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iHD less expensive than Blu-ray alternative, thanks to Vista, says HP

The dispute over what the specifications don't say

In press statements, HP has said its goal in making these requests, or demands, of the BDA is to help bridge the two formats. At first, observers concluded that, with HP such a valued BDA member, it would adopt HP's suggestions, and that about wraps things up for HD DVD. But the issues on the table here are not matters of, to borrow a phrase, apples and apples. Microsoft plays a key role in the engineering and deployment of the two technologies key to this debate, iHD and Advanced Access Content System (AACS), both of which are still in their formative stages, and not yet ready for prime time. As Peterson told us, if Microsoft has any say about it, AACS will contain mandatory managed copy provisions; and while Blu-ray members may toss and turn over the context of "mandatory," they will inevitably stumble over its technological implications: AACS, Blu-ray's own copy protection mechanism, would contain provisions which BDA members openly oppose.

The point of contention for managed copy boils down to the omitted language from the following excerpt from the AACS Technical Overview document, which the document itself admits to not specifying: "In addition," the document states on its final page, "content owners can authorize uses of AACS content in other, unspecified ways as part of an online transaction. As a rule, if the transaction requires the use of AACS-defined keys such as device keys or media keys, the AACS specification applies, and the specification defines a minimum support level for that transaction in every AACS device." The "minimum support level" referred to here is a sort of contract that guarantees that the user of a licensed disc is offered some kind of backup service, as Warner Bros. SVP Steve Nickerson told us last Friday. But since the AACS specifications are not yet complete, specifications for this minimum level have not yet been written. Microsoft has told HP the minimum level is where the "mandatory" element is already being planned; Warner Bros., coinciding with other studios' position on the subject, disagrees.

For its part, Microsoft has not yet provided comment on this subject, though may do so soon. But as we were told by one of the authors of a blog that may have helped convince HP to seek a meeting with Microsoft, the BDA may be using two other copy protection technologies, called BD+ and ROM Mark, as a means of bypassing or even preventing AACS' "mandatory" guarantee from functioning properly. Chris Lanier is an independent member of the Microsoft technical community, and has served as one of Microsoft's "MVPs" - non-employees who provide technical and logistical support to Microsoft. (The company does have an oft-confused employee by the same name, but who works in another division.) Based on his understanding of the subject, which comes from Microsoft, Lanier told us AACS will have a mandatory copy provision. But depending on how BD+ and ROM Mark are implemented by the BDA, Lanier told us, "they have the potential to render the ability for the consumer to make a managed copy unusable."

BD+ is a technology which would enable content providers, such as studios, to determine the encryption scheme used on their discs, but also to change that scheme for future renditions, and even to flash the ROMs of BD players remotely with the new scheme, if it is determined that the old scheme has been cracked. ROM Mark is a digital watermarking technology that will help specify which discs can and cannot be copied, and whose watermarks cannot be copied themselves through conventional means. In an e-mail to TG Daily, Lanier wrote, "BDA members have been quick to note that HD DVD and Blu-ray both use AACS, and thus both will offer managed copies. However, until the BDA finishes the spec, or releases some public information about how BD+/ROM Mark are implemented with AACS, the ability for the consumer to actually make a managed copy is up in the air."

"HP's been one of the strongest proponents of Blu-ray Disc," HP's Josh Peterson told us. "We've been public spokespeople for the format...in the hopes that Blu-ray Disc would win this format war through the strong support and the industry support that we have. But as we get closer and closer to product introduction, and the other side is still very committed to the format, if there are going to be two products in the marketplace, at the end of the day, we have to support whatever one is most cost effective and user friendly. In some cases, that may be Blu-ray Disc; in some cases, that may be HD DVD, and it's not in our best interests to be exclusive to either format if one is more cost effective than the other. We can't be attached to the less cost effective one."