DRM hoses TV

I’ve just been to a preview of new products coming from Belkin. Among these was a really nifty item they’re calling the FlyWire. It connects to your HDTV sources (cable box, Blu-ray player, whatever), then broadcasts the signal to a smaller receiver box that connects to your TV. Basically, it’s wireless cabling for your flat-screen.

Belkin FlyWire - rear showing inputs

Belkin FlyWire - rear showing inputs

Even neater, it can transmit to multiple receivers, allowing you to switch, say, your favorite TV show up to your bedroom TV. It includes an infrared ‘Blaster’ to relay remote-control commands back to the cable box.

Cool idea. But: one thing this $1,000 product can’t do is transmit one digital source to multiple TVs. For example, to allow you and the wife to watch upstairs while the kids watch downstairs.

With analog cable, this is easy: just insert a splitter in the wire. (You might need a signal booster.) Network players do it too; I’ve had no trouble streaming the same video clip to multiple PCs over our home network. With the new HDMI digital high-def connection, however, it’s impossible. (And just for good measure, will soon be illegal, under Bill C-61.) The HDCP copy-protection built into HDMI won’t let you view one source simultaneously on multiple TVs.

Does it make sense to limit usage in this way? Sure: provided you’re a Hollywood accountant. If I ‘own’ a DVD, I have a right to watch it. My whole family has a right to watch it simultaneously. Do they all have to be in the same room to do so? I’ll leave that question to the lawyers. But what’s clear is that HDCP is not protecting the content from being “stolen.” It’s protecting the business model of the owner — or, rather, creating an entirely new profit opportunity, moving us to per-room licensing for content, and away from the old 1950s per-household model.

Just another example of how technology is being used to de-feature our entertainment experience. Deliberately crippling premium products in awkward and arbitrary ways is not how you build a market. It’s just one more delay preventing us from reaching that rosy digital future we keep hearing about.


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