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Regional DVD takes hold

To boost copyright protection efforts, DVD playback is being limited by region, meaning users in one part of the world cannot necessarily play discs from another.

DVD users are facing yet another hurdle as DVD drives and discs begin to proliferate throughout the world.

Speaking at the Intel Developer Forum, Michael Moradzadeh, senior legal counsel to Intel, said control of DVD playback is extending to what he described as "regional coding." In other words, playback will be limited by geographical region, meaning users in one part of the world will not automatically be able to play discs in another.

The DVD world is divided into six regions, according to Moradzadeh. "There will be no playback if the disc does not match the player?s region," he said, adding that PCs with DVD drives and consumer DVD players will be required by license to obey the regional coding scheme.

Currently, CD discs and CD-ROM discs do not have this limitation, although other technologies analogous to DVDs such as VCRs are regionalized in some cases.

The effort is one of a number of enhancements aimed at enhancing copy protection of DVD players. Other schemes include "watermarking," which is an invisible, indelible system of marking content that indicates copyright status.

Earlier this month, Walt Disney's video distribution wing, Buena Vista Entertainment, announced it would sell DVD movie titles this holiday season, a major boost for the DVD market. At the time, Buena Vista president Michael Johnson attributed the announcement's timing to Disney's intention to back the regional coding scheme.

"We wanted to make sure regional coding was going to be enforced, and if we waited too long before we entered the marketplace, we felt the regional coding could have potentially broken down," Johnson said on September 5.

Moradzadeh said that currently regional coding is locked into DVD-ROM "driver" software. Driver software typically enables a piece of hardware, such as a DVD drive or player, to work with the operating system (OS). Examples of an OS include Windows 95 and "embedded" OSes in DVD players.

He also added that that regional coding will be built into hardware next year.

At the Intel forum, some participants voiced concern about buying a player or disc in one region and not being able to use it in another. For example, a disc purchased in London may not work with a player in the U.S. Moradzadeh said that this is something users will have to live with. However, he added that flexibility does exist since the disc can be set for playback "in any or all of [the regions]," depending on what conditions the vendor sets for the disc.

On another front, Moradzadeh said that for now, the Content Scramble System (CSS) will be licensed by Matsushita Electric Industrial of Japan. Scrambling technology is the critical scheme for protecting DVD content.

All vendors must obtain a license for the CDD from Matsushita, according to Moradzadeh. The license contains copy protection rules and "if you don?t comply with the rules, you are in violation," he said.