Tuesday, January 07, 2003

And of course the other revolution that has taken place in the consumer electronics market is that almost every consumer electronics device other than the PC itself has evolved into a PC peripheral. I think we are at the stage where this trend is going into reverse: which is that every electronics device is going to have a PC built inside it, and they are going to be able to talk to each other. The first instances are already here: mobile phones, video game consoles, satellite television set top boxes, personal video recorders. These are all essentially PCs designed for specific functions. What is of course interesting is how opposed to this process the music companies and movie studios are. This evolution means that software can easily be transferred from device to device, and as a consequence of this copying becomes easy. They are so terrified of piracy, that they want to make their devices unable to talk to anything else at all. This is so contrary to the technology trends that all they are going to do ultimately is marginalise themselves, but still they do it.

As an example, see this article in Slate about the two better quality CD formats, DVD-A and SACD. These have much better than CD quality sound. Both are essentially DVD formats: the same high density discs and the same colour laser used for DVD are also used for these formats. In an ideal world, you would be able to play them on your computer using the DVD-ROM drive, and your computer would be able to do interesting things with the bitstream. Standard DVD players would soon be able to play the audio from both formats. However, we instead have a situation where due to fear of privacy, the only allowable DVD-A and SACD players are stand along machines, that are only capable of analogue audio output (which is going to degrade the sound quality from what is possible). Plus the machines are designed to be incapable of talking properly to other digital devices. To protect against privacy, we remove most of the advantages of modern technology.

Of course, audio of this quality may easily be recorded on a PC, stored on a DVD-ROM, and then played back however you want to play it back. There are computer compatible high quality audio formats, however they are simply not interchangeable with DVD-A and SACD. (In the CD world, CD-ROM and CD audio are interchangeable most of the time). There is no way whatsoever that the RIAA is going to keep high quality audio off the PC. All they are doing is creating orphan formats. They may well be assising a whole new class of audio recordings from springing up outside their supervision. That would of course be such a shame.

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