As a part-time political nerd, I'm keen to keep informed about British politics, particularly in the run-up to a general election. I do a lot of reading, but I also watch programmes like the leaders' debates.
I'm a registered voter, but I happen to live overseas. Given the sorry state of global television distribution by television channels, that causes some hiccups.
I'm not concerned that I can't get access to these videos; with a fair dose of technical knowledge it's pretty simple. I am concerned that it is wrong to make it harder than it need be for any potential voter to get informed.
I hope that for the upcoming debates, the television channels will make them available to all, as easily as possible. If you agree, please let them know (see the links at the foot of this post).
Update at 07:39 EDT, 23rd April 2010 – Some success
I've been shopping for a new DVD player recently, and have been quite surprised by the attitude of so many shops when I ask which of their players are multi-region.
I'd really like a multi-region DVD & Blu-ray player, but that hardly seems like an option. I expect I'll get an encumbered PS3 later on, and a multi-region DVD player now.
A typical response from shops that sold decent electronics was 'We don't sell that sort of thing' and to suggest I try a cheaper, dodgier part of town.
This is tricky for me as I'm looking for two distinct kinds of quality. I want both:
- a well designed, constructed and built machine, with particularly good upscaling to 1080p, so it looks good on our HD telly.
- a lack of anti-user features that will mean some of the discs I own won't play because of where in the world they were originally sold.
They are both about a smooth and pleasant user experience, but one is the side of that the industry pushes, the other is about how the industry tries to segment markets in both time and space.
The Web is becoming more fragmented, and not quite so World-Wide. More and more often, I get to sites that can't show me what I'm there for because of where I seem to be coming from.
I know there's nothing in the internet's protocols that reliably dobs in where you are coming from, so it never really gets in the way.
Having recently moved from the UK to Canada, I naturally want to keep in touch with the old country. Moreover, I watch a number of things from our southern neighbours. As a geek I have no trouble routing my traffic so that I can see the end result. It's always a little clumsy but works in the end. If the BBC let me pay for an overseas TV licence, I'd likely jump at the chance.
I've been misidentified as German, Swedish and, very occasionally, Polish. If it's just Google taking a best-guess as to which site you'd likely prefer with a clear link back to what you actually asked for, that's fairly harmless.
[Image from the NASA Earth Observatory, by Reto Stöckli, based on data from NASA and NOAA. Thank you.]
The RIAA's head of technology deployed some twisty logic at a recent trade event:
(Recently) I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music, and 20 of them still require DRM.
… Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead.
So, because he cannot think of very many ways to do without, it must be workable as a technology. In the sense that they'll keep pushing it, I'm sure it isn't dead yet. For customers who just want their media to just work, however, DRM isn't really going to cut it.
PVRblog points to an interesting and quite thorough comparison of Comcast's recent drop in HD quality, including some pretty damning screen captures.
There's a real problem with defining 'HD' as at least a certain number of dots and damn the compression. Quality is a richer game than that. I think we may also need a THX-style, "does this look crap, call this number", and a meaningful, policed brand that means High-Quality, High-Def. Do content owners care when their programme is beaten up so badly it appears on the consumer's television as a bruised and battered mess?
Digital Spy are reporting that Sky have recently dropped component video out from their new HD set-top boxes.
After reporting that some people were seeing harsh restrictions on their TiVo for HBO's new (fantastic) John Adams mini-series, Molly Wood has a response from TiVo. It was all a mistake, apparently.
This highlights how it is very hard to make DRM fail gracefully, certainly from the end-user's perspective.
When you tune in to a programme, you want to know that it is the programme the creators intended you to see. Television, like so many things in public life, is still a trust thing.
I believe in our broadcasters, whatever the rumblings last year around a few cases of misbehaviour. But being able to trust what we're watching goes well beyond production.
We receive our programming by more routes today than ever before. Moreover, some of those routes can't necessarily be trusted.
With a little mathematics and a little programming, we could be sure that the recording we borrow from a friend, fetch from an archive, or record from a cable company, really is the genuine article.
We can reinforce trust in what we're watching, however it happened to arrive. Signed television could enable distribution that embraces, rather than fights, the ability of modern technology to make fast, perfect digital copies. Swarm technologies make it easy – and cheap – to send the same digital file to lots of people, especially if it is at all popular. Broadcasters could release material more widely, knowing that it would be seen in the proper context. They would save themselves the headaches of using a DRM-speedbump that has never kept a piece of content off the pirate networks, but that does prevent a significant number of viewers from using legitimate sources.
I have a design for a fairly simple scheme for cryptographically signed television, be it downloaded or streamed. I plan to post that very soon, but first I'd like to run through a few ways this could make television distribution online more potent, for viewers and producers alike.
Tagged: Media, Distribution, Technology
Posted at 04:38 EST, 14th February 2008.
A couple of weeks ago, Matthew Cashmore of backstage.bbc.co.uk published a very interesting interview with Anthony Rose, head of Digital Media Technology at the BBC.
I was impressed by Rose, generally. He seems to be pretty clued up about what's possible with the technology, which I suppose is no great surprise given his background at Kazaa. I'll get into some of the contradictions I see in what he says in another post, but first there is one comment he made that particularly grates.
He says, just over 2 minutes in (emphasis mine):
The good news is, as you move to streaming, at this time, there's no requirement for DRM.
We put quite complex back-end controls to make sure that our rights-holders' rights are still protected. In other words the content is only available in the UK, and we make it hard to nick the stream.
I'm very pleased that the BBC have made a version of their catch-up service, iPlayer, that isn't tied to Windows and Internet Explorer.
There are a few good things, programmes are addressable at the episode/programme level, not just the series. That's a great thing, and as I've said before, the BBC's new Programme Support is a fantastic step forward for Tv metadata.
The quality is fairly good, but variable. It's obviously worse than television, and quite a bit worse than recordings people distribute amongst themselves using BitTorrent or Usenet. HIGNFY S34E09 was pretty watchable, full-screen on a 21 inch monitor, from across the room. Last week's Film 2007 was unwatchably blocky, for me. The BBC (and their Trust, and the rightsholders) should recognise that that is what they are competing with, and if the normal distribution mechanisms are worse, we'll get good, shiny, socially acceptable alternatives built by the crazy people.
Oh no, hang on, it doesn't.
iTunes slipped up and put the wrong episode of Stargate Atlantis on their store. It was the first filmed, but the fourth episode of the season. It is wrapped in the usual tasty DRM wrapper and it hasn't aired anywhere yet. Strangely, though, the video has made it onto the usual torrent sites.
So much for the notion that DRM keeps content off the ad-hoc networks.
(Sorry for the long gap in posts here – things have been pretty busy since August. I've either been away, working hard or both for quite a while. Things are settling down now, and I've lots of nearly finished articles coming soon.)
Chris pointed at a piece in the NYT where they say:
Streaming video, unlike downloads, never resides on a viewer's computer. It usually cannot be replayed as a downloaded file can be, which is another reason that content creators like it.
Pay attention, especially any lawyers hanging around at the back.
Here's the important difference between streaming and downloading:
- when you download something you are sent a bag of bits in any old order
- when you stream something you are sent a bag of bits and can start watching them before they've all arrived
That makes streaming harder to do, as a server, and theoretically nicer for the end user. The down-side is that once you have that harder performance problem of sending enough bits quickly enough it gets tricky. You can buy yourself better performance by distributing some (or all) of the information from a central server, but that gets expensive.
The next thing you can do is just to use fewer bits, that makes it both cheaper, and the technical problem gets easier. The consequence is to make the quality suck, to the point of being unwatchable for me. Content owners are well placed to compete on quality, right now they're losing to the ad-hoc torrent people.
I'm a Harry Potter fan. I like the books, and I really don't want spoiling about the last book. According to Torrent Freak, poor quality scans of the book are already kicking about over BitTorrent.
Now I'm not surprised, but I think – in this case at least – the publisher is winning.
Update at 12:42 EDT, 19th July 2007 – Tracing leaker via EXIF metadata
Television has long lived in a world where viewers watch television just as it is transmitted, just where they live.
That's a fantasy world, and becomes less and less realistic every day. Technology for time- and place-shifting content around has got pretty good in the last thirty-odd years.
Watersheds on television are thoroughly hooked on the idea that the people who can watch something that was broadcast in the evening are responsible & mature. Anyone who is technically savvy, and thus most likely any enterprising kid with access to the internet, can fetch practically any programme, from anywhere in the world.
Tagged: Media, Social, Distribution
Posted at 03:52 EDT, 16th July 2007.
So Joost have signed up some more advertisers.
While having some more big names advertising is good for Joost, I'm a little troubled. All the ads I've seen so far on Joost have been short logo & tagline affairs, placed between programmes. A return to 30 second ads, even in very short breaks, in the middle of programming is going to feel much more annoying.