Authenticating the music: Media Connect, XBox 360, DRM and still no dice

Returning to blogging after a break.

In the next fews day, we will shift gears and focus on home entertainment– specifically the problems of getting devices from independent vendors to cooperate and stream music to a standard home stereo system. Along the way there is going to be plenty discussion of gadgets and flashbacks to the book “Why things bite back” by Edward Tanner. It turns out a good chunk of the problems can be traced to identity management.

Recap: speaking of “digital distribution” in music, what we mean is the content is delivered in digital format over the Internet, instead of stamped on physical media the way LPs and CDs were. This shift creates a gap between the computing and the home entertainment camp of devices. The typical high-end stereo system is connected to decent speakers and boasts a receiver with multiple digital inputs, such as optical or coaxial ready to receive noise free binary. But when it comes to networking, this system is a complete Luddite: it has no connectivity to speak of, no notion of iTunes or downloading. By contrast, the average PC is loaded with music editing software, peer-to-peer file sharing and smarts to go download track information from an Internet database when the user inserts a CD into the tray. This smart device however is stuck with a sound card made out of cheese, and lousy speakers that make Edith Piaff sound like Britney Spears.

Many solutions have come up over the years to fix the problem, to bridge this gap. Appropriately enough one of the first ones was the Soundbridge by Roku. Soundbridge can connect wirelesly or via Ethernet to a home network and stream music from a device supporting UPnP and HTTP, such as Windows Media Connect. More importantly, it could use the coaxial input on a standard receiver, avoiding analog losses on the way. Expected set up is a PC running Windows Media Connect hosting the music, the Soundbridge connected to the home network and feeding its output to the receiver. There is one problem and it is one of authentication: M1000 only supports WEP for wireless security. For the paranoid ones running their wireless network on WPA, that is a deal breaker. (Adding a second wireless router on WEP to create a subnet does not help: if the Soundbridge can access your music, so can the adversaries that break WEP. And the RIAA would be very upset if your music collection became world-readable.) A simple work around is to use an Ethernet bridge such as the excellent Buffalo Wireless-G Ethernet Convert, which supports WPA to connect to your home network and then acts as bridge to allow other devices to connect using the standard Ethernet ports.



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