Hauppauge CEO on Cable TV DRM: Common Sense will prevail

Hauppauge CEO on Cable TV DRM: Common Sense will prevail

Summary: Unbeknownst to most consumers, the world of cable TV is currently going through a technological and legal revolution that, if things continue on their present course, could render obsolete just about any device that can take a feed from a cable box.  For example, your TV set.

TOPICS: Hardware

Unbeknownst to most consumers, the world of cable TV is currently going through a technological and legal revolution that, if things continue on their present course, could render obsolete just about any device that can take a feed from a cable box.  For example, your TV set. 

Proponents of these obsoleting digital rights management (aka C.R.A.P., also see CRAP, the movie)  technologies (and the laws that would mandate their use) argue that the outbound connector on your cable box, the one that goes to your TV, is the equivalent of an analog hole through which copyrighted programs can escape onto the Internet where they can be remixed or stripped of the advertising that supports their broadcast in the first place. It doesn't take much. Some inexpensive and easy to obtain gear for turning those programs into downloadable files and the will to ignore the rights of copyright holders. 

To close the so-called analog hole, certain sectors of the television and movie industry are advocating the encryption of the path from the back of your cable box to the TV in a way that could require virtually everyone to buy a new TV or, in the case of computers, a new tuner card that essentially adapts the cable box's output to a computer's display. To get an industry insider's take on these worrisome developments, I checked in with Hauppauge Technologies CEO Ken Plotkin. 

For close to 15 years, Hauppauge Technologies has been manufacturing some of the most popular tuner cards -- one of which is known as WinTV -- on the market.  Should the proverbial analog hole get closed by a combination of technologies and laws, Hauppauge and other companies like it would have to adjust in ways that Plotkin, based on my interview of him, would rather not contemplate.  Said Plotkin:

There will still be a market, and a very large market, for people that either get satellite TV, set top boxes, or even cable TV set top boxes and will like to connect them into their current TV set.  I don't believe either the FCC or CableLabs [the industry consortium that's develops analog hole closing technologies] is planning to obsolete 150 million sets in the United States in the near future....we believe that [attempting to technologically close off the analog hole] is a mistake. The consumers for the last 20 years have been used to recording their favorite television shows on initially VHS tapes, then a few years ago TiVo came out with their recorders, Hauppauge has been able to record television onto a computer's hard drive for about 12 or 13 years now, so the technology and the use of this has been around for a number of years and I believe that if the US government tried to tell consumers that they could no longer record their television shows on let's say a VHS tape, that that would be problematic.  I think that from a political point of view that would be a problem. They could attempt to do it and I can't guarantee that that wouldn't happen.  

Throughout the interview (available as an MP3 that can be downloaded, or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically (See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in), Plotkin says that "common sense will prevail." But will it? Surely, common sense, particularly when it comes to lawmaking, hasn't prevailed in the past.  Why should it now?  Particularly with stealthy and nuanced technologies and laws where the benefits and downsides are not well understood in consumer-land.  While Plotkin agrees that copyright holders deserve protection, he says doing it through the proposed technologies and laws is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to squash a bug.  Meanwhile, the legal and technological lockdown train rolls on.

Topic: Hardware

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  • Madness

    Technically such a move is useless because at some point within the TV the analog hole (or plaintext hole - if its a fully digital device) reappears. TV is not a complex technology - even digital. There must be at least 500,000 home electronics buffs in the US alone that could design you a $40 break-out link - and lets not even think of engineers...

    In addition, building such systems will be ruinously expensive. Even if they can design a TV which is 'too tough' to break into - and even if they are only offered as rentals via subscription package (thus making it possible to make just looking at the electronics inside your TV illegal) and add encryption, and invest in head-end (data center) kit, and they can agree an industry-wide standard (to keep costs to a minimum) the economic cost of rolling over 100s of millions to the highest standard of new tech TVs (surely essential to get customers to switch?) and changing the entire TV distribution model is staggeringly high. I can't even put a ball-park number on that, but it must surely run into $100s of billions of greenbacks?

    Then there is the enormous cost, public relations exercise, and management challenge of potentially twisting the already outrageous DMCA to help protect the new CRAP links end-to-end.

    Even though re-runs of I Love Lucy could be charged for over and above advertising, and even though Big Media value their library monopolies very highly - they're just not worth that much.

    If your story is accurate just what does that say about how desperate the TV industry has become in the face of the Net's challenge?

    Wow. Those TV guys are really, really, scared.
    Stephen Wheeler
    • Agree or Dissagree?

      If you are saying it is bad because everyone will be forced to buy new tv's just so corporate can make $100s of billions of greenbacks then I agree. I just bought a new HD widescreen LCD and spent quite a bit of money on it. I do not want to be forced to buy another tv because my brand new one is obsolete.

      If you are saying it doesn't matter because you will eventually be able to bypass the technology then I will not agree.
    • Correct

      Quote: "TV is not a complex technology - even digital. There must be at least 500,000 home electronics buffs in the US alone that could design you a $40 break-out link - and lets not even think of engineers..."

      There would be multiple sources of break-out devices on eBay within weeks.

      This is one path that the DRM people could take if they really want to aleinate the public as they never have before. Too many decades of program "time shifting" under our belts to give it up without a HUGE fight. I currently have two cable company DVRs, probably 25% of the shows I watch are done from DVR because of timing issues. I, and many others, would watch much less if it could only be done on "their" schedule.
  • Why Are Computer Companies Leading The DRM Effort?

    What really irks me is that companies like MS have been instrumental in persuading content providers to adopt DRM, and have been very accommodating in seeing content providers? various content restrictions programs realized. MS then presents the straw man that it develops DRM because content providers won?t release their content without the technology - when content providers wouldn?t have reached that position in the first place if it wasn?t for MS? persuasion to adopt the technology.

    One of the ways you can tell MS is disingenuous about a position, is the position?s inconsistency with which MS does things generally. E.g., MS doesn?t really believe in patents per se, patents are just a tool MS takes advantage of to combat GPL type OSS. Likewise it is nonsense that MS only uses DRM technology because content providers demand it: the real reason is that it has similar ambitions as Apple. MS wants to lock the world into its digital content technologies ? just like Apple.

    I don?t what is going on internally at MS, but those who think that they can lead content providers to usurp the freedoms of the consumer, do not anticipate the inevitable backlash the company will suffer, that will make its antitrust near death experiences, look like picnics.
    P. Douglas
    • Not just Microsoft

      The hardware companies (Intel, AMD, IBM, ...) are if anything pushing it even harder. The reason is obvious: for all of them, adoption of "encrypt everything" means that people have to buy new hardware just to be allowed to keep doing the same things.

      This matters because (like Microsoft) they've gotten to the point where the [b]NEW! IMPROVED![/b] versions of their products don't have any compelling advantages over what people already have -- so they have to create reasons to buy them that [i]don't[/i] involve offering the consumer anything of value.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • These guys can't be serious

        It is one thing to nudge your customers into upgrading, it is a completely different thing to back them into a corner.
        P. Douglas
        • If you don't buy new, companies don't get money

          One of many examples: I have 98SE and 2000 along with debian linux. They do everything I need and I don't want to spend money upgrading. But, If I want to see video on certain websights(that require media player 10), I have to upgrade to xp just to be able install and use media player 10.

          I cannot visit those websites because I will not spend hundreds of dollars to get xp.
        • Problematic in cable IP-TV

          I'd heard it was particularly bad in IP-TV. The
          existing systems work on open standards, and work
          well. A story I read described the Microsoft
          system as requiring a much more powerful set top
          box to decode, and a lot more Microsoft systems
          running at the server end. It was also having
          reliability problems.

          If it's so poor, why do the companies buy it? Is
          it because like sheep a lot of non-technical
          people like to buy Microsoft? Is that that
          "Microsoft software is easy to use, so we can use
          cheaper admins?" (Windows is not easy to
          administer at all).

          Is it that Microsoft own the playback platform on
          a lot of people's PCs and the companies feel they
          need to use the Microsoft solution so that they
          can be compatible with those PCs?

          That's called abuse of a monopoly, which is why
          the EU are currently trying to restrict

          Even if the closed Microsoft system worked well,
          the effect for the consumer is less choice. It
          was interesting to read how in China, where
          Microsoft doesn't have a stronghold, the computer
          industry is seeing a lot of competition and

          Environmentalists will also be upset - if these
          Microsoft boxes do really require twice the input
          power. That's a lot of hungry media PCs being
          left running 24 hours a day.

          Of course, all of this post is based on one
          article in the computer press - which as with all
          journalism nowadays may require at least a small
          pinch of salt.
    • Why blame MS? How about Apple?

      While I agree that MS's push for DRM is a bad thing which betrays MS customers, is not Apple doing as much or more? It is Apple that has locked iTunes with its own DRM, and attempted to control the music market. I'm sure they'll do the same with video (and probably already have) if they can. It's not just an evil Microsoft problem. It is a VERY dumb move by Microsoft to betray their heritage in wooing Hollywood.
  • Cable TV DRM and the future.

    Absolutely the entire industry in the toilet right now. The only people changing jobs are those low on the totem-pole at the networks. And there is enough media that is already in mass production and in the hands of consumers that if they tried to "Stick it to the consumer" by forcing us to dump our existing media equipment, We'd have to counter sue and say that they have to pay ALL of the costs associated with recycling our TV's. All of the deprived life we've been denied out of our recently purchased sets is also worth something. Then, they'd have to demonstrate that they have something worth-while otherwise, none of these networks are putting out anything worth what they think we are willing to pay.
    • Don't wait to sue, show power of the consumer

      If you wait to sue then you have past a point of no return.

      I don't like the term boycott but the quickest way to get their attention is to cancel cable service and tell them why. If they want your money, they will do what the majority of the consumers want.
  • Does "common sense" slow the crooks down?

    If not then it's useless. ;-)
    • Common Sense view of Common Sense

      No, I guess your're right - Big Media backed the DMCA to make criminals out of ordinary citizens by taking former freedoms.

      Common sense clearly didn't rule that time round.

      Big Media would have to be behind this too - if it was to be made to work.

      That's not a great precedent for keeping the real crooks in their place...
      Stephen Wheeler
  • who cares?

    Let the cable companies screw themselves over. That is what is going to happen if they follow this stupid scheme. Everytime I flip through the 150 or so channels and find nothing to watch it makes me wonder why I have cable. Making me have to buy a new TV just to watch their crap will definitely cause me to cancel the service. The only thing they care about is money. Take away the money and they will listen.

  • Podcast Broken

    The embedded player, the link to the podcast (cnet http://c10-x-publish1.cnet.com:8000/i/z/e/200604/ITMatters20060413.mp3) are all broken.

    This is also choking up my Juice downloads, as the ZDnet podcasts hang the session.

    Please fix or remove! THanks.
    • It should work

      it's testing ok here.
      • Can't get feed here either

        The web page points a tiny GIF file (http://chkpt.zdnet.com/chkpt/zd.pod/http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/z/e/200604/ITMatters20060413.mp3).
        The feed enclosure originally had a bad URL (http://chkpt.zdnet.com/chkpt/zd.pod/http://c10-x-publish1.cnet.com:8000/i/z/e/200604/ITMatters20060413.mp3)
        but that has since been updated.
        The feed enclosure now points to the same tiny GIF file (http://chkpt.zdnet.com/chkpt/zd.pod/http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/z/e/200604/ITMatters20060413.mp3).
        In the end, I can't get to the podcast.
        • Nor me

          Nothing at all - exactly the same as johnmeyers. Using Firefox.
  • Don't need no stupid cable...

    When my kids started watching TV almost all day long, I got rid of cable. Guess what, I don't miss it. I get 12 broadcasted channels that entrtain us just fine. Throw in the odd rented movie and we are all set.

    The kids are outside playing, not inside joining the ranks of the over weight that is still on the climb.

    I myself now spen far more time outside...