Digital Music and Video Scene Still Confusing

by Bob Seidel

I know that this is a subject that many people don't care about, and I do try to avoid getting hung up on it, but I find the latest news about it just so annoying that I have to speak up at times.

The subject is entertainment digital formats and copy protection. The first aspect that bothers me is that most people couldn't care a hoot about the entire subject! Don't read me the wrong way - there are lots of people who collect digital music (and perhaps movies) and swap them illegally. But I really believe that many of them do it just "because" - because it's there, because it's available, perhaps even because it's illegal (for the thrill). I know people who have downloaded thousands and thousands of songs from the Internet, and dutifully copied them to MP3 format CDs and boast about how many songs they crammed on one - but do they actually ever really listen to all those tracks? Probably not.

But most people don't care. If they buy music at all, they are perfectly content to pay a few dollars for it. Ditto for movies on DVD - I think that the price on most DVDs is reasonable, if not cheap. If you like older movies, most are available on DVD for a song (pun intended). Check the shelf at your local Wal-Mart.

There is a lot of fuss and hype about digital music and video in the PC industry these days. Microsoft keeps pushing the Windows Media Center version, although nobody I know who has it actually uses it. Originally, Media Center PCs were boxes that looked more like hi-fi equipment and were intended to be on the shelf with other such stuff. Now vendors such as Dell are pushing the MC system on regular PCs. All of the people that I know of who have it got it either because it was included in the system they bought, or they specified it "just because" planning for the future - but nobody I know of actually uses its features. For me, a big yawn.

So, to sum it up, most people I know of don't have extensive music or movie libraries, and rarely copy when they shouldn't. They don't actively purchase the latest techno whiz-bang, and can easily live without them.

But the industry forges on. The big issue for the "labels" is shutting down the hardware and software that enables people to copy stuff. The latest salvo is the announcement that the newest Rolling Stones album will be shipped on a flash memory card. SanDisk, one of the larger flash memory card manufacturers will be shipping the album in November. But it's apparently locked up tighter than a drum - you can't copy it. And more interesting is that there is additional content on the card that you didn't initially pay for - you pay later (somehow) for the additional content. Uggh. They claim that the advantage of this format is that it can be played in lots of little devices, including properly equipped cell phones. Right. I always listen to music on my cell phone…

The other piece of new news is on the high definition DVD situation. Intel and Microsoft have announced that they are only going to support the HD-DVD format, shunning Blu-Ray. But many of their primary PC vendors, such as Dell and HP, are in the Blu-ray camp, along with Sony, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox. Universal Studies supports HD-DVD. Oy-vey, what a mess!

But the bottom line on copy protection is that they are gonna getcha. It's only a matter of time. Once older hardware fails or becomes obsolete, the new hardware (such as the Stones flash memory card) will enforce rigid copy protection. And the high definition DVD wars will sort out with most new DVD players handling both formats - with you, the consumer, paying higher prices because of the confusion. Come back in a year, we'll see!

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)