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Boosting browsers, Adobe extends its DRM to Web video

The move could mean people watch copy-protected premium video in a single browser rather than with dozens of video apps. For now though, Adobe's HTML video approach only works with Firefox.

One feature added to HTML5 is support for built-in video. Now copy-protected video is coming, too, without requiring a browser plugin.
One feature added to HTML5 is support for built-in video. Now copy-protected video is coming, too, without requiring a browser plugin. W3C

Adobe Systems has begun bringing its video copy-protection technology to the Web, an important step in its years-long shift away from its Flash technology.

Adobe's Flash Player helped usher in the streaming-video revolution on the Internet, but the industry is moving toward new browser-video technology because of increasingly sophisticated Web standards, security concerns about browser plugins, and Flash opposition from Apple. One key part of that shift has been support for video embedded directly into Web pages through a relatively new expansion to HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), which is used to build individual Web pages.

But for companies that wanted to restrict people's ability to copy, save, or share video through digital rights management (DRM) technology, HTML video couldn't help. Even though it was nearly as easy to add video into Web pages as it was to add photos, it also was just about as easy for people to save those videos to their own hard drives. Studios and streaming-video companies don't care for that approach.

But in conjunction with the IBC 2014 conference on Monday, Adobe announced its Primetime DRM system now can deliver copy-protected video to websites viewed with Mozilla's Firefox browser. Mozilla doesn't care for DRM, but the non-profit believed accepting Adobe's video DRM into Firefox was a better alternative than seeing premium video sidestep the browser altogether.

The average person generally won't notice whether a copy-protected video is delivered with or without Flash for now. But in the long run, Adobe's move is important: by weaning the industry from its Flash Player and into an ordinary browser, Adobe is giving a big shot in the arm to the Web. That means in the future, you might well be watching premium video in a single browser rather than with dozens of different apps from Hulu, YouTube, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, and innumerable TV stations and studios.

Web video uses two HTML5 standards, Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) and Media Source Extensions (MSE) that are just arriving in browsers. Unfortunately for the Web, different browsers implement these standards with different DRM mechanisms called content decryption modules. That makes it harder for those with video on the Web to support multiple browsers. Adobe's Web-based DRM system works only with Firefox, not with Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer, the company said. For those browsers, Adobe still relies on Flash Player.

DRM technology has a history of being cracked, letting people with enough technical savvy evade the copy-protection restrictions and share movies without paying. But DRM nevertheless deters a lot of casual copying, and it remains widely used.

Adobe Primetime has a long list of major streaming-media customers, with Netflix joining the list, Adobe said at IBC. Other customers include the BBC, Comcast, HBO, Hulu, NBC, Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting, Walmart's Vudu, and Yahoo.

Also at IBC, Adobe said it's working with three major chipmakers -- Intel, AMD, and Broadcom -- to add copy protection to hardware. The San Jose, Calif.-based company thinks the move will help encourage streaming of high-resolution 4K video, also called Ultra HD or UHD.

"Hardware-based DRM offers a maximum level of security needed to protect 'super' premium video content, including HD and 4K content in latest UHD TV digital home devices," Adobe said.