Redmond (WA) – Contrary to statements made by reputable officials, reported in TG Daily and elsewhere, stating that Blu-ray and HD DVD high-definition video disc players would require dedicated and exclusive wired Internet connections in order to implement a key provision of AACS copy protection, a spokesperson for the AACS Licensing Administrator, who is also one of Microsoft’s key representatives to AACS, told TG Daily yesterday afternoon that the copy protection system can utilize a customer’s existing network equipment, including Ethernet routers and WiFi transmitters.
“There has been some false alarm raised in the community, [saying] that it would require connectivity to even operate your players, or to play your disc, or every time you put a disc in the tray…None of that is accurate,” stated Richard Doherty, Microsoft’s senior program manager for media entertainment and technology convergence, in an interview with TG Daily.
As Doherty told us, the first Toshiba HD DVD players to be made available in April, the first Sony Blu-ray players due in May, and models released thereafter under the so-called AACS interim licensing agreement, will not require any kind of Internet connection just to be operable, as some had earlier warned. Under the terms of the interim agreement, however, these manufacturers must agree to abide by whatever the final terms of the AACS specification state, particularly with regard to how they should implement managed copy. It is this provision which will enable users to make limited backups of purchased, licensed media.
“We do expect, in most scenarios, that that managed copy is going to require an Internet transaction to perform the copy,” admitted Doherty. However, he added, managed copy will not be a mandatory feature of high-definition players. In other words, not only will playback of AACS-protected content not require an Internet connection, it will never require one.
“A manufacturer doesn’t have to build a managed copy maker into their device,” Doherty stated. “It is certainly possible to still build players that look just like DVD players, where you put a disc in the slot, it plays that disc, and you’re good to go. Certainly that model, and most of the playback scenarios for AACS, require no Internet connectivity whatsoever, forever.”
A check of the most recent draft of the AACS specifications, finalized last 17 February and recently posted to the AACS LA Web site, now omit diagrams and descriptions seen in earlier drafts and supplemental literature, depicting a dedicated wired connection leading from the consumer’s high-def player to the Clearing House. In AACS terminology, the Clearing House is the arbiter for the managed copy process. Under the terms of the current draft, it is very clear now that studios and content producers will be the parties owning and operating the Clearing Houses, apparently eliminating all possibility that an intermediate service provider, such as an ISP or a telecom company, could step in to fulfill that function. This scenario also makes it more difficult to implement the alternative proposed by the Coral Consortium, where attempts to use one form of digital rights management on hardware that expects another, can render media unreadable by that hardware.
But in a very clever new passage of the AACS 0.91 language, the Licensing Administrator body makes it clear that if any manufacturer did choose to implement a proprietary Internet connection, they could not blame AACS for its necessity. “From the AACS point of view, a device is not required to have an on-line connection capability or support enhanced uses,” the new interim specification reads. “However, individual format licenses may require it.”
In other words, certain implementations may be drawn up where some kind of Internet connection may be required, but it isn’t part of the basic concept of AACS. As Richard Doherty clarified, “It has always been the intent of everyone in AACS, including the content providers, to make sure that no one is hassled by connectivity for a normal playback scenario.”
At any rate, however, the physical components of the Internet connection will never be specified by AACS. Indeed, recently published supplements to the 0.91 specification include very detailed software specifications, including the complete XML schema for managed copy, but nothing that stipulates whether the connection must be exclusively wired.
“It’s going to be a standard Internet connection,” reiterated Doherty, “[so] there should be no reason why it can’t use the normal network you have in your house. There’s nothing special about the network whatsoever…There’s no way we would want to set up a business model that would have such a huge barrier as something like that. We’re very motivated to make sure it works through any normal kind of Internet connection.”
Internet connectivity will be used by the managed copy feature, which remains a critical point of contention among members of AACS and the companies seeking license agreements to employ AACS technology. Indeed, Doherty admitted, the fact that parties cannot yet agree about how to implement this feature – or even what certain terms should mean – is why AACS remains an “interim” specification today, and not a complete one. More from Richard Doherty’s interview with us, including his take on the whole 1080i / 1080p resolution debacle, tomorrow on TG Daily.