Even though I’m an HDTV fanatic, it wasn’t until this past weekend, that I finally made the jump to an HD monitor. While I don’t have HDTV tuners on my Media Center, I do have an HD camcorder and it was important for me to be able to edit my high resolution videos.
After doing a little bit of research, I decided to pick up a SyncMasterTM 226BW from Samsung. Between the new monitor and my ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT video card, the resolution looks absolutely stunning. Even my home movies look fantastic in HDTV. I really couldn’t have been happier with the upgrade.
Unfortunately, Hollywood isn’t quite as thrilled about my new HD Media Dream Machine and they’ve decided to punish me by revoking my Watch Now privileges from Netflix.
I first found out about the problem on New Year’s Eve, when I went to log into my account. When I tried to launch a streaming movie, I was greeted with an error message asking me to “reset” my DRM. Luckily, Netflix’s help page on the topic included a link to a DRM reset utility, but when I went to install the program, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this warning.
The minute I saw“this will potentially remove playback licenses from your computer, including those from companies other than Netflix or Microsoft” I knew better than to hit continue. Before nuking my entire digital library, I decided to call Netflix’s technical support, to see if I could get to the bottom of my C00D11B1 error message.
When I called them they confirmed my worst fears. In order to access the Watch Now service, I had to give Microsoft’s DRM sniffing program access to all of the files on my hard drive. If the software found any non-Netflix video files, it would revoke my rights to the content and invalidate the DRM. This means that I would lose all the movies that I’ve purchased from Amazon’s Unbox, just to troubleshoot the issue.
Technically, there is a way to back up the licenses before doing a DRM reset, but it’s a pretty complex process, even by my standards. When I asked Netflix for more details, they referred me to Amazon for assistance.
Perhaps even worse than having to choose between having access to Netflix or giving up my Unbox movies was the realization that my real problems were actually tied to the shiny new monitor that I’ve already grown fond of.
Netflix’s software allows them to look at the video card, cables and the monitor that you are using and when they checked mine out, it was apparently a little too high def to pass their DRM filters.
Because my computer allows me to send an unrestricted HDTV feed to my monitor, Hollywood has decided to revoke my ability to stream 480 resolution video files from Netflix. In order to fix my problem, Netflix recommended that I downgrade to a lower res VGA setup.
As part of their agreement with Hollywood, Netflix uses a program called COPP (Certified Output Protection Protocal). COPP is made by Microsoft and the protocol restricts how you are able to transfer digital files off of your PC. When I ran COPP to identify the error on my machine, it gave me an ominous warning that “the exclusive semaphere is owned by another process.”
My Netflix technician told me that he had never heard of this particular error and thought that it was unique to my setup. When I consulted Microsoft, they suggested that I consult the creator of the program. Since Microsoft wrote the COPP software, I wasn’t sure who to turn to after that.
The irony in all of this, is that the DRM that Hollywood is so much in love with, is really only harming their paying customers. When you do a DRM reset, it’s not your pirated files that get revoked, it’s the ones that you already paid for that are at risk. I’m not allowed to watch low res Netflix files, even though I have the capability to download high def torrents? How does this even make sense? It’s as if the studios want their digital strategies to fail.
While I understand the need for the studios to protect their content, I believe that these measures go too far. It makes little sense to block my ability to copy low res internet movies, when I can always rip the DVD straight from my Netflix discs instead. By blocking access to my Netflix membership, Hollywood is once again punishing their customers by pushing defective DRM.]]>
As a consumer, it’s easy for me to tune these details out, but as a Technology Enthusiast, I know that these chips represent the forefront of the consumer electronics industry. Before the product launches at CES, before the beta testing, even before the prototype, you need that microchip. It may take years for the buzz to catch up, but the advances that we see today will be the hot products of the future. I can’t admit to understanding it all, but it’s exciting to see the foreshadows of what’s to come.
Marvell Technologies unveiled their own vision of the CE future today and I was lucky enough to sit in on a conference call for the unveiling. During the call, Nikhil Balram, one of the inventors behind the chip, fielded questions from reporters and described how this tiny little device is going to bring HDTV to standard definition downloads.
Marvell has named the new chip Qdeo (quiet video) and hopes to develop the brand into something consumers will recognize. At a very basic level, Qdeo allows you to up-convert standard definition video into an HDTV signal. There are of course DVD players on the market that already do this, but Marvell is trying to take this to another level by providing up-conversion features on all video content, not just DVDs.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of interest in portable video. While there are many different ways to get video on the go, most of them end up involving smaller/downgraded video files than what’s necessary for HDTV. This isn’t a problem if all you want to do is take high res content you’ve purchased on your TV and minimize it for a cell phone, but if you want to take content you’ve downloaded for your cell phone and put it on your big screen TV, then get ready for quality that looks worse than the camcorder movies that float around on bit torrent.
Because of bandwidth considerations, most portable content isn’t ready for prime time. While there are ways to buy HDTV content for an Xbox360, most downloadable video solutions tend to be compressed for speed instead of quality.
What Marvell’s technology is trying to solve, is the quality problem that consumers face, from having so many different video choices. In order to address this issue, they built an algorithm that can support up-conversion features regardless of the resolution of the original file.
During the presentation, I didn’t have an opportunity to see a video of the chip at work, but Marvell did have several photo examples of the technology in action and I could see a difference. Marvell has more examples on their website, if you are interested in seeing some visual demonstrations of the product at work.
The technology makes three major improvements to the video signal.
First, the chip helps to eliminate the rough edges that you’ll find in a lot of videos. If you’ve ever seen a low res clip on a big screen TV, you’ll know that when you increase the size of the screen, it makes it really easy to see the individual pixels in your content. These show up as uneven lines and make your video look like it’s composed of a bunch of blocks. With the Qdeo technology, they’ve figured out a way to automatically blend these pixels, so that it appears more natural.
Secondly, the chip helps to remove noise from the file. This helps to add more contrast to a video and makes it easier to focus on the subjects in the video. From a consumer standpoint, this is probably the most noticeable improvement. By removing a lot of the white noise, it helps to make the video more vivid and alive.
Finally, the chip includes an automatic adjusting feature for color remapping and contrast enhancing. This was probably my favorite feature during the demonstration. Normally, I have a tough time distinguishing between colors because I am color blind, but even I was able to see how dramatic of a difference there was between an untreated photo and the end product. I don’t know their secret sauce behind this feature, but the end result appears to take areas that are over exposed and shift that light to areas where there are lots of shadows. It also makes the colors more vibrant, but doesn’t adjust the color of flesh, so it prevents people from looking like Oompa Loompas.
For the launch of the chip, Marvell has partnered with Meridian iRIS, in order to create an iPod high definition converter that plugs directly into an HDTV. Once it’s hooked up to your TV, all you need to do is dock your video iPod and you should be able to see high resolution copies of whatever movies you happen to have on the device.
As the market for this new technology develops, Marvell is hoping to expand the functionality into HDTV DVD players, set top boxes, flat panel TVs and media bridge products.
It’s hard to really get a sense of how powerful the technology is without seeing real life examples, but I think that the chip would have the biggest impact for the television market. Because the end result will only be as good as the display technology, even great video signals can be comprised by the wrong television. When I asked Balram as to whether there was a difference in the quality of a Qdeo TV vs. a portable device that connects to a different set, he seemed to feel that it wouldn’t be that significant.
“at that stage, once you are doing the processing at the source device, you’re really bypassing the processing in the TV. So whether at one stage, it actually did the processing or didn’t, at other stages you are simply using it as a raw panel. So then you get into things like which companies make better panels compared to which ones.”
With a longer design time for televisions, don’t expect to see Qdeo in any HDTVs right away. For those who can’t wait, Meridian does expect to have their HD iPod dock available sometime in October. Once we start to see the early reviews come in, we’ll know how good this technology really is, but if Marvell delivers on their promises, it should be beautiful technology to see in action.]]>