Sonic Solutions, known for its Roxio DVD and CD burning software, gave a major boost to the movie download business Thursday by rolling out technology that makes it possible for someone to make their own copyright-protected movie DVDs at home.
Sonic's new Qflix technology incorporates the same content scramble system used to protect DVDs sold at retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart. The protections were developed by the DVD Copy Control Association, which is a consortium of movie studios, consumer electronics companies and computer makers.
Before agreeing to enter the download business in a big way, studios have demanded the same protection as on DVDs sold through retailers. Sonic's technology is expected to satisfy that requirement, and jumpstart download-to-DVD Web services, as well as the creation of store kiosks where consumers can choose a title and make a DVD to add to their home library.
In trying to guarantee broad adoption, Sonic has been working on its technology for three years with movie studios, consumer electronic manufacturers, IT companies and content distributors. "I would anticipate that the movie studios will be very likely to participate in this effort, because it's an incremental sales opportunity for them," Van Baker, analyst for Gartner, told InformationWeek.
There are hurdles to adoption, however. The Sonic technology requires special DVD recorders and discs, so it won't find its way into the home until people buy new PCs, digital video recorders, and other recording devices. That replacement cycle is expected to take three to five years, Baker said. "It's going to take time for the hardware and media to make its way into the marketplace."
Nevertheless, with the right copy protection in place, studios are expected to support the new sales channel. "There's a recognition of the fact that in the days of the Internet, you can't try to force consumers to go to a retail location. If you do, then it's to your detriment," Baker said.
Today, most movies downloaded over the Web can only be seen on a PC, or on a TV connected to the PC. Online movie service CinemaNow has its own technology for burning movies to a DVD, but its offerings are limited to a small number of older titles.
As a result, the movie download business is barely a sliver of the overall business for film rentals and purchases, which last year reached more than $24 billion, according to The Digital Entertainment Group, a movie industry trade organization. Movie downloads last year only amounted to $29 million, according to Adams Media Research.
Sonic is working with many companies in building an ecosystem for the new technology. The company is working with computer maker Dell on Qflix-related software. In addition, the technology has the support of online entertainment distributors Akimbo and Movielink, and disk drive makers DataPlay, Pioneer, Philips & Lite-On Digital Solutions, Plextor, and Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology. The required blank discs are expected from manufacturers Mitsubishi Kagaku Media/Verbatim and RITEK.
Companies expected to provide the equipment for store movie kiosks include Lucidiom, MOD Systems, Polar Frog Digital, TitleMatch Entertainment Group, and YesVideo. Kiosks are seen by the movie industry as a potentially lucrative channel for selling older movies in their catalogs. Such movies are not typically available in retail stores, because of limited shelf space.
Companies working on factory systems to manufacture the special blank DVDs include Allied Vaughn, Elesys, Microtech Systems, Primera Technology, and Rimage, Sonic said.