There are a couple of unconfirmed stories swirling around the Blogosphere implicating our good buddies in the RIAA of intimidating hardware manufacturers, most notably Dell, Gateway, and in Europe Packard Bell. The systems are laptops that use the SigmaTel audio chip. Both Gizmodo and Electronista are claiming that the chip has been hobbled on purpose to disable the ‘Stereo in’ function.
This effectively kills using the computer as a ripping device from an analog source.
Users of Dell systems with SigmaTel chips in particular claim to be only allowed single-channel recording out of the box and are told that an official solution that restores stereo input will cost $99; Gateway and (in Europe) Packard Bell systems with the audio hardware are also said to be affected.
The hot bet as to who the culprit is, is the RIAA. This fits their anti piracy drive like a glove. Hobbling the sound chip to prevent stereo recording sounds like something out of their playbook.
The organizations involved are being tight lipped at the moment. But you can bet your bottom dollar that it will not take long for the dam to burst. The backlash could be significant. Not everyone uses the ‘stereo in’ for nefarious piracy, there are many people that use it for very legitimate purposes, there are lots of musicians that can’t afford a full blown recording studio, a laptop can become that studio. I am not a musician, I am a reviewer, and I live in an ocean of DVD’s and CD’s, I have an Iogear 120 gig Media Player, occasionally when I get really backed up I will rip stuff to it so I can watch then on a regular TV, with this kind of technology, I will get awful quality sound.
There are only a handful of sites running this story at the moment, but I am sure that in a day or two this is going to become a very hot and sore subject. There is no logical reason to remove function, it takes extra effort for one thing. If the RIAA is at the heart of this great idea, one has to wonder what their leverage is? Are they threatening the manufacturers in some fashion? Maybe accusing them of being enablers? Who knows.