SAN JOSE, Calif. An agreement between eight PC, consumer and movie companies to develop a robust and flexible copyright protection system for high-definition DVDs is expected to fuel the nascent high-definition market.
But whether a broad group of DVD makers, studios and end users embrace the technology remains to be seen.
Disney, IBM, Intel, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba and AOL Time Warner. announced Wednesday (July 14) they are developing the Advanced Access Content System. AACS will provide more flexible rules on how content is shared between systems and over home networks while enabling stronger security than today's DVD copy protection scheme.
AACS will enable studios to come up with their own sets of rules for when high-definition content can be copied from one device to another or shared over a home network. That's a significant step up from today's schemes that at best allow three scenarios-copy freely, copy once or no copying.
"This is a dynamic copy-protection environment whereas previous environments were relatively inflexible," said Richard Doherty, principal of consulting firm The Envisioneering Group (Seaford, N.Y.). "A lot more business models could flourish from this work than just today's Blockbuster and pay-per-view models," he added.
The technology also could enable a generation of pocket HD media players on the drawing board as follow-ons to the portable media players being developed today by companies such as Creative Labs and Thomson. "These rules are flexible enough to allow that to happen," Doherty added.
AACS will employ several security techniques including 128-bit AES encryption and a more robust software renewal and revocation scheme while protecting users privacy, said Stephen Balogh, a business development manager in Intel Corp.'s corporate technology group who has long worked on copy protection issues.
AACS will include a new media key block approach for matching keys provided on a DVD disk with those on a DVD player. It also will ask for authentication of hard disk drives and use network authentication tools when available.
The current Content Scrambling Systems used on DVD today was cracked in 1999.
It's not clear whether AACS, which is expected to be complete and available for licensing by the end of the year, will force any new hardware or software requirements on systems makers, said Balogh "We don't want to create any extensive new requirements," he added.
The format-agnostic approach is aimed at Blu-Ray, HD-DVD and any other HD optical media. While the group includes backers of both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, neither camp committed to using the technology at the announcement.
Analysts Doherty said some Blu-Ray recorders have already appeared in Japan and other high-definition systems are expected to emerge before the end of the year. These systems may be able to use early versions of AACS and upgrade to the finished technology later.
"This is mainly for 2005 production systems, but they are trying to get the basic stuff out fast," Doherty said.
"Its very unclear when these new (DVD) formats will be available in the industry," said Balogh, who is Intel's representative on the DVD Forum that is developing the HD-DVD specification.
Analysts noted that the AACS effort has significant backing. Disney and AOL Time Warner control about 40 percent of the home video market. And some 150 engineers and managers attended the meeting of the ad hoc Copyright Protection Technical Working Group in Los Angeles where the AACS deal was announced, about twice the group's normal attendance.
"I think this is the best sign of support we have had in the last five years for the consumer high definition market from such a diverse group of companies," Doherty said of the AACS deal. "There won't be a decent HD market unless we get these rules out there because the content owners won't release their movies," he added.
However DVD powerhouse Philips Electronics and major Korean consumer companies including LG and Samsung were noticeably absent from the AACS group.
The lack of participation from the remainder of the top Hollywood studios was less troublesome, Doherty said, because participation from a quorum of studios might have attracted attention from antitrust regulators.
The AACS effort has been in the works for about a year.
"The advent of the next-generation optical media offered us an opportunity to do things a little differently and address the problem more holistically," said Balogh. "We are driving toward a vision of the digital home at Intel, and this is one of the vectors we are going down to make that vision happen," he added.
AACS is being developed by a group of engineers from each member company. Michael Ripley of Intel chairs the group's technical committee. A Warner Brothers manager chairs the group's business committee.
The group will set up a licensing authority shortly.