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Next DVD spec. to offer Net access not more capacity

DVD Forum taking DRM to the next level?

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The DVD Forum, the body that oversees the DVD specification, has decided to stick with red laser technology and current storage capacities rather than make the move to blue light and more capacious discs.

Instead, it will offer Internet integration to tempt upgrade-hungry consumers.

The Forum, which counts consumer electronics companies as well as music and movie industry giants among its 216 members, last week laid down its plans for the next generation of the DVD standard.

While Toshiba and NEC had been pitching a blue light technology that would have considerably increased the space available for movie and other data, the Forum has decided to stick with the existing laser specifications, NE Asia Online reports, presumably for greater backward compatibility.

As it stands, the next generation of DVD will work just like today's format, but with greater Internet integration. Many DVDs already include links to web sites, but they're included in a separate DVD-ROM partition on the disc that can only be read by a computer-hosted DVD drive.

The next version of the spec. will allow content creators to build those links directly into the scripts that tell a DVD player how to show the movie. The idea is that 'Enhanced DVD' players will have Net access built-in, either directly or via a home network, enabling consumers to access extra material at will.

The format will also support the use of "digital keys", as the report puts it, to authorise the connection to web sites.

Both technologies are expected to appear in product next year, which means the spec. isn't that far off completion.

Put them together and it's clear the move is about shifting the DVD spec. away from a simple storage medium to a kind of digital theatre ticket where purchasing the DVD buys you entry to the content - which will almost certainly be stored someplace else.

Today, broadband take-up is growing, but it remains a primarily PC technology. But presumably there will come a time when most homes have it, and it will feed a broader local network comprising not only computers but games consoles and other home entertainment devices. While a DVD is likely to prove the best medium for movies for the next few years, if not further out, there's still plenty of supplemental content that punters are going to want, and the movie industry is going to want to sell them.

But how to provide it without it being ripped off? Full-scale DRM is an option, but one consumers are unlikely to support, even those who aren't in the habit of filching films off the Internet. The solution then is to provide content on the Net, but through a controlled access system. Playing an 'Enhanced DVD' for the first time might begin a background process that links a disc ID to a player ID and records the connection on a server somewhere. Play the disc elsewhere and the system spots the fact and blocks access to the content.

Such an approach is likely to be used to deliver extras, which some buyers will want and many others won't. But extend the idea just a little and all the content, including the movie itself, comes down the wire to the player owned by the consumer who bought the disc. In essence the DVD is nothing but a entry ticket, perhaps with some free content on board that the industry doesn't mind giving away.

Such a system doesn't preclude nor is precluded by direct video on demand systems. Instead it provides a way into such systems for consumers who don't own a PC but have a 'transparent' Net connection, perhaps via a cable TV box, anyway.

Such a system neatly gets over the content industry's aversion to delivery technologies that don't involve physical product for punters to purchase, or at least business models that aren't based on the old 'x dollars for y items' mode. It also includes enough DRM to block piracy (at least theoretically) but not enough of it to make usage difficult for the customer.

Of course, the next generation of the DVD standard is unlikely to deliver all this, at least not at the outset, but it does appear to put in place the foundations for such a structure. ®

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