February 10, 2005 | By Wendy Seltzer

One Face of Liberated DTV

EFF Chairman Brad Templeton doesn't care much for football, but since he enjoys seeing the multi-million dollar commercials liberally interspersed with it, he held a reverse Superbowl party: fast forward through the game to watch the ads. To capture the show in high-definition and play it back around the house, he used a home-built MythTV system with pcHDTV's HD-3000 HDTV tuner card. Brad has posted a great account of the event:

At my party, it was very high-tech. An antenna on the roof fed the FOX HDTV signal coming over the air into a tuner card located in a server computer in my workroom. This computer ran the MythTV "backend" and did the fairly simple task of recording the video stream to the disk.

Another computer sat in my living room next to the HDTV. This was the "frontend." On my commands, it connected to the computer upstairs over my house internet and pulled down the video file at the time point we were watching. HDTV was literally coming into the living room over ethernet, and it felt very 21st century.

During one high-tech moment, it was also clear that the TV was really a computer display. After the buxom Godaddy censorship parody, somebody commented that Godaddy had a different ad that had gotten refused by Fox and it was on their web site. A few clicks and I had the Firefox browser on my screen. With my 6 megabit connection, I installed the latest Flash player in about 10 seconds and was quickly playing the refused ad. Then it was back to our regularly scheduled commercials.

Now all of this is fully within Brad's rights under copyright law. Not to mention that no broadcaster could complain about an audience that wanted to watch its advertisements. But in less than five months, it will be much harder to throw this kind of party. The broadcast flag mandate makes it illegal to make the HDTV tuners at the heart of this setup.

Brad's system will still work, as will those built at EFF's HD-PVR build-in, but it will be illegal to make the tuners for new HD devices without gumming them up with restrictions. Hobbyists and consumer electronics companies alike will be limited in what they can build, locking out the openness that let Brad design his own viewing experience.

We've sued the FCC over this rule, and the court will hear arguments February 22. But if you don't want to wait for the DC Circuit, check out EFF's Cookbook to get cooking with your own, unrestricted, digital recorder.

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