Move over iTunes. Here comes the Secure Video Processor Alliance

Move over iTunes. Here comes the Secure Video Processor Alliance

Summary: Meet Jas Saini.  He's chairman of the Secure Video Processor Alliance -- an alliance whose members are not about to take Apple's incursion into the home entertainment and content multiplexing market lying down.

TOPICS: Hardware

saini.jpgMeet Jas Saini.  He's chairman of the Secure Video Processor Alliance -- an alliance whose members are not about to take Apple's incursion into the home entertainment and content multiplexing market lying down.

The battle to be your content multiplexer is on.  It's a battle that most people don't even know is taking place.  But it is. And it's too early to declare a winner. What is a content multiplexer? It's the device -- essentially a cache -- that lives at the nexus of the converging worlds of computer technology and the entertainment industry.  Think of it as the train station through which all content -- for example, a movie -- arrives into your home and is then subsequently distributed to other consumption componentry. Apple's iTunes software is one of the most well known examples. Via its Internet-based connection, it can take delivery of content from the iTune Music Store and distribute it to other components.  In addition to being able to burn music to a CD for use on a CD player, it can also distribute content to Apple's portable playback devices (iPods), other computers running the iTunes software, and, announced last week, to a device that lives in your home entertainment center -- a device that Apple has codenamed iTV.  Last week, Apple announced that movies would be available through the iTunes music store -- thereby expanding the scope of content types that iTunes can aggregate and distribute. 

Apple is not alone in its quest to be the central cache for all your content. There's at least one other company -- your local cable TV provider -- that in some cases already has that job and wants to keep it.  In the cable TV world, content is delivered through pipes that are owned and manged by the cable TV provider (the wire outside your house) into your Personal Video Recorder (PVR, a TiVo device is an example of one of these) and then from there, the PVR takes on the role of being the content multiplexer. As far as PVR content multiplexers go, TiVo was one of the first to demonstrate this capability with a service known as TiVo-to-Go that could transfer content from your TiVo PVR to a portable playback device. More recently however, Motorola has demonstrated a similar architecture, capable of moving content from its PVRs to its mobile handsets such as the Motorola Q smartphone.

The battle doesn't stop there. Then, there's your local phone company -- the Baby Bells whose primary source of revenue (the voice business) is being devastated by competing services from the local cable companies, and more recently, from Voice-over-IP technoloiges like Skype that work over the Internet connection (in some cases, a connection that the phone company itself is providing). In an effort to survive, the Baby Bells are diversifying into the content delivery space as well. Using their exclusive access to the dark (unused) fiber optic  technology that may already have been installed outside your home, the phone companies are gearing up to deliver extremely high quality content (eg: Hi-definition) through services like Video-on-Demand and, rest assured, they're just as interested in being your content multiplexer as Apple and the cable guys are. 

But wait, there's more. Ripping a page out of Apple's book, Microsoft is, between its forthcoming Zune brand and its Media Center PC, also gunning to handle all of your content multiplexing. DirecTV, electric utilities and other outfits that already have a "content consumption" relationship with consumers want in as well and now, even some large merchants are tossing their hats into the ring. Amazon, for example, recently joined the fray with its Unbox video service for downloading movies and, while these mostly wire-line providers duke it out,  many of the cellular phone companies are quietly looking to sneak around center court with a come-from-nowhere win that leverages their wireless connections as the delivery vehicle. 

This brings me to my next point which is that to be declared the winner in the content multiplexing market is the equivalent of winning all the marbles. Because of the convergence that's happening between technology, telecommunications, and entertainment, the stakes in this battle are extremely high. Whereas some outfits like Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon are happy to rely on a delivery pipe they don't own (the Internet), the phone, cable, satellite (DirecTV), and cellco companies see their wholly owned pipes as an important competitive weapon in their arsenals.

So far so good, right? Convergence is good for the user experience. Right? Now, instead of having to figure out how to alligator-clip together a path from the source of our content to our playback technologies, these companies are willing to step in and take the friction out for us.  And competition is supposedly good. Right? With so many companies vying to be our one stop content multiplexing shop, consumers should benefit in the way of lower prices for more innovative products and services.  There is one problem though.  Compatibility. Under the hoods of these many different approaches are a variety of anti-piracy technologies (often referred to as Digital Rights Management or DRM) that are incompatible with each other which in turn means that the ultimate end-to-end offerings from the various combantants are also imcompatible with each other.  The net result for those who want to reap the benefits of such turnkey, friction-free, end-to-end solutions today, is that they must make a choice that they're prepared to stick with for the long run.  Unless the compatibility differences are worked out, switching could mean throwing out all of your content and your gear and starting from scratch.

So, who will it be? In hopes of giving the cable companies and PVR companies a fighting chance in the war to be the dominant content multiplexer, the Secure Video Processor Alliance (the SVP Alliance) has established a hardware-based anti-piracy standard that it says will be embedded in a great many consumer devices (PVRs, portable music and video players, big screen displays, etc.) moving forward. In a podcast interview (accessible by way of streaming or download using the embedded player at the top of this blog), Jas Saini, told me of how the technology is better than software approaches to anti-piracy (like Apple's FairPlay) because of the way it's embedded in the silicon from companies like Texas Instruments, ST Micro, and Broadcom (each of whom is an Alliance member). 

This along with the Alliance's 35-member strong roster (currently excludes some big players like Microsoft, Apple, Intel, and TiVo) and yesterday's announcements that compliant-products are soon to be delivered could turn cable TV and PVR providers into more attractive partners for content publishers like movies studios and record labels that struggle with piracy.  Especially now that the software-based approaches from both Microsoft and Apple have proven fallible.  Can the Alliance and its growing membership stage a come from behind win? Saini thinks so.  I'm not so sure. Listen to the podcast to find out how Saini responds to a pretty tough line of questioning.

Topic: Hardware

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  • It's already here- has been for a while

    Video DVRs with screens and RCA jacks were out 3 years before the Video iPod. The PocketDish for example was released before the video iPod and it can work as a portable DVR without the Dish TV services. Oh yeah and the price for these start at $149 not $249 for the video iPod.

    The iTunes for TV content only makes sense if;

    1. You don't have the channel which the content is released for.

    2. Or they finally do require the broadcast flag and mark all shows as non-recordable.
    Edward Meyers
  • Move over iTunes!!!

    The wave of the future is YOU!
    The music and entertainment industry is in the middle of a MAJOR culture shift. Finally, the industry will no longer be just FOR the will be BY the people! The future of Music, Ring Tones, Games, Movies, & YOU! Check out," and "Watch The Commercial!"
  • So the solution is more DRM (why not just give up on it)

    (As sung by the Media Moguls Choir)

    What the world needs now, is DRM, sweet DRM.
    It's the only thing, that there's just too little of!
    What the world needs now, is DRM, sweet DRM.
    No not just for some but for everyone.

    What the world needs now, is DRM, sweet DRM.
    Money is the thing that we've just too little of!
    What the world needs now, is DRM, sweet DRM.
    In everything and everywhere, it is what we're dreamin' of.

    Lord, we don't need our libraries,
    There's no "per view" cash there to find.
    Without "fair use" we'll have the cash,
    Enough to last till the end of time.

    What the world needs now is DRM, sweet DRM
    No, not just for pirates but for everyone.
    What the world needs now, is pay per use,
    No, not just for cable but for everyone.

    What the world needs now, is pay per move,
    No, not just records to CDs but for everyone.
    What the world needs now, is pay pay pay,
    Now money comes to us from everyone.

    [with apologies to Burt Bacharach]
  • DRM IS CRAP!!!

    As one of your regular columnists keeps reminding us...

    I've yet to have much loss due to it (other than some videos I downloaded from a site I was subscribed to to which I no longer belong and of which I was WARNED were DRM licensed in Windows Media format by the website)... My solution??? I just re-downloaded them in Quicktime format, and downloaded all future videos in THAT format, as well, for which they DIDN'T have a DRM solution. I can no longer view the Windows Media videos, as their license has expired, but there were just a few before I got wise... ALL the Quicktime videos still work JUST FINE.

    It's CRAP because I still remember all the HOOPLA the Movie Studios made over the video rental business when IT first came out -- back when they were still getting $79 and UP for a SINGLE VHS or Beta copy of "An Officer and a Gentleman," or some similar title... They sued, threatened to sue, cried, complained to Congress that all this video rental stuff was going to be their DEATH KNELL... THEN they got SMART, dropped prices, ENCOURAGED the rental businesses, which became a MAJOR SOURCE of video sales, as rental establishments bought DOZENS OF COPIES of each new major release, and suddenly they were making MUCH MORE on each new release than ever, PLUS, since the prices were then $30 per movie, rather than $80, a lot of folks just bought them to start with, or rented one and then bought it if they liked it.

    Of course with things DOWNLOADABLE and digital recording making it possible to make PRISTINE copies (which you can't do with consumer-level VCRs, as they copy only HALF of the image), I can certainly see where the game has changed in some MAJOR ways, but the NAME OF THE GAME is still very simple... GREED. If you make your product(s) both ATTRACTIVE and AFFORDABLE, the INCENTIVE to steal them decreases dramatically!

    Conversely, if all this DRM stuff ends up with a bunch of competing DRM platforms, none of which are compatible with each other, it CAN'T be good for the entertainment business in the longrun. If the rich and powerful "geniouses" who are behind Microsoft, Apple, AT&T, Intel, the Cable industry, Sony, Universal and all the rest of the major players can't figure that out before they end up creating a digital situation MUCH WORSE than Beta vs. VHS, they'll have nobody but themselves to blame.

    As for me (and frankly, I think, MANY informed consumers like me, who read articles like this one, I'M WAITING UNTIL THE DUST SETTLES before I commit many dollars to ANY platform that's going to "lock me in," and I'm SOOOOOO glad I didn't buy an iPod when they were "all the rage" before I found out about Apple's content restriction CRAP)!
    Jeff Hayes