Content control on FreeviewHD

Register Hardware has just published a news story I wrote about content control on Freeview HD. What does this mean for the punter?

Well, in real terms, I suspect very little. As you can see from the story, there won’t be any restrictions on your ability to record if you have a Freeview HD PVR. So, you won’t suddenly find that someone has decided you cannot record a film to watch later.

Where there will be restrictions is in making copies of programmes in High Definition, but the guidelines that have been laid down suggest that you will always be able to make at least one copy – and where a programme has already been broadcast in high definition elsewhere in the world, without restrictions, then it shouldn’t be restricted in the UK. That seems to me a tacit admission that, in terms of preventing piracy, if a show’s been broadcast elsewhere then the cat is already out of the bag.

The one area that did cause a lot of concern during the consultation was with regard to open source software, like MythTV. For those who aren’t in the know, that’s a piece of software that runs on standard PC hardware, and is based on Linux. It provides all the features you would expect in a digital TV recorder, and quite a few more. And a major worry was that systems like Myth could be locked out of recording Freeview HD by the licensing requirements for the Freeview EPG.

One of the conditions that’s been laid down by Ofcom is that the necessary information should be available on a royalty free basis, which will certainly help. But there are some within the open source movement who are vehemently opposed to any sort of content control or ‘Digital Rights Management.’ That’s an entirely principled stance, but I hope that some way can be found to accommodate software like MythTV within the new content management system for Freeview HD.

With the decision only announced today, I’ve not had time to contact too many people for responses, but when I hear more I shall post again. And in the meantime, if you are involved in projects like MythTV, feel free to add your comments below.

The full Ofcom statement is here, for those who like reading such things.

4 Replies to “Content control on FreeviewHD”

  1. Hi Nigel, thanks for the article, you have long been my digital guru ever since you started the Toppy website!

    I do have a question however regarding this content control system. Let’s say I bought a Freeview HD recorder, and recorded a good HD documentary. Now let’s say I wanted to transfer it across to my PC (either on a removable drive or through the network) to make an archived copy of it, either a straight burn to BluRay, or I wanted to grab it, edit out the adverts, then maybe re-encode it to save space, maybe into an HD Matroska file or even a re-encode down to an SD MPEG2 or DivX file, can I do all of this? At the moment with my SD Toppy it is so easy to download to my PC via my NSLU2, edit in VideoRedo then burn an archived copy to DVD. Ideally when I finally replace my Toppy with its HD equivalent, I’d like to keep that same kind of functionality.

  2. I’m working on finding out exactly what you’ll be able to do – a lot will of course depend on the broadcaster restrictions, and on how individual manufacturers decide to implement things as well.

    I would be surprised though, if you will be able to edit programs down in the same way people are used to doing with the Toppy right now, at least in HD.

    It’s perhaps instructional to take a look at what you can do with the current Panasonic recorders. For example, most HD programmes can be copied once to Blu-Ray, so you can make a copy to keep for as long as you want.

    You can copy to DVD too, by reencoding to SD, and you can do that as many times as you want. You could then take that SD copy – which is probably still likely to be better than anything you’ll get on Freeview SD – and do whatever you want with it.

    In the home, if you have the latest Panasonic recorders and TVs, you’ll be able to stream between devices too. So, with the new Freeview HD recorder, you can record something on that in the living room, and play it back over your home network, on a compatible set in the bedroom, still in HD.

    In the Freesat world, where you have similar content controls already, you can export material from the Humax PVR, in high definition, to a removable hard drive, but you can only play that material on the same PVR; you can’t, for instance, take the drive to a friend’s house, and play from it, even if they have the same model of Humax PVR.

    A lot will depend on what the manufacturers built in to the various bits of equipment; and in terms of streaming within the home, I think it remains to be seen how broadly compatible things are – for example, if you’ll ever be able to stream from a Panasonic recorder to a Humax set top box, or if you’ll need to stick with one brand.

    So, very much still an evolving scenario; not as bleak as some people are suggesting in my view, but not as open as people have been used to with SD kit in the past.

  3. The Humax HDR Fox T2 is encrypting all HD recordings to the hard-drive. Some are marked copy once and a lot aren’t, so we are free to copy once, or many times.

    BUT… all the recordings copied to external drives are encrypted in such a way they will only play back on the identical HDR Fox T2 that made them.

    This means if our particular HDR Fox T2 has a fault and needs replacing, even if we have back-up the recordings, the HD ones will not play on any replacement.

    To me it seems that Humax have gone too far with the encryption. As it stands now, Humax have implemented it in such a way that a program flagged as copy once, and one flagged as copy many, are essentially no different for the end user, as either way, they will only play back on the same single device.

    Surely a copy once flagged program should allow the copy to play back on any device supporting the same DRM system, so any other HD Freeview PVR, but other PVRs wouldn’t allow a further copy, and those that are not copy restricted, can be copied as many times as you like.

  4. I would imagine that the rationale is that if copy once allowed you to copy it back onto another PVR, then might be possible to copy it onto multiple PVRs.

    Yes, it’s certainly annoying, and probably because some use cases have not been thoroughly thought through, and there’s no common way in which different manufacturers store material on external drives – they use different formats, different ways of storing meta-data, and so on.

    Of course, that still leaves the problem of a replacement unit, as you mentioned. The counter to that, most likely, would be to point out that, under UK copyright law, you don’t have a right to keep backups of material, and the guidance on video recordings does explicitly say that making a recording to put in an archive for repeated viewing is not one of the allowable exceptions to copyright.

    So, given that, I suppose it’s not actually too much of a surprise that manufacturers are doing things in the way that they are (the Digital Stream too works like this).

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