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News Corp throws everything but kitchen sink at 'digital home'

Fox on the run

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It’s unlikely that DirecTV will follow suit and act as a route to market for such a device - not when it has supported Blu-ray, as have most of its set-top manufacturers. News Corp relies on many set-top makers around the globe, including the big Eastern CE firms Samsung, Sony, Matsushita, plus Philips, and they all exclusively support Blu-ray.

Of course, the fact that DirecTV has cut a deal with Microsoft does not preclude it from following through with multiple deals. That way it can also put its protected content out to its own SVP Alliance partners and, more importantly, to the portable players of the moment - the Sony PSP and Apple’s iPod. But why not cut these deals first instead of going to Microsoft? Perhaps the answer is because Sony is a content competitor to New Corp’s Fox, and because that Apple’s CEO is also CEO of Pixar and he cut his first iPod content deals with a Fox competitor, Disney.

DirecTV also said at the show that it has joined the Digital Living Network Alliance (which supports existing standards for content interoperability, but has no recommendations for DRM) and will add both DLNA and UPnP (universal plug and play) into its next generation of set-tops. This move also contradicts its earlier statements about Microsoft. The DNLA insists that any standard that it picks can run on multiple platforms, so will not settle, for instance, on Windows Media Player as it still only runs on a PC.

DirecTV also plans to protect all this DLNA with its Secure Video Processor, which puts a smart card on an onboard chip - as soon as it has the silicon - any month now. This completely contradicts the Microsoft announcement, and leaves DirecTV with two parallel content protection strategies, one from NDS and one from Microsoft. If the DLNA comes out in favour of another DRM, it could end up with an overly complex three-pronged strategy.

The deal allows for transfer of DirecTV-held content to a PC or a PlaysForSure portable device. They will also design a system which will push music the other way from Windows PC to a DirecTV set-top box.

One other aim of the deal is that DirecTV customers will be able to use a Windows Media Center PC instead of a set-top, reducing DirecTV’s responsibilities to provide a subsidized set-top. This is unlikely in a standard TV home, but where a family wants a secondary subscription on the home PC, it might work well, especially where that PC is fitted with Intel’s ViiV technology for viewing and controlling the PC from across a room. In fact, part of this system will be provided by DirecTV and Intel, collaborating on a secure PC tuner to allow PCs to subscribe to DirecTV without a set-top.

DirecTV also said at CES it would introduce Viiv technology later in 2006, with an extensive joint-marketing campaign.

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