Thursday, March 03, 2005

Build your own broadcast-flag-free TV

If your current TV receives HD, you'll know it – the quality is so much better it's almost scary. A traditional analog TV creates its picture out of 480 interlaced lines on your screen, while a typical HDTV creates the same picture using 1,080 interlaced lines. Those extra lines mean more detail, more intense color, and an eerie sense that the picture on your screen is literally the same quality you'd get if you were watching something with your own eyes.

The FCC is acting now to shut down what you can do with this amazing quality because once consumers have something (the way they've long had VCRs that record TV), it's harder to take it away. As long as what's being taken away is something "in the future," it's hard to feel like you're losing. But of course you are.

For a perfect example of how you'll feel this loss, consider the DVD player. Ever wonder why there have been no new nifty gadgets you can use with your DVD player for at least 10 years? Seems strange, doesn't it? I mean, think of how many new hoozits and zoomies have been invented for your computer in the past decade. Given the rate of invention in this country, shouldn't DVDs be making breakfast for you by now?

There's one simple reason they aren't. A coalition of companies from the entertainment, consumer electronics, and computer industries got together in 1999 and formed a group called the DVD Copy Control Association, which enforces a strict standard on all devices that can play DVDs. Anyone who develops such a product must comply with the CCA's standards, which include forcing it to place copy protections on any copies made of a DVD. Those protections mean you can only play the DVD in "approved" devices, such as a Sony DVD player or a Microsoft Media Player. It means you can't run the DVD through a mixing board to make a video collage, or create a tiny digital copy of it to play in your cell phone when you're bored on the bus.



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