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Cryptography Research wants piracy speed bump on HD DVDs

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Analysis Just about a year from today, if not sooner, if we believe the outpourings of both the DVD Forum and the Blu-Ray Disc Association, we will be able to go out to the shops and buy blue laser, high definition, high density DVDs in two completely different designs. We will also be able to buy the players and recorders by then, as well as studio content from virtually every major studio in the world, on one or the other system.

If you believe the hype, DVD manufacturers will likely have to buy in two types of DVD manufacturing equipment. Households will have to buy two DVD players. Consumers will have to buy one PC with one type of high density DVD player and buy another separate player to read the other format of disk.

We neither believe the hype, nor understand the argument between the two formats. Surely a single format is better for everyone, but it appears not. Every round of format wars that have gone on since the original VHS Betamax wars, has been split, and the result a draw, and it looks like this one will be too.

In the end the devices are likely to be virtually identical. The Sony- Panasonic-Philips camp that inspired the Blu-ray version may have slightly more capacity on their discs, that's the official view right now, but it might change. They also have devices out right now and have had them for over a year, but they are very expensive, up at around $2,000 and are not the volume versions that will be able to play pre-recorded material. Eventually these devices will be about 10 per cent more than DVD players are now.

The DVD Forum-backed Toshiba and NEC technology may be slightly cheaper for studios to manufacture, but then again we only have the word of Toshiba on that, and most DVD producers seem set on supporting both.

The disks need to play on PCs, as well as DVDs and games consoles, and it is unlikely that anyone is going to shoot themselves in the foot by making a disc that is incompatible with any of these devices.

So Microsoft's VC 9 codec has to be supported, as does the prevalent MPEG2 and H.264 codecs, and nobody is planning to argue the toss about the quality of sound from Dolby. So there is a chance that all of the software on top of these disks is going to be identical.

In the end all of the Blu-ray manufacturers are still in the DVD Forum, and given that the Blu-ray leaders make about 90 per cent of the worlds DVD players and that half of the studios have backed the DVD Forum standard, their players may well end up playing both formats. The early consumers may well be asking "What's the difference" a year from now having little clue as to how different the two technologies are, under the "hood."

But what if they each choose a different way to protect the content on their disks? How much danger would that put the two groups in?

The Content Scrambling System of the DVD has come in for a lot of criticism over the years, as piracy has become relatively rampant. It was designed more or less as a speed bump to put off anyone other than the professional pirate. But then along came the internet, and it has become possible for anyone to download CSS circumvention or to read up, on various websites, how to go about it. The speed bump has been somewhat flattened and it needs reinforcement in the next technology.

So it falls to these same companies to build something for the studios that will be rather harder and more persuasive, to act as a hurdle against piracy for these new DVDs. In fact an organization called Advanced Access Content System (AACS), formed back in July by such notables as IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, Disney and Warner Brothers has come together in order to create a decent speed bump against piracy that should last at least for the next decade, a decade during which broadband lines improve to the point where it will be child's play to download even a high definition movie.

The definition of what is required has been very clear from the studios. They want a system that has the ability for the security logic to be renewed and which should also have some form of forensic marking in order to help track pirates.

At the heart of this protection system will be the safety of the revenue of all the major studios, which now get way in excess of 50 per cent of any given film's revenues from DVD sales.

Faultline talked over such a system with its authors this week, who are optimistic about its bid to become the new, but more sophisticated CSS for the next generation DVD disk.

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