Over the past few mumfs, I have been running experiments regarding media convergence in our home. I have a Mac Mini set up as a primary media server, connected to an eyeHome breakout box that runs media from the Mini over vanilla GB ethernet out to a variety of media, including a surround receiver via optical and to that projector I dumpstered a couple of years ago.

The Mini, a 1.42 mhz G4 with 1GB ram, is the second-most powerful computer in the house, after my main laptop, and has done a great job running the media streams. We’ve watched feature films and entire series, both legitimately converted from DVD formats and downloaded via miscellaneous services via the eyeHome.

However, after analyzing the amount of time needed to obtain and view film and television media online, offline on DVD and converted, and so forth, I had come to the conclusion that the quality degradation inherent in the uncertainty of the illegitemate downloads, in combination with the length of time required to download the assets, weighted the balance in favor of legitimate content downloads, but not in favor of legitimate content conversion Ripping a personal DVD up to the Mini for online playback and access, for example, can take four to eight hours of supervised computer activity. Downloading from filesharing networks may take days and days of calendar time but very little supervised time; I would guesstimate something on the order of 3 minutes per four hours of content downloaded.

The downside of the filesharing downloads is that the quality of the material may vary widely – I have seen what are called ‘cams,’ in which a videocamera was used to capture a public screening of a current film, DVD conversions of widely varying quality, from captures that preserve the full 5.1 surround to ones in which the mono audio capture is out of sync with the action on screen to ones in which the last few minutes of a television show simply is cut off.

Identifying and correcting these content-quality deficiencies is MUCH more time-consuming than the acts of capturing your own DVD content. Therefore, if one wishes to obtain quality assured content for computer-based playback, I reasoned, it would make sense to fork over the dough and save the time.

Guess what? The video content I purchased and downloaded from Apple a) is limited to the display resolution of the Video iPod, at 320×240 b) suffered a catastrophic download failure on my initial download attempt that resulted in the local copy of the file disappearing from the hard drive as iTunes attempted to finalize the transaction just as Qwest’s DSL service failed c) including the initial attempt, took nearly eight days to download and, as I learned tonight, d) WILL NOT PLAY BACK ON THE MINI.

Instead, I’m treated to a delightful slideshow of approximately one frame for each FIVE MINUTES OF SCREEN TIME. The assets being under the vigilant protection of FairPlay is also limited by design to play back only within the loving, and in my experience otherwise quite snappy, confines of QuickTime Player and iTunes, meaning it’s impossible to troubleshoot the slow-play source by examining the asset under to hood, as it were.

Naturally, such securely swaddled content is not legitimately enabled for playback via eyeHome, either.

In light of this, it’s clear to me that DRM represents as huge a marketing misstep as anything ever slapped ass-wise on the face of this good Earth. The sales and pricing logic are clearly in place to drive busy consumers toward legitimately-provided content; but when the acknowledged wizard of the burgeoning direct-media market cannot successfully deliver useful content to an informed and technically-ept consumer, piracy can only be regarded as a public duty in defense of family values, democracy, and the marketplace. Of course, saying so in a public forum is a statutory violation of acts lately passed with the intent of making it illegal to provide support for terrorists, so make of my speech what you will.

Thank you, and good night.