Steve Jobs and HD DVD burners

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Technology
June 15th, 2004 • 5:48 am

Following a report that Steve Jobs is wary of the new generation of high definition DVD burners, O’Reilly blogger Michael Brewer wonders what has happened to the Steve Jobs of years past, who used to argue that copy-protection mechanisms do not work and that the problem is of a social or economic nature — not an issue that technology can deal with.

Now, this is a report on a “recent private meeting with Hollywood executives” published in the Wall Street Journal, not an official statement coming from Steve Jobs. But it’s worrying just the same. Steve Jobs knows very well that copy protection doesn’t work. If he doesn’t embrace high definition DVD burners in the same way as he embraced regular DVD burners back in 1999, long before anyone else, then it’s quite possible that Apple will once again “miss the technological bandwagon”, like it did earlier in the 90s with CD burners, which only started coming standard on the Mac long after they did on the Wintel side.

Of course, CD quality music and high definition DVD movies are not quite the same thing. It’s rather unlikely that HD DVD burning will ever become as popular as CD burning — at least not in the near future. Video files are just too big and there are just too many technological issues involved (region coding, PAL vs. NTSC, multiple soundtracks, etc.). Even today, while burning DVD-Video volumes is certainly possible on a standard Mac or PC computer, it’s not that easy, and, with new DVD titles priced in the $25-$30 range, it’s rather doubtful that DVD copying has any significant impact on DVD sales. It’s just too much trouble to try and obtain an illegal copy of a DVD rather than purchase the original legally.

But that’s precisely why it would be very wrong for Apple not to embrace high definition DVD burning. High definition movies will involve even bigger files! If Apple doesn’t embrace high definition DVD burning, what it will effectively do is prevent Mac users from using high definition DVD burners for perfectly legitimate uses, such as large file backups. It would be a major mistake, just like not embracing CD burners was.

Copy protection doesn’t work, but illegal copying is not a major issue. It is and always has been a fringe phenomenon. Tape recorders never really hurt CD sales. VCRs never really hurt VHS sales. Regular DVD burners are not really hurting sales of DVD movies. Why would it be any different for high definition DVD burners. The recording industry and the movie industry are fighting the wrong battle, and it would be highly unfortunate if Steve Jobs, as a key player in technological innovation, were no longer able to see that.

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