Wednesday, December 27, 2006

HD disk format wars are over

THE NEXT GENERATION disk format has been settled once and for all. Thanks to the due diligence, hard work and unprecedented cooperation between the media companies, the hardware vendors and the OS vendor, we finally have a solution. It is quite easy, Piracy, the better choice(TM).

Yes, in a year where Sony rootkitted it's customers, lied to my face about their actions (hi John, still have your number, kisses), and fell flat with anything related to Blu-Ray, things couldn't get worse right? Well, the other camp, HD-DVD is only slightly less nasty, but still unacceptable. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they both failed in the market.

MS and the media companies sold you out hoping to reap more and more profits. Let me just say I held out no hope that they would behave in anything less than a socially irresponsible fashion, but the depths of their depravity did end up shocking me.

Then came the PC makers, the dumb sheep that they are. There seems to be a race to see who can pass the buck quickest in this camp. From my dealing with them last CES where they said 'we have to screw our customers, we were asked nicely to', to the blaming of people up and down the food chain from them, it is a comic scenario. Pathetic.

Then comes the chipmakers, AMD and Intel, and the respective platforms, Live and VIIV. What laughable efforts those are. A year and a half ago, I said that Intel sold you out, and they did. The DRM infested nightmares of consumer rights removal that are the media platforms have one thing in common, the content mafia is quite adamant that they are still too insecure. The strategy from Intel was to start at a middle ground and push to the consumer side of things as time went on.

Instead, they started out as MS's bitch and were beaten into submission like a redheaded stepchild. Now they have the glorious job of jumping at the every whim of the media companies, way to hold your head high Intel! I would say the same for AMD, but to this day, I am not sure what Live does, if it really exists.

Both companies will tout absolutely huge sales figures, and MS will point to incredible Media Center sales, up thousands of percent this year alone. Let me clue you in on something, MCE used to mean that you needed a tuner, you had to meet certain requirements for power, speed and functionality. These boxes flopped so badly it was laughable, selling more restrictions for more money is not a bright marketing strategy.

Now, MCE is sold instead of XP home. The requirements? None really, so basically all sales that were home are now MCE. I defy you to find any retail customer who actually uses it in that fashion, maybe 1% do.

With the proliferation of MCE, both Live and VIIV stickers moved out into mainstream boxes. Damn those things sell like hotcakes, umm, what do they get me besides DRM infections again? No, really, I mean it, WTF do they do? Anyone? So, both Intel and AMD are jumping up and down over the 'successes' of their respective DRM for manufacturer kickback programs. Be still my beating heart.

Basically, what we have is a series of anti-consumer DRM infections masquerading as nothing in particular. They bring only net negatives to anyone dumb enough to pay money for them, and everything is better than these offerings. They sell in spite of the features they tout, not because of them. The manufacturers still have the balls to look you in the eye and say that they are selling because of the programs/features/DRM. Marketers, what a laugh riot.

In the end, every step in this chain of consumer woe that is Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, Live, VIIV, HDCP, MCE and Vista is flopping. And that is where the better choice comes in. The consumers have voted with their dollars, and are staying away in droves. All the walls of the walled gardens are being built higher and higher, with the occasional brick landing on the head of someone who pulls out a credit card. Buy now, there is a brick with your name on it whistling down, operators are standing by.

In the mean time, Piracy, the better choice (tm) flourishes. If you take 10 minutes to look around, you will see that every HD movie is now available on P2P networks. I haven't bothered to get one, so I can't comment on the quality, but it sure looks like availability is there. What was an underground clique in the 1980s and 1990s has become mainstream and so vastly much easier to do that it is laughable. Before the technology hits 1% market penetration it is comprehensively cracked and better for the consumer than the legit versions.

The lawsuits, threats, purchased governance and stern speeches could not prevent the children of Warner Music from pirating, the less moneyed masses are a lost cause. (Funny how he wasn't sued though, kind of makes you wonder...) As of right now, anyone can get any music or movie they want, for free, much more easily than they can through legal DRM infected channels. Piracy, the better choice (tm).

If you try and purchase any of this content, you descend into a DRM nightmare of incompatibility and legal mires. Your monitor will not work with your Blu-Ray drive because your PC decided that a wobble bit was set wrong. You just pissed away $6K on a player, media center PC and HD TV for nothing, you lose. The Warner CEOs kids have a nice new car to play their pirated CDs in though.

On the other hand, if you downloaded that content, in HD no less, you save the $1000 on the Blu-Ray player, $30 on the movie, and it works seamlessly out of the box. The available content is much higher with piracy, and it is quite on-demand. You don't need to sign up, give them your details to be sold to marketers who call during dinner and spam you, you just get the content you want, when you want, how you want. There is no iTunes/Plays for (not) Sure incompatibility, it just works. Piracy, the better choice(tm).

On the down side, the RIAA/MPAA/PATSY/TOOLBOY have sued probably 10,000 people now, and each 'settlement' is, well lets just use $5000 for the sake of round numbers. Now, the conservative estimates of P2P usage was around 30 million people, but I am pretty damn sure that is far lower than the actual usage. Last time I saw anything serious, it was 35M and growing fast. Lets just assume that it is now 50M users.

10,000 * $5,000 = $50,000,000. The net cost to each P2P user, assuming everyone out there settles is $1. To look at it another way, if you look at it in the worst case light, you have a 1 in 5000 chance of getting nailed. A lot of people buy lottery tickets with far far worse odds than that, and spend more than $5000 doing so every few years. To be even more cynical, hands up everyone who personally knows someone who got sued by the RIAA. Now, hands up everyone who knows someone who downloaded music or movies. Any guesses which one is bigger? Piracy, the better choice (tm).

What do we end up with? A year or more where the CE industry pushed, pulled, legislated and litigated their way to obscurity. Along the way, they killed yet another promising consumer technology, well 5 or 6 actually, and made Intel and AMD their bitches. We all were on the verge of losing this format and DRM infection war until a dark horse champion emerged to snatch victory from the jaws of evil. Piracy, the better choice(tm).

Avian flu reportedly jumped from birds to humans in Egypt

Several cases of avian flu have spread from poultry to humans in the Nile Delta, the Egyptian health authorities said this week as they worked to wipe out the outbreak among chickens and ducks.

A 15-year-old girl died Monday, a day after the death of a woman in her 30s whose family members showed symptoms of infection.

Egypt has reported nine confirmed human deaths from H5N1 avian flu since it was first found in birds in February and in a person in March.

At that time, the health and veterinary authorities canceled duck-hunting season, banned imports of live birds and forbade city dwellers to raise birds at home.

Officials also began culling diseased flocks and vaccinating healthy ones. They ran into early problems like vaccine shortages and widespread disregard for the new regulations by poor rural people who could ill afford to lose birds raised for food and sale.An Egyptian newspaper, The Daily Star, reported that 30 million birds had been slaughtered since then, mostly from the poultry industry, which suffered major losses.

Reports of the disease tapered off over the summer, but reappeared in September in the delta, an important stopover for migrating birds, with many moving through in December. Even in warmer climates, the disease peaks in cooler months.

The Egyptian Health Ministry offered sketchy details on the deaths. It sometimes takes the World Health Organization several days to confirm cases.

Local news media reports suggest that there have been about 20 suspected human cases in the northern part of Egypt.

At least three were among 33 members of an extended family that lived in a compound in Hanut in Gharbiya Province. The woman who died last weekend, her brother and a niece were said to have fallen ill after slaughtering ducks for a cousin's wedding.

Local reports said the authorities had declared an emergency and were trying to kill all the birds for 400 meters, or about a quarter-mile, around the compound, but were frustrated by residents who had hidden birds under beds.

Slaughtered birds were buried at a cemetery, streets were cleaned, and all 33 family members were tested.

As of the latest WHO update on Nov. 29, avian flu had infected 258 people worldwide, killing 154 of them. Indonesia had the most deaths, followed by Vietnam and Thailand. But Indonesia, Egypt and possibly China appear to have the most active outbreaks at the moment.