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Site News - Setting the Record Straight: My Letter to VB on Why Consumers May Not Want Blu-ray or HD-DVD

Posted by David Lambert
Ever try to get your thoughts across, and someone missed the entire point of it? That happened to me today, and I just wanted to set the record straight. Hello, this is David Lambert, News Director of I wrote in an opinion letter to the Video Business trade magazine, in response to a pair of their editorials (more on that in a moment). Their response asked me if they had my permission to use my letter in print. "Certainly" was my reply; after all, the point of writing it was to share it with the folks in Hollywood. I asked, "Do you anticipate needing to edit it down in any way?" I was told, "The letter will probably be edited down a bit."

Actually, it was edited down QUITE a bit, and in the process the point I was trying to make got missed. The editorials I responded to were VB Editor-in-Chief Scott Hettrick's "High-tech's Low-tech Hurdles", and VB columnist Paul Sweeting's Encryption Keepers piece in the same issue (Sept. 5, 2005). Go ahead and read those now, if you like, using the links I provided, so that you can understand how this connects to the upcoming home video formats meant to replace DVD.

In the Sept. 12th edition of the magazine, my letter to the editor was published in their "Soapbox" column, in its edited-down form. It's quite a bit shorter than I intended, and basicly it comes across as merely supporting Mr. Hettrick's opinion, and being a "ra-ra" point for the home video industry in general. Here's what it looks like:

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I always find myself strongly in agreement with most of Scott Hettrick's columns, and his outlook of the industry. I respect him quite a bit. But, let's face it, I won't just write in to say all that. I wanted to make a point to the various Hollywood studios, and to manufacturers of Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats, that the level of anti-piracy measures they are planning to take in the new wave of technology go WAY overboard. I hoped that they would get the message that they are shooting themselves in the foot with plans that are scaring a significant number of consumers off of the forthcoming formats. This goes beyond the so-called "format war" you may have heard gets down to the basic functionality (or lack of it) for the end-users of these units. Why "less functional"? Because things are too complicated, that's why.

Anyone who knows me, and knows Gord, understands that we are hardly fans of piracy or bootlegging in any form. We hardly want to help the practice along. But sometimes you have to know where protection from illegal activities crosses the line and starts infringing on the ability of honest people to just go about their business. When the new hardware is starting to sound like it will be practically unusable for a lot of folks who don't want to go through all the rigamarole, then it crosses that line and people just won't buy the technology.

Here now is the complete and unedited text of the letter I wrote to Video Business, and which they declined to keep the meaning of with their edited-down reproduction. Hollywood, I hope you're reading:
    My thunderous applause to Scott Hettrick's latest editorial, about the obstacles in bringing new "TV technology" that involves telephone land lines and satellite dishes (such as TiVo and DirecTV) to buildings and rural areas which just cannot handle all the requirements...or possibly could, but only once the consumer has had to endure an additional cost ("High-Tech's Low-Tech Hurdles," VB Sept. 5th edition).

    In my own house, we've decided that we can forgo the use of TiVo or similar DVR devices, because they require a telephone landline hook-up. Oh, we could pay someone to run a phone line over by the TV and put a jack there, but we didn't want to bother. We don't even have cable/satellite: why worry with the expense of that monthly bill for content you cannot control? We instead put our money toward DVD releases that you CAN control, once they're released and purchased. After a DVD is in our library, we view them when and where we please. And thanks to portable players/car players/laptop PCs, we can view "cable content" on DVD, without a wire or a dish, anywhere we care to take the discs.

    But will home video stay that way? In the same issue of Video Business, Paul Sweeting takes a look at the post-DVD formats of Blu-ray and HD-DVD, and the content protection schemes they are going to employ ("Encryption Keepers," pg 11). In his column, Sweeting mentions how there will be a process for revoking players and software that have been hacked in any way. Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps are staying very mum on the subject of just HOW they will accomplish this. In my talks with consumers, there is a distinct fear that the new generation of home video devices will REQUIRE a telephone hook-up so that this content protection can be enforced. The studios and hardware makers haven't stated anywhere - that I've seen - whether that is or is not the case, but frankly the buyers don't trust the studios on this, and feel that they are keeping the public in the dark on just how the "revoking" works. Articles such as a recent CNN/Reuters report indicate that these fears may be dead-on correct: "
    ...Consumers should expect punishment for tinkering with their Blu-ray players, as many have done with current DVD players, for instance to remove regional coding. The new, Internet-connected and secure players will report any 'hack' and the device can be disabled remotely."

    Making these threats worse is the further concern that revoked players would be across-the-board for all units of a make and model, making some grandparent somewhere unable to simply show a Disney disc to the grandkids because someone else managed to hack that particular model of a player they happen to own.

    If new technology continues to make things more and more complicated and confusing for the end-user, then consumers will be content to stick to the highest-quality technology that requires the least amount of effort to use. Something highly portable, that doesn't require wires of any sort, since mobility is a key feature among so-called "home video" consumers these days. And right now the format that meets these consumer demands remains DVD; the new formats will fall far short on these very key issues.

    David Lambert,
    News Director
    Memphis, TN

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