Here’s where we are to date:
1) TIVO, which I have used for years but is dying on the vine due to its break with DirecTV, has a great interface and, for a few more months until the HDTV models become incompatible with the DirecTV stream, delivers HDTV, both via satellite and over the air antenna. This is good, but DirecTV is about to switch over to MPEG4, which the current HD TIVOs cannot decode- thus they will become $1000 paperweights.
2) DirectTV has abandoned TIVO in favor of its forthcoming DirectTV branded HDTV compatible PVRs. TIVO is not a medium or long term solution for satellite owners.
3) Media PCs are nifty (sort of), but don’t truly support HDTV (over the air doesn’t really count because not many TIVO or Media PC owners get most of their programming over the air).
Now the current debate, led by two smart guys whose blogs I read literally every day.
The Thomas Hawk camp argues that Microsoft is catering to the Hollywood cartel by not leading the charge to make Media PCs HDTV friendly. I dislike the Hollywood cartel second only to the record label cartel, so this argument is appealing to me.
The Ed Bott Camp argues that unless the voices of reason, led by the EFF, get the DMCA overturned by the Supreme Court (which Ed implies is unlikely and I couldn’t agree more), Microsoft cannot bring HDTV to Media PCs because of the differential treatment of PVRs (closed box) versus Media PCs (open box) under the DMCA. Granted, I don’t practice in this area, but based on my reading of the DMCA, I believe Ed is correct.
The issue I have is not so much why Microsoft doesn’t turn its nose up at the Hollywood cartel and do it anyway – because the feds have a history of beating up Microsoft over alleged federal law violations, and all they need is an excuse and a bunch of compaign contributions to try it again. My question is why can’t Microsoft and everyone else with a brain cell to dangle and a dollar to be made line up against the Hollywood cartel and let it know that it needs movies distributed at least as badly as a Media PC needs HDTV. Tell them that they can be reasonable and play fair, or they can keep churning out copy-protected DVDs that can languish on the shelves of empty Blockbuster stores (though Netflix would stand to profit nicely from such an outcome).
One of the first rules of negotiation is that when you have no bargaining power in a certain situation, change the situation so hopefully the disparity in bargaining power will be lessened.
I say let’s make this issue not “how we will be forced to distribute your content” but instead “we are the gatekeepers to the new generation of viewers and if you want us to distribute your content, here’s how we will do it.” Yes, that would put Media PCs at a disadvantage over DVD Players and whatever replaces TIVO, but there is plenty of content that would readily be licensed and before long someone would break ranks with the cartel. Once that happens, momentum has shifted and truth and justice will prevail.