Electro-optic film set to foil DVD shoplifters

Discs unplayable until purchased

For once here comes a digital protection technology designed to stop shoplifters rather than prevent consumers copying content. US-based Kestrel Wireless this week announced a plan to make DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs unplayable until they've been purchased.

It's a simple scheme: each disc is coated with an electro-optic film that's initally opaque but turns transparent in response to an electrical pulse transmitted by a Kestrel radio unit after it has authorised the process by checking an RFID chip embedded in the disc.

This takes place at the point of sale (POS), after the purchase and only when the disc has been authorised, via Kestrel's network, by the vendor.

Kestrel and RFID-making Philips spin-off NXP are pitching the process primarily at optical media, but they believe it can also be applied to any consumer electronics product with a display or anything else that, if obscured, renders the device unuseable. And if they can't be used, the partners reckon, thieves won't want to nick 'em.

The cynic will suggest the shoplifters will turn to mugging instead, but there other, more realistic flaws in the scheme. To implement, it will require the participation of the retailers, who will have to install potentially expensive POS upgrades. And they'll all have to get with the programme, or the studios will need to press two sets of discs for each title, one with the technology for retailers who support it, and another without the coating for retailers who don't. Not a move they'll be keen to make when they're already having to deal with two separate HD disc formats.

And there are privacy concerns. Will consumers accept the notion that the studios will know exactly which disc they own - just link the purchase data to the unique identity code embedded in each RFID chip?

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