June 5, 2007 | By Danny O'Brien

ATI Downgrades Its Tuners and its Customers

There's nothing more fun than upgrading to a new version of your software. You get new bugfixes, new features, and, of course, the ever-fascinating release notes. That's where owners of ATI video cards will learn that the latest update to ATI's Catalyst drivers now offers"improved TV quality and Broadcast Flag support which enables full US terrestrial DTV support".

It's a little unclear from that README whether the new support is for a new, hardware revision of ATI's Theater 650 digital TV tuner, or simply a new software implementation of the digital TV copy control for current owners of the Theater 650. However you look at it, though, "broadcast flag support" is hardly an upgrade.

Prior to such support, you could be confident that you could use these cards for their given purpose: to record whatever you want off the air, whenever you want, in whatever format you want. Now, ATI, recently purchased by AMD, is announcing support for equipment's right to take that power away from you, and substitute a crippled subset of their tuner's capabilities whenever a broadcaster commands it.

But this isn't just an unfeature: it's an unnecessary unfeature. You can have full terrestial HD support without the Broadcast Flag - mainly because thousands of concerned citizens fought hard for that right. AMD must surely have noticed that the Broadcast Flag proposal has been dead for over two years, ever since the courts threw it out as FCC overreach. Thanks in part to your letters and calls, no politician has managed to sneak it into law since. The future analog switchoff on February 17th, 2009 is now closer in time to us than the last time the Broadcast Flag was considered mandatory. There is no longer any serious argument for implementing it.

Indeed, just as there's no real reason for Microsoft to implement CGMS-A, the unused and unloved analog TV equivalent: but it does.

Why, we cannot surmise, given that every time those analog copycontrols are accidentally activated over the air, the whole world howls with anger at their Windows media centers. We imagine that the same will happen if ever an accidental blip of an ATSC broadcast flag signal enters one of ATI's digital tuners.

Since when did upgrades include more potential bugs, and fewer features for customers? And when will tech companies upgrade their expectations of standing up to Hollywood's demands, instead of constantly attempting to downgrade ours?


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