Well, it was bound to happen …

Despite the paranoia and the best efforts of the hardware/software industry, the encryption system for HD-DVDs was apparently hacked (or “h@XXr3d”) yesterday. That big splatting sound? That was the movie industry, shitting its pants to the brim.

A hacker known as Muslix64 posted on the Internet details
of how he unlocked the encryption, known as the Advanced Access
Content System, which prevents high-definition discs from
illegal copying by restricting which devices can play them.

I figured that it would be a year or so, at least, until the hackers really started getting their teeth into this encryption standard. To be fair, there’s really not all that much you can do at this point, to keep your digital content secure IF YOU WANT THE PUBLIC TO BE ABLE TO USE IT! Jeebus folks, it ain’t like we can jam the old Ultra codebreaker machine (or its modern variant) onto HD-DVDs, and still have them be able to be decoded by commercially viable machines.

The AACS system was developed by companies including Walt
Disney Co., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Toshiba Corp. and
Sony Corp (NYSE:SNEnews). to protect high-definition formats, including
Toshiba’s HD-DVD and Sony’s Blu-ray.

Muslix64 posted a video and decryption codes showing how to
copy several films, including Warner Bros’ “Full Metal Jacket”
and Universal Studios’ “Van Helsing,” on a popular hacker
Internet blog and a video-sharing site.


The vulnerability could pose a threat to movie studios
looking for ways to boost revenue as sales of standard-format
DVDs flatten. In 2005, U.S. DVD sales generated some $24
billion for the movie industry.

If the encryption code has been cracked, then any
high-definition DVD released up to now can be illegally copied
using the Muslix64 “key,” according to technology experts.

Jeff Moss, organizer of Defcon, the world’s largest hacking
convention, said in an interview that Muslix64 appears to have
found a real breach in the encryption system.

As I reported back in June, the Sony dweebs were all burning the midnight oil, trying to figure out a way to make their Blu-ray discs uncopyable – a vain hope, really.  The best they could hope for is the same thing that the music industry is facing now – make your content really high-quality, so that people who want to experience it the right way are able to do so for a decent price.  They could do this by having their movies come out in 1080p60, which would mean that the bitrate and consequent storage space would blow up any attempt to step the movie down to plain ol’ DVDs.  And yeayh, I know that in China, the blankets on the sidewalks of Shanghai are full of pirated DVDs, compressed down to VCD resolution and sold 4 movies to the disc.  So?

The music industry is starting to toy with the idea of releasing CDs in 5.1 format, so that if you want to copy them, you’d need a real ass-kicking sound program – the Nero burners just wouldn’t be able to do it.  At least in the short term.  Within a couple of years, the sad fact is that there would be shareware 5.1 sound burners out on eDonkey or wherever.

As the EFF guys said a month ago, the idea that you can keep your House of Cards business model standing on the shifting sands of the digital revolution is an absurdity. Maybe if Sony and Toshibe conspire to keep the prices of bland HD-DVDs and Blu-ray discs at $25 apiece or so (the way blank CD-Rs were in the early 90s … remember, oh my fellow graybeards?) they’d have a fighting shot to keep the genie in the bottle for another five years or so.  Or at least as long as it would take to tool up factories in Singapore and Kiev to churn out millions of blanks.  Sure they’d be prone to error, since the factories would have quality controls of a qat-chewing janjaweed, but they’d be out there en masse.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, a UK-based technology expert and
author of Internet blog PC Doctor, wrote in a Thursday posting
on technology site ZDNet.com that Muslix64’s source code “seems
genuine enough.”
“What’s interesting here is that while this hack might give
HD-DVD a temporary advantage amongst enthusiasts who want to
backup discs … in the long run it won’t give either format an
advantage because both HD-DVD and Blu-ray use the now cracked
AACS,” he wrote.

Dunno if this is really the point. I still think that the fight between the two formats is going to be called on account of mootness, as most of us are going to prefer getting our high-def content over fatpipes and beamed into our hard drives.  Maybe we’ll want some kinda backup format … but with the prices of external 750gig drives dipping and terabyte backups probably hitting the magic $300 mark by mid-2007, the shelves of jewel cases probably will look about as quaint as the shelves of vinyl look to the iPod kids these days…

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