Media Centres - Surely they could be better

, posted: 5-Jun-2008 10:44

/gripe begin

I am generally totally unimpressed by the state of the art of digital Media Centres at present.

To me, the only creative thing they do is add a streamlined interface to more traditional media players like WMP , iTunes, and TV tuner viewers.

They dont appear to be really embracing technology to transform the way media is gathered, diseminated and viewed. We have been able to download video for quite some time. We have had Youtube and the like for quite some time. We have had TV tuners for quite some time. All the media centres seem to do is give us the ability to use a remote to do these things, but dont really do anything creative when it comes to content.

I think an important concept that Media Centre designers need to grasp is Cloud Computing.

I would like the see the following things before I get impressed by a media centre:

- Virtualise media storage:

Remove the barriers of having files stored in a particular place. This is already possible with home networks, and with better and cheaper broadband should be possible nationally if not globally. Make it possible to store your content anywhere. NASs, Media Centres, Gaming Consoles, Wifi MP3 players, Servers, PCs.

Make all of that available through any device with the same look and feel as if it was located on the device they are using to access it.

- Use a universal DRM strategy

Instead of following a "you own the licence to hold a copy of this and play that copy" model, choose a "you have a right to play/watch this item not matter where it is stored" model. This would be particularly useful to turn the pirating market around. Leave the ability intact for people to distribute copyrighted files, but make it possible to detect those files, and instead of disabling access, make it possible to acquire the rights to play that file, with the option to download a higher quality version if applicable.

- Develop an API to allow 3rd party content to be advertised without the need for special plugins or propreitary web portals (Stern look at tvnzondemand!)

/gripe end


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Comment by tonyhughes, on 5-Jun-2008 13:48

"I" dont want to give "you" the ability to store large amounts of copyrighted information on "my" in-the-cloud system, lest "they" sue "me".

Its not just DRM that needs attention, its the 'rights' in copyright that need to be addressed too.

Author's note by mushion22, on 5-Jun-2008 14:35

Agreed under current systems and licencing terms.

But that is only an artifact of the inability/unwillingness to control the distribution of matieral other than from a central source. However I feel that technology has progressed to a point where it would be possible to achieve this control in a distributed system, just as it partly is already through the use of Akamai and other content provision services.

The model would go something like this under current broadband conditions:

Content creators should submit their content to content providers (content creator and provider could be one in the same)
Content Providers should make their content available through standardised protocols, and submit their copyright and pricing preferences to a DRM database (ideally a system somewhat like dns in structure). (politically tricky part, technically straight forward)

Client X is configured to search for content using protocol(s) P (could be BitTorrent, HTTP(s) repositories, FTP, Bonjour, Multicast/Broadcast XML streams, others) all through a streamlined interface (this should be trivial, but is not done).

X discovers content Y at least [bandwidth] cost location z.

X connects to some DRM verification database(either locally or remotely - probably remotely) to determine the copyright status of Y, and what rights it has over Y. (this is politcally tricky and technically straight forward)

X displays options/takes default actions based on those rights (eg Stream it, Download it) and/or gives options to obtain the rights (Buy streaming rights, buy download rights, buy rights to transfer to other devices etc).

With better broadband it could be extended to be totally streaming based, with the ability to download to Offline devices (eg ipod).
This would make pricing options more flexible, offer a wider variety of content, and make the process streamlined at the same time as reducing internation bandwidth demands.

When I say it could make pricing more flexible, you could be given a range of price options, eg to play once, play forever, play on one device, play on x devices, download for offline use, play advert free, play with adverts...

I think it is more a problem of Copyright holders needing to forget traditional concepts of media distribution, and embrace the future of distributed computing.

The key point is that content distribution should be more... distributed, both to optimise network performance and to streamline the process of making content available to a wider pool of consumers. This reinforces the key idea of cloud computing in that storage and processing should be "centralised but distributed" ie accessing content is centralised through a common mechanism, but the content itself is distributed geographically.

Author's note by mushion22, on 5-Jun-2008 14:53

I think there are two ways to go about what I am saying:

1) Legislate to make current content holders (eg iTMS) provide APIs to their content and DRM systems. It can include advertising, it can include payment, but must remove the ability for companies like apple to lock people to their own products in order to use the content they have paid for. "Unbundle"  the content databases, to borrow a term.


2) Make a system that is so good that all the big copyright holders (ie record lablels) want to make use of it instead of proprietary systems.

That is the biggest thing that pisses me off about Apple. iPods are nice, iTunes looks good, but I want access to everything. I'm entirely happy to pay for that access, but I dont want to be held hostage to politics and commercialism.

They can charge me, they can make me watch adverts, they can set limits, but I want to access eveything I have purchased rights for from whatever device I choose to use. I want to choose my device on the merits of it's design, not on the merit's on it's designers' narrow sightedness.

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Hamish Goodwin
New Zealand

Have a Bachelor of IT (Hons) majoring in Info Systems. Mainly focused on management in strategy with a bunch of development as well. Now a Capacity Planner in Wellington (No i don't really know what that means either...)

Like to play around with various gadgets, particularly networks and communications. Also like to babble and make bold assumptions and statements about various topics that catch my attention.

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