Harry Potter and the Oblivious Brothers

Santa knows I’m a busy enough guy that I rarely have the opportunity to take in the year’s Big Budget Blockbusters. And because he does, he often drops one of these disc-based CGI-bloated offerings in the holiday sock. This year was no different as I found Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix topping the stocking.

Opening the DVD case, I was surprised and pleased to see an insert proclaiming that with the assistance of the 25-character code below, I could have a digital copy of the movie, perfect for playback on my PC or portable media de…

PC? Right. Warner Home Entertainment means specifically a computer running Windows—and more specifically, a Windows PC using the latest version of Windows Media Player’s DRM technology.

Okay, so maybe the Brothers Warner haven’t seen the Mac vs PC commercials. My Intel Mac has a copy of VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, and can boot into Boot Camp. Surely, one of these technologies will let me access the digital version of the movie and put it on my iPod.

I tried VMware Fusion first, using my Boot Camped Vista installation. It worked as it should, unlocking the second DVD where the digital versions of the movie lived (a version for Windows Media Player and another for the portable media player). I attempted to play the Media Player version, but no go, an unhelpful error message appeared telling me something about my setup was flawed.

Fine, I boot into Vista under Boot Camp and attempt to play that same version. It plays and looks reasonably good on my Apple monitor. Problem is, I already have the DVD, why would I need a Windows Media Player version of the movie if I could just play it, in higher resolution, directly from the DVD?

No matter, let’s get this sucker on my iPod. I drop the portable version into iTunes and… nothing. iTunes won’t take it even though the program is willing to convert some Windows Media files. So if iTunes won’t accept it yet is the gateway to getting content on the iPod, how on earth am I supposed to copy the digital version to the world’s most popular portable media player?

As it turned out, I’m not. Had I read the small print I would have seen:

Windows Media™ Compatible Only. Not compatible with Apple® Macintosh® and iPod® devices.

Okay, I think in exasperation,fine! I’ll put the damned thing on the one Windows-friendly portable player I have that has a screen large enough to make watching the movie tolerable—my first generation Zune.

But no. HPatOotP doesn’t like the Zune either. When the WB says Windows Media™ Compatible Only it really means PlaysForSure devices only and, as we’ve all pretty well learned by now, the Zune does not Play For Sure.

I toyed with the idea of putting it on my SanDisk Sansa, which is on cozier terms with PlaysForSure, and got as far as booting back to VMware Fusion, running Windows XP Professional this time. I got only that far because when I attempted to authorize the digital version I was told that I had exceeded my authorizations. Yes, apparently authorizing it once is enough to bar you from trying again.

Just getting better and better, WB.

After a couple of sips of fortified egg nog I simmered down and attempted to take the long view. Clearly, Santa wanted me to have a digital copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—otherwise he would not have provided me with the 25-character code. And Warner Bros. begged me to enjoy the movie on my portable media device. Who was I to argue with two such commanding entities?

I therefore quit every instance of Windows running on my Mac, popped Disc 1 into my Mac Pro’s media drive, and launched HandBrake, the amazing (and amazingly free) utility for ripping commercial DVDs. In the time it takes to call your mother and thank her for the socks and underwear, HandBrake had presented me with a digital version of Harry Potter that plays for sure on my Macs, iPods, Apple TV, and, yes, even on the lowly Zune and copies of Windows running under virtualization.

Don’t think me a Scrooge, oh sibling of Warner. I understand that you and others in the movie business are reluctant to let go of copy-protection. But it’s time you struck up a conversation with your music division and spent a few minutes bouncing around the Internet. This stuff doesn’t work and it frustrates your customers.

Because I couldn’t use your technology I took matters into my own hands. In less than an hour I had a version of HPatOotP that not only looks better than what you offer, but one that I could conceivably share with the world (which, of course, I won’t).

Others have, however. I checked a couple of well-known BitTorrent sites and this movie, in all its original DVD glory, is readily available. I can’t help but think that a copy or two was offered simply because some misguided individuals, figuring they were being treated as criminals, thought that they might as well start acting like them.

Thankfully, if it’s true that Apple will license its FairPlay DRM scheme to motion picture companies (as hinted by the suggestion that movie rentals via the iTunes Store will begin in the new year), what I’ve experienced may soon be filed under Ghost of Christmas Past. Imagine simply inserting Disc 2, clicking a Copy to iTunes link, authorizing the copy, and then treating Harry Potter like every other iPod- and Apple TV-compatible hunk of media in your iTunes library. (I can’t even begin to tell you how tickled I’d be if I could forego the DVD purchase and just rent the thing—it’s not that good.)

Now that would be a present worth opening.

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