We control the Horizontal. We control the vertical.


There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits

Looking back at this now, its oddly prophetic. What this is all about is something called ’Selectable Output Control’ and the MPAA has won a fight that it has been fighting for the past 2 years. The FCC has decided to allow the MPAA to control your tvs (pdf).

In this order, we act on a request for a waiver of Section 76.1903 of the Commission’s
rules to allow multichannel video programming distributors (“MVPDs”) to disable certain audiovisual outputs on set-top boxes to assure that copy protection is active for certain high-value content, specifically early-release films.

The MPAA’s reasoning behind this is piracy. What they say they want to do is put out movies to TV before their DVD release, but they say if they do that people will record it off the TV then either upload it to the internet, or burn it to dvd and sell it. I don’t know what rock these people have been hiding under, but typically movies are available to download months before it’s out on dvd anyway, so who are they trying to fool? Do a torrent search for a movie that hasn’t come out yet, you’ll see them available to download already. The irony is that movies are already pirated before release.

I really don’t think they understand how piracy happens. Since piracy, either games or movies, can happen before release it’s usually an inside job. With video games it could be an employee or a beta tester, with movies it could be an employee or the pre-release copies of movies sent to video stores. Instead they want to punish the legal, law-abiding citizen and break their equipment.

Ars technica wrote about this in 2008, where they point to reports stating that, at a minimum, 20 million HDTVs will cease to function.

Here’s how CEA gets its figures. Its Market Activity Reports and Analysis (MARA) follows 30 product categories, in which it tracks factory-to-U.S. dealer consumer gadget shipments. By this means, the trade group says manufacturers delivered almost 86 million HDTVs to U.S. stores from 1998 though September of 2008. 29 percent of those receivers displayed HDTV content via a "component analog" connection alone; that adds up to about 25 million sets.

CEA sets aside a fifth of those HDTVs to account for unused or dumped units. That still leaves more than 20 million HDTVs affected by SOC—that is, "permanently incapable of receiving and displaying programming accessed via set-top boxes for which a content owner or distributor invokes Selectable Output Control."

But wait, says Public Knowledge. CEA’s estimate does not include DVRs and other devices that depend exclusively on analog connections. "Further, because the waiver seeks the ability to turn off all existing analog and digital outputs, no current equipment is immune," the group warns.

With all of this how has the MPAA been able to come away with this win? Well it might be because they’ve spent a good amount of money lobbying the US government. They’ve spent $370,000 in the first quarter of 2010, and $440,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009, plus everything they’ve been spending since they’ve been pushing this issue.

Its a pretty bold move sure to make the MPAA loved by all. I mean who doesn’t want to go out and have to buy a new TV with ‘approved’ output controls.

For more information Public Knowledge has been following this story from the beginning.


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