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Sonic Unveils DVD-On-Demand System

Sonic Solutions introduced a range of new technologies and licensing programs in its Qflix DVD on-demand initiative that will make possible the legal downloading and burning to DVD of copy-protected movies, TV shows and other video programs.

The Qflix initiative encompasses a range of products and industries including special DVD PC drives, specially adapted recordable DVD media, and retail-kiosk burning stations where consumers can go to download and burn to disc movies on demand for among thousands of titles.

What makes the system possible is the ability to record movies complete with CSS content protection, plus any additional content protection adaptations or enhancements that copyright holders require. Consumers can buy or rent DVDs using the system, but will be prevented from making further copies from the discs.

The system is based on recently approved industry specifications for recording electronic downloads set by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA).

Sonic said DVD On Demand will help reduce inventory costs for Internet retailers while allowing content owners to make more of their entertainment catalogs available for purchase.

In addition, because content is stored remotely or on large hard drives built into kiosks, a virtually limitless catalog of titles could be made available at any time for purchase or rental.

“Retailers have told us that between 30 and 50 percent of customers that come into a store looking for a particular title walk away empty handed,” Jim Taylor, Sonic Solutions advanced technology group senior VP, told TWICE. “There is a huge unfilled demand there. If consumers can walk into a store and find 500 titles on the shelves and along side them touchscreen panels where they can browse 5,000 and eventually 50,000 titles, then that makes a much better way to get content to them in a retail environment.

“Being able to download content to PCs and network-connected set-top boxes and DVD recorders will make it possible for consumers to have their own mini-manufacturing plants in their own homes.

To address the collectible market, Sonic is arranging with studios to have packaging art and disc labels available to download and print to complete the offering. About the only thing lacking from a prepackaged disc would be certain special edition offerings such as booklets.

“A number of our partners are working on product launches this fall,” said Taylor. “Factory manufacturing will be up and running before the end of the year, but that may be transparent to consumers. They’ll just start seeing more titles available on e-tailer Web sites . This would involve long-tail content that didn’t make sense to run through the traditional fulfillment and production department.”

A number of partners are working on deploying pilot kiosk programs later this year, with more happening next year.

For home burning, Sonic is involved with Movielink, which is working on a pilot program later this year or next year, and Qflix-enabled PCs are expected to start showing up from major PC manufacturers in late 2007 or early 2008, Taylor said.

Sonic announced a list of partners on Qflix technology, including Dell, which will use Qflix technology and associated software on PC hardware. Other partners include Internet entertainment distributors, such as Akimbo and Movielink, that will provide direct access to a selection of premium content.

Consumers will be able to burn the content they download on new drives from such companies as DataPlay, Pioneer, PLDS (Philips & Lite-On Digital Solutions), Plextor, TSST (Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology) and others. Partners on the blank media side include Mitsubishi Kagaku Media (MKM)/Verbatim and Ritek. In addition, Sonic is working with manufacturers of set-top boxes, networked DVD recorders, DVRs, and drive components, such as MediaTek and Sunext, to bring Qflix into the living room, the company said.

Taylor said that Qflix discs incorporate changes in reflectivity settings and other areas, which have been necessary in the CSS system to enable the cloning of CSS-encrypted DVD-ROM media.

At retail, companies including Lucidiom, MOD Systems, Polar Frog Digital, TitleMatch Entertainment Group and YesVideo are releasing product solutions that, combined with the availability of licensed movie archives from studios, will provide consumers touchscreen access to virtual video shelves through kiosks.

Other Sonic partners such as Allied Vaughn, Elesys, Microtech Systems, Primera Technology and Rimage will participate in producing factory systems capable of manufacturing custom discs to fulfill online orders.

“All eight major motion picture studios were involved in amending the CSS license,” said Taylor. “Some of them, like Warner Brothers and Sony Pictures, are jumping into this opportunity quite aggressively. Other studios, as well, to varying degrees with emphasis on retail or in-home burning have said they will be taking advantage of the new channels this creates.”

Taylor said studios will announce significant quantities of titles they plan to make available for the DVD On Demand system now through the middle of 2008.

Blank media will carry a slight premium over the cost of conventional recordable DVDs, but studios will determine the rental or purchase prices for recorded titles.