Selectable Output Control in Make

MAKE's put my latest column, "Selectable Output Control," online — it describes a proposal to the FCC to allow broadcasters to shut down parts of your home theater while you're watching their channels, and the consequences for Makers.

Chances are, you haven't heard of Selectable Output Control (SOC), a proposed digital TV technology that would allow broadcasters or copyright holders to tag their video with a list of receiver-outputs that were allowed to carry it. That's because it's an insane idea.

Picture this: you power up your home theater, an near-incomprehensible tangle of game-consoles, AV switchers, cable boxes, PVRs, DVD players, 5.1 speakers, amps — maybe a home theater PC or a projector, too. After some fiddling and locating the correct remote, you start to surf up the dial. All good. Then you hit MTV and the gorgeous, perfectly balanced sound stops. Why has it stopped? Because your cable-receiver has received a SOC flag from MTV disallowing high-end audio unless it has some obscure DRM that isn't compatible with any of your gear (especially not your beautiful hand-built tube-amp). MTV doesn't want you digitizing the songs that accompany the (increasingly rare) music videos they play, so if you want sound while watching MTV, you've got to turn on the tiny internal speakers that came with your TV.

You flip up the dial (get up again and turn off the internal speakers), and flip to HBO and your screen goes dark. That's because HBO is showing a movie that has been flagged as "no analog" — which means that your beautiful, 42" plasma display won't work because you connected it via the composite analog video cables coming off the back of your AV switcher, rather than via the DRM-locked HDCP output. To watch the movie, you'll need to move the entire shelving unit (remember to take down the family photos first, doofus, otherwise you risk shattering the glass if they tip over), disconnect the analog cables, find the HDCP cable that came with the TV (or was it the cable box?) in the garage, and rewire your set. When the kids want to play a couple hours of Paper Mario on the Wii, you're going to need to move it again and reconnect things. (Coming soon to a Make issue: HOWTO put your home theater on wheels for easy rewiring).

Selectable Output Control