Here’s a list of the top five things I want my Xbox 360 to do, but it refuses to do them. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but these day’s it’s a pretty sad time for technology; we live in an age where products are capable of doing much more than they are allowed to do. Manufacturers are so concerned with piracy that they handicap their products.
For instance, the XBox 360 is capable of, but won’t …
1. Rip DVD movies onto the hard drive. (Sounds like I’m asking for a pirate’s paradise, but where’s the harm when the ripped file can’t be moved off the HD and distributed elsewhere? And isn’t it a little hypocritical to allow the ripping of music CDs but not DVDs?)
2. Play video files from an inserted CD-ROM or pen-drive (the console is capable of playing video, sure, but only from two sources: Xbox Live downloads and streaming from a PC. So why not from an inserted disc/pen? And why include a USB port in the console’s design, then strip it of its usefulness?)
3. Copy video files from PC to Xbox hard drive over ethernet. (We’ve already established that the console will play videos, even if it’s restricted to Microsoft’s own WMV format. Another nice feature is that the console is ethernet-enabled, and will connect to your PC for streaming video. Is it such a big step to allow those video files to be copied to the console’s HD rather than streamed? Apparently so.)
4. Stream video files from a standard Windows XP PC to the Xbox. (Did I say the Xbox would stream video? Oops. I forgot to mention that you must have Windows XP Media Centre Edition installed on your computer. There is no support for streaming video from Windows XP Home or Professional editions.)
5. Copy MP3s to the hard drive from a CD-ROM or pen-drive. (Wonder of wonders, the Xbox actually does allow you to rip something to the hard drive: ordinary audio CDs, which it converts to WMA format. But be careful, it won’t copy a CD-ROM full of MP3/WMA files, legally purchased or otherwise.)
Here’s the thing. I’m guessing these restrictive design desicions are made mostly to prevent piracy. But in the case of a fairly legal user like myself, all they do is frustrate me. I’m not looking to hoard a massive collection of video files. Heck, there’s not a lot of scope for storing much on the Xbox’s 20Gb hard drive anyway. What I am looking for is convenience.
Thus far, I have spent time ripping my existing CD collection to the Xbox. It would have been a lot quicker if I could have migrated everything from the MP3s I made out of those CDs long ago.
I rent a lot of DVDs online. In order to speed up the snail-mail postal process, I often rip those DVDs and convert them to Xvid so that I can watch them while another disc is on the way. Sometimes I get behind, and have a little collection to watch, which is nice. I hasten to add, this is not piracy. When I rented the disc, I paid for the right to watch it once, and without fail, I delete everything after watching. Currently I have to burn those files onto CD-RWs and watch them on my Xvid-compatible DVD player. I’d love the convenience of putting them on the XBox and doing away with disc-burning. The last thing I want is to run a lengthy ethernet cable into the study and have the PC in there pointlessly switched on all evening streaming vids, while I’m in the living room. Oh, and another thing I don’t want is to fork out £100 for Window XP Media Centre Edition, just because Microsoft wants to make more money out of me.
It sounds like I hate the Xbox, doesn’t it? I don’t. It’s a great games machine, and I don’t regret buying it. But it sucks as a media centre. When the original Xbox came out, hackers took it to pieces and developed the Xbox Media Centre (XBMC: you’ll find it for sale on eBay). I’ve never seen it going, but the capabilities were great. Microsoft should have hired the guys who developed it, then released it as an officially endorsed product, but instead they just tried to quash the whole thing. And when the 360 came out, it only had a fraction of the capabilities of the XBMC.
Companies these days don’t like homebrew products. There’s a corporate mentality that says, “You must not tamper with the product you bought.” Excuse me, but I bought it. I own it. If I install new firmware, replace a microchip, or take a sledge hammer to it, that’s my business.
DRM (Digital Rights Management) is the other other big curse of modern technology. Did you know that when you buy music online (from most stores, not all), you don’t actually own it, you just just own certain rights? Try to move that file to another computer and the new computer will have real trouble playing it. This is why I will always buy CDs and I will never buy anything from iTunes. This is why I will continue to rent actual DVDs rather than downloading videos. Because discs are DRM-free. Did you know that Amazon recently launched a video download service that nobody wanted, because of all the restrictions put on the files? If I remember correctly, you couldn’t even copy the videos onto portable media players. And none of it was Amazon’s fault; it was the corporate greed of poorly educated studio executives who didn’t understand the online business model and made unreasonable demands.
It took a long time for the entertainment industry to back the idea of selling music online, and it’s like we’re back to square one with videos. Corporate greed holds back progress. The funny thing is that all this money poured into anti-piracy achieves absolutely nothing. The pirates are busy hanging out on Usenet and BitTorrent. And because of the way those services work, all it takes is one person somewhere in the world to have one copy of a brand new movie, and before you know it, the file is being shared by hundreds, then thousands.
DRM is totally irrelevant to pirates and succeeds only in treating customers like criminals. Being anti-DRM is not about being anti-copyright or pro-piracy. It’s about trying to get back end-user convenience. (By the way, yesterday was the offical “Day Against DRM,” so that’s why you’re reading this from me.)
Yes, it’s a sad day for technology, but thankfully not everything’s so bleak. Nintendo have unexpectedly embraced (or at least turned a blind eye to) homebrew development on their DS handheld console. And a healthy homemade software scene has developed. Archos make some great media players that are capable of playing Xvid files. In my living room, I have a great little budget DVD player by H&B that will play Xvid files from a CD-ROM. It even has a VGA output port for attaching a computer monitor, which is fairly unique. And the player can be region-hacked by pressing a few buttons. It only cost me £40.
Okay, I’ve ranted long enough and gone way off-topic. To the dedicated people who spend long hours hacking technology to give us a much better experience, thank you! Now, hurry up and hack the 360 to bits.