There’s a lot of talk online today about the malicious software installed when you play a protected Sony CD. Here’s my first reaction to it a few days ago, and here’s an article in the Washington Post and one from PCPro, for example.

Watching Sony’s home entertainment division implode with one poor decision after another is sad. It could not have handled portable music more poorly – Sony was so obsessed with copy protection that it designed devices that required Sony’s proprietary ATRAC file format and would not play mp3 files, a decision that was eerily reminiscent of the days of Betamax videocassettes. Its music players play mp3s now but they’re uninteresting and fairly clumsy to use. Debacles like this are trashing Sony’s remaining reputation.

Sony and the other manufacturers are squabbling about the format for the next generation of high-density DVDs. Their vision is that we will replace our current DVDs with high-definition discs filled with bonus content, and play them on new high-definition DVD players attached to our new high-definition TVs.

The formats for the next-generation DVDs have been engineered to support much more aggressive copy protection and DRM than anything on the market now. A few incidents like this may raise people’s awareness to the point that the new format will be viewed with suspicion instead of excitement. That might be enough to kill it, regardless of who wins the high-definition DVD format battle.

The recording industry had similar hopes for high-definition audio discs to replace CDs. Did you buy an SACD player or a DVD audio player? Neither did I. They fell flat and it looks like they’ll disappear.

At the moment I’d say the odds are even that the high-definition DVDs will also fall flat, never gaining much traction in the market. Sony’s overreaching won’t help.

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