High-Definition Multimedia Interface specification finalized

HDMI is a “single cable” standard for digital video (all ATSC HDTV standards), digital audio (up to 8 channels), and control protocols (so your personal video recorder can control your set-top box, for example).

On the one hand, this is a really useful evolution of DVI. On the other, consumers will be forced to break the law in order to get their “fair-use” rights back with systems that use it.

The HDMI founders are Hitachi, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), Royal Philips Electronics, Silicon Image, Sony Corporation, Thomson and Toshiba. Given that and its other supporters, it sounds inevitable. | HDMI press release

DoCoMo and MPEG-4 and QuickTime (oh my?)

On Monday, DoCoMo will unveil three new 3G phones (made by Fujitsi, Mitsubishi and NEC) for its network. The bigest news from DoCoMo’s point of view (see the AP and Reuters articles below) seems to be that (1) all three phones support digital cameras as an opition, and (2) the phones’ battery life is much better, offering battery life closer to that of pre-3G phones.

However, all three phones also support the 3GPP standard, which means that they support MPEG-4 (although not the ISMA “flavor” that QuickTime supports today). Although DoCoMo is not emphasizing 3GPP or MPEG-4 in its announcement — this makes sense, since consumers could care less about codecs or formats — Apple is doing its best to ride DoCoMo’s PR coattails. As Rhonda Stratton, Apple’s QuickTime Senior Product Line Manager, told MacCentral:

This is the next step in the delivery of a promise we made when we announced QuickTime 6 with MPEG-4 capability. We started to see some things on the Internet with MPEG-4, but now we are seeing another industry pick up the standard for 3GPP, which is based on MPEG-4.

It’s gutsy to try and spin the DoCoMo announcement as part of an Apple master plan, since DoCoMo’s plans to support 3GPP (and therefore MPEG-4) had nothing to do with Apple or QuickTime. (You could really only get away with this kind of positioning with a non-telecom savvy reporter working for a Mac-specific publication.) Also, 3GPP is not “based on” MPEG-4, although a 3GPP “flavor” of MPEG-4 is specified as part of the standard.

In a News.com story, The Yankee Group analyst Ryan Jones seems confused. “The real story is that Apple is building a presence in the device market with QuickTime,” he said, apparently not understanding that QuickTime has nothing to do with the MPEG-4 support on those devices.

Rhonda also announced that a dot release of QuickTime will support reading and writing 3GPP-compatible MPEG-4 files before the end of the year. That’s great, but Apple has far more important things on their To Do list (like fixing QuickTime’s industry-trailing MPEG-4 Video encoder). | AP story | Reuters story | MacCentral story | News.com story

Get your hands off my content, you damn dirty apes!

The entertainment industry wants consumer electronics and PC companies to secure their product for them by encrypting it when they detect a “broadcast flag” in the content. They’re using the FCC in an effort to get their way.

Not surprisingly, consumer electronics and PC companies want the entertainment industry to encrypt their own damn signals. They’ve appealed to the FCC.

Since most content is cracked — converted from the original broadcast-quality source format to an unencrypted, unflagged, highly-compressed distribution format — long before it hits consumers, neither option will be significantly more effective at preventing content piracy than the other.

They know this, so what are they really arguing about? (1) Who’s going to pay to protect the entertainment industry’s precious content?, and (2) In which direction are fingers going to be pointing when content in inevitably cracked? The entertainment industry doesn’t want to pay or be blamed, and the consumer electronics and PC companies don’t want to either. | News.com story

MPAA sends flying monkeys after Dorothy

(Well, okay — the MPAA doesn’t control over an army of evil flying monkeys. Yet.)

Jon Lech Johansen, a Norwegian 15 year old, wanted to watch a DVD on his Linux box. He put together some CSS-cracking code that others had developed to create DeCSS. Three years later, the MPAA — the last “A” is for “America”, I thought — has insisted that Norwegian prosecutors file charges. And they are. | Wired story

Helix Producer source code released

RealNetworks has released the source code to Helix Producer, its encoding tool. Note that although Helix Producer has been open-sourced, it is not free, and some of the most critical pieces of the RealSystem platform (such as codecs) have not been open-sourced.

Because RealNetworks had abandoned all platforms except Windows with their most recent Helix Producer release, this move is seen by critics as a way for RealNetworks to get the Mac and Linux communities to paint their fence for them. Will it work? Will it in any way affect whether RealNetworks will matter in the future? Time will tell. | RealNetworks’ “Helix Community” site | Launch announcement (RealSystem SMIL) | Technical overview (RealSystem SMIL)

Lightweight web browsers based on Mozilla engine

Do you like Mozilla/Netscape browser in theory, but can’t stand to use it in RealLife™? Me too. Happily there are now smaller/faster browsers that use the Mozilla layout engine, which trounces browsers like Opera and OmniWeb at rendering sites that use current web standards.

Chimera (love that Aqua goodness!) is for Mac users, and I find the nightly 0.6 builds to be stable enough for daily use. Phoenix is for Windows users, and version 0.5 has just been released.

In a related note, one of the not-often-discussed-but-hugely-important holes in Mac OS X is that it doesn’t have a decent HTML/XHTML renderer — this is why Macromedia’s Contribute for Mac OS X is running far behind its Windows counterpart, for example. When will Apple get its act together and (1) include Chimera as Mac OS X’s default browser, and (2) expose Chimera’s layout engine to Mac OS X developers? | Chimera (Mac) | Phoenix (Win)

Sewer-bots bring us broadband

As one increasingly-popular solution to the “last mile” problem in major urban areas, $750,000 robots are laying fiber in the sewers in cities all over the world. Seems almost poetic, considering all of the crap that goes out over the internet. | USA Today story |New York Times story (free registration required) | Standardization News story on sewer-bot standards | Japan Sewer Optical Fiber Technological Association (JSOFTA) whitepaper

Computers don't steal content, people steal content II

A couple weeks ago I posted an article about Peter Chermin’s silly Yawndex Comdex keynote. A couple days after, Jonathan Peterson wrote a comprehensive (and occasionally laugh-out-loud) breakdown of that keynote that I only just got a chance to read this weekend.

If we give Peter Chernin the benefit of the doubt and assume that (1) he’s not an idiot and (2) he’s not outright lying, then then the only possible explanation for his keynote is that he’s spectacularly uninformed. But either way, how sad for him, and Fox, and News Corp. | Jonathan Peterson’s Peter Chernin keynote breakdown

Liquid Audio evaporates

Following the recent resignation of CEO and founder Gerry Kearby, and the failure of a proposed merger with CD/DVD distributor Alliance Entertainment, Liquid Audio is throwing in the towel. The best part of their announcement comes at the end.

Liquid Audio, Inc. is a leading provider of software, infrastructure and services for the secure digital delivery of media over the Internet. The Liquid Audio solution gives content owners, Web sites and companies the ability to publish, syndicate and securely sell digital media online with copy protection and copyright management. Using the Liquid Player software, available for free download at www.liquidaudio.com, consumers can preview and purchase downloadable music from hundreds of affiliate Web sites in the Liquid Music Network.

Makes you wonder how they lasted this long, eh?

At it’s peak in Nov ’99, Liquid Audio had a market capitalization of over $1 billion. On 10/22, an investor had offered to buy Liquid Audio for $3 per share — just shy of $68 million. Now, shareholders will receive a disbursement of $2.50 per share. And the major labels sing, “Another one bites the dust-uh.” | Liquid Audio press release