• United States
Senior Correspondent

High-definition movie players get green light with copy agreement

Feb 21, 20063 mins

Completion of a new copy protection system to be employed on high-definition video discs has been held up while a way for consumers to make copies of movies is hammered out. However, an interim version released last week will enable consumer electronics manufacturers to get started on production of first generation players, they said Tuesday.

The Advanced Access Content System (AACS) will be used by both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats and is being developed by a group that includes eight of the world’s largest electronics companies. The technology was supposed to be ready last year and the delay already forced Toshiba to shelve plans to launch HD-DVD players in Japan at the end of 2005.

Current product plans call for players to be available soon — Toshiba is planning to launch an HD-DVD player in the U.S. in March and Samsung has promised a Blu-ray Disc player for April — but a continued delay in the AACS specification was again threatening those plans.

Last week the group published an interim license that will allow production to begin. However, first-generation players and content won’t be able to implement a key feature of AACS — the ability for consumers to copy content onto other devices or make backups of it — until the final specification has been agreed, representatives of the AACS group said in a conference call with reporters.

“Some of the policy matters around managed copy are still being worked out,” said Richard Doherty, Microsoft’s program manager for media entertainment convergence, without specifying what remains to be agreed.

The managed copy function is expected to allow consumers to do several things: make copies of HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc movies for personal use, copy content onto a home server, stream it across a home network and copy it onto portable media players. What’s allowed for each disc and whether that’s free or requires an extra payment will be decided by the content provider.

Under the interim agreement the players will have technical support for the system and discs will have managed copy information embedded but the system won’t be switched on until the final agreement is complete. That should take a few months, Doherty said.

Another feature of the AACS technology is the ability of content providers to limit playback of the content in high-definition to certain connections. A large number of high-definition televisions and monitors in the market have only analog inputs with no copy protection function and content providers had been skittish about allowing a full high-definition video stream to travel unprotected over these connections.

At one stage there was concern that this might be totally prohibited — forcing some HDTV owners to buy new TV sets before they could watch video disc content in high-definition — but Doherty said the technology allows for high-definition over analog but leaves content providers with the ability to restrict output on a per-disc basis if they desire. In this case the content must be clearly labeled so consumers know they’ll be getting a lower resolution picture on an older HDTV set.

The AACS group’s founders include IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros.