LOS ANGELES The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) will ratify the much-anticipated specification Version 1.0 for Internet music portable devices at the next SDMI meeting scheduled here on July 7-8. The details of the spec will be released then on the group's website.
The release of the new spec is expected to unleash a new generation of Internet music players in time for their Christmas launch.
The spec will define everything that needs to be settled for system vendors to design an SDMI-compliant hardware device. Although the spec mandates neither specific encoding systems nor specific security technologies, it defines a set of interfaces necessary for the secure digital distribution of music to licensed compliant systems, portable devices and related storage media.
However, a so-called screen technology that will define the "black box" embedded inside the content, necessary to filter out pirated music, is still undecided.
SDMI announced Monday (June 28) that the new spec provides a two-phase system: Phase I and Phase II. Phase I starts with the adoption of the SDMI spec and ends when Phase II begins. Phase II begins when a screening technology is available to filter out pirated music, according to the group.
In fact, much of what must be required for triggering Phase II are still in development. Also deferred to further discussions include usage rules for downloaded Internet music, how to accommodate more elaborate digital watermarking technologies, and a way to maintain a coherent copy protection scheme with the upcoming DVD-Audio standard.
As an initial step, however, the screen technology is expected to play a key role to encourage the music industry to release more mainstream music on the web, by offering a built-in mechanism to support future SDMI technology to be explored in Phase II.
The cross-industry group, composed of music, consumer electronics and information technology companies, is scheduled to select a screen technology by Aug. 8, said Leonardo Chiariglione, executive director of SDMI, in an interview with EETimes.
The SDMI has received "a good number of responses" to the group's internal call for proposal on the screen technology, said Chiariglione. Experts inside the group are currently running tests in labs "to produce findings" on ratings and parameters of each of the proposed technologies, he explained. "The committee will then look at their findings and will build a consensus on one technology."
Asked when the group expects to see the Phase II begins, Chiariglione said that it is up to an individual music company's market decision rather than a technology issue that SDMI is expected to determine. "Phase II begins when the music industry feels comfortable to start offering new contents based on new SDMI technology."
The SDMI members appear to be taking, for now, a minimalist approach in their pursuit of the screen technology. The technology the group will select in August is neither about building a strong, bullet-proof security around the music nor embedding specific usage control information inside the music.
"It's a technology that would allow the music industry to add information that signals whether a downloaded music is a legacy content or a new content (using new SDMI technology)," explained Chiariglione. When consumers wish to download new music releases that include the new SDMI technology, they will be prompted to upgrade their current portable device to the next-generation spec to play or copy that music.
More specifically, the screen technology due for selection in August lets consumers have music just as the current MP3 allows them to do. It does not support any usage control information which specifies in what ways consumers are allowed to use music -- such as allowing them to play it once, for a week, or forever, for example, said Chiariglione. "Just like today's CD, once you buy it, it's yours," under the currently planned screen technology.
Meanwhile, it is no secret that the music industry does want a support for such usage rules as the Internet music market evolves. The SDMI executive director acknowledged that it is "one of their Ten Commandments." Meanwhile, SDMI members haven't even resolved what they should do about usage rules, let alone which usage control model to support. Chiariglione said, "We are not committed to a single way of implementing usage controls."
Both DVD-Audio and SDMI spec are facing similar problems, "but these problems are not entirely the same," said the SDMI executive director. He suggested that one way to handle it is to install in a Licensed SDMI-Compliant Module (LCM) such as a PC or a set-top, a piece of translation software that converts a certain set of usage rules - such as the ones imposed by DVD-Audio for example - into a native SDMI format.