The BBC has started making selected programmes available online in high definition format. That is to say at a resolution of 1280×720, which is four times that of its normal online streams. The public service broadcaster has also relaxed the copy protection on its BBC HD channel, although some argue that the BBC should not even be entertaining the belief system of rights holders in copy protection and digital rights management.

“Introducing HD streams [allows] users to enjoy BBC programmes in HD without a set-top box,” said Anthony Rose, head of digital media technology at the BBC.

Danielle Nagler, head of BBC HD, said that it meant that high-definition programming “will be available whenever and wherever audiences want it.”

Only a limited number of programmes are currently available online in high definition. They include Doctor Who and some other programmes made by the BBC in high definition format.

Other new features include the full release of the new BBC iPlayer Desktop application and a cross-platform manager that will allow Windows, Mac and Linux users to download BBC programmes, including those in high definition.

The high-definition programmes are not yet available through the BBC iPlayer service on the Virgin Media cable television network but a rollout is planned, which could also extend to other devices, such as the Sony PlayStation 3.

It is still not entirely clear how the BBC iPlayer strategy meshes with the Project Canvas proposals to define and promote standards for online video services, currently the subject of a consultation by the BBC Trust.

At a recent meeting with the BBC Trust, representatives of major consumer electronics companies were highly critical of the Project Canvas initiative. They suggested that appropriate standards were already available or in development through existing standards bodies and that the BBC proposals could disrupt the market which was already starting to provide hybrid broadcast and broadband enabled devices and network connected displays.

There were also allegations that some manufacturers had received privileged access to the BBC while others, including some of the best known brand names, were being kept in the dark. If true, that could be a potentially serious breach of the BBC fair trade guidelines and possibly competition law.

Copy protection
Meanwhile, in a separate announcement on the BBC web site, Daniel Nagler has been attempting to explain current copy protection policies with respect to the BBC HD channel.

“At the moment, within the UK, it is impossible to record from HD to unprotected devices or recorders, or to connect to them,” she states. This is technically incorrect, as it is relatively trivial to copy any high definition programming, by whatever means it is protected. More strictly, it refers to the capabilities of Freesat licenced branded boxes which respect such copy protection flags.

Nevertheless the BBC has relaxed the copy protection code on its programmes from the maximum setting to enable copy once and home network access. The BBC says it will now be possible to make a single copy of its programmes using a Blu-ray recorder, although not copies of copies. Viewing will also be possible over a home network protected with DTCP-IP.

“This is clearly not a fully open and connected world,” acknowledges the head of BBC HD, “but we are absolutely committed to continuing to find ways to allow you to enjoy our programmes as you choose.”

The obvious answer, of course, is to simply accept that no form of copy protection or digital rights management provides any real protection against unauthorised distribution.

Andy Quested, the principle technologist at BBC HD attempts to clarify, explaining that “some rights owners do want high quality versions of their material protected from multiple copying and from being distributed on the internet and we have to comply.”

“And I want a pony,” responds another commenter on the BBC web site, asking why the response to rights holders is not simply to say that it is technically impossible to prevent copying. The assumption underlying all arguments for technical copy protection and digital rights management is that it works.

“It doesn’t; we know that, you know that, and we know that you know that, you know we do,” continues the comment. “So why continue the fantasy — this emperor has got no clothes, and the sooner the BBC admits that the sooner we can all move on.”