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RealTime IT News

A Deal to Plug Analog Gap in Digital Media

Macrovision and Microsoft have teamed to expand a digital rights management licensing agreement that could help address the so-called analog gap that allows digital media to break free of DRM protections.

The companies are working together to make Microsoft Windows Media DRM and Macrovision's copy management system interoperable.

The agreement should help entertainment content owners expand their digital media distribution plans while maintaining rights protection on PCs, digital video recorders and portable media devices, the companies said. The licensing agreement means analog copy management is covered in DRM protections.

David Kaefer, Microsoft's director of intellectual property licensing, said the company already uses Macrovision technology in its Windows Media Center 2005 platform. It is also making its way into the company's XBox game console and will be popping up in other systems, such as Windows Mobile and MSN TV products.

Amid an estimated 10 million digital video recorders expected to ship in 2005, the companies are positioning for a surge in demand for PCs running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005 and broad consumer adoption and use of digital media technologies.

"The significance of the deal is that this is one of the first examples where content protection technologies on analog side are being joined with content protection on the digital side," Kaefer said.

"Customers want something that's more flexible in allowing them to transfer media from one device to another," he explained, such as transferring a movie download from a PC to a plasma television screen in another room.

The entertainment industry also wants something that guarantees digital media distribution systems have protected content from getting "out in the clear" via "analog holes," a term that describes how a user can ostensibly transfer digital media content from a digital device, then to an analog device such as a VCR, then move it back to a digital device.

In that scenario, the content could be free of digital copyright-protection schemes that prevent it from being copied numerous times and pirated.

The companies said under the licensing agreement, Microsoft's Windows Media DRM technologies will recognize the Macrovision signals, enabling temporary storage (time shifting) on digital devices of Macrovision-protected content received via analog interfaces. In addition, an Internet-delivered movie, downloaded to a PC, can now be protected on analog video playback out of a PC.

Without such protections, entertainment players aren't all that confident their content won't be easily pirated with a VCR, for example. But it's also good for consumers of video-on-demand and Internet-delivered on-demand entertainment who want to move the content from a PC to a TV screen, company officials said.

That's one of the issues facing the industry: how to bring a complex mix of digital media content to the market, formatted for a variety of form factors, and satisfy all the rights and cuts of the content that all the participants in the media expect.

"It's sort of like a bucket with a lot of holes," Kaefer added. The more the holes are plugged, the more willing people and content providers are to pour content in.

Macrovision's system already addresses analog protections, but the agreement is expected to bolster existing protections. Microsoft and Macrovision said they would roll out the functionality over the next year.