Silver MemberUsername: Djsmith
Post Number: 114
Aiming to prevent mass piracy of digital TV programs, especially over the Internet, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has mandated a new copy-protection scheme called the "broadcast flag." The FCC's ruling, which goes into effect this July, lets you make a backup copy of flagged shows, but no further copies. Aiming to prevent mass piracy of digital TV programs, especially over the Internet, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has mandated a new copy-protection scheme called the "broadcast flag." The FCC's ruling, which goes into effect this July, lets you make a backup copy of flagged shows, but no further copies.
The flag will be attached to "over the air" digital content -- both network and local station programs, such as movies or prime-time series on NBC. Any device with a digital TV tuner can grab that content, whether it comes over an antenna or through a cable or satellite set-top box. The flag, basically a piece of code, will travel with any show that the broadcaster wants to protect.
In July, new consumer electronics devices -- including tuner cards for computers -- that receive digital TV signals must ship with the ability to recognize the flag and to respect its copy restrictions.
Without the flag's protection, television networks argue, Hollywood won't license its blockbusters to them as broadcasts go digital. Unlike copies made on analog media, a digital copy retains the quality of the original, whether it's a first-generation copy or a thousandth-; digital copies are also simpler to make and far easier to distribute, as peer-to-peer networks have shown.
Media companies hope the flag will help alleviate the content piracy problem, which costs the industry about US$3.5 billion each year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America's calculations.
A legacy clause will let current products continue to work as usual, ignoring the flag. But questions about how future DVD technologies will allow you to make copies of shows and whether these technologies will interoperate remain unsettled.
At press time, several consumer groups were attempting to block the FCC plan in court (see "Fighting FCC's copy controls.") Nevertheless, broadcast flag-compliant devices are rolling off production lines now.
Broadcast flag: the basics
In July broadcasters can begin sending digital TV signals with a "flag" -- a piece of code that restricts copying -- to prevent mass piracy of TV shows or movies. New devices that receive over-the-air digital TV signals, like some HDTV sets and tuner cards, must recognize the rules. Here's what you need to know.
1. The flag affects digital content from broadcast networks like ABC, not cable networks like HBO (which have other content protection). But cable and satellite boxes must respect the flag on any show.
2. A legacy clause lets your existing products continue to work as usual.
3. VCRs won't change, since they are analog devices.
4. Today's TiVo devices won't change, but the next-generation HD TiVo will add encryption technology. The same is true for other hard disk-based recorders.
5. Recordable DVD devices will change when high-definition blue-laser recorders hit the U.S. market in 2006.
Who sets the flag
A program's owner decides whether to flag it. If it's an ABC series, ABC makes the call. If it's a locally produced show -- a newsmagazine, for instance -- the local station can flag it, says Dennis Wharton, senior vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters.
When will the flagged content appear? "I think there's a likelihood the network content will be flagged immediately [in July]," Wharton says. "The networks have a long-standing interest in protecting programming from mass distribution on the Internet."
Existing equipment will simply ignore the flag code and continue to work. But as of July, any newly shipped device with an ATSC tuner (aka "off-air digital TV tuner") must have a demodulator chip that recognizes the flag. This includes some HDTV sets and tuner cards for both consumer electronics devices and PCs.
For a while, flag-compliant and -noncompliant products will coexist on store shelves, but buyers will have no easy way to know which is which.
All of Dell's HDTV products shipping from July on will be compliant, says Dell spokesperson Colleen Ryan.
But if you're shopping for a Media Center PC, you probably won't find many changed products in July. While Mi*****ft's recent Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 supports recording of over-the-air digital TV, some major PC makers have not yet added that capability. HP, for example, says its Media Center PCs and Extender products (which stream content around the house) work with regular TV only -- not with digital -- so they will be unaffected by the flag initially. You can expect things to change over the course of the year, however; consult prospective manufacturers to find out what their schedules are.
Time-shifting and backups
Regarding your recording rights, remember a few key points. First, this FCC plan applies only to over-the-air digital programs, like a prime-time series or a movie shown on ABC, CBS, or NBC. It doesn't relate to pay-per-view or premium cable channel movies, or to original programs from the likes of HBO and Showtime.
Cable companies already may impose their own content restrictions, under the terms of an earlier FCC agreement. For example, you can record content obtained from HBO channels only once: You can burn it to a DVD, or save it to your TiVo or similar hard-drive recorder and then burn it to a disc. But once you make that DVD, the program gets erased from the TiVo. HBO's on-demand programming cannot be recorded at all; the company argues that since you choose the time the program plays, you don't need to record the show to view later.
Second, VCRs won't change, since they are analog-only devices: They record to analog videotape, and they have analog inputs like RCA and component ports. The FCC plan is strictly about digital copies.
Today's TiVo and hard disk-based or recordable-DVD devices won't receive hardware makeovers either, since they don't record in high-def yet and lack fully digital inputs.
Right now, TiVo users have three options: Save a recorded program to VHS tape, burn it to DVD, or use TiVoToGo to move it to a PC. Those rights will remain for current users, says Jim Denney, director of product marketing for TiVo. (TiVo already warns users that some shows may have copy protections that prevent their transfer via TiVoToGo.)
But TiVo has announced that its first HD device, expected to ship in early 2006, will be broadcast-flag compliant, Denney adds. And it will use a new security approach, called TiVo Guard Digital Output Protection Technology; it's one of 13 FCC-approved technologies to allow consumers to copy "flagged" content.
TiVo Guard will encrypt the content on the HD TiVo drive and play back the show using keys administered by TiVo. The process will be invisible to the average TiVo user but will prevent uploading of shows to the Net, Denney says.
The FCC says consumers will retain the right to make a backup copy of flagged content. But the way a particular device -- whether it's TiVo or another recorder -- handles encryption to make such backups possible without allowing further distribution of the digital show will vary by manufacturer. How they'll all work together remains unclear.
Today, most inputs into recordable-DVD devices are analog, says In-Stat senior analyst Michelle Abraham. That means these products do not yet have to be modified to conform with the flag.
But next-generation blue-laser DVD recorders, like HD-DVD and Blu-ray devices, will record digital TV broadcasts and will have to recognize the flag. Blu-ray recorders are currently shipping in Japan and should hit the United States in the next few years, while HD-DVD recorders are expected to ship in the U.S. in the second half of 2006, Abraham says.
Pioneer didn't have to modify its current lineup of DVD recording products, says Andy Parsons, the company's senior VP of product development.
But Pioneer is planning for future DVD recorders -- high-def or with DTV tuners -- and these will have to understand flag technology, he says. As with the next-generation TiVo devices, you'll be able to record and make a copy, but the content will be encrypted on the optical disc to prevent redistribution online, he adds.
"A lot of people expect that you're not going to be able to record anymore, but that's not true," Parsons emphasizes.
As the industry finalizes standards for HD-DVD and Blu-ray recorders, one possible trouble spot looms: the encryption standard used. If multiple standards evolve, a recordable disc might work in your Blu-ray player, but not in your friend's player.
Fighting FCC's copy controls
Don't like what you hear about the broadcast flag? Neither do various consumer advocacy organizations, including the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Public Knowledge. At press time in April, these groups were fighting the FCC ruling in the Washington, D.C., circuit court of appeals.
Until the court renders a decision, expect flag plans to go forward as scheduled and flag-aware products to arrive in stores in July.
Disagreement over what the FCC can mandate lies at the heart of the case.
"Our contention is, the FCC can regulate broadcasts, but they can't regulate consumer electronics without express consent from Congress," says Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge. The V-Chip, for example, which lets consumers block some TV shows, required U.S. congressional approval, he says.
And because of the FCC plan's legacy clause, the piracy loophole won't really be closed anyway, says Wendy Seltzer, an EFF attorney who is working on the case. "Anyone determined to pirate HDTV content already has the equipment."
The EFF further argues that the open-source community could be shut out of future digital TV-related products due to the FCC plan's "Demodulator Robustness Requirements." The plan states that devices must be "robust" in preventing user modifications that allow access to the full digital TV stream, Seltzer says. This stipulation raises questions of how and whether open-source drivers -- which are modifiable to some extent -- could be used with flag-aware products, she says.
What happens if the advocacy groups win and the FCC plan is killed or stalled? The networks wouldn't broadcast the flag code. And the updated devices would simply have an unneeded, unused capability in the demodulator chip.
Silver MemberUsername: Hawaiian_time
Post Number: 375
Bronze MemberUsername: Cameltoe
Post Number: 16
Bronze MemberUsername: Nomeloplagies
Post Number: 68
Even more, there were "instructions" inside new DVD players with special "codes" to modify hidden features in this equipment because "Korea" produced same hardware in a mass for all countries, just changing the "language" stickers and infamous manuals translated "online"
Sooner or later, based on a bogus "amendment" that will protect us from "aliens rights to hear us in Vega", will produce "free-flags" equipment.
Silver MemberUsername: Hardrockstriker
Post Number: 327