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CES 2010: Rolling the DECE

Your intrepid roving reporter is back again this year, ready to leave no Playboy playmates unturned in my quest for interesting CES… er, tidbits (see “Reports from CES 2008” for the sordid details). The conference doesn’t start until Wednesday (for the initial press sessions; the general expo opens on Thursday), but already my monstrous mistake quota has been met: I flew to Las Vegas from Newark. On Continental Airlines. From Terminal C. Sunday night. I swear the security breach wasn’t my fault. My first CES report, as it were, was an interview I gave to Fox News about what was going on inside the terminal.

I’m still compiling a master list of places to go and things to see here at CES; if any TidBITS readers have any suggestions or requests, please leave a comment on this article. Attending CES as press is a matter of receiving a tidal wave of vastly uninteresting press announcements – “The Kobayashi Maru Corporation of Koyaanisqatsi, Japan, announces their new hi-fi AM radio for use in truck fleets.” – and figuring out which technologies are likely to be breakout hits later this year. Better yet, figuring out which obscure technologies will be breakout hits in 2015.

So call me somewhat surprised that I read CES news this morning from the New York Times, about a new technology initiative from major video producers to create an interoperable DRM system that would allow protected media to be semi-portable.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, or DECE, would allow media which can now be played only on one device to be moved about to other DECE-compatible devices. As Sony’s Mitch Singer, president of DECE, says in the article, “Consumers shouldn’t have to know what’s inside. They should just know it will play.”

This struck me as interesting, as I’ve had some things to say about DRM in the past (see my article “Digital Rights Misery: When Technology Is Designed to Fail,” 12 May 2008). DRM is an inherently consumer-unfriendly technology designed to treat customers as thieves and to force everyone to buy the same movie four times. The New York Times article hypothesizes that business travelers will be able to watch a movie from their home server on their in-room TV; I note that wireless Internet costs $10 a month from Boingo, and $10 a day at my hotel. So give me a Slingbox and a wireless connection I can use to watch my video from home on my MacBook Pro, thank you very much, instead of a closed
“ecosystem” which works only with my hotel TV.

So I hopped over to the CES Web site to search for presentations and exhibits on DECE among the tens of thousands of things going on here this week. Hmm, that’s odd. No hits. I then searched for Neustar, the company which will be coordinating the technology behind the DECE initiative. Also nothing. (Searching for “Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem” brings up nearly 800 hits, thanks to CES’s search engine which uses each word as a separate search term. This fills me with confidence.)

It’s quite possible I’m not on the list of the cool journalists who will be invited to open meetings about DECE, but this does lead me to wonder how much of what you’ll be hearing about DECE in the coming week will be carefully modulated press releases. I expected, at the very least, an exhibit and a very glossy brochure; if I find one, I’ll pass it along.

One thing is sure, though: you’ll be reading dozens of “original” headlines about how they’re “rolling the DECE” here in Vegas.

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