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October 30, 2005
Sounding the alarm for interoperability
This is a picture of interoperability. It was on the nightstand when I checked into a hotel recently: a clock-radio with a headphone plug and a button on top labeled "MP3." Simple, but clever. Travelers can plug into their own music players or computers and hear music through the radio's speakers; they can set the clock to wake to tunes from their iPods.
Open standards mean they can do this without telling the hotel in advance all the brands of music devices they might be bringing. Standardization and uncontrolled outputs let any music player interoperate with any pair of headphones -- including a clock-radio plug shaped like a pair of headphones -- with only an adapter to make them fit.
This is one face of what technology mandates like the broadcast flag will kill.
While I can bring my music collection to any pair of headphones or speakers, a broadcast flag would prevent me from doing the same with my collection of recorded television. Why shouldn't the hotel's HDTV have a similar universally interoperable plug on the front? Because instead of one open standard, there will be multiple proprietary and non-interoperable standards for HDTV under a broadcast flag. It won't stop the pirates, but it's bound to frustrate lawful users.
Welcome to the Hotel FCC, home to the latest in HDTV. Of course you'd like to watch your recorded programs.
Did your digital video recorder produce WMV files? I'm sorry, our only TV capable of displaying that is in room 1201, which is already occupied.
TiVo-to-go? Sorry again, the gentleman last staying in room 512 reported that TV broken but we haven't been able to get a certified technician in to repair it.
Yes, you're welcome to down-rez your videos, room 230, but I'm afraid guests have reported that the pixellation just doesn't meet their quality expectations. We do have some old movies on pay-per-view...
Support open standards and interoperability. Tell your congressional representatives not to bring back the broadcast flag.
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