Douglas Crockford

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August 2004

This report is on Firewire, Broadcast Flag, P2P, and TiVo.

Firewire

Firewire is a high-speed serial bus. It was developed by Apple Computer and is available on most of their computer products. It can operate at 800 megabits per second, which with compression is adequate for HDTV. Unlike DVI/HDMI, which are unidirectional point-to-point connections, Firewire is a chainable, bidirectional bus. It resembles USB, while DVI is a digital equivalent of an analog video cable. The Firewire connector is much friendlier than the DVI connector. The first IEEE 1394 standard was published in 1995. It can be crippled with DTCP.

Firewire TV

There are many DTV sets that provide Firewire interfaces. The interface is provided to allow input of video signals and output of device control signals. It provides video output from the set's tuner. Maybe in the future, when DRM has been forgotten, DTV sets will have digital video outputs. They should not have them now.

These notes are from the Owner's Manual of the Hitachi 51S700:

  1. When using IEEE1394 connections, you enable video and audio digital data exchange between a compatible device. This connection also enables you to control basic equipment functions (such as VCR play, rewind, fast forward, stop, etc.) from your TV On-Screen Display.
  2. The IEEE1394 interface contains the copy protection standard called 5C or Digital Transmission Content Protection
  3. This TV does not support full network control of several IEEE1394 devices simultaneously (the IEEE1394 will disconnect from 1st device when making connection to 2nd device).
  4. The digital device will be automatically recognized if properly connected.
  5. Four (4) IEEE1394 devices can be listed on the menu, but only 1 device at a time can be used. If a fifth device is connected, it will replace the first device on the menu list.
  6. This TV’s IEEE1394 connection is not compatible with a DV camcorder (Digital Video Camcorder) or a PC.
  7. The On-Screen-Display will not disappear until the EXIT button is pressed.
  8. Not all devices with IEEE1394 capability are compatible with this TV. Any compatibility problems with other manufacturers devices should be brought to the attention of those manufacturers.

Notes on the notes:

  1. I like that IEEE1394 can be used to network basic equipment functions. This is very consumer friendly. However, the term IEEE1394 itself is ugly and frightening to consumers. This level of engineering detail should not be exposed to consumers. Unfortunately, today it is unavoidable.
  2. IEEE1394 will be compatible with the Broadcast Flag rule.
  3. Again, consumers do not want to have to know about such ugly details.
  4. This is very nice. It is good for systems to be able to configure themselves.
  5. I think that a big HDTV screen should be able to correctly show more than four devices.
  6. It is not clear why camcorders are not supported. A consumer would have a reasonable expectation to plug a Firewire camcorder into their Firewire TV set.
  7. The User Interface designs on consumer electronics devices are usually very bad.
  8. IEEE1394 is a general-purpose interface. There are many computer-related devices which would not be reasonably supported by a TV set.

Currently there are is no single standard on digital transport for home video except for the Broadcast Flag rule, which does not specify interfaces, and the DCR rule:

Cable operators must supply, upon request, high-definition set-top boxes with functional 1394 FireWire connectors. By July 1, 2005, all high-definition set-top boxes also require DVI or HDMI.

If a vendor chooses badly, then they will be selling equipment which will not work with other equipment, which will result in expensive returns and service costs, and severe sales friction. At this stage, it is not possible to predict what the winning interfaces will be, so sets and STBs seem to be supporting at a minimum YPbPr, DVI/HDMI, and IEEE1394. Some also support Ethernet. Soon there will also be support for Powerline and 802.11n. Each of these interfaces adds real cost and complexity. YPbPr is the most universal standard currently. It is also obsolete.

Practically, an HDTV set or monitor today must have YPbPr, DVI/HDMI, and IEEE1394 input. (There should also be at least an RCA connector to support 480i.) A digital Set Top Box must have YPbPr, DVI/HDMI, and IEEE1394 output. Someday we may get to a single interface, but we are not their yet. Firewire has the best packaging of these. It also functions as a device control bus, which is very handy. It is versatile and well established.

When the ultimate single standard is selected, it will not be selected on the basis of its technical merits. It will be selected by the interlocking industry groups. It is impossible to predict the outcome.

Firewire can handle other classes of devices, which can make things more complicated. What should happen if someone plugs a Firewire disk drive or printer or keyboard or computer into a TV set?

Video Connections

These are comments on the Video Connections Diagram.

  1. The DTV set should have an Antenna input and a Cable input.
  2. iLink is Sony's reduced Firewire interface. It reduces the wire count from 6 to 4 by dropping the power pair. Since we are already suffering from too many standards, I think it is best to avoid iLink, and use the Firewire instead. An adapter cable can be used to connect strange Sony equipment.
  3. All digital video source equipment should be expected to provide at least one of YPbPr, DVI/HDMI, and IEEE1394. Most will support all three. You need to recommend to consumers which to use if there is more than one option available. I would recommend Firewire because the cabling is easier.
  4. All Firewire devices can be chained together. YPbPr and DVI/HDMI devices have a separate point-to-point link.
  5. The DTV should also support the old Composite and S-Video inputs, for compatibility with old VCRs and DVD players.

HDMI 1080p

What types of video does HDMI support?
HDMI has the capacity to support existing high-definition video formats (720p, 1080i, and even 1080p). It also has the flexibility to support enhanced definition formats such as 480p, as well as standard definition formats such as NTSC or PAL.

Digital Tuners

Consumers have an expectation that digital media is close to perfect. ATSC broadcast transmission is not. "Traditional [analog] receivers lock onto a single signal and reject other reflected signals," said Bob Rast, president of Linx Pro Electronics, a research division of Zurich-based Micronas. With digital, "whenever the lead signal changes, the receiver breaks lock and has to reacquire, so you get a glitch in the picture."

Improvements are being made in digital terrestrial tuning technology. G5 (Fifth Generation) 8-VSP demodulator chips are coming this year from Linx Pro, Zenith, ATI, Broadcom, Oren, which will do much better at receiving multipath signals.

It is too early to tell if tuners based on these chips will be adequate, or if consumers will have to wait for G6 or G7. ATSC reception can add as much as $350 to the retail price of a set. This can be a problem if the tuner is not used because the Consumer is using a Cable or Satellite service, or worse, if the tuner does not work adequately in the Consumer's location.

I live about 20 miles from San Francisco. My cable system, Comcast, carries the digital channels from that market. The channels are unwatchable. The sound cuts in and out, and the picture is usually black with occasional random rectangles. If a cable system's antenna and tuners are unable to receive signals from 20 miles, what chance does a consumer have? Until all the broadcasters are forced to broadcast at full power and the tuner products have been proven, I think it is best to not include ATSC tuners.

Linux

I attended the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, which was in San Francisco, August 2-5. The Linux Operating System community has shed almost all signs of its hacker/hobbyist origins. It is now very serious and businesslike, specifically targeting IT operations. Unlike PC or Macintosh shows, there was no sign of media. A Linux computer is not able to legally play DVDs because the Linux community cannot make a license with Hollywood the way that Microsoft can, which leads to developments like DeCSS which breaks the CSS copy protection scheme in DVDs. The big computer companies, including IBM, HP, Oracle, Novell, and Sun, want to distance Hacker Linux from Business Linux.

The only exception at the show was EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). They were showing a DTV tuner that allowed a Linux system to be used as an HDTV set. This is interesting because such configurations will not be permitted when the Broadcast Flag rule goes into effect because none of the DRM systems in Table A apply to Linux. Indeed, the Open Source nature of Linux is incompatible with DRM. DRM is attempting to make the whole world into a Closed System.

FCC does not have the authority to allow Microsoft systems but condemn Linux systems. So the existence of the demo is proof that the FCC has exceeded its authority. Also, since the Broadcast Flag rule does not apply to existing equipment, a Linux-based tuner remains legal and capable of streaming programs to the Internet after the rule goes into effect. So this demo is proof that the Broadcast Flag rule will be ineffective at preventing what it is intended to prevent.

EFF is supplying people with instructions on how to make Linux DTV sets.

Broadcast Flag

This month, FCC approved the Digital Output Protection Technologies and Recording Method Certifications from Table A. There were some surprises which will be very disappointing to MPAA and the Studios.

Recall that the Broadcast Flag came about because of Jack Valenti's paranoid fantasies of theatre-quality movies leaping from TV sets onto the Internet, instantly destroying the Motion Picture Business. The Broadcast Flag was accepted (possibly illegally) by the FCC in order to prevent theatre-quality movies leaping from TV sets onto the Internet. This the only instance where DRM (Digital Rights Management) will be required of Consumers by the Federal Government.

The DRM Conspiracy wants to prevent more than just theatre-quality movies leaping from TV sets onto the Internet. They want to control all copying, viewing, and use of copyrighted content. Once Broadcast Flag is in place, they plan to take control of digital media.

Thirteen DRM systems were submitted to FCC. Surprisingly, the FCC approved all of them.

[FCC believes] each technology will provide content owners with reasonable assurance that digital broadcast television content will not be indiscriminately redistributed while protecting consumers' use and enjoyment of broadcast video programming and facilitating innovative consumer uses.

This respect for the Consumer's interest is not compatible with the goals of DRM.

The FCC has significantly weakened the basis of DRM by approving TiVoGuard. TiVo manufactures a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). TiVoGuard will allow a TiVo subscriber to share programs with 9 (or more) other TiVo subscribers over the Internet. This satisfies the FCC's goal of prohibiting unrestricted copying. It is consistent with the Fair Use rights determined by the Supreme Court in the Betamax case.

TiVoGuard does not exist yet. TiVo does not have an HDTV product. What the FCC has done is officially reaffirm that consumers have the right to make copies that they can share with their friends. This is a disaster for the DRM Conspiracy, which has been asserting that it can and must deny the Fair Use rights of consumers.

This was a very smart move by TiVo. It will greatly increase the value of its service to consumers. It positions TiVo as a protector of the interests of consumers. It forces DRM systems to compete in the consumer marketplace, which is something the DRM Conspiracy does not want. They wanted a Government Mandate to suppress the marketplace.

P2P

In the case MGM v. Grokster, the Studios and the Music Industry sued two P2P (peer-to-peer) networking software companies, Grokster and Streamcast Networks. P2P allows individuals to link their computers together and exchange information. MPAA and RIAA contend that the Software Distributors are liable for the copyright infringement of the software users.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision against the Studios and the Music Industry. It reinforce that there were legal problems with the earlier Napster system, but that the decentralized P2P model used by Grokster and Streamcast has substantial non-infringing uses. The Court also recommend that the Studios and Music Industry stop trying to change the copyright law through the Courts.

The Copyright Owners urge a reexamination of the law in the light of what they believe to be proper public policy, expanding exponentially the reach of the doctrines of contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. Not only would such a renovation conflict with binding precedent, it would be unwise. Doubtless, taking that step would satisfy the Copyright Owners’ immediate economic aims. However, it would also alter general copyright law in profound ways with unknown ultimate consequences outside the present context.

Further, as we have observed, we live in a quicksilver technological environment with courts ill-suited to fix the flow of Internet innovation. The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to old markets, and particularly to those copyright owners whose works are sold through well-established distribution mechanisms. Yet, history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player. Thus, it is prudent for courts to exercise caution before restructuring liability theories for the purpose of addressing specific market abuses, despite their apparent present magnitude.

This is a big victory for Consumers. It is also a victory for CE, because manufacturers will not be liable for the actions of their customers. This is a big setback to MPAA and RIAA. P2P is a new, popular form of media distribution which is not subject to any form of DRM.

The game is not over. The next round will be played in The Congress, where there are several bills pending that will attempt to outlaw P2P. Also, MPAA may appeal this decision to the Supreme Court. This will be inviting the Supreme Court to overturn or substantially weaken its own Betamax decision. "Today's decision should not be viewed as a green light for companies or individuals seeking to build businesses that prey on copyright holders' intellectual property," Jack Valenti said in a statement. "Businesses that ignore their responsibilities as corporate citizens profoundly undermine innovation in both the creative and technological arenas." Valenti, as usual, is quite wrong.

TiVo

TiVo set the standard for DVR (digital video recorder). It is considered by many to be the finest DVR available. It is being imitated by the new cable STB/DVRs. TiVo is extremely popular with early adopters, but has not made much progress with the mainstream. After 5 years in the market, it has only 1.6 million subscribers. TiVo's technology and packaging are quite good. Their problems are in marketing. They have been unable to explain to the public what TiVo is or what its advantages are.

I bought a TiVo this month in order to better understand it. I purchased the Series2 80 for $299.99 (minus a $100 mail-in rebate). The unit I bought at Circuit City was manufactured in Mexico by Humax. It made a horrible amount of noise, probably because of a fan assembly error. I returned to the store and exchanged it for a better one.

Setup was easy for me (but I am a Computer Scientist with a degree in Radio and Television). Most of the complications are due to the nature of today's consumer electronics. As I have reported before, systems are much too complicated and not very friendly.

TiVo comes with all the necessary cables and a poster which shows how to wire the TiVo with the rest of the home entertainment system. The signal connection options are RF and RCA. I used the RCA connectors. This resulted in a total system that is easier than before because I can now use a single remote control. I am using the TV now simply as a monitor.

TiVo works with my Motorola digital STB. It comes with a serial cable that tells the STB to switch channels. It also comes with an IR emitter that simulates a remote control in case the serial cable does not work.

(The worst thing about my system now is that it always uses the Cable STB, which takes about 2 seconds to change channels (longer for digital channels). A TV tuner changes channels in less than a second. This makes Channel Surfing less fun. It makes me think that a High Quality Tuner should be able to decode two channels at once (the channel being watched and the probable next channel). This would make Channel Surfing very fast and pleasant. However, as we will see, with TiVo there is much less Channel Surfing.)

TiVo needs to connect with a programming service. It provides 3 ways to do this: a dial-up connection over ordinary phone line, an 802.11B wireless connection to the home network (using a $65 interface), and a USB-to-Ethernet connection to the home network.

Once it was wired up, it called headquarters to get additional information to complete the installation. I then activated the service at the TiVo website. The service is $12.95 per month, or $300 for a lifetime subscription.

TiVo then downloaded a highly compressed program guide database. It needed 4-8 hours to decompress and index it. However, I was able to use it with Live TV immediately.

When watching Live TV with TiVo, it is possible to pause and rewind because the DVR is always recording, and it can record and playback the same program at the same time. This is extremely cool.

The program guide features are very well designed, except that some features require the entering of text, which is very difficult to do with the 4-arrow remote control. This is a common failing with all of the interactive program guides that I have seen: They expect a consumer to navigate a large, complex database without a keyboard or a proper pointer. Even so, it is easy to find programs. For the first time, I feel that I am able to manage the hundreds of channels on my Comcast cable service.

Programming the DVR is much easier than programming a VCR. You find the show you want, and tell it to record it. You do not have to enter times and dates (unless you want to). You do not have to manage tapes. You do not have to turn the unit off in order to make it work (which can be extremely confusing). Also, TiVo sets its own clock.

Once programs have been recorded, they are placed in a list of things that can be viewed. It is usually better to watch recorded programs because you get fast forward features in addition to the pause and rewind features. You also get to control the starting time, which is extremely convenient. The level of control is amazing, and yet very simple.

With the DVR, Managed Viewing replaces Channel Surfing. Channel Surfing is really just a very inefficient way of finding something to watch. The DVR, because of its program searching and planning, and its ability to shift time, always has programs available which are exactly what you want.

This level of control over the viewing experience may be the biggest value that comes from digital television.