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Monday, February 27, 2006
Hardware Makers Face Decision on Next-Generation DVD License

An interim license (AACS) for content protection standards on next-generation DVD formats would enable playback devices to be manufactured now, but waiting for the permanent license also offers advantages.

On 21 February 2006, an industry consortium, the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Authority (AACS LA), announced the availability of an interim license for the copy protection system that will be used to protect high-definition BluRay and HD DVD formats. However, many of the advanced features of the AACS specification ? such as "managed copy," which would let consumers move content onto other devices ? will not be enabled in this release.

The release of the still-incomplete interim specification will enable hardware manufacturers to begin making BluRay and HD DVD players to meet what they perceive as pent-up demand for next-generation DVDs. Hardware manufacturers including Panasonic, Toshiba and Sony are expected to offer players as soon as late March 2006. Executives with AACS LA say the movie studios are also expected to receive a version of the interim license "within days," and will soon have BluRay and HD DVD-based DVDs rolling off the disc replication lines.

The final standard will be released later in 2006 and will likely include the more compelling features promised for BluRay and HD DVD discs. The most notable of these features will enable users to make a "managed copy" of DVD content for use on another machine, such as a portable playback device.

The interim license presents a tough choice to hardware manufacturers, according to Gartner: They must decide whether to take early advantage of the perceived demand for HD content or wait until the final license is completed. Waiting will prolong the uncertainty of manufacturing and marketing schedules, and may cause them to miss out on critical holiday sales. But getting an early start will require hardware manufacturers to choose whether to release a playback-only device that will quickly reach its end of life, or to make consumers install a firmware upgrade with advanced features later, after the standard is finalized. Such an upgrade could be accomplished through a built-in Internet connection or through a disc upgrade mailed to consumers. Both upgrades would require the consumer to take action.

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