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Making Movie Servers Legal

The legal tussle between the movie studios and Real Networks over DVD-copying software might eventually resolve lingering doubts that some people have about the legality of certain home video servers. By that I mean the servers that copy DVD movies to internal hard drives.

Copying a DVD, however, isn’t the only way to get a commercial movie onto a home server’s hard drive.

HDGiants of Incline Village, Nev., boasts that it is the only company sanctioned by movie studios to load standard- and high-definition movies onto home media servers, and it does so without copying a physical disk, said marketing director Katherine Ryan. HDGiants, she explained, licenses DRM-protected content directly from studios specifically for storage and playback on residential media servers incorporating HDGiants technology. That technology is being integrated into servers from Crestron, Aspen Media Products, QSonix, Niveus, Russound, Olive and ReQuest.

Here’s how the content gets onto the servers:

Through custom installers, consumers buy a server preloaded with packages of 10 to 100 movies. Prices start at $149 for 10 movies. To get additional movies at a later date, consumers order additional packages through the dealer or directly from HDGiants. Those movies are delivered by installers to the home on a hard drive, which in turn uploads the content to the home server via USB 2.0 port.

Soon, servers equipped with HDGiants download technology will download movies directly from the HDGiants Web site, which offers direct downloads of music to compatible home servers and to PCs. One HDGiants partner, Aspen Media Products, demonstrated a beta version of the video-download service during the recent CEDIA Expo.

HDGiants gets its content from the studios either in the form of master tapes, which are then encoded by HD Giants into protected digital form, or in digital form that matches the company’s specs.

HD Giants is preparing for the post-physical-media era, but ironically enough, it’s doing so in a way that harkens back to the analog era, specifically to the dawn of the car stereo aftermarket in the early 1960s. That’s when a man named Earl Muntz licensed music directly from the music companies, loaded the music onto four-track tape cartridges, and sold the tapes for use with the four-track automotive tape players that he also built and sold.

Muntz never could have envisioned the application of his business model in the high-definition video era.