There's good news coming for digital telly fans who've resisted the temptations of Sky and cable. Freeview Playback -- a new standard for hard disk personal video recorders -- will be here by the autumn. It will let viewers record an entire TV series at the touch of a single button, will work with programmes that are late or run over, and will offer a decent all-channel, eight-day electronic programme guide. Sky+ has had these sort of features for a while, so the TV companies that make up Freeview are fighting back.
PVR takeup for Freeview has been limited to date. The cognoscenti are keen, preferring brands such asand Topfield and often modifying the devices with extra software, larger hard disks and network connections. But the general public seems unaware of these devices. None of the companies individually can afford to match Sky or NTL Telewest's marketing clout, but with the non-brand specific Freeview Playback, they can club together to sell the idea.
But there's been a setback. ITV apparently wants to limit the fast-forward speed in the standard to 16x, just in case you were thinking of fast-forwarding through the adverts. As anyone who's used a PVR knows, that's the single best reason for getting one: the Sky+ box chunters through at 32x, and 64x is easily achievable by PVR hardware. But no -- ITV doesn't want to let you. Like Alex in Clockwork Orange, you will be pinned down with your eyelids pinned up. Watch and buy.
Nobody else is keen on this idea. It's true that ITV won't work if nobody watches the adverts, but disabling the feature isn't going to do any good. Viewers will go and make the tea, or buy a Sky+ box instead. Or you'll mute the darn thing. Or the advertisers could make adverts worth watching. Forcing people to pretend they're back in the 20th century won't sell a single bottle of Cillit Bang.
There's a lot of 20th century thinking about at the moment -- all of it doing far more damage to the companies involved than any good they might accrue. For example, the Blu-ray drive in thePC won't play movies, because they can't yet comply with the HDCP digital rights management system. Rather than risk letting people watch films as they'd like, Sony would much rather prevent them watching at all.
Perhaps none of these people have noticed YouTube, and think Bit Torrent is just the name of a minor American soap star. After all, these things didn't exist in the 20th century and don't support 20th century business models, so they don't matter. Admittedly, it's not clear what business model YouTube supports, but perhaps ITV and Sony could think about that, instead of dreaming about the armchair with centrally controlled manacles that they'd clearly like to install in every living room. Meanwhile, we'll go on doing what we want to do. Consumerism is a great idea. Perhaps some of those companies should try it. -Rupert Goodwins