DVD On-Demand One Step Closer To Home

Sonic Solutions (SNIC) is hoping to spark a home entertainment revolution today with the release of its DVD On Demand software and Qflix recordable Content Scramble System (CSS) program. If successful, this means you’ll be able to burn movies you download at home to a DVD, or purchase custom-made DVDs online or at a retail kiosk, and have these discs work in any DVD player.

The move comes thanks to, in part, the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA), which recently approved a change in the rules dealing with the home burning of CSS-protected DVDs. Up until now, “The CSS license explicitly disallow[ed] players from playing CSS content on recordable media,” said Jim Taylor, senior vice-president and general manager of the advanced technology division at Sonic. “It was created because of concerns that writable media would be used in piracy.” Translation: if studios couldn’t protect it, you couldn’t burn it.

But wiser heads prevailed. “People saw the opportunities, and answering market demand is really what this is about,” said a spokesperson for the DVD CCA.

“When we first went to studios three years ago, their initial reaction was ‘No way we’re going to take CSS systems and open it up for recordable media,'” said Taylor. “But we made it clear we’re designing a system that still protects their content.”

As solutions to the legal challenges made their way through committee, Sonic was facing technical hurdles. Roughly 90 percent of homes in the U.S. have a DVD player, so it was crucial that custom-burned DVDs not only included copy protection, but could also play on these existing devices, since, as Taylor pointed out, “People know what to do with them.” The result is a new type of disc and burner that meet both of these criteria.

And Sonic’s Qflix is the nuts and bolts of that process, handling the DVD formatting and CSS duties. Sonic has announced partnerships with drive companies such as DataPlay, Pioneer, PLDS (Philips & Lite-On Digital Solutions Corp.), Plextor, TSST (Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology Corp.). And the special blank discs being released by Mitsubishi Kagaku Media (MKM)/Verbatim, and RITEK.

The first phase of this on-demand DVD creation will be purchasing customized discs via online and retail kiosks. “We are working with various retailers and have plans for potential pilot launches for sure in the first half of next year,” said Taylor.

Sonic wants its technology to free up vast libraries of content for you to purchase epitomizing the classic “long tail” scenario. Where it would be too costly to produce, bring to market and house certain niche content, the on-demand creation allows retailers and manufacturers to burn individual discs, or maintain an infinite number of titles on virtual shelf space. Enabling this is Sonic’s DVD On Demand software, which can power retail kiosks, or be licensed by an online retailer.

The ability to burn at home won’t come until consumers can get their hands on new burners that can write to the new DVDs. Sonic is partnering with Dell (DELL) and other PC manufacturers to have Qflix drives installed, and hopes they start appearing next year.