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Analysis of Microsoft’s Suicide Note (part 2)

“Some argue that the consumer gets little or negative ‘benefit’ from this increase, this is false. The consumer gets premium content on their PC”

Pete Levinthal
Software Engineering
ATI Technologies, Inc

This is a fair statement. Playing HD content from a Blueray or HD DVD disk is clearly an advantage that end users would appreciate. So in the sense that a benefit is an advantage I would say Levinthal’s statement is accurate. However, benefit can also refer to “profit” which would make his statement questionable. Considering that he mentions ‘negative “benefit”‘ I think we should delve further into this connotation. Profit is the positive difference between the amount spent and the amount earned. So in purely mathematical terms the amount of “cost” to the end user to play premium content must be lower then the amount gained in the operation of HD playback for a profitable expierence. I believe it is safe to assume what the amount gained is, HD playback. What isn’t so clear is what the costs are. In the programmers universe cost is generally associated with amounts of cpu cycles spent solving some problem. Thus if a programmer writes a function for a program which needlessly recomputes values it is considered “expensive”. An accomplished programmer can write elegant solutions which do not incur much cost.
Keeping the previous definition of “cost” in mind I think it is fitting to look into what the premium content protection really costs a user. From this analysis we can make a fair judgement on whether a user profits overall from the ability to play HD content. According to the Micosoft presentations here, here, here, and here the playback of HD content requires no less then two rounds of encryption/decryption before the video is sent to the display. First the video comes from the original HD media in encrypted format and is decoded. That decoded media is then encoded again using the AES algorithm and sent across the PCIe bus. Once it reaches the other side of that bus it is decoded and then sent across the HDMI interface to the display.
The entire process is documented here in a presentation by Microsoft:

Based on my own valuation of HD content playback I would say that the price is either near or exceeding the gain of watching content on my PC. Clearly the price of these computations goes down every 18 months* by 50% according to Moore’s law. This led to my earlier prediction that an affordable and usable system running Vista is perhaps 5 years away. Before I close on this installment I want to give a preview of the next piece I have lined up. This image struck me and has pervaded my thoughts about this article.

Why Do It
This image from a presentation delivered by Dave Marsh (Program Manager, Windows Media Technologies) captures how Microsoft frames this problem. Perhaps not intentional but all too apparent in this image is their end user acting deviously and maliciously hurting Hollywood, Microsoft, and probably America.

* Wikipedia cites Moore as stating 12 months between the doubling of transistors which given my previous statement would reduce the distance of a usable and affordable system 3.3 years away. There are other references in the article that state the chip making industry adheres to the “doubling every 18 months”. My prediction was that of 3.5x current capacities for an affordable system to play back HD content on a Vista PC.

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