DIVX : Return of the useless

In the late 1990’s, Circuit City partnered with an entertainment law firm, Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca and Fischer, to create a new type of video standard called DIVX.  DIVX was intended to be an alternative to movie rentals.  In short, you’d purchase a DIVX disc, reminiscent of a DVD, and you had the right to watch that disc as many times as you wanted within 48 hours of your first viewing.  After 48 hours passed, you had to pay an additional fee to continue viewing the disc.

This all sounds fine and dandy until you realize a few things.  This was a new format, incompatible with DVD players, which had come onto the market a few years earlier.  As a result, expensive DIVX or DIVX/DVD combo players had to be purchased.  These players had to be connected to a phone line so they could verify that the owner could play the disc.

The DIVX format quickly died out, leaving early adopters stranded with unusable discs and useless players.  Another fine example of the usefulness of DRM schemes.

Fast forward to 2008 and to Flexplay EntertainmentFlexplay is a new twist on the old DIVX format.  This time, however, consumers only have to pay once.  Sort of.

Flexplay is a fully compatible DVD disc, with a twist.  You purchase the disc, and after you open the package, you have 48 hours to watch it before it “self-destructs.”  According to How Stuff Works, a standard DVD is a dual-layer disc that starts life as two separate pieces.  After the data is written on each piece, they are glued together using a resin adhesive.  The adhesive is clear, allowing laser light to pass through the first layer when necessary and read the second layer.

Flexplay works by replacing the resin adhesive with a special chemical compound that changes when exposed to oxygen.  Over time, the compound changes color and becomes opaque, rendering the DVD useless.  Once the disc has become opaque, it gets thrown away.

Before you begin fearing for the environment, Flexplay has a recycling program!  Flexplay offers two recycling options, local recycling and mail-in.  They claim that the discs are “no different in their environmental impact than regular DVDs” and that they comply with EPA standards.  Of course, they don’t point out that regular DVDs tend to be kept rather than thrown away.  The also offer this shining gem of wisdom, just before mentioning their mail-in recycling option:

“And of course, a Flexplay No-Return DVD Rental completely eliminates the energy usage and emissions associated with a return trip to the video rental store.”

It’s a good thing mailing the disc back to Flexplay is different than mailing a DVD back to NetFlix or Blockbuster…  Oh..  wait..

And this brings up another good point.  The purpose of Flexplay is to offer an alternative to rental services.  With both Netflix and Blockbuster, I can request the movies I want online, pay a minimal fee, and have them delivered directly to my house.  At worst, I may drive to a local rental store and rent a movie, similar to that of driving to a store selling Flexplay discs.  With Netflix and Blockbuster, I can keep those movies and watch them as many times as I want, way beyond the 48 hour period I would have for a Flexplay disc.  And, for the environmentally conscious, I then return the disc so it can be sent to another renter, removing the local landfill from the equation.

In short, this is yet another horrible idea.  The environmental impact this would have is astounding, if it ever took off.  Hopefully the public is smart enough to ignore it.

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