Posts in category hardware - page 4

Hiding secrets behind the law – DRM, AACS and the 16-byte key

It surprises and annoys me when I hear of individuals or companies trying to use the law to hide secrets. Surprise at the sheer stupidity and annoyance that tax payers money is used in the process.

The latest secret under suppression is a short 16-byte key which locks away the content on HD-DVD discs that only licensed software and hardware can play it back and prevent you from making copies.

This type of protection used to be called copy-protection but these days it goes under the equally unpopular name of “Digital Rights Management (DRM)”. It enforce the copyright holders rights whilst denying you yours and does it in such a way that in some countries re-asserting your legal rights means you end up breaking others.

The AACS Licensing Authority believe they can now protect by law what they failed to protect using technology. This is particularly amusing because their predecessor, the DVD-CCA, failed on both counts when the encryption on DVD was broken in 1999 by an enterprising trio. Apple gets it and is going down the DRM-free route and not treating their customers like criminals.

Basing an entire business model on keeping a sequence of characters secret defies belief and thinking you can wipe the secret off the face of the internet once it’s out is laughable especially when you consider the infinite number of ways you could represent it. The AACS are at it anyway with take down notices to the likes of Digg and others. Amusingly the take down notice itself includes the ‘magic key’.

Alternative 16-byte sequence where each byte is an offset on the previous one is “09 F0 18 F1 9B D7 6F 78 7D 69 15 6F 9E F3 32 38” which if run through the following program yields a certain magic key.

class Program {
  static void Main(string[] argv) {
    byte b = 0;
    string key = string.Empty;
    foreach(string a in argv) {
      b += byte.Parse(a, System.Globalization.NumberStyles.HexNumber);
      key += string.Format("{0:x2} ", b);


PlayStation 3 launch disaster?

The 'queue' for the PS3 at HMVI’ve known for a little while now I wasn’t going to bother with the PS3 unless some truly unique titles come up and the price subsequently drops so buying one at launch was a no-no for me but once I found out only two of my friends were getting them (and I have a lot of geeky friends) I knew Sony were in trouble.

A quick browse shows still have some available, Play have them left, hell even my local HMV here on the tiny island of Guernsey had over 100 unallocated at lunch today and had canceled their midnight launch event – albeit for ‘technical’ reasons.

People on eBay have been finding their pre-order auctions not even meeting their cost price and looking at the negative feedback they are refusing to honor them now.

How could Sony have screwed this up so much? Take your pick:

  • Shafting Europeans with a 33% price increase over the Americans? ($599 vs £425 vs €599) 599 USD = 304 GBP = 449 EUR
  • Cutting backwards compatibility when costs aren’t even passed on to the consumer?

    But as we have made clear before, in the future our resources will be increasingly focused on developing new services and entertainment features exclusively for PS3, rather than on delivering PS2 backwards compatibility.

  • Forcing Europeans to buy the more expensive model – because “that’s what they demand”

    Responding to retail and consumer demand, SCEE confirmed that initially only the 60GB model would be available, with the 20GB model to follow later in the year dependent on demand.

  • Forcing Blu-Ray upon consumers when they have failed with so many proprietary formats already?
  • Repeated delays? 15 March 2005, November 2006, 23 March 2007
  • Nothing worth playing at launch? 27 launch titles, 6 exclusive titles for sale plus Gran Turismo HD Concept free download. Gran Turismo HD Concept looks interesting … but not £425 to play essentially a demo interesting. Resistance: Fall of Man and MotorStorm are the top selling titles with EuroGamer scores of 6 and 8 respectively.
  • Pathetic attempt at on-line service in the face of Xbox Live!?
  • Dropping rumble in exchange for a not-as-good-as-Wii movement sensor?
  • That Sony are so full of themselves they think being expensive is something to be proud of? Jeff Minter, writing in his regular column for Edge, said:

    They seem absolutely certain that even when they say it’s going to be considerably more expensive than existing consoles… nevertheless us eager customers will rush out in droves to buy it because it’s, hey, a new PlayStation.” … “incredibly arrogant.”

Of course it comes down to just one thing: Give people what they want, not what you want them to have.

I doubt Sony can stop their downward trend whilst they exude arrogance that sounds like “you’ll take this and you’ll like it – we’re Sony”.

In order to try and save face Sony performed a PR stunt by giving away 46″ HD TV’s to everybody who brought a PS3 at the Virgin London store. This would hopefully mean the press and sites would write about this instead of poor turnout or nothing at all – a snip at £250,000 to Sony. Check out the BBC, or UK Resistance for coverage of the launch event.


Yeah, pathetic turn-out all round with reports of media outnumbering shoppers at a couple of events, general disappointment and even big venues getting under 100 people. On-line retailers such as Amazon and Play have plenty left.

Last night 50 regional HMV stores were open for midnight launches across the country, and “at least” 1,000 units had been sold, according to Ellis.

…only 100 or so people came to the event, as opposed to the 1,500 or so who queued for a Wii, or the 3,000 who turned up for the World of Warcraft expansion pack


Apple Macworld misfires

So the Apple TV and iPhone are finally announced and visually impressive with a very refined user interface – but some of the technical specifications aren’t quite there.

Apple TV

First off the Apple TV tops out at 720p high-def – what!? For less than Apple TV’s $299 I can get an Xbox 360 that does video & audio streaming at 1080p. Sure the 360 is missing HDMI and the slick software but it does play state of the art 3D on-line games.

Video scaled up to 720p by the device and then scaled up to 1080p by the TV is ugly.


Apple’s iPhone is supposed to be state of the art but GSM really isn’t good enough. The world is moving on to 3G and UTMS is essential in the likes of Japan and important even in the USA. Other manufacturers do it, why isn’t Apple?

Secondly this is supposed to be state of the art Internet? Where the hell is instant messaging? You’ve got the UI with SMS but what if I want to talk to iChat, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN Messenger users? Zip.

Thirdly where is the SDK/API? Initial reports are indicating that it is a closed platform.


Phone users seem to fall into one of two groups. People who want a voice phone with maybe a few extra features who won’t be prepared to pay $499 (plus the cost of a 2 year contract) and the second are existing smartphone users who often need to install additional applications and maybe even games. No mention of J2ME, no mention of an SDK. Nada.

It’s a slick product but for now is just functionally incomplete compared to what I have. Smartphone + iPod all the way.


Jobs also thinks they are going for 1% of the massive mobile market share. Funny as ex-Apple’s Kawasaki puts this goal at number 11 of his Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs.

My god who decided to let the Cingular CEO on stage to read their corporate brochure.


Damo Awards 2006*

Hardware: Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 enjoyed its second year and titles continue to impress although the count is still a little on the weak side. The addition of 1080p output was a great bonus but one many people (myself included) can’t take advantage of without a HDMI cable and nobody seems entirely sure if the 360 can pump out a digital video signal (I doubt it).

On-line support is blooming although can get very expensive if you want all the extras for games you’ve already paid for – come on guys we put £40 down gives a few freebies!

The PlayStation 3 on the other hand is vapor ware here still in Europe and was notably absent from Japan’s premier Sony Building in Tokyo. Online the only people raving about it are those that were raving about it before it came out…

Nintendo’s Wii has been getting a lot of press for being fun (if tiring and occasionally dangerous to your environment) but with the console itself is effectively a re-boxed GameCube which didn’t impress 5 years ago and the graphics look very dated on the couple of titles I’ve been able to see. With rumors of a more powerful unit doing the rounds and nothing stopping anyone producing a similar controller for the 360 or PS3 can Nintendo stay a contender or will they go the way of Sega?

With consoles traditionally being loss-leaders for the first few years perhaps Nintendo would have been better off producing controllers and software for the 360 and PS3.

Game: Oblivion

People often rave about how open-ended Grand Theft Auto is but lets be honest here – it isn’t a patch on Oblivion.

Like the aforementioned title you can follow the story or run off and do what you like. The difference here is that Oblivion is truly massive and is filled with interesting people, their stories and ultimately their sub-quests.

The graphics look absolutely gorgeous and show off the Xbox 360 very well – demands on the PC side are beyond what my desktop can deliver.

Surprise: Microsoft Office 2007

Microsoft took a brave step in reinventing the menu/tool bar that has been established for the last 10 years. Sure, the result isn’t a giant leap in terms of innovation but it is a joy to use and a big improvement over the older technology.

Importantly it shows a beacon of hope that there are people at Microsoft prepared to fundamentally change how people use their software for the better and not just deliver to developers (.NET, XML-HTTP).

Web site: YouTube

We were told repeatedly that this would be the year of high-definition yet despite large sales of HD ready equipment the content is still a bit thin on the ground (Sky HD, Xbox 360 and a smattering of HD titles). Sony hit another strike this year as another of their proprietary formats bombed – UMD video for the PSP – although sales of TV shows on Apple’s iTunes seem to indicate there is a market for tiny distinctly non-HD video.

The real winner on the video front has to be YouTube which goes on to show that whilst content is king there’s no reason you need to pay for it to be successful. Grainy, out of focus and copyright infringement seem the orders of the day but nobody cared – at least until a company worth suing brought them out (Google).

Communications: HTC

HTC phones and their branded variants have been popping up all over the web and in techies hands everywhere. Reviews are generally positive although I’m finding my TyTn sluggish in a couple of areas – something I hope the latest firmware will address.

Motorola meantime has been getting bad press over it’s Rokr variants.

Apple’s vaporware mobile phone continues to get insane coverage despite nobody having anything but speculation and rumors to go on. Cisco/LinkSys released an iPhone to which they own the trademark so I guess iChat Mobile is an option.

Web application: Google Reader

Google finally put it’s arse in gear and upgraded Google Reader to something not only usable but actually enjoyable to use. Now if only they could stream out the next 20 articles BEFORE I hit them so I don’t have to wait…

Rojo on the other hand deployed a screwed update and continually failed to pick up feeds complaining they were invalid or couldn’t be contacted despite other on-line tools were working just great. Bye.

With RSS becoming increasingly more popular something has to give and it’s news aggregation sites such as Slashdot and Digg which often reveal to you news you read several days ago and have already commented about at the original source.


* Yeah okay, not a proper award ceremony but a useful ploy to group otherwise unrelated content into a single post.