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Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Blu-ray Consortium Launches New DVD Security Features

One of the two groups vying to produce the next generation of DVDs rolled out new security features to entice entertainment and electronics companies to adopt its technology.

The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), a partnership of electronics manufacturers and Hollywood studios including Hewlett-Packard Co. and 20th Century Fox, said it plans to fight piracy by embedding an identification mark on movies, music and video games that can only be read by equipment that carry its technology.

"It's been a promise since day one: that we're committed to offering the strongest content management system,'' said Marty Gordon, vice president of Phillips Electronics and a Blu-ray spokesman.

The new security features are the latest volley in the battle between Blu-ray and a competing group, HD-DVD, which is backed by such companies as Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, Toshiba Corp. and Sanyo Electric.

Eventually, the two sides must convince DVD fans.

Under Blu-ray's plan, the public would be asked to purchase new Blu-ray disc players even while their current DVD players work fine. For that to fly, consumers must be convinced that there are clear benefits to the new technologies.

In addition to the security measures that HD-DVD and Blu-ray are devising as they compete for support in Hollywood, both are promising increased storage capacity and resolution superior enough to get the most out of high-definition television sets.

"Security won't matter to consumers,'' said Laura Behrens, an analyst with research group Gartner Inc. "The benefits have to be compelling enough to outweigh the costs. What we've seen has not been a slam dunk either way. Both are beautiful formats but there's a lot of beautiful content out there. Frankly, most people don't care. They want to know what they are watching is watchable.''

Because Blu-ray discs, for example, won't play on traditional DVD players, that could frustrate consumers who have grown accustomed to sharing movies with friends or making backup copies.

Gordon offered one potential fix: Studios could choose to create hybrid discs that function on both DVD and Blu-ray players and can be configured to allow copying.

Current DVDs are easily hacked, allowing them to be pirated at a cost to the movie industry of more than $3 billion annually, according to Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray technology would prevent unauthorized users from mass producing discs on stolen disc-making equipment by requiring authorization codes. Blu-ray-coded discs will also contain a feature that would not play on machines that have been tampered with.

Skeptics have little faith that any security measure can protect digital content.

The electronics companies that make disc players and the studios that provide content may end up having to make versions for both Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats, which could cost billions. That's why many in Hollywood are hoping for a resolution.

Joshua Martin, an IDC research analyst, does not think Blu-ray's new anti-piracy features will necessarily pull support away from HD-DVD.

"A lot of content providers are not on board because they are worried about disc costs. I think they'll remain skeptical until these issues are resolved,'' Martin said.

Blu-ray's technology can store more information than HD-DVD, but it would also require disc manufacturers to build new factories.

HD-DVD proponents, meanwhile, claim their format would be cheaper to produce because it relies on technology that more closely resembles current DVDs.

Andrew Setos, president of engineering for Fox Entertainment Group, which supports Blu-ray, said the reason HD-DVD costs less is because the group's solution is "low tech.''

"With any new, cutting-edge technology, things are more expensive,'' Setos said. "As time goes on they then get very affordable.''

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