November 24, 2010

Let's get physical (media).

I'm still not sure how old-fashioned I am when it comes to strictly-digital entertainment. I like getting a tangible product for my money. But if the price is right, I'll buy an mp3 album instead of the CD. This is also slowly becoming the case with digital TV shows and movies as this type of media becomes more popular. But for certain movies, TV shows, and albums, I think I'll always want physical media. So my entertainment is two-tiered. The music I really like I buy on CD and put on my computer. The stuff I somewhat like and find a deal on I'll download. Music is easy that way, especially with lessened emphasis on DRM (thanks Steve Jobs). But video adds more wrinkles.

It seems like people envision a future in which whatever video entertainment they want is easily accessible and streamed instantly over (presumably) the internet. And yet more and more the digital video picture gets increasingly complicated (and don't even get me started on how unlikely flying cars and jetpacks are looking). You can subscribe to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, but content is limited, and there's no guarantee that available content will stay the same (or that these services will be around for the long haul). You can buy digital video content from companies like Apple and Amazon, but content is similarly limited, and can get expensive. There's also still that nagging question of, "will this always be available?" If it's downloaded content, you could lose it; if it's streamed content, you might not always have the internet available (or you might have some kind of bandwidth cap to worry about, or you could get annoying lag or pauses in your stream). There's also the problem of getting access to the content from whatever device you're using. And what about your family (and their device of choice)? Are they allowed access, or must they purchase their own digital copy?

I think digital video libraries would become more mainstream (as digital music libraries are) if there was an easy way to rip your existing DVD collection. Music is easy to rip when you buy CDs (providing free digital download for vinyl buyers is becoming standard practice too). Not so with video. Video takes lots of disk space; there's not really an "industry-standard" file format (let alone which codecs to use); and many times the software to rip DVDs isn't (a) easy to come by, (b) easy to use, or (c) legal. If disk space and software aren't an issue, ripping a movie is doable. But a typical season of a TV show can run between four and seven discs (and I've got two shows that are each seven seasons)! It just seems like that would take forever. With the advent of Blu-ray, digital copies of movies are becoming more popular, but these are often proprietary and rely on DRM. And I haven't seen the digital copy offers for TV shows on Blu-ray.

As usual, there's no easy solution. Chalk it up to paranoia, but I think it's designed that way to make me spend too much time thinking about pointless stuff like this. Digital music is much less of a headache now that DRM isn't really an issue, but I don't see movie and TV studios agreeing to drop DRM like music studios have (seriously, Steve Jobs must be incredibly persuasive). As much as I like it, entertainment is essentially fluff, but the OCD/perfectionist side of me wants all my fluff in a single digital stable that I can easily access from anywhere...without spending a lot of money doing it. Is it likely to happen? No. But maybe slightly more likely to happen than flying cars and jetpacks.

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