassing itself with its half-witted hucksterism for Viiv."

Another interesting paragraph is:
"The worst experience of all came when I tried to view Intel's own showcase of Viiv content. At first, clicking this button yielded a "Windows Media Center Edition required" error. After rebooting the computer to try again, I was presented with a lengthy license agreement and an ActiveX installation dialog. The subsequent download seemed to stall out when the HP-bundled Norton Internet Security firewall warned that "EntriqMediaServer" was a high-risk program that it should always block."

This is just a small taste of what awaits anyone who is going to try and put a computer in the living room. Wait till an intrusive message from Microsoft fills the screen saying that it is urgent to install a security update and reboot, all of this while watching or even worse recording a TV show.

We always said that it is insane to use a computer in the living room (unless you are a hardcore geek) and we stand behind this 100%. Neither Microsoft nor Intel will ever convince the masses to install a computer in the living room and depend on it for their entertainment.

Yet, the longer they waste resources on trying to make this happen the better it is for small companies like TVersity because it buys us time to build a market for the real solution. A solution based on simple, low cost, quiet and well designed CE devices complemeted by smart software to make it feel as capable as a computer while remaining as friendly as a CE device.

Monday, April 10, 2006 

DRM in Linux?

Richard Stallman the father of free software, has created GPLv3 such that it excludes DRM. This means that if Linux is licensed under GPLv3 (currently it is using GPLv2) then no DRM implementation on Linux can exist without violating the license. This for example means that makers of existing Digital Media Adapters that have support for DRM will not be able to move to newer Linux versions. Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, is not opposed to adding DRM to Linux and so there is a real debate going on right now in the open source community with respect to this issue. ZDNET has just published an interesting article about the subject in which Georg Greve (in the picture), the president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) said:

"The Sony rootkit case made it quite clear why DRM is not accepted by consumers, and why there is no successful business case for DRM," he said in an email. "Apple iTunes allows people to burn their tracks on regular CDs, which can then be re-encoded and file-shared easily — so is better described as 'digital inconvenience management' only. offers clean audio tracks without any restrictions. No DRM platform comes close to either of these in popularity."
"So fortunately it is up to the consumer to decide what the consumer market wants. And its answer is clear: It does not want DRM!" he said. "The sooner we bury the foolish notion of putting each and every use of a computer under control of the media industry, the sooner we can start looking for real alternatives."

While Jeff Ayars, a vice-president at Real Networks, said (in a talk at LinuxWorld in Boston on Tuesday):

"The consequences of Linux not supporting DRM would be that fixed-purpose consumer electronics and Windows PC's would be the sole entertainment platforms available," he said. "Linux would be further relegated to use in servers and business computers, since it would not be providing the multimedia technologies demanded by consumers."

I think operating system level support for hardware DRM should not be implemented in the Linux kernel, however third party extensions should be allowed. The DRM dispute cannot be settled by tech people deciding for others, just like it can't be dicatated by the labels.

Sunday, April 09, 2006 

Media Industry are Uneasy with YouTube Craze

A recent and short report at ECommerce Times 21-March-06, discusses the a growing unease within the media industry regarding increasing consumer interest in the YouTube craze.

Related stories at ECT:-
The thing is, the established media industry "Once again" have little idea how they are going to manage the latest craze! (Not invited to the party?)

It reminds me fondly of the time when I listened to Pirate "Radio Caroline" being broadcast from offshore; but to a UK audience which included myself. The sound quality was poor at the time, but the quality of the material and the passion and interest with the teenagers of the day, contributed to an increase in the depth of musical tastes we enjoy from the more established broadcasters today. There are a few sites discussing fondly the Pirate Radio of the period, one such site is Nostalgiacentral

Unfortunately when I said the media industry have little idea, what I really meant to say was that for the majority of the established and traditional media providers / suppliers, the only idea they have is to pursue Digital Rights Management as a way to delay, rather than embrace an inevitable culture progression. (Driven forward by the teenage culture of the day)

I look at the Podcasting craze taking hold today as similar to the Pop-Music and Pop-Video craze of Yesterday. Do you think any of the traditional media providers and suppliers have got it yet?

Saturday, April 08, 2006 

Kill HANA when it is still young!

I do not know how this one escaped me in CES, but it looks like a new alliance for the distribution of video (specifically high definition video) has been formed at the end of 2005 and this group was represented in CES of 2006 (with actual products based on their guidelines planned for CES of 2007). The group is called High-Definition Audio-Video Network Alliance (HANA) and it is essentially an alternative to DLNA, with a very different philosophy for the ditribution of media in the digital home.

According to the HANA philosophy audio and video need their own network and should not use the home data network (which they refer to as the IT network), but rather instead they suggest using a separate network that can supposedly better handle high definition content. This separate network will employ content protection schemes (DTCP) to complement the hardware content protection built into next generation CE devices thus forming a secure connection from point to point. They further suggest that commercial content will flow only through the A/V network (which is the only one "properly secured" for it) and personal media (such as the one created by consumers via their video camera) will be allowed to flow into the A/V network from the IT network via a proper gateway, however no data flow in the other direction will be allowed.

As the link level solution for the A/V network, HANA is promoting IEEE 1394b (FireWire that can work for up to 100 meters) instead of DLNA's Ethernet, WiFi and Bluetooth. This is presumably because Firewire is isochronous and hence better suited for video, however in practice it is my opinion that they needed some link level separation between the IT network and the A/V network and so looked for what's available out there. IEEE 1394 has been around long enough, is very fast (400 Mbps to 1.6 Gbps), supports DTCP, and most importantly is not used today for networking (due to wire length limitations) but it can be now with IEEE 1394b, so they adopted it.

In terms of the software, HANA like DLNA is not inventing new protocols or data representation formats, but rather they make use of existing standards that they find most appropriate and provide guidelines for using them in the context of the usage scenario they aim to satisfy. According to them, their focus in HD video inside the home has lead them to make very different choices compared to DLNA. It seems like they do not plan to adopt UPnP, instead they focus in remoting user interfaces from one device to another via XHTML-Basic and CSS1 (kind of like WAP 2.0). This decision to adopt a WWW like mechanism is very peculiar when taking into account that existing efforts to do something like that have proven inferior to UPnP due to the sluggishness of HTML which leads to bad response times and a poor user experience (imagine scrolling through hundreds or thousands of songs where each page with 5-6 songs requires a new HTML page to be fetched and displayed, this is insane!). In contrast UPnP takes a Web services like approach and delivers only the business data to the player (XML as opposed to (X)HTML), leaving the UI to the player so that the player only needs to ppulate the data into the display and not render a new screen. While the UPnP approach is obviously less flexible it does seem to work better for those well defined scenarios that HANA is pursuing, so why not go with UPnP? Again it is my opinion that they strongly felt the need to create an alternative to DLNA and hence carefully chose a different mechanism for almsot any subject matter.

In summary, it seems like the founding members of HANA go into a lot of effort to associate the need for something like HANA with the difficulties in streaming high definition video (they set their goal for streaming up to 5 simultaneous HD streams), while downplaying the content protection issues. Considering the fact that gigabit Ethernet is already very affordable and is slowly making its way into homes as a replacement for 10/100 Ethernet, their arguments regarding the challenges with HD distribution do not hold. This is because one can easily stream 5 MPEG2 HD videos over a gigabit network and probably 10 MPEG4/AVC HD videos. In addition to that the current 400 Mbps throughput of Firewire will not allow 5 MPEG2 videos to be streamed simulatenously so where does that leave HANA? It is my opinion that the reality of the matter is that content companies (NBC Universal is a founding member...) are panicking when they realize that video distribution around the home is here to stay and fear that existing solutions are not protected enough. More precisely they do not like the open nature of existing home networks, which even with DRM, offer only link level protection when what they are looking for is system wide, end-to-end, tightly integrated protection in the hardware, software and the link.

So what do you do if you are NBC Universal and you are faced with such a gloomy reality? You start a new standard body, get some CE companies on board and hope for the best. While they extended an invitation for IT companies to join in, they so far have on board only Sun Microsystems. If you ask me, the others are probably busy with DLNA/UPnP (An Intel favourite), while Sun a late comer to this market decided to bet on HANA where it can achieve a better status as an early member than it can ever have in DLNA (and where they can also try pushing Java into the mix).

So if someone asks you about HANA, you should tell him that this is one more desperate move by content companies (and to a lesser degree perhaps also by CE companies) to resist change and push aside the PC/Mac world, an effort that is very likely to fail, although only time can tell.

Additional Reading:
HANA Overview Presentation
Two Approaches to Networked Digital Video: DLNA and HANA


Trusted computing sounds great, but is it?

I just watched a very nice video that explains very simply what is fundamentally wrong with DRM and the whole new meaning that trusted computing received due to piracy concerns. This is really worth watching and if you care at all about your freedom, then spread the word and get as many people as possible to watch it. You can start by playing it right now!

Additional reading:
Mac Security: The Evil DRM Chip Is Bolted Inside The New Intel Macs?
Trust Computing: Promise and Risk
Clarifying Misinformation on TCPA

(Thank you JaFO and MikeL from the TVersity forums for pointing my attention to these resources)

Thursday, April 06, 2006 

Are these folks brain dead?

A very interesting opinion published today by The Diffusion Group (TDG), titled The Problem with Internet-Based Movie Downloads - The Internet Isn't Connected to the TV, Stupid!. Here is a quote that says it all:

Among the primary reasons consumers use the Internet for shopping is price: in most cases you can get the same item online for much less than you would pay at a retail store. Why pay 2X for a book at Barnes & Noble when you can get the same book at for 1X? Why pay $16 for a new CD at Best Buy when you can get the same 10 songs for $.99 each at iTunes? Why pay 30 dollars for a movie download when you can get the same movie on DVD for 15 dollars at Target? Oops, that didn't work out so well...

When you read the article everything sounds so obvious, so why on earth are the studios doing what they are doing, are they really brain dead? I say to the shareholders, fire all the current decision makers and get some capable individuals to run the business or shareholder wealth will just keep getting destroyed.

The decisions made by the studios and the labels with regard to digital media are systematically wrong and irrational that from business perspective I would say they are borderline negligent. I will even dare say that if for each major strategic decision they needed to make in the last five years they would have tossed a coin instead of using their incapable brain then the damage to the business would have been significantly less than the current situation. Of-course if they were replaced with a bunch of chimpanzees then the business would have probably been flourishing compared to the current situation.

If I were a shareholder in one of the major studios or labels, I would say that the top executives should not only be fired but they should also be deprived of their severance packages due to the damage they inflicted upon the business. Of-course shareholders rarely unite to make such a move and boards of directors are too busy covering their butt with regard to accounting practices so there is really no hope for the studios and labels. Ten years from now after they have been displaced by shrewd companies that did things right (Apple anyone?) when they would look back and ask themselves where they went wrong, I would ask where they went right? Is there one thing they did right?