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June 12, 2002—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Do You Have Digital Rights?
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Nintendo: The Next Sega?
- Get Valuable Info for Free with IT Consultant Newsletter
- Win a Free $200 Gift Certificate to RoadWired.com!
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: USB or FireWire?
- New Poll: Tablet PCs
- Product Review: Hughes DIRECWAY Satellite Return System
- Tip: iPod on Windows XP? Yes, You Can!
- Featured Thread: Connecting Windows XP and NT 4.0 Computers
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Watch TV and Play Games on Your Computer Monitor
- Travel with a Portable Workspace
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. GETTING CONNECTED
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
A battle brews occasionally between content creators such as authors, musicians, and television companies, and their customers, typically average consumers such as you and me. One famous case from the early 1980s pitted Sony against Universal City Studios and Walt Disney. This case started when Universal City Studios and other copyright owners sued Sony for offering a device—the VCR—that could record copyrighted television shows. The TV industry feared that Sony's device would devalue the industry's copyrights and lead to the death of TV as a communications medium. In a landmark 1984 decision, however, the US Supreme Court ruled that letting consumers record shows for personal use constituted "fair use." The message was clear: Sony didn't have to stop selling its devices just because someone could conceivably use the technology illegally.
The decision had two direct results. First, the VCR sparked a billion-dollar industry that continues to this day, and the technology has only augmented TV viewing, not destroyed it. Second, every time someone raises a fair-use argument—such as in recent cases surrounding Napster's failed battled against the recording industry and SONICblue's ReplayTV battle with the TV industry—the Sony precedent comes up. Despite this precedent, lawmakers have foisted various bills that actually reverse consumers' fair-use rights, and a recent decision by record companies to offer copy-protected audio CDs further blurs the lines.
The VCR's biggest benefit is time shifting, a feature that lets consumers watch TV shows when viewing is convenient for them, rather than when a program falls within a TV network's rigid schedule. Digital video recording (DVR) devices such as ReplayTV and TiVo have fine-tuned the time-shifting feature, and arguably you can apply the same theory to digitally recorded music. When you buy an audio CD, for example, you can listen to that music whenever you like. But what if your car only has a cassette player or you want to listen to a song from that CD on your Flash RAM-based portable audio player? We've come to expect that we can record the music from the CD and, assuming the CD isn't in play elsewhere or that we haven't resold the CD, we can legally copy the music for personal use. Actually, we might call this process "space shifting," rather than time shifting.
Napster used the above argument in its failed court case. Napster said that up to 50 percent of its users used the music-sharing service specifically to access the users' legally purchased music from other locations. And if some users were using the service to illegally share music, well, that was too bad: According to the 1984 Supreme Court decision, technology that can be used legally shouldn't be trampled simply because some people use it illegally.
The Napster argument falls apart for three main reasons (and today the company no longer exists, at least not in its original form). First, Napster's primary use was clearly illegal, and that wasn't the case with VCRs, whose primary use was time shifting. Second, the courts felt that Napster harmed the recording industry by making copyrighted music available for free download. And finally, Napster was the victim of a technicality: In the court's eyes, PCs aren't recording devices, and therefore the 1984 precedent didn’t protect Napster.
I hope SONICblue has better luck than Napster; certainly SONICblue has a more agreeable position. The company is in legal trouble because of a feature in its ReplayTV devices that lets customers jump forward 30 seconds at a time, effectively jumping right over commercials in recorded shows (using an undocumented hack, TiVo users can enable a similar feature). This jumping ability is a gray area because VCR and other DVR device owners are obviously fast-forwarding over commercials already, but the TV industry was apparently flabbergasted that SONICblue would make the feature so easy to use. As a consumer, I simply salute this feature: I'd pay extra for TV right now if I could never see another commercial (although I'd miss that "dude" guy from the Dell commercials—OK, not really).
But are our civil liberties at stake? Would the US government actually impose federal law that prevents consumers from making fair use of legally purchased goods and services? Precedent suggests that such a limitation could happen. Threats of lawsuits from the recording industry effectively prevented the DAT format from taking off in the late 1980s, legislation in the early 1990s prevented the home recording of rented videotapes, and the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) sought to prevent cyber-piracy through various means. The point here is that despite the 1984 Supreme Court decision, various copyright owners have sought to prevent home taping, in various forms, for the past two decades. Some claims, such as the rented videotape case, have merit. Others, of course, don't.
As long as I continue to purchase audio CDs, I intend to record them onto my PC and listen to the music elsewhere. And I regularly skip commercials on my TiVo, placated by the knowledge that my cable TV bill has risen from about $50 a month 2 years ago to more than $70 a month now. My conscience is clear, I suppose, although I'm leery of what the future holds for fair rights in the digital age.
Looking to the Future
Based on the feedback I received about the three "Digital Strategies" columns that appeared in the May 22, May 29, and June 5 issues of Connected Home EXPRESS, in which I covered the basics of converting to digital photos, music, and video, I'll be getting into specific topic areas over the next few weeks. Three topics I will investigate are film scanners (for converting film negatives and slides into digital format), analog audio recording, and home-based Network Attached Storage (NAS—or its equivalent). But I'm looking for more ideas, so if you have any other specific topics you want me to cover more deeply than I did in the "Digital Strategies" overviews, please let me know.
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
(An irreverent look at some of the week's news stories, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
Nintendo's new president, Satoru Iwata, spoke about Nintendo's future to analysts last week, and his remarks indicate that Nintendo might soon pull a Sega and exit the video game console market. Although Iwata announced that the company expects to sell 50 million GameCube units by March 2005, Nintendo will focus most of its resources on making great games, not consoles. Although the company hasn't said it will do so, don't be surprised to see Nintendo releasing games for Sony's PlayStation 2 or Microsoft's Xbox console in the future. Heck, the strategy worked for Sega: After years of losses, Sega posted its first quarterly profit a few months ago.
SONICblue recently announced the immediate availability of new ReplayTV 4500 devices, the company's most impressive digital video recording (DVR) device yet. Unlike previous ReplayTV devices, these new units don't come with the service fee built into the price. Thus, customers can expect to pony up another $250 for a lifetime subscription to ReplayTV services, in addition to the $450 to $1750 price of the units themselves. Otherwise, the 4500 series is similar to the previous 4000 series but adds support for modem users and includes a minor software upgrade. But with prices like those that SONICblue charges for ReplayTV, we're not surprised that DVR machines aren't taking off in the marketplace. The devices are simply too expensive for average consumers.
Movie studios, TV broadcast networks, and electronics manufacturers have agreed on a proposal to protect digital TV recording from intruders interested in stealing content and posting it for free on the Internet. The proposal, which the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG) drafted, requires electronics manufacturers to include a demodulator in digital TVs that detects and protects digital content that has a watermark. The watermark will prevent users from playing content on devices that don't have technology to decrypt the signal. The companies hope to gain approval from Congress and the FCC soon. Given recent moves at limiting the public's fair-use freedoms, we expect this proposal to fly through without any serious arguments.
Handspring, maker of the popular Visor and Treo handheld devices, is dropping its proprietary Springboard expansion technology. Handspring introduced the Springboard expansion slot in the company's first product, the Visor, in 1999, and the technology almost spawned a whole industry of memory, phones, and other similar add-ons. But Springboard technology never really took off because it competed with more established—and open—standards, such as the CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and MultiMediaCard formats. Now, Handspring plans to support Secure Digital, a new form of MultiMediaCard, in future products, including Handspring's new Treo devices.
Hoping to increase struggling sales, Palm has announced an interesting new promotion: Customers who buy the company's high-end Palm m500 handheld device will get a free entry-level Palm m105 handheld device as well. Palm has been fighting to stay alive because of fierce competition from Pocket PC devices and other Palm OS devices from companies such as Sony and Handspring. However, one advantage Palm has over Pocket PC devices is cost: Pocket PCs typically cost more than $350, but most Palms cost less than $300. In recent years, Palm has done well selling lower-cost devices, but the company hopes the new promotion will persuade new customers to buy higher-end models. The Palm m500 retails for $299, and the Palm m105 retails for $149.
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4. QUICK POLL
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Do you use a USB or FireWire device in your home?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 255 votes:
- 53% USB
- 3% FireWire
- 39% Both
- 5% Neither
The next Quick Poll question is, "Are you excited about Tablet PCs?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, I plan to buy one as soon as I can, b) Yes, but I won't buy one anytime soon, or c) No, they don't thrill me at all.
After a moderately successful long-term experience using the original Hughes Network Systems DirecPC Classic dial-return satellite Internet connection, author David Chernicoff decided to move to a two-way satellite system and try Hughes Network Systems' DIRECWAY Satellite Return System. In this configuration, the satellite handles both uplink and downlink capabilities, so you don't need to use a modem connection during typical operation.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
Apple's amazing iPod digital music player packs a 5GB or 10GB hard disk, simple but beautiful aesthetics, and a blazingly fast FireWire connection. But the player lacks one crucial feature, especially if you're in the upper 95 percent of the computer-using public: It works with only Apple's Mac OS and not Windows. Well, thanks to some amazing beta software from Mediafour, users of Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Me, and Windows 98 Second Edition (Win98SE) can interface Windows Media Player (WMP) 7 (or, in XP, Windows Media Player for Windows XP—MPXP) with the iPod. I've been testing Mediafour's XPlay for months now, and the product is for real: Not only can you copy playlists to the iPod from within WMP, you can also access your music through the Windows Explorer shell, using a beautiful drag-and-drop environment that nicely complements Apple's elegant hardware. Check out XPlay on Mediafour's Web site.
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include
your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
DW wants to connect to a Windows XP Professional Edition workstation in a home office from a Windows NT 4.0 box at a remote location. He configured both machines and tried to connect, but the resulting message said the connection couldn't be established. Now, DW is looking for help figuring out what he did wrong. To see responses or to lend a helping hand, visit the following URL:
Do you have a question about connecting the technology in your home? Do you have a tip for others? The Connected Home Online Forum is the right place to ask for help or share what you know.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
AVerMedia Technologies released the AVerTV Box and AVerTV Studio. The AVerTV Box lets you watch TV and video, as well as play Nintendo, Sega Dreamcast, and Sony PlayStation 2 games on your PC monitor without turning on your computer. The AVerTV Studio lets you use your computer as a TV and FM radio, and offers Personal Video Recorder (PVR) functions with dbx stereo sound. The AVerTV Box costs $159.99, and the AVerTV Studio costs $79.99. For more information, contact AVerMedia Technologies at 800-863-2332.
* TRAVEL WITH A PORTABLE WORKSPACE
PC Tables released the Table Tote, a portable, collapsible worktable designed for the convenience of business travelers. The Table Tote's folded dimensions are 13" x 11" x 1", which lets you fit the table into your briefcase, laptop case, or backpack. The table, which weighs less than 3 pounds, is adjustable to a height of 36", and the surface area extends to a width of 18". The Table Tote costs $39. For more information, contact PC Tables at 530-751-2765.
7. CONTACT US
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(please mention the newsletter name in the subject line)
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