Duping Dupes

Intel protects high-definition video

New anti-piracy technology from Intel is making a hit in the entertainment industry.

A little-known Intel invention called High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection — becoming widely adopted among consumer electronics makers and PC vendors — will make it virtually impossible to make unauthorized copies of high-definition video programming.

To Hollywood, HDCP represents one of its most important weapons to prevent the Napster-like swapping of high-quality movies and TV shows before it starts. Intels HDCP, which has been under development since mid-1999, has won endorsements by 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros.

The technology, which encrypts the video signal on the cable between a video source and a digital display, is now on its way to becoming a de facto standard in high-end PCs, new high-definition TVs and cable set-top boxes. HDCP, licensed by Intel to hardware manufacturers and content producers, works with the Digital Video Interface, a specification for transmitting digital video signals at 5 gigabytes per second. If someone tries to play HDCP-encoded content on a non-HDCP-compatible display, the player either refuses to play the video or will send a lower-resolution version to the display.

"HDCP is really starting to happen right now," said Mark Waring, Intels technology initiatives manager and head of the Digital Display Working Group, an industry consortium that oversees DVI.

The first HDCP hardware will be JVCs digital VHS player, due in May. Others developing HDCP products include IBM, NEC, Samsung, Sony Electronics, satellite broadcaster EchoStar Communications and set-top box maker Scientific Atlanta. High-definition HDCP-encoded movies and TV broadcasts are expected later in the year.

To be sure, HDCP is not a piracy panacea. Waring said the encryption technology protects only one link in the content distribution chain —the cable from the video players output to the display — and doesnt address restrictions on device-to-device copying. "Its the last two meters of the problem," he said. But its an important part, he said, because the video eventually must go to a display.