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Microsoft eyes disposable, play-once DVDs

Better for MS' DRM dreams than the environment

The prospect of landfill sites pilled high with disposable DVDs has once again reared its ugly head on the shoulders of claims that Microsoft is touting just such a product to Hollywood as way to beat movie piracy.

So suggests UK newspaper The Business which this weekend told its readers Microsoft has "invented... a cheap, disposable pre-recorded DVD that consumers can play only once".

Not quite, we're afraid - play-once DVDs already exist and have done for some time. In the US, Convex subsidiary Flexplay has has been touting its EZ-D play-once DVD for the last two years. Buena Vista Home Entertainment has experimented with the technology, and Convex recently signed a deal with Japanese disc maker Nippan to begin offering the technology in that country this autumn.

Last year, French company DVD-D launched its own disposable disc. Like EZ-D, DVD-D is a standard DVD with an added layer that oxidises when exposed to the air. The process last a pre-set time - 48 hours in EZ-D's case, or 8-24 hours for DVD-D - after which the oxidation layer is opaque and the disc can no longer be played.

Microsoft's interest in the technology - whether it has prepared its own version or licensed an existing technique - appears to be predicated on widening the reach of its proprietary DRM technology. According to the Business report, Microsoft is pushing the concept as a sell-through product that would be made available at rental prices. Unlike rentals, consumers wouldn't need to return the discs and would have complete freedom to watch whenever they choose.

By making movie-watching cheap and flexible, Hollywood could ensure consumers wouldn't need to download films from P2P networks or dodgy BitTorrent sites.

That appears to be Microsoft's logic, at least, but the business case is less clear, particularly with the emergence of Net-based download-on-demand services, and mail-back DVD rental programmes, not to mention pay-per-view TV. The attraction to Microsoft must be the opportunity to get its DRM technology onto even more boxes and discs, to encourage further the adoption of its proprietary technology as the de facto standard, at least until next-generation optical disc formats, with their much-tighter-than-DVD copy-protection systems become commonplace.

Meanwhile, ever-tighter regulation of rubbish means that disposable discs are unlikely to prove popular with legislators if not consumers. Flexplay touts partnerships with disc recyclers, but that only works if consumers make use of them and don't simply chuck dead discs in the bin. Since the costs of collecting unwanted items for recycling can carry an environmental cost higher than the saving made by recycling, even organised recovery programmes could prove problematic. ®

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