New ultra-high resolution DVD movies have been released in Europe without a key form of copy protection technology, New Scientist has learned. The disks could be seen as the perfect master disk by pirates wishing to make copies of the films. And the discovery comes just as a new report reveals that six out of ten people in the UK illegally copy music and movies.
Sony's Columbia Tristar has put on sale sixteen DVDs that utilise the new Superbit process, including Men in Black and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Columbia says the process offers "the highest resolution (and) the highest standard for audio and video available on DVD".
Like other DVDs, the disks do have tough digital copy protection, meaning only hackers can duplicate them with a PC. But Macrovision, a technology that prevents people copying by simply connecting the analogue output of a DVD player to the analogue input of a recorder, has not been used.
New Scientist was able to make a copy in this way. And Columbia Tristar confirmed: "The Superbit titles do not feature Macrovision copy-protection. We are reviewing our arrangements with Macrovision."
Macrovision deliberately distorts the synchronisation pulses that keep pictures steady on screen, just enough to make any copy unwatchable but not enough to affect normal viewing. It costs just a few cents to add to a disk.
The new Superbit DVDs, which deliver stunning picture quality, are marked "Warning: This disc is copy protected". But this message does not please Macrovision, who believe it may lead people to think that Macrovision does not work. "We are investigating this," says a spokesman.
The Superbit process works by scrapping the "extras" on DVDs, such as interviews with the director and stars, Instead it uses all the available bit space - at least 4.7 GB - for the movie. This lets Columbia double the data rate from around 4 Mbps to 8 Mbps. All existing DVD players can cope with the higher rate.
The latest releases are in the European and Australian 625 line PAL format, which outstrips the 525 line NTSC Superbits released in the US earlier in 2002.
You fail, you buy
The new Home Copying report, from international market research company Understanding and Solutions (U&S), suggests that those who copy illegally make at least a dozen analogue copies of movie DVDs or VHS tapes every year.
Furthermore, one in four UK homes now have at least one DVD player and VHS recorder, making analogue copying easy. The only good news in the report for movie companies is that of those who try and fail to make a copy, half go out and buy one from a shop.
"That's why Macrovision video copy protection is important," says Jim Bottoms of U&S. "Yes, it can be defeated. But it slows people down and then they go out and buy".