Wednesday, December 19, 2007

no, Michael Bay ain't crazy.

Been sitting on this for a while since I've been trying to figure out how to approach this topic. Some time ago I saw an editorial comic that portrayed Michael Bay, the director of Transformers, as a raving lunatic over his comments about the different High Resolution Digital Video formats. Michael Bay has gone on record saying that Microsoft is attempting to corrupt the High Resolution Digital Video format market so that neither of the leading formats win, and so that Microsoft is in a position to implement a DRM-laden download solution through it's Vista platform.

Several reputable tech sites have rubbished Michael's Bay claims... and all those who did most certainly lost any credibility the second they did so. Thing is, Michael Bay isn't that crazy, at least not on this topic, and anybody who has bothered to do any research would quickly realize he's on to something.

Now, I sort of broached this topic last year when I posted the contents of my Sony Marketing Research. My first listed shock was that Sony intended to license their games. This is what I said back then:
The first shock is that Sony now intends to license games instead of selling games. This is actually what Microsoft does with Microsoft Windows, and what the Recording industry does with music. You do not actually purchase the content. What you purchase when you "buy" Windows Operating System or a RIAA member music CD is a license to use the product as the legal /owner/ dictates. That is why people who copy RIAA member music cd's are susceptable to being taken to court, as well as being jailed and or fined. The fact is, once a consumer agrees to a license, they are held to that license.
Now, take a look at that second sentence again:
This is actually what Microsoft does with Microsoft Windows
You don't actually buy Microsoft Products. You agree to licensing terms from Microsoft and Microsoft alone. Now, keep in mind that Microsoft can and has used the license terms to install software through Microsoft Windows Update that users have no legal recourse against. Microsoft can, and has, disabled installed versions of Microsoft products that were legally bought and legally installed, and the customer has no recourse but to give Microsoft another set of monies in order to receive operational products.

Now, lets toss some more factors into this pile. First of all, something I brought up last year in December 2006 in a post talking about the poor market share of the Microsoft Zune. Here is a quote from that posting:
There are several reasons why the Zune isn't selling, the least of which being the terminology associated with the unit, the restrictions placed on sharing music, and the ugly design. The fact is, the Zune competes directly against "Plays for Sure" devices. Microsoft, as far as I see it, turned on their own sales partners and is reselling a "Plays for Sure" device without the "Plays for Sure" support. In addition, the Portable Music player field is littered with entities that have come and gone. Sony who used to dominate with the Walkman can't beat Apple. RIO, who created the market, is where now? Creative, who owns the high-quality home consumer sound market for computers, hasn't been able to dent Apple.
Note the bolded part, then check out a post I made again on this blog about Palladium:

Microsoft's links to the RIAA, the MPAA, and other freedom removing organizations is also generally overlooked. A lot of users have read about the Palladium and Janus technologies. A lot of consumers were adamantly against any such restrictions being placed on their purchased hardware. However, with a few name changes, and some creative marketing, and very few consumers realized that Janus technologies formed the basis of the Zune sharing system. Even in many of the tech site reviews I saw, very few put two and two together and figured out that Zune was using the failed Janus technologies.

A lot of users don't realize that Microsoft has a hand in the quoted Trusted Computer Platform which explicitly removes the users control over the hardware and leaves the control in the hands of the vendor.

A lot of users don't realize that Microsoft has a hand in creating restriction technologies that allow vendors to retain control over audio and video content and remove the users control over the content.

A lot of users simply don't see two and two being put together, and don't understand that Microsoft is a convicted criminal that is still engaged in multiple criminal activities. Such users have been in the boiling water of Microsoft for so long, it makes no difference.
Notice a pattern emerging in the highlighted sections? Those however are not the end of the story.

Consider the Xbox 360 for a moment. The console ships with a standard DVD drive, which actually isn't that odd. The Playstation2, original Xbox and Nintendo Wii also have fairly standard DVD type drives. However, Microsoft has generally put it's weight behind the HD-DVD High resolution Digital Video Format. Now, I happen to know that HD-DVD was production ready to be placed in the Xbox 360 as the default drive, and that Microsoft did have the funds available to absorb the impact of releasing the Xbox 360 at the price points it released at.

Why then, did Microsoft choose to use a standard DVD type drive? Sure, back on the Playstation2 and original Xbox the standard DVD format was fine. With existing compression technologies and streaming engines a single DVD easily could hold enough artwork, music, geometry, and animation data for massive titles like Jak II and the Grand Theft Auto series. Also, according to many developers, the Nintendo Gamecube's use of hardware compression allowed it's 1gb format mini-disc to contain more raw game data than a PlayStation2's standard DVD format.

With the Nintendo Wii, well, we all know by now that I was completely wrong about the graphics that would be inside of it. It's not a monster that can keep up with the ATi chip used in the Xbox 360. It does, however, have around approximately twice the rendering power of the Gamecube, uses fixed function shaders, and contains updated versions of just about all of the various hardware level compression technologies found in the original Gamecube. So, lets get over it, the Wii is the Gamecube 2.0. But while the power approximately doubled, the resolution and fill rate requirements doubled, the size available on a single Wii disc quadrupled from the old 1gb to a normalized DVD 4gb+ on a single sided disc, and can push higher than 8gb+ on a dual layer disc, presuming the Wii will ever use them. So, for the Wii, the standard DVD drive actually made a lot of sense.

With the 360, the same argument doesn't exactly hold up. The Wii's version of surround sound is delivered by Doubly Pro Logic II, which means that the average audio source files don't have to be that large. However, the Xbox 360 delivers audio using Dolby Digital, which contains 3 separate additional audio streams. Even in a compressed format, the audio requirements for surround sound on an Xbox 360 are far in excess of that of a Wii.

Then there is the whole aspect of the type of graphics that are used. In order to fill it's targeted 720p resolution the Xbox 360 is looking to push far more geometry data and texture artwork than the Wii. So the source files for an Xbox 360 title will naturally be larger than the Wii's source files. Suddenly, 8gb+ on a dual-layer disc doesn't really seem like that much when you look ahead. Suddenly, Sony's decision to run with Blue-Ray makes a whole lot more long term sense.

Yes, it was more expensive up front... but even in today's games developers are already making use of it. For the extremely short Heavenly Sword title on the PlayStation 3 the developers managed to shove all of the audio for all of the regions onto one disc print. According to the Semi-Official Sony Blog Threespeech, 10Gb of compressed audio were included in the Heavenly Sword print. So, with audio compression and high quality audio, Heavenly Sword bolted past the limits of a typical dual-layer DVD. Okay, yes, had the audio been separated into different regions, the amount would have been a different story. However, by being able to fit all of the audio onto one disc the developers saved on localization costs and on manufacturing costs.

So, why then did Microsoft choose to not include HD-DVD as the default drive for a console that is expected to last 5+ years on the retail market?

Now, your asking the kind of questions that Michael Bay has appearently asked, and the evidence isn't exactly compelling in favor of Microsoft being innocent. Yes, the Xbox 360 did eventually include an add-on HD-DVD drive, which was released in response to the relative success of Sony's PlayStation as a Blu-Ray player. However, because of the method in which the HD-DVD drive is attached to the Xbox 360, you don't actually get full resolution on older Xbox's. Thing is, HD-DVD's require HDCP, which I've been over countless times before, in order to run the movies in their best quality. You can get that on an Xbox 360 now, but what about the millions of Xbox 360's that went out the door? Then there are the problems reported by Ziff Davis's Extreme Tech Site. Okay, I have the opinion that Extreme Tech caters to whoever hands them the largest paycheck, so when they went after the Xbox 360 saying it was a horrible DVD and HD-DVD player and provided proof... And then stuck to their guns just mere days ago on December 5th...

It is sort of obvious what picture is being painted. You are not going to get an excellent HD-DVD playback experience with an Xbox 360. You are going to get an excellent Blu-Ray playback experience with PlayStation3. So why then is Microsoft continuing the push the format? If Microsoft was truely interested in remaining neutral in the High-Resolution Digital-Video market, why is there not a Blu-Ray drive attachment already available for the Xbox 360? Every time I check disc sales figures, Blu-Ray doesn't just skunk HD-DVD with a 1.5-1 or 2-1 sales lead, but averages a 5-1 sales lead. Why is Microsoft not supporting the obvious winner of what consumers appear to be buying?

So, lets say that Michael Bay is right. Lets say that Microsoft is deliberately trying to keep HD-DVD on some form of life support so that Blu-Ray doesn't ever really become the dominant format. Why would Microsoft do such a thing? Why would Microsoft continue to avoid supporting Blu-Ray, but continue supporting HD-DVD while claiming to be neutral?

Well, just read up on the examples I listed earlier. Microsoft is a convicted criminal organization. That is established fact. Microsoft has assisted with helping the RIAA and MPAA lock down content. That is established fact. Microsoft has abused it's own upload and download systems in it's released consumer operating systems to load and unload applications without the users knowledge or permission. That is established fact.

So let me pose this question: Given Microsoft's history, who do you think the RIAA and MPAA would turn to in order to distribute content if High-Resolution Digital-Video's weren't selling? What Operating System could possibly provide a vendor-secure enviroment into which rented content could be loaded and delete without ever having the users permission or interaction in the process? Which vendor has the technological means in place to do something like that... today?

Yeah. Michael Bay ain't crazy. Not by a long shot. Here's hoping he's got the guts to stick to his own guns and not back down.
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