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IBM offers DVD compromise

The company says it has software that could bring down the cost of DVD while offering better protection for DVD titles from pirates.

IBM (IBM) says it has software that will make PCs with DVD drives cheaper and better protect DVD titles from pirating.

The company has developed software that can translate encrypted video content on DVDs, resulting in a less costly way for PC manufacturers to include DVD-ROM drives in systems.

Getting DVD titles from the disc to the screen takes two separate steps inside the computer. DVD-enabled systems typically use a specially designed chip to decompress MPEG-2 data, or restore it from a compacted format used to store the data to full-length. After that, another specialized chip decrypts the data, or rearranges it into the original order so the computer can read it.

Some vendors would like to see all this processing work done in software instead of by specialty chips that add to the cost of a PC. But there are problems: decompressing video is an enormously computing-intensive task that most chips on the market today just can't handle. As for decryption, the motion picture industry is worried that software-only decryption won't be secure enough and might let DVD titles be illegally copied.

This is one reason why computers with DVD-ROM drives have been slow to reach the market.

IBM thinks it has a compromise: its software will decrypt the MPEG data, thus eliminating the need for one excess chip, but will use a software technology called CSS (Content Scrambling System) to make it more difficult to copy material. IBM claims that its software results in a cost-effective DVD system that will protect content providers.

IBM is not the only company to try and address this problem. Chromatic Research has a media processor that decompresses and decrypts MPEG data with a single chip, but it sells for about $40. In contast, IBM says its solution costs $27.

Intel says it too is working on software to reduce the cost of DVD systems. The chip giant says its software would do all of the decoding and decryption work by drawing from the PC's main processor, such as a Pentium or Pentium II. This would eliminate the need for any extra chips, but analysts say that Intel's idea isn't practical--at least not yet.

"The difficulty is that if you use only the CPU for the entire decoding job, chances are you'll get frame drop out. If you are watching a long stream of video, you'll probably get 15 frames per second instead of 24 to 30," said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Associates, which does market research on graphics technology.