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Intel, Sony prep digital content standard

The two companies and a host of Japanese electronics manufacturers plan to propose a standard that would let consumers freely swap movies and music--but not outside the home.

Intel, Sony and a host of Japanese electronics manufacturers on Tuesday plan to propose a standard for allowing consumers to freely swap movies and music downloaded from the Internet between all the devices in their homes.

The Digital Transmission Content Protection over IP (Internet Protocol) specification is aimed at balancing the interests of consumers, who recoil against restrictions placed on how and where they can use digital content, and copyright owners, who are terrified of piracy.

The DTCP specification, embodied in home networks, would permit consumers to play downloaded music or movies on any PC or digital device in the home. However, the downloaded material can't be transmitted outside the home or copied.

"It is protection of the links within the home," said Louis Burns, co-general manager of Intel's desktop platforms group, who will discuss the proposal further in a speech Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose. "There are two parties, and we are trying to put their minds at ease."

Although content downloaded from the Internet is still primarily viewed--or listened to--on PCs, the picture is changing. A number of manufacturers have started to sell digital media adapters, small boxes that link traditional televisions and stereos to PCs. Consumer electronics manufacturers also are retrofitting their products for the digital age.

"In the not-too-distant future, the TV that you buy and the DVD player that you buy will contain an access point" for network connections, Burns said.

Concurrently, PCs will become more TV-like. At the conference, Intel will show off a forthcoming all-in-one LCD (liquid-crystal display) TV-PC running Microsoft's Windows Media Center OS.

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"We did the reference design" on the Gateway PC, Burns said, meaning that Intel performed the design work. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker also will debut a set-top box using its silicon.

The companies will release a nearly complete version of the specification, a strong indication that a final specification that can be proposed to standards bodies will come relatively soon.

Besides Intel and Sony, Hitachi, Toshiba and Matsushita participated in the development of the specification.

The Intel Developer Forum will run from Tuesday to Thursday. Among other announcements, Intel is expected to discuss a new version of its Itanium server chip, code-named Tanglewood, and unveil designs for PCs and notebooks that will appear in 2004 and 2005.

Overall, PCs will get smaller. A new motherboard design called BTX (Balanced Technology Extended) will start to hit the market next year. BTX incorporates a number of new technologies, including PCI Express, that remove a substantial portion of the volume inside PCs. For the past several years, PCs have been based on an ATX motherboard.