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Portable Video Player Gains DRM

Video-to-go, or, more accurately, video for those on-the-go, is getting less expensive -- and still legal. Handheld Entertainment announced today that its ZVUE 1.2 portable video media player, priced at under $100, now supports Microsoft's secure digital rights management (DRM) software.

With the announcement, the San Francisco-based company says it's the first to offer a Windows DRM-enabled portable media player for the price. Apple's video iPod, which uses a different copyright protection scheme, sells for $299 but includes 30 GB of storage, while the ZVUE uses smaller-capacity SD cards. The ZVUE now supports all legal download and streaming video Web sites that use the Microsoft format.

"A lot of the content deals we've closed and will be closing for our Web site -- and virtually all the pay content -- is protected by Windows DRM, so it made sense for us to license it," Jeff Oscodar, CEO of Handheld Entertainment, told internetnews.com.

Apple has made some high profile deals with ABC and others to offer video content for sale to iPod users, but Oscodar saw nothing special in those announcements. "We plan to close the same deals Apple's been closing, there's no reason to think we can't, but it's not clear to me [such content] is the major reason people buy these devices."

In the ABC deal, Apple is offering iPod users episodes of several TV shows such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." Oscodar said he saw a broader trend or interest in shorter movies and episodic releases, such as a half-hour or hour-long feature broken into shorter segments.

"I wouldn't say there is an exact correlation, but quite often the smaller the screen, the less time people want to spend viewing it." He said Handheld is seeing a lot of interest among ZVUE users in shorter videos such as three-minute comedy bits and sports highlights. "Just as Tivo offers time shifting, we can offer both time and location shifting. You download a video and are able share it with your friends wherever you are, with a device that's easy to carry around," he said.

The ZVUE measures 4.33 x 2.91 x 1.1 inches and weighs about five ounces (minus the four AA batteries required to power it). The screen measures 2.5 inches diagonally.

At next week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Handheld plans to unveil its next generation ZVUE with a slightly smaller form factor, rechargeable lithium-ion battery and new colors. While the current ZVUE uses tiny SD cards for storing music, videos and digital photos, the new units, slated to be priced starting at $149.95, will have additional on-board storage, as well as DRM support.

Still, Oscodar said the need for multi-gigabytes of storage on the small devices is overblown. "I respect Apple, but it's frustrating to me that they, along with other companies, promote the idea you need all this extra storage for video," he said. "It's like a nuclear missile buildup, we have to unwind that. You might want to carry a thousand songs, but it's very unlikely you want to carry a thousand videos. And in either case most people will only listen or watch a small fraction of those."

He also tweaked Apple for coming out with new iPods relatively quickly, effectively making earlier models obsolete.

The DRM and other software features are available as upgrades to earlier ZVUE users, and Oscodar said the newer models being announced next week will have a hardware upgrade option that will make them a better investment.