I’m guessing that most of you reading this have a DVD player. Some may have more than one. Some, like me, could be on your second or third player (having worn out previous ones). The past five years have seen DVD go from being a latter day laser disc with its own little corner of the larger branches of HMV to the biggest home entertainment revolution since the compact disc. I remember my brother’s first DVD player back in 1999. It cost him nearly £500. These days you can buy them from Kwik Save and still have change from a tenner. Well, almost. The secret to DVD becoming the dominant player in the movie and TV sales market has been the united effort of all the manufactures rallying behind a single format. It has succeeded in spite of the studios attempts to control international market places with their greed driven region coding system. DVD is here to stay as those who didn’t want to be caught out with another Betamax or Minidisc joining the shiny disc club.

There has been less of a take-up when it comes to DVD recording machines. With rival formats – DVD-R, DVD+R and DVD RAM – it was wise to sit back and wait for one to win out and all the electronics giants to get behind one system. Now there is a new problem – Blue Laser or Blu Ray.

Reuters report…

The next-generation, blue-laser HD DVD technology is promoted by Japanese conglomerates NEC Corp. and Toshiba Corp.

Blue light, with a shorter wavelength than the red laser used in conventional DVD recorders, can read and store data at the higher densities needed for high-definition recordings.

The rival Blu-ray technology comes from a consortium of companies, including Sony Corp. and Philips Electronics.

The HD DVD camp is far behind the Blu-ray group when it comes to actual product offerings.

Sony last year launched the world's first DVD recorder using blue laser light, while Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., the maker of Panasonic products, plans to start offering a DVD recorder based on Blu-ray technology this week.

So it looks as if DVD is about to evolve again and we know how retro-compatible these things tend to be. Or not. Lets call current DVDs red laser. Red laser discs will presumably be playable on blue laser machines. But not vice versa. So the discs you record in your recorder won’t play on your player. Well maybe that’s not such a big problem – another of DVD recording’s problems is the limited capacity of the discs. Two hours at most on a single layered 4.7GB disc. Blue laser discs will hold a lot more and so be more useful to the consumer.

But film and TV companies LIKE releasing things over several discs. They can charge more. They give the appearance of better value. Do you think people would really pay £30 for one disc of Lord of the Rings even if it contained the same material as four old discs? Probably not.

All of the above is just food for thought. A reminder that we’re long since past the point where any technology will reach a point of perfection and never again advance. Back in the 1970s Reggie Perrin used the phrase "built in obsolescence" and it has come true. Anything that a company is selling you today is outdated when compared with what they are testing in their labs. There are a finite number of consumers therefore they have to keep the same people buying. The only technology which is reasonably future proof is Sky Digital boxes. That’s because Sky make their money from their subscriptions and, as they remain owners of the box throughout your contract, it isn’t in their interests to let the technology need replacing.

Now I come to my point. I’ve set the scene as far as 2004 is concerned. We live in a society where most houses have a DVD player and most people who give a damn have had their machine adapted (or bought it ready adapted) to play any region’s discs. A recent motion passed by the European Commission called the "EU Copyright Directive" makes it illegal to bypass any form of copy-protection. Sony recently used the directive to win a case against a man selling the means to "chip" Playstations. The console has a built in mechanism for stopping machines in one region from playing games from another. Mainly because Japan gets everything first and then America and then Europe.

From BBC News…

The selling of "mod chips" for Sony PlayStation 2 game consoles has been ruled illegal by a UK high court. A PlayStation 2 with a modified chip installed can play imported or pirated copies of the console's video games.

Mr Justice Laddie backed Sony's legal argument that its intellectual property was being infringed by people selling the chips to console owners.

The ruling is thought to be one of the first brought under a controversial European Union directive on copyright.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Laddie ruled that Mr Ball was acting illegally in selling the chips which get around the built-in copy protection system on Sony's console. As well as declaring the sale of the mod chips illegal, Mr Laddie said that the use, advertising or possession of them for commercial purposes should be considered illegal too.

The plentiful supply of modified DVD players makes it virtually impossible for any company to stop the practice. It is currently illegal to sell Region 1 discs in UK shops as they haven’t been classified by the BBFC. But players – despite what spotty twats in Dixons may tell you – are entirely legal. But with a new generation of players coming out, and Sony being involved in their development, what is to stop them making region coding more robust? What would stop them making region coding fit the legal definition in the EU Copyright directive? Quite possibly nothing at all. We could find ourselves in a situation where it is illegal to modify your DVD player to play discs from Regions other than 2. The EU has given them the tools to make region coding the commercial totalitarianism it was always intended to be. And it won’t stop the criminals – criminals tend not to be discouraged from doing something just because it is against the law – it will only affect you and I. Importers of the occasional disc from abroad because we find America or Australia are better served than we are.

I’m only speculating – putting numbers together and guessing they make something approaching four – but any increase in the restrictions on what we can get legally will, by logical extension, increase what we will be tempted or forced to get illegally.