On September 14 Canadian computer company VoodooPC announced a cool-looking media center PC, the Aria, with quite a few snazzy features.
The most interesting is an application that rips DVDs to the hard drive so you can cue them up in the Windows Media Center menu, rather than having to insert a disc for each flick. Voodoo PC isn’t the first company to do this. California-based Kaleidescape makes a video server that can store up to 500 movies and distribute the output around a networked home. Kaleidescape is also being sued by the DVD Copy Control Association.
Now VoodooPC is trying something similar, but on a somewhat affordable PC (starting at $3500) rather than a super-expensive home entertainment system. So they have the potential of reaching more customers.
Is it legal? VoodooPC thinks so. Well, sort of. “We know it may be in the gray,” Rahul Sood, VoodooPC’s President & CTO told me the day of the announcement. “We decided to go ahead with it and see if something comes up,” he added. My guess is something will. However, VoodooPC may feel a bit safer because it’s not in the US, where the Digital Millennium Copyright Act reigns with an iron hand.
Mr. Sood said that the company isn’t encouraging people to pirate DVDs. The software he said, only allows the transfer of DVD files onto the PC hard drive; burning them onto a blank DVD would not result in a playable disc. Mr. Sood didn’t explain the exact mechanism that VoodooPC uses to handle the files and make them playable on a PC hard drive, but he said it didn’t involve breaking the content scrambling system, rather “It just kinda bypasses it.”
And he said that Voodoo’s customers are “the kind of people that buy their DVDs,” not the type that would rip all their DVD rentals to a hard drive. But could someone rip Netflix rentals onto an Aria PC? “Nothing’s stopping you from doing that,” said Mr. Sood. “That’s just the way it is.”
But there is no reason to think that VoodooPC has ill intentions. It is a boutique vendor (best known as a maker of expensive gaming PCs). And customers who spend $3,500 on a media center PC instead of a few hundred on a “home theater in a box” probably are both wealthy enough and dedicated enough to purchase a nice DVD collection. Certainly it’s more appealing to have that collection archived and indexed in a little box instead of stacked on a big bookshelf. Especially because people are used to doing something similar with music CDs.
So yet again, we’ve got an impasse between customers who want convenience and companies concerned about what that convenience will make possible. Stay tuned. This show will be playing for quite a while longer.