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High-Def On Linux: Hurry Up And Wait

My new PC arrived over the weekend -- a Dell XPS Studio 420. Sadly, one of the things I bought it for forces me to use Windows: the Blu-ray Disc drive.  Right now, as far as I know, there is no legal way to play a commercially recorded Blu-ray disc -- or for that matter, a commercially recorded HD DVD disc -- in Linux.  I really hope it doesn't stay that way.

My new PC arrived over the weekend -- a Dell XPS Studio 420. Sadly, one of the things I bought it for forces me to use Windows: the Blu-ray Disc drive.  Right now, as far as I know, there is no legal way to play a commercially recorded Blu-ray disc -- or for that matter, a commercially recorded HD DVD disc -- in Linux.  I really hope it doesn't stay that way.

There's a part of me that wants to really fulminate about the way all this stuff works (or, rather, doesn't work), and another part of me that is taking a more measured, practical approach. I'll do both, because there's something to be gleaned from both perspectives.

On the practical side: Yes, I do want to watch movies in high-definition, and many of the movies I want in that format now are available in Blu-ray only. And I want to use my PC to do so, as part of a plan to make that my home-entertainment system. I'm not worried about how copy-protection measures for HD titles are implemented as long as they don't break. As long as I'm not required to circumvent anything to get the promised behavior, I'm OK. (Part of the reason I invested in the drive was to document my experiences, good and bad, with the technology.) It's also not as if conventional DVD is being phased out anytime soon; everyone I've talked to has said that there's at least another ten years left in the baseline standard-def DVD format.

The less reasonable side of me thinks copy-protected media is just a massive waste of time and effort. Open-source advocates resent it on principle, since it puts you at the mercy of not even the content creators themselves but the gatekeepers. If the history of technology has shown anything, it's that black-box technologies, like copy protection, will in time be reverse-engineered and cracked. And, likewise, history has shown that antipiracy systems typically punish the innocent more than they deter the guilty.

The best antipiracy technology out there for any piece of media that requires a retail price is a low retail price, and I suspect the media companies know this because they act in that fashion at least some of the time. When one of the first Harry Potter movies was issued on DVD, Warner Brothers didn't even both including Macrovision's copy-protection system on the disc (which they normally do with many other titles) because they figured they would sell so many copies that it wouldn't justify the expense to license the technology in the first place.

That said, I'm also annoyed by people who think that those very attitudes essentially justify piracy. They don't -- no more than Microsoft's copy-protection measures justify pirating Windows, something I talked about last week. They do, however, justify taking alternate approaches to how content is created, licensed, and distributed -- something that's started to happen, albeit slowly. Such changes probably won't affect the vast majority of legacy content for a long time to come, though.

I buy DRM-free music whenever possible, if only because the ecosystem for music in the digital domain makes that much easier. I can play that music on any OS I have.  When it comes to high-def video, though, it looks like for now I have no choice but to go gamely along. But I can tell you that the vast majority of my existing DVD collection -- which plays just fine everywhere I go -- isn't being ditched anytime soon.