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CableLabs Reaches Deal to Let Devices Run IP Video

CableLabs, in conjunction with four major movie studios, approved a technical specification developed by five consumer-electronics makers that will let set-top boxes and other devices send cable programming -- in an encrypted format -- over Internet Protocol home networks.

As a result, cable subscribers potentially will see new products that can more easily transfer video content, including video-on-demand and high-definition programming, to different devices over an IP network; for example, from a cable set-top box to a PC or mobile video player.

The agreement concludes months of wrangling among three groups over the issue of delivering high-value video content over IP: cable operators, represented by CableLabs; the movie studios -- Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Walt Disney and Warner Bros.; and the Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator (DTLA) (www.dtcp.com), a group formed by Hitachi, Intel, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba.

Under the agreement, the DTLA’s Digital Transmission Copy Protection (DTCP) over IP specification is now an approved output for licensees of CableLabs’ unidirectional and bidirectional digital-cable technologies.

That means cable-ready devices will be able to distribute cable TV programming, including pay-per-view and video-on-demand content, to other devices that comply with the DTCP-IP specification. DTCP-IP protects against unauthorized copying or retransmission over the Internet, while allowing consumers to record content for their own personal use. 

“It involved three big industries, but we worked it out,” said Jud Cary, CableLabs’ vice president of video technology policy and deputy general counsel. “We really had to get all the parties in the same room.”

Added Cary, “What this shows is that we don’t necessarily need government regulation.”

DTLA president Michael Ayers hailed the agreement as “a real advancement for the protected home-entertainment network.”

“DTCP-IP for home digital cable products opens the door for increased flexible use of protected digital-cable content, providing opportunities for cable operators, content owners, device manufacturers and, most importantly, consumers,” Ayers said, in a prepared statement.

CableLabs and DTLA filed a notice of the agreement Wednesday with the Federal Communications Commission. Also Wednesday, DTLA withdrew its February petition to the FCC to review CableLabs’ prior rejection of the DTCP-IP specification.

DTLA and CableLabs also said they agreed to discuss future extensions to DTCP for other business models for cable operators.

The parties had reached an agreement on DTCP-IP in June, but with a few last sticking points.

The movie studios had two concerns: First, that System Renewability Messages (SRMs), which are issued by a content-protection system and can revoke a device’s permission to obtain protected content, would be delivered by cable operators and DTCP-IP devices would receive and respond to SRMs. Second, they requested that CableLabs have the right to participate in the process for changing the specification.

Those conditions have now been met. CableLabs specifications will use the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s A/98 standard for embedding SRMs into content, and DTLA will offer cable operators and other multichannel video service providers an agreement that provides for their participation in the group’s change-management process.

In addition, DTLA agreed to let cable operators handle content tagged as “copy never” using the same level of protection that DTLA adopts for Blu-Ray and HD DVD formats.

“Since June, we have finally dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s,” Cary said.

CableLabs had previously approved DTCP over IEEE 1394 (known as FireWire) and High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) digital outputs, as well as various recording and storage technologies.

DTLA was formed in 1998 by Hitachi, Intel, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba to license their jointly developed technology for protecting video and audio content in home networks.