Last week, Congress held yet another hearing about "plugging the analog hole." Why is Hollywood so bent on making all analog-to-digital technologies obey copyright holders' commands? Because in an age of DRM on digital media, the analog hole is often the last refuge for fair use and for innovators trying to build new gadgets to take your rights into the digital age.
Take the Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2 (the "R2"), an endangered gizmo that digitizes analog video output and records it to a CF card or a memory stick in MPEG4 format. The video can then be put on your computer, burned to DVD, moved to your video iPod, or slotted right into your Sony PSP. You can also output video to a display device from the R2.
In turn, the R2 helps you make legitimate use of your media and lawfully escape DRM restrictions -- examples after the jump:
- Free your recorded TV content: TiVo and other PVRs restrict moving recorded video to other devices. The DMCA limits removing these DRM locks, and, if the broadcast flag proposal passes, these restrictions will get even worse. Regardless, you can lawfully use the R2 to create a DRM-free copy, recording straight from your TV or TiVo.
- Free your DVDs: DVD ripping software is widely available, but using it to rip a film to your computer and video iPod may violate the DMCA. The R2 gives you a legal (albeit more cumbersome) alternative. Similarly, though region-free DVD players are available, you can use the R2 to help create a region-free copy of the movie itself.
- Free your VHS tapes: You've probably faced the unhappy choice between rebuying your VHS collection on DRM-restricted DVDs or lugging around a legacy player. The R2 helps you liberate your movies from their VHS chains.
The good folks at Neuros Technology were kind enough to give us a device to test out. Recording both from VHS and DVD, it worked like a charm (I didn't test recording from a TiVo because I don't own one, but doing so shouldn't be any more difficult). This clever gadget is light, fitting neatly in your hand. Setup is simple, and you can customize the recording resolution to suit your needs. (If you want to see some sample clips at different resolutions, check out The Gadgeteer's nice review.)
But you might not get to use the R2 or other innovations that rely on the analog hole if Hollywood gets its way. In fact, you shouldn't even expect that such devices will stay on the market for use with DRM-free media (e.g., digitizing your own home movies) -- after all, the manufacturers will suffer great expense to install these bogus analog hole plugs and will be forced to get permission from Hollywood and regulators before innovating.