They may be strange bedfellows, but a wide-ranging group of media companies and Hollywood movie studios has banded together to support a new digital interface that incorporates copy protection for high-definition television content.

The interface, dubbed "Digital Visual Interface (DVI) with high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP)," was specifically designed to port high-def signals from digital set-top boxes to television monitors.

Joining CableLabs in support of the interface are DBS providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar's DISH Network. Others include: the Fox Entertainment Group; Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Assoc.; Sony Pictures Entertainment; The Walt Disney Co.; Thomson multimedia; and Warner Bros.

The development of the standard is being hailed by many as a watershed event that should help the fledgling HDTV market get off the ground by making more content available through a variety of media. Content owners such as broadcasters and movie studios have been reluctant to release HDTV content for fear that it would be copied and distributed, for free, via the Internet. With copy protection built into this interface, proponents say that won't be possible.

The DVI/HDCP interface also supports real-time complex graphic displays and user interfaces found in program guides and other interactive features of high-def digital television. The sheer capacity delivered via the 6-gigabit-per-second DVI connection permits display devices to fully support features developed by content and set-top box providers that enrich and enhance the overall user experience.

Sources say a cable digital set-top incorporating this interface capability would cost at least $50 more than a standard digital set-top. That cost will include the connector, an HD decompression device and additional memory. Television manufacturers such as Thomson are also expected to build the interface directly into their products.

Beginning next year, all DirecTV-licensed consumer electronic manufacturers will begin to incorporate a DVI connector into new digital set-top boxes. Likewise, DISH Network is expected to incorporate DVI in its next-generation HDTV set-top box.

The cable industry sees the new interface being used in conjunction with IEEE 1394, or FireWire. "We believe support of DVI will complement the cable industry's support of the 1394 interface with 5C copy protection," said Dr. Richard R. Green, president and CEO of CableLabs. "Cable is still committed to the 1394/5C interface, and intends to support both DVI and 1394/5C on set-top boxes designed for connection to high-definition television sets," he adds.