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The Optical Storage Technology Association, a trade body for makers of rewriteable CD drives and media, has approved a specification to allow consumer CD and DVD units to play CD-R and CD-RW discs created by PCs.

Dubbed MultiPlay, the specification was created by removable storage specialist Oak Technology, and was ratified by the OSTA earlier this month.

The OSTA is confident that consumer electronics manufacturers will support MultiPlay, but we're less sure about it. MultiPlay builds on another specification, MultiRead, which allows computer-based CD-ROM and DVD drives to read CD-R and CD-RW discs. MultiRead has been pretty successful in its adoption rate, it seems, but there's a world of difference between enabling different computer peripherals to read each others' data and allowing consumer electronics kit to do so.

MultiPlay makes perfect sense, and it's a wonder the functionality isn't already built into the DVD spec. and others. But it's not hard to see why it isn't. The last thing the music and movie industries want is to make it easy to produce pirate discs playable in consumer machines.

As the OSTA itself puts it: "Consumers will benefit greatly from the improved compatibility because more and more consumers have access or ability to record CDs. Thus, the consumer will be enabled to play not only commercially available content but also personal content such as personal compilation audio discs made from their own library of commercial audio discs."

You'll note that the OSTA statement stays carefully within the 'personal taping' permission given to music buyers by the US Home Recordings Act. However, "commercially available content" are unlikely to see it that way. The incompatibility between different optical drives may be inconvenient - like all that region nonsense - but it suits the industry too well, alas.

An interesting (preliminary) component of MultiPlay is what the OSTA calls its CDA (Compressed Digital Audio) format for discs holding compressed audio files, such as MP3. Again, it's a neat idea. With CDA, any CD player with a built-in MP3 decode capability can read native MP3s straight off any disc placed within it and begin playing them almost immediately.

CDA will be unveiled officially at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, next January. Finalisation of the CDA disc spec. is set for March 2001, when it will be available for licensing and inclusion in the MultiPlay logo program - which, incidentally, is to be offered on a royalty-free basis.

Again, it's questionable how much the music industry will be willing to put up with this and might well lean on the consumer electronics vendors not to support it.

Of course, there are plenty of Far Easter kit makers who pay only lip service to the finer requirements of their CD audio and DVD licenses, so MultiPlay and CDA may make it into the mainstream through the back door.

Technology like this - let alone the Net - is rendering current content-as-product business models obsolete, and it's high time the music and movie industries adapted accordingly. Just don't expect them to do it anytime soon. ®

Related Link

For more information on MultiPlay and CDA, visit the OSTA MultiPlay site

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