April 21, 2006 10:00 AM PDT

Week in review: TV's fuzzy future

The future of television is coming to a screen near you, and you may not like what you see.

With Tuesday's launch of two HD DVD players from Toshiba, the public got its chance to decide whether that format or its rival, Blu-ray, is the rightful heir to the DVD. In the public-relations battle between the warring technologies, HD DVD scored a victory by getting to market first. Toshiba's HD-A1 ($500) and higher-end HD-XA1 ($800) players hit store shelves this week, two months before the first Blu-ray player is scheduled to go on sale.

This is a high-stakes game, and not just for the movie studios, electronics manufacturers or software companies with a piece of the $24 billion home video market. Consumers could lose big by betting on the wrong technology.

Neither HD DVD nor Blu-ray can offer movie titles from all seven of the top movie studios. That means buyers of one disc player may be prevented from watching a movie from a studio that doesn't support the format.

For TV aficionados who like owning the top tube on the block, there are a few things to consider before buying. (Click here for CNET.com's comments on HD players and read a CNET.com review of the Toshiba machine.)

At least one TV technology is getting a quick dismissal from some consumers, who weren't very happy with an invention from Royal Philips Electronics that prevents TV viewers from switching the channel during commercials or fast-forwarding past commercials when watching DVR content.

Viewers would be released from the freeze only after paying a fee to the broadcaster. The freeze would be implemented on a program-by-program basis, giving viewers a choice at the start of each one.

According to Philips' recently published patent, the apparatus could work inside a set-top box. It would use the standard Multimedia Home Platform to receive a first control signal and then respond by taking control of the TV. The MHP would also be capable of sending the payment information that would lift the freeze, as it does when authorizing pay-per-view content.

Reaction to the invention was decidedly negative, with some CNET News.com readers calling for a boycott of Philips.

"What kind of sadistic person would ever think of such a horrible device?" wrote one reader in the TalkBack forum. "That just hurts the viewer, and for me, puts any company using that off of my buy list."

Other TV news this week likely gave wallet-conscious consumers some hope. Competition in the cable TV market from phone companies could save consumers big bucks, according to a new study by an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Yale Braunstein analyzed data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Federal Communications Commission, calculating that cable television subscription prices would drop 15 percent to 22 percent in California if cable companies competed directly with another wireline paid-TV provider, such as a telephone company.

Braunstein's report, which was commissioned and paid for by AT&T, is one of the first studies to quantify how much consumers could save if phone companies competed directly against cable operators in the video market. AT&T and Verizon Communications have already begun offering TV service in certain parts of the country.

Vista views, looking at Linux
As spring finally makes an appearance in Silicon Valley, we also get a few hints at what we can expect at tech harvest time.

Microsoft plans to jazz up its music player in Windows Vista, the company's next operating system. But at least some of the new features will debut much sooner. The software, which will be built into Vista, is designed to offer better synching with portable devices, make it easier to scroll through long libraries of music and be tightly integrated with Urge, a new subscription and download music service co-developed by Microsoft and MTV Networks.

See more CNET content tagged:
Week in review, HD-DVD, Philips Electronics N.V., cable television, viewer

12 comments

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What's inside the HD-A1
A friend and I dismantled the new HD-A1 player in order to find out what made it tick, and were intrigued to learn that inside the HD-DVD drive is a standard IDE unit. Also inside is a USB flash drive on a daughter card:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://geekswithblogs.net/lorint/archive/2006/04/21/75795.aspx" target="_newWindow">http://geekswithblogs.net/lorint/archive/2006/04/21/75795.aspx</a>
Posted by LorinT (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
where's the journalistic integrity
Phillips applied for a PATENT! There is no specific invention. It's only a concept. It's nowhere near being a product being released yet. Why does CNET have to bash a company and twist the facts just to make an exciting-sounding headline?

Oh...I guess I just answered my own question :-)
Posted by (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I said something similar..
Y'know, I commented on the original article saying something similar. I'm a little annoyed that CNET is practically blasting Philips over this. Philips is a good company, and they make a lot of cool stuff.

I believe there was another comment on the original story that had presented the idea that Philips patented the technology just so they could withhold it from ever being built!
Posted by Jahntassa (158 comments )
Link Flag
shennanigans
The HDCP "feature" for HDDVD and Blueray may make them unappealing to consumers. A large number of early HD tv sets do not have HDCP support, and thus may not be capable of showing the HD media in HD quality. That's kindof dumb. If my HDTV cannot display HD media, then I don't see any reason to buy it instead of "standard defintion" DVDs.

As for the whole forcing me to watch commercials thing, they still can't force us to actually watch them. Even if they do this, I can still go tothe restroom or gab something from the kitchen, or read a magazine, or check my email or whatever instead of paying any atention to the ad that my TV is told must absolutely be shown and cannot possible be interrupted on the TV set with my channel surfing habit. Heck, if I can't quickly skim through channels to see what's on, I may end up watching less TV and thus less commercials, as if it takes 30 seconds to change the channel it'll take forever to skim through the 50 or 60 channels I get, and I'll get bored and do something else instead.

And DVDs have had this "feature" for a while now. I've got a few that do not let me skip past the "coming soon" previews I've alrady seen and decided to watch or buy or whatever or not. Di actually watch these again and again? Of course not, now I start the microwave popcorn AFTER I start the movie, use the restroom, etc. and things are done about when I'm finally allowed to watch what I want. Anyoen that sits through that bull crap every single time is crazy, even f they're "forced to do it".
Posted by amigabill (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GoVideo Players Let You Control DVD
GoVideo players let the viewer skip that stuff at the front of a DVD. We should all be sending a signal to the DVD player mfg's that we like that by buying GoVideo (or any other mfg that does this). Maybe they'll all then tell the movie industry what they can do with their promo's. It's not just the time--some of DVDs don't offer access to the main menu unless you remove and reinsert the DVD (poor design, but that's the way it is). Anyway, the only way to access the main menu is to remove and reinsert the DVD and . . you got it: Sit through the promo's again!

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
This is funny..
"Braunstein's report, which was commissioned and paid for by
AT&#38;T, is one of the first studies to quantify how much
consumers could save if phone companies competed directly
against cable operators in the video market.'



DUH! I'd be more than willing to bet that if the cable companies
comissioned Braunstein to conduct the study... the results would
have been exactly the reverse....

Give me a break! Does anyone really believe this crap?
Posted by jltnol (85 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Huh?
The author was too bouncy for me to understand, but I think the
gist of the first part of the article was about how dumb Philips
was.

I pose a question to Philips and their lame device:

If I were to not be enjoying the show in question while viewing,
am I forbidden to change the channel of said show during the
commerical to find a better show?

Okay, then Philips, I'll just TAPE the show and press fast forward
on the TAPE! Stop me, please.

And yes, I found a way to tape HDTV content downconverted.
Hey, it's fine by me if I get some more freedom over being
fascistly forced to watch annoying commericals (I'm immune to
most form of ads, and don't pay any attention to those noisy
things).
Posted by fakespam (239 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reading is fundamental...
This is a tad insane.

First Philips applied for the patent meaning that the technology to lock a device during the duration of the commercial is viable. Note that they even admit that the business model does not make sense, and that this patent is part of a group of patents that have a common technology element.

So whomever is ******** about the patent, well... lets just say that just because you can patent it, doesn't mean that you'll want to implement it.

CNET did get it right... for once....
Posted by dargon19888 (412 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lock-In love affair
What's this continued love affair a fear of DVD? Isnt flash RAM good enough.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Go ahead and make me watch
I guarantee that any media device that forces me to watch a commercial against my will is just begging me to boycott that product. Any device that doesn't play another company's product isn't worth having on my shelf. Sony has shot itself in the foot time and time again by trying to make an exclusive format that nobody else has. If it chooses not to learn after so many disastors, it deserves whatever market share it loses. Any distributer that refuses to release a movie on the winning format simply puts itself out of business and whoever is still in business will buy up the catolog and release it in the five dollar bin. That's a win win situation for the consumer. Holographic memory is going to put the whole high defition DVD business on the curb in less than five years anyway.

the real issue is how often consumers like me will purchase Quiggly Down Under and A Boy And His Dog in the next big format to come along. I'm still watching laser disks and listening to 78's. I finally got rid of the 8-tracks (a real success story in the field of planned obsolescence) but the 33RPMs are holding up just fine. A friend of mine asked me when I was gonna get rid of them. I pulled out my Horald Griffiths album and told him "Just as soon as I see this album on audio DVD!" (I wouldn't buy it on cd. Cheap son of a sea serpeants put in a 16 bit processor instead of a 32 when it would have cost them little money to do it right in the first place. I guess the audio industry has all the vision of Bill Gates. (nobody is ever going to need more than 640K of memory?)

This falls under the third law of survival - Never forget that your equipment is made by the lowest possible bidder. Trust yourself, not your equipment. With that law in mind, I am now going to go to my room and practice all the Horald Griffiths Songs I know, just in case the record player dies and I can't get another one.

On a side note. If I can buy a movie for less money than I can buy a CD, who is going to tell me that the RIAA is being less than reasonable about this whole distribution thing. The artists aren't making any money on these records. They have to go out on tour to make a living. Most of the song writers that aren't singing their own songs have to take a day gig to get by. that leaves who making all of the money on these fifteen to twenty dollar CDs? Follow the money. That's what they say anyway. They wanted fifteen dollars for the Los Lonely Boys CD and less than ten for the live concert in Austin. Heck, I don't mind watching the boys when they're playing, especially if it's five dollars cheaper than just listening to them!

Oh, and if it costs ninety nine cents to download an MP3 of an album that has more than eight songs on it, and you aren't getting the liner notes - you are still getting ripped off. Go buy a CD from a local band. They put them out all by themselves and it helps support the music you actually listen to on Friday nights after a long week at work. If you still want the latest Brittany Spears or Madonna, pick it up used from E-bay or your local used CD shop. Better yet, buy the concert on DVD. It's probably cheaper anyway.
Posted by kix are for trids (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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