There are only seven months left before the FCC takes away your right to watch digital television on a device that isn't Hollywood-approved. Under the new "Broadcast Flag" regime, the FCC will mandate that every digital television device include the kind of technology that we see in cable PVRs (that erase your stored episodes of "Six Feet Under" after two weeks so that you'll be forced to pay-per-view your end-of-season marathon) and media center PCs (that won't let you burn "The Sopranos" to DVD because HBO has set a no-record flag in their cablecasts to force you to buy the DVD boxed sets).
The tiny silver lining here is that if you can get an open, freedom-loving digital television tuner between now and the summer, you'll be able to go on doing practically anything you like with the digital television you receive over the air and with your unencrypted cable signal. If you choose to do this by plugging a DTV tuner into your computer, you'll be able to archive your shows on your hard-drive, manipulate them with your favorite editing software, and email clips to your friends.
In fact, as a demonstration of the point, we've just posted five high-definition minutes of "The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" that we recorded off the air in November (500 MB+ Bit Torrent download). You can download the clip to check whether your PC is up to the HDTV challenge. This is exactly the kind of fair use that will become impossible for those who wait to buy DTV tuner cards until after July 2005, when the Broadcast Flag regulations take effect.
So how'd we record it? With a Macintosh, as it happens.
Mac users have fewer options for DTV than their Linux- and Windows-using compatriots, but they aren't suffering: the best MacOS solution for watching and storing digital TV signals (including super-sharp high-def signals) is Elgato's EyeTV product, which we understand will be updated next week to include digital cable decoding.
EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred Von Lohmann is a gearpig and Mac head of the first order, and he's been road-testing the EyeTV 500. He's turned in a great, exhaustive review with special emphasis on the endangered liberty this product embodies.
EFF is part of a lawsuit against the FCC over this Broadcast Flag business. We're going to court soon to fight for your right to go on purchasing devices like the EyeTV 500 after August -- but you might want to pick one up before then, just in case.