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.

News Around the Web