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5 Jan, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

I just flew into Las Vegas and, boy, are my lungs tired. But that’s because, like seemingly millions of others at the dawn of the millennium, I am battling a respiratory virus. This pesty bug has me coughing so insistently that even the kindly lady agent at the National Airlines ticket counter inquired solicitously upon hearing me hacking: "Are you OK?"

As soon as I stepped out of McCarran Airport in Sin City, though, I felt better. Must be that crisp desert air drying out my post-nasal drip. Then the cabbie strikes up the inevitable conversation as we wend our way to The Venetian, the all-suite, not-so-sweet palatial hotel headquartering the VSDA Convention. (Turns out at the last minute a number of convention-goers are being told the room they reserved now belongs to somebody else, so they’ll be "walked" to another hotel. But that’s another story. Tell it to the judge.)

"In town for CES?" he asks, logically assuming I am here for the Consumer Electronics Show that has been ensconced in the Las Vegas Hilton & Convention Center for over 20 years, or ever since some warm-blooded types realized holding the CES on Lake Michigan in the Windy City in early January was not exactly a surefire way to build a loyal following of attendees.

"No," I reply, "I’m here for a smaller show, a video convention." When I elaborate that it’s for video software dealers, he immediately identifies it as the VSDA Show, adding, "I didn’t even realize that was in town this week too."

I assure him that’s to be expected, since our event is slightly overshadowed by the nearly 20 times larger CES.

Taking me aback with his layman’s insight into the video software trade, the affable hack proceeds to remark on how the video industry isn’t the same as a result of the movie studios and Blockbuster! "And now there’s DVD."

Assuming he meant DVD is yet another threat to home video’s status quo, I reflexively shift into my defensive posture about how DVD is as much video as VHS. I spoke too soon, since my metered chauffeur agrees that it’s a great evolutionary addition to home entertainment.

"I don’t rent tapes anymore? I rent only DVDs now," he informs the backseat hack. But that’s only the beginning. "You can even record your own DVDs," he continues.

For the rest of the ride, he describes in casual detail how he takes the rented disk, goes to the Divx.com website, uses its codecs to save the DVD to his hard drive and strip away its Macrovision copy protection, then burns it into a CD-R for his permanent collection.

He says the resulting movie is not DVD-quality, but it works for him. As we pull into The Venetian entrance, my asphalt gondolier even allows as how he understands the need for the studios to protect their copyrights, but concludes that with digital delivery so accessible, "the cat is out of the bag." He reasons that since he rented the DVD, he’s paying for it, and the copy he’s hacked courtesy of divx.com and a rewritable CD drive is for his personal use, to "lure people to my home, if you know what I mean." Whatever turns you on.

I ask if he has a card and he demures. "I’m just a cabbie. If you want to pass along what I think, just tell the studios, 'it’s hopeless.' They can’t do anything about it now."

As I walk away with my luggage in tow to prepare for the 20th annual VSDA Convention, I wonder if this fellow is available to keynote the 21st annual convention.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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