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Downloadable DVD: Recordable CSS  (11/2006)

    Content Protection for the Rest of Us

    by Douglas Dixon

Unscrambled Content
DVD-on-Demand Technology
New Ecosystem, New Markets

While the CSS copy protection used on DVDs was broken long ago, it still has been very successful as a "speed bump" that inhibits mass casual copying of discs by consumers. But CSS (Content Scramble System) was designed and implemented to protect rights for only mass-market replicated discs -- It was not available for recordable DVDs, including duplicated titles created by corporate or independent filmmakers, and certainly not for consumers burning personal discs on their home PCs.

One side effect of this choice for the content industry was that it also blocked them from exploring the market for download to DVD delivery. No CSS for burners meant no protection for possibly interesting applications like DVD burning kiosks. It also limited the value of electronic download services -- you can download protected movies to play on your PC, but then cannot generally save and enjoy them on DVD -- a possibly interesting market, with almost 40 million broadband-connected households in the USA alone.

The solution was obvious -- Simply get the content industry to agree to extend CSS for use on DVD burners, update all the DVD drive and recorder products to support this feature, invent and bring to market a new DVD recordable media that supports the CSS mechanism, and develop the software technology to make it all actually work. 

Oh, and do all this in a way that maintains full compatibility with the existing installed base of more than a hundred million DVD players. No problem!

Unscrambled Content

Actually it has been a long slog, working among the content, consumer electronics, and PC industries, and championed in particular by Sonic Solutions ( "We've been working on this for three years," says Jim Taylor, chief of DVD technology and general manager of the Advanced Technology Group at Sonic, "and now have a new recordable disc format for premium content."


In early August, the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA, announced agreement on a rule change to permit the creation of CSS-protected DVDs on burners, explicitly for use in applications including kiosks, small custom runs, and in-home recording on personal computers via the Internet or on network-enabled DVD recorders. Formal approval of this change is expected to be completed early next year.


Sonic has implemented support for download and burn to DVD at two levels, in its AuthorScript DVD-on-Demand software engine, and in the Roxio Venue consumer application for purchasing and burning content on DVD. 

And just to make clear that the content owners support this idea, Sonic announced a licensing agreement with Movielink to extend the Movielink broadband video-on-demand (VOD) service (with a library of more than 1200 titles as of the end of 2005) to burn downloaded movies onto recordable discs.

Launched in 2002, Movielink ( is a joint venture of MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal and Warner Bros. -- and offers content from all the major studios including Walt Disney and Fox, plus independent studios. It expanded in April 2006 from rentals to add the option to download-to-own, with some titles released day-and-date with the DVD launch. Movielink typically offers new releases for purchase for US $19.99 or rental for $4.99 (for a 24 hour viewing period, or extend another day for $0.99), plus catalog titles for around $9.99 purchase / $1.99 rental.

Sonic also announced an agreement with Akimbo Systems to integrate Roxio Venue with the Akimbo Internet video-on-demand service for television ( Akimbo's selection of over 14,000 programs from more than 200 distinctive providers is currently available through the Online Spotlight area of Microsoft Media Center Edition PCs, and will soon be available on the new RCA Akimbo Player, an Internet video-on-demand set-top box, and through the upcoming AT&T Homezone entertainment service. Sonic will include Akimbo as a premier service provider in the retail version of Roxio Venue, and Akimbo will distribute Roxio Venue with the Akimbo Service directly to consumers and also through Akimbo's service provider partners.

DVD-on-Demand Technology

Sonic's intent for its AuthorScript DVD-on-Demand technology is to enable a wide range of markets, including on-demand manufacturing systems, Internet video-on-demand services, set-top devices, retail kiosks, and third-party PC software applications.

The Sonic component manages the entire process: importing content from approved download systems, securely managing the content protection through a DRM gateway, dynamically transcoding the video to MPEG-2 format during the download, formatting the material for burning as an interactive DVD, and then burning the final disc. 

Besides supporting recordable CSS, DVD-on-Demand also includes an Extensible Media Protection Architecture (XMPA) that supports other studio-approved copy protection mechanisms. It also can provide the extras found in retail packaged DVDs, including special features, additional language tracks, bonus material, and even printable DVD labels and cover art for collectible-quality packaging.

Sonic also has developed Roxio Venue as an end-user media application implementing its DVD-on-Demand technology. Venue serves as the storefront to browse and purchase movies online, a media manager to download and manage the titles, a media player to view the content locally on the PC, and the burning engine for enjoying the movies on recordable DVDs.

        Roxio Venue

Sonic is using the Microsoft Windows Media DRM to protect the content stored on the PC ( Using WMV format enables local playback on the PC), and the video then can be transcoded to MPEG-2 to burn to recordable DVD with CSS content protection . The CSS feature of Venue will be activated after final approval of recordable CSS, expected early in 2007. Sonic will release Roxio Venue as an end-user application through its direct and retail channels, and in customized versions for content owners and aggregators though its OEMs.


New Ecosystem, New Markets

Enabling downloadable DVDs does require broad changes across the industry. 

- The downloadable content needs to be higher quality, for example increasing from around 500 to 700 KB/sec up to 2 MB/sec in order to provide full DVD quality. 

- The new recordable media format also needs to be productized, with a new otherwise-unwritable area for the CSS control information. 

- And new DVD drives and recorders need to be designed to support burning CSS-compliant discs with the new media (which should be a relatively straightforward firmware upgrade).

But why expand the DVD market now, when the industry has focused its hopes and efforts on the new high-definition discs? "The studios agree that this is good for the next-generation formats," explains Taylor. "It will build the ecosystem -- licensing, business models, consumer awareness -- and the next generation then can take advantage of it."

"This opens up the environment for long tail content." he says, "burning to DVD will increase demand."


Sonic Solutions

CSS / DVD Copy Control Association


Akimbo Systems

Microsoft Windows Media DRM