Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Disappointed but not Surprised

Over the weekend I noticed that my DirecTV TiVo DVR wouldn't let me pause or "replay" XM radio stations. Clicking pause or flashback brought the "error beep" and an on-screen message that this functionality was unavailable for audio-only programming.

I am not sure if that is a new change subsequent to their switch to XM for music, or if it has always been part of the TiVo software on their boxes, but I couldn't help laughing at how ridiculous it was. Most likely they are preventing "digital recording" of the audio channels as some sort of protection against imagined piracy.

The reasons I laughed are these -- top reasons why a DirecTV TiVo DVR is not a piracy threat:
  1. Although the box has a S/PDIF digital audio output, the audio is compressed in transmission to the satellite receiver, so it's not as if some magical studio-pristine copy of the audio is there on the box.
  2. DirecTV TiVo units (unlike Series 2 TiVos) do not allow an ethernet adapter to be added on, or saved files to be removed from the unit. So pirating anything off of the box would have to be done by playing the file back in real time!
  3. Every DirecTV satellite receiver (at least every legal one) has a smartcard with a unique ID and account information. Since activity on the DirecTV box doesn't even pretend to be anonymous or unobserved, it's not the most appealing channel for doing anything illegal or inappropriate.
  4. Since DirecTV owns the box, they could always restrict the unit if it were being used excessively for audio recording and replay in a way that looked suspicious (although, as already explained, it's hardly a practical or appealing way to do anything like that)
  5. In the last case, they could always watermark the media on the unit and allow customers to do whatever they want, figuring that (a) most customers wouldn't do anything remotely inappropriate if they know the media is traceable to their account (and bill!) and (b) anyone sophisticated enough to remove watermarking would be getting their media somewhere else in the first place.
  6. Unlike the TV and movie channels, the audio channels do not publish a time-based "guide" listing each program or song that will be played. So it would not be possible to plan a recording of a particular song. Basically, the would-be pirate is like a 1980s teenager making a mix tape off an FM stereo. This guy (or gal) would have to either sit there waiting for the song to come on, and Quick! Press record! or else they'd have to record hours of content and then play it back in real time and chop it up on a computer.
I love this whole scenario because it shows just how silly the whole thing is. My DVR has specific features and UI in it that basically amount to guaranteeing that when my 21-month-old hears banjo music he likes, I can't press pause or rewind. Welcome to the 21st century.

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