Hollywood Launches Legal Digital Copying of DVD Movies

Accessing the digital copies was easy. Pop the second disc into your PC, and it comes up with a menu that lets you choose between accessing special features or going to Digital Copy. I selected Digital Copy, and waited a few moments while the disc verified the state of my Windows digital rights management software; turned out I needed an update, a situation Microsoft remedied in just a few seconds.

Once my DRM was up-to-date, the disc prompted me for a 16-digit code that's printed on an insert that came with the DVD. Fox's server quickly validated the code; once I was approved, the Digital Copy Manager launched. I selected my movie from column A, chose the destination (hard drive, portable device) from column B, and clicked the 'Start Sync' (odd choice of nomenclature) button. The transfers were fast, taking 2 minutes for the PC version of the film and 2 minutes, 20 seconds to transfer it to a portable device.

The PC version's image quality looked surprisingly good on my 19-inch LCD monitor. The image appeared on a par with movie download-to-buy options (such as Apple's iTunes Music Store).

I didn't have the opportunity to view the portable version. For starters, I learned the hard way that the Digital Copy Manager isn't smart enough to recognize that the Samsung YP-P2 isn't a Windows PlaysForSure device: I ended up copying the portable version of the film directly to the YP-P2. Oops.

For now, the Die Hard digital copy will work only with Windows PlaysForSure devices. This is a notably odd choice, given that even Microsoft has backed off from PlaysForSure, and don't support the standard. Fox's Kaye says that other formats may be supported in the future.

The system is set up to allow only one transfer each of the PC and portable versions. If something goes wrong--for instance, your hard drive fails or you lose your portable device--Kaye says that Fox's customer service will provide a one-time-only disaster-recovery exception for a second copy. Warner has not established any parameters for such scenarios as of yet.

Warner's Harry Potter DVD wasn't yet available for me to try its digital-copy functionality, but from what Wuthrich describes, it's very similar to how Fox's implementation worked. Two small differences: One, the portable version transfers to your PC hard drive first and then moves to your portable unit. Two, Wuthrich says the portable version will work on any device that supports Windows Media digital rights management, including media players and some mobile phones.

Why Digital Copying?

After watching the music industry implode due to rampant illegal sharing of digital music, both Fox and Warner realized that they needed to listen to consumers--or the movie industry could find itself going down the same treacherous path.

The upside? The studios are actually making it easy for consumers to transfer digital copies of movies. These first two discs are testing the waters to see how consumers respond; executives at both studios, however, indicate that plans are under way to expand the programs, assuming that the initial efforts are successful.

"Our vision is that along with the DVD disc, this gives the consumer added convenience," says Fox's Kaye. "We have full confidence that it will be very appealing [to consumers] and we'll be doing it again and again."

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