SunnComm Upgrade MediaMax, Provide Carrot

SunnComm have upgraded their MediaMax copy protection system to make it harder to circumvent, and have even added extra features to bring some benefits to CD users.

MediaMax was controversial from the outset – putting a CD protected by the system into your PC automatically installed a driver to protect the content of the disk. Unless you held down the shift key, as Windows does not let CDs auto-run when the shift key is held down. Also, if you put a protected disk in your Mac, you basically had to send it back to Apple for repair. Oh, and MediaMax didn’t work in all home CD players, and worked in even fewer car stereos.

Circumventing a copy protection system is against the law in the US and Europe, so this made holding that shift key down a bit of a legal grey area. Mind you, installing software on a system without the owners permission is also illegal – and so is breaking someone’s Mac – so labels avoided SunnComm in droves.

MediaMax is back now, somewhat reinvented – security has been enhanced, and the disks are 100% compatible in consumer players.

The new iteration still requires software to be installed on your PC before it’ll read the protected optical medium. I hesitate in calling these CDs, because they are encoded to a different schema from CDs and are no longer compliant with the Red Book standard.

SunnComm, a company so paranoid you have to click a disclaimer before even viewing their homepage, seem to be learning a valuable lesson: the consumer is the one who is paying for the product, and so it is their rights that are important. As SunnComm’s president, Peter H. Jacobs, said: “Everyone at SunnComm believes that the best digital security technology should be ever mindful of the consumer experience.”

To provide the carrot for consumers, MediaMax can provide special features for consumers –videos, song lyrics and picture galleries.

Unlike DVDs, where special features come on a second disk and space is generally less tight, these little extras, plus the drivers, plus the software, and the video use up space that consumers might prefer to see spent on storing some nice, clear audio. Which is why they bought the disk in the first place, right? MediaMax might be a good option for disposable pop, but will never be acceptable to audiophiles, who need all of that 650mb for the music.

Finally, will I be able to play a 2004 vintage MediaMax disk in my PC fifteen years from now? Probably not – who is going to make sure that there’ll be a driver available for Windows 2020? You know how difficult it is to get your old DOS games working now, don’t you?


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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?