Electronics Firms Take Step toward Compatible Gadgets
Jun 23, 2004
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A consortium of the world's largest computer and electronics companies have established ground rules for building compatible electronic devices that can share movies, music, and other media.

But the group quickly acknowledged that even greater challenges, including agreeing on how to protect digital content from theft, had to be overcome before consumers can create, manage, and share content on any electronic device.

Many of the 145 global companies, including Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp., are deeply wedded to proprietary ways of storing and processing digital media content. The group, however, found consensus in common and existing standards for audio, video, and Internet communications.

Products that meet the specifications of the Digital Living Network Alliance will be awarded a logo that will let shoppers know that such a device will work with other certified products. The first compatible electronics could start appearing on store shelves by the end of this year.

Several challenges became apparent as participating executives gave a presentation to reporters in San Francisco, CA, U.S. For one, the group acknowledged that they had yet to agree upon an anti-piracy technology for movies and music.

Even if an agreement is eventually reached on so-called digital rights management, business arrangements with movie studios and record labels would likely have to be renegotiated to allow such content to be shared on multiple devices and converted into different digital formats.

"The whole copy protection issue is an order of magnitude more complex than anything we've done so far," said Pat Griffis, the director of worldwide media standards for Microsoft's Windows client division, and vice chairman of the technology alliance.

Also, despite the large collection of companies, at least two important names in consumer electronics were absent from the alliance -- Apple Computer Inc. and RealNetworks Inc. Apple did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Real said it would consider joining at a later date.

Apple's portable music player, the iPod, has become a highly profitable success in legal music downloading. RealNetworks, for its part, this month reached an agreement with Starz Encore Group to set up a flat-rate movie download service for people with broadband Internet connections.

Group members also acknowledged that marketing and pricing missteps with early versions of home content sharing devices -- such as "digital media adapters" that send audio and video from a computer to a stereo or TV -- had put off many consumers.

"When consumers go to the store, they're not exactly sure what they're looking at," said Scott Smyers, a vice president at Sony Electronics and chairman of the group. That problem, he added, is not going away.

"The products are not getting less complicated. They're actually getting more complicated," he said. (Reuters)

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