A deal against digital piracy: Hardware makers, studios in accord
Copyright 2002 Gannett Company, Inc.
A group of electronics makers and movie studios moved the rollout of digital TV a step ahead Tuesday with a preliminary agreement on copy protection for high-definition broadcasts and digital TV sets.
The format, called High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), is a single, high-speed connection that would carry full-bandwidth digital video and audio from set-top boxes to TV sets.
Most observers note this agreement was necessary for further negotiations to continue between hardware manufacturers and studios. But they also caution that it's just one of a laundry list of issues that must be addressed before Hollywood would be willing to feed the pipeline for the new broadcast standard without fear of its products being pirated.
"It's a very important milestone to getting the content out there," says Steve Tirado of Silicon Image, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company that co-designed the piracy-preventing High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection system in HDMI with microprocessor giant Intel.
Two major studios, Fox and Universal, announced support for the standard, along with satellite TV providers DirecTV and EchoStar and electronics companies Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Philips, Sony, Thomson and Toshiba.
The agreement "is a good step forward," says Panasonic's Peter Fannon. But, he adds, the rules of how the technology would be implemented — what home users will and will not be permitted to do, and how much control Hollywood will have over those uses — "still have to be worked out."
New cable and satellite set-top boxes will include the HDMI connections, as will new digital TV sets. But only a few of the 2 million digital TV sets sold to date include a compatible connection, an earlier incarnation called DVI.
Early HDTV adopters, who spent thousands of dollars on their sets, feared that DVI would make their sets obsolete, and this new agreement still sounds "counterproductive," says Dale Cripps, publisher of HDTV Magazine.
Another issue for home-theater users is that the new standard cannot easily be used for recording, as the video is uncompressed and far too demanding for current and even near-future digital recorders.
But most observers expect that HDMI would be one of several available connections. "If the only interface is this one, that's a problem," says Dave Arland of Thomson Electronics, which plans to add new inputs to upcoming RCA sets. "To only use this interface . . . would be a mistake."
If several outputs are available, Hollywood could use the new interface to send unrecordable pay-per-view movies directly to HDTV displays, says Bob O'Donnell of market research firm IDC.