The Future is Bright? (Maybe)

The Story

Its Saturday night and all I want to do is watch The Amazing Spiderman. Hey, this should be easy, right? Just put the movie on a USB hard drive and plug it into the Xbox or PS3, eh? Wrong. This is unfortunate, but I’ll figure out another way; my desire for Spiderman will not stop at this speedbump.

My next logical step is to setup a UPnP server on my laptop to stream the movie to the PS3 or, eventually, the Xbox.

MediaTomb can transcode your media and serve it to any UPnP client. It streams to any PS3 without an issue. A clause to the previously mentioned was some “audio playback issues”. Streaming to a Xbox 360 was unsupported. I was faithful that the Xbox would support the de facto standard of media streaming, UPnP 1.0, but alas, no dice. MediaTomb is out.

Next up was uShare. uShare is another UPnP server that offers minimal configuration and Xbox streaming support. After setting up uShare and pulling up the shared content list on the Xbox, the Xbox would not, for the life of it, show uShare and let me stream Spiderman.

At this point I was getting pretty pissed off at these proprietary, closed-source boxes of DRM.

It was time to give up the fancy streaming technologies and settle on using a USB stick to physically plug into the console and watch Spiderman. Five minutes later the movie is on the stick, plugged into the Xbox and the menus are flying by as I impatiently page my way towards the location of the movie.

Lo and behold! Here comes another issue. To watch the video which has AAC encoded audio the Xbox has to download a free codec pack to be able to read it. To get the free codec pack I had to be signed into a Xbox Live account. It was not my Xbox, so I had to remember some Xbox Live burner account I created many, many years ago. My Live account has multifactor authentication enabled (good job Microsoft), so it took me a second to understand that I had to create an application specific password for the Xbox, since the Xbox didn’t have the ability to login using multifactor authentication.

After logging in, the “free” purchase of the AAC-decoder-didn’t go through because I had to have a credit card attached to my account. God damn. The last thing I want to have happen is for someone to steal my credit card info from hacking into some corporations database. I tried a prepaid credit card with no money on it, but that failed, so I then put in my PayPal details and quickly got back to purchasing that FREE codec pack for watching Spiderman.

Then it finally worked.

Reflection

Where to start. Where to start. Home theatre media devices have only been around for a decade. Being pioneered by hackers trying to get their media onto their TVs, companies soon entered the market. With them they brought brand loyalty and limitations to how you can consume your content. The walls on the walled garden kept getting higher. It is enticing since its simple, but your freedom to purchase and consume content from wherever is limited by what the company thinks is best for maximizing profits.

This is why open-source is ravaging the proprietary, closed-source software and hardware market. The Android Open Source Project is a perfect example. Over its existence, its taken a huge chunk of the cellphone market away from the closed-source systems of Apple and Microsoft. Android has achieved this by (using Linux first of all) providing an ecosystem where electronics manufacturers and end users can completely customize the experience of their devices by being able to edit the source code, if needed. With Apple and Windows products you get a simple system that you’re expected to like and live with for the extent of its use. If you’re not able to change an aspect of how it works, sorry bud, you’re out of luck. Have fun reverse engineering that code. Android users can and are actively participating in creating and modifying their devices to their hearts content, while reintegrating their changes back into the ecosystem, making the Android platform all the more better for every user since they have the ability to choose.

Getting back on track, Digital Rights Management, or DRM, in most cases makes it harder for the consumer to enjoy their content. I had this exact problem when trying to stream Spiderman to the PS3. Nonstandard specifications, and forcing a walled garden onto the device offputs the consumer since their content may be stuck inside without any way of getting it out. The general population doesn’t care about this though.

Android is already making its way to the TV via set-top boxes, and recently the Chromecast, but other open-source projects are making their way as well; Ubuntu TV being one of those. Hopefully the market can flourish and spawn a large community of hackers who contribute and make these open-source projects better.

I just want to be able to watch Spiderman without jumping through hoops.

Published by

Jon Simpson

I’m a software engineering professional interested in Continuous Delivery, Lean, hipster programming languages, and distributed computing. In my spare time I enjoy reading books, tasting craft beers, and exploring Canada’s capital. I have a Bachelors of Computer Science with a specialization in Network Computing from Carleton University, Ottawa.

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