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Is network PVR the best direction for the big studios ?

The distribution of video over multicast-broadcast networks and content storage at by users with Windows PCs and PVRs has created a huge threat surface for digital content.

Typical to flawed security countermeasures, HDCP and AACS exacerbate and enlarge the threat surface rather than enhance revenues and reduce risk.

In this article we will show that Network PVR services may be an effective strategy for studios to mitigate the risk of content piracy.

Background

NetFlix, Vudu and Universal Studios Home Entertainment are skipping over HD-DVD/Blu-ray formats in favor of what some industry observers say is inevitable – download-only distribution.

Beginning November 23 2007, Vudu started giving new buyers “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy” pre-loaded on their set-top boxes in HD. Buyers can purchase a downloaded copy of “The Bourne Ultimatum”, for $25 starting December 11, 2007.

The VUDU box and services sounded pretty cool to me when I first saw it – until I realized that the price of the “The Bourne Ultimatum HD” on Amazon is $27.99 with free Super Saver Shipping and the I don’t need to buy the Vudu and commit to their service. It’s two bucks less with Vudu but the VUDU STB sets you back $250 (reduced from $400). The Vudu business model does not seem extremely compelling. Although you have a hard disk – you cannot go back and view a movie if you ran out of time in a single sitting. The Netflix business model of having 3-5 movies for unlimited usage still seems a winner and in comparison, Vudu just doesn’t seem to have all the movies we’d want to see.

The price of SD (standard definition) DVDs is between USD2-5, depending on where you live and HD DVD seems to be going for about USD25-30, depending on the movie and season of the year. It’s cheaper and more convenient for a consumer to rent or buy a DVD from NetFlix or Blockbuster then to pay Vudu. if you want to see the latest episode ofDexter you can’t even get it on Vudu, and BitTorrent is more accessible not to mention, free.

While Vudu seem to have done some impressive engineering work on their STB, if they get any widespread traction, it may only be a matter of time until some irritated user cracks their box or bypassess the content protection.

What is HD (High Definition) video?

There is a good deal of confusion regarding exact definitions and consumer electronics product requirements for HD (high definition). HD refers to the quality of the picture (not to the means of digital content protection). Digital HDTV broadcast systems are defined by the number of lines in the vertical display resolution, the scanning system: (progressive (p) or interlaced (i) and the number of frames per second. The 720p60 format is 1280×720 pixels, with progressive encoding at 30 frames per second. The 1080i50 format is 1920×1080 pixels, with interlaced encoding at 25 frames per second. For commercial naming of the product, either the frame rate or the field rate is dropped, e.g. a “1080i television set” label indicates only the image resolution.

Is HD for digital TV only? (no)

If you have have an older TV set with an analog RCA interface, you’re in luck – the issues of digital HDTV are eliminated by connecting your TV set to a DVD player using the analog HD signal output with RCA connectors instead of HDMI. The analog outputs of most HD devices will replicate the resolutions of the digital outputs i.e. 720p and 1080i, so fidelity of the picture is maintained. Connectivity is via standard VGA HD15 connector or high-resolution component video output using 3 x RCA connectors. Analog HD signals can also be distributed over standard Cat5 cable up to a few hundred meters, which is pretty convenient if you have a large house or a small hotel.

What is HDCP?

High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is a proprietary DRM scheme for protecting premium HD content. HDCP was developed by Intel Corporation to control digital audio and video content transmitted on DVI (digital video) and HDMI (high definition media) interfaces in consumer electronics devices such as DVD, STB, TV Sets. Compliance with HDCP requires a license from Digital Content Protection LLC, a subsidiary of Intel. In addition to paying fees, manufacturers agree to downgrade quality when interfacing to non-HDCP compliant devices. For example, HD video is downgraded to DVD quality on a non-HDCP compliant TV set. HDCP also incorporates a black-listing scheme of cracked devices using a key-revocation scheme where the black list is stored on the DVD media.

HD content protection – fundamentally flawed

The HDCP black-listing scheme defies the laws of physics and reason. For example, you may be a perfectly law-abiding citizen, but if someone in Timbuktu hacks your model XY500 DVD player, the device key is revoked, and you will never be able to play discs that came out after the date the device was compromised. If a hacker taps into the HDMI / HDCP signal copies a movie enroute to your model TV Set, the HDCP device key can be revoked and your 80 inch TV will never play high-definition again.

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