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Universal Pictures: "DRMs do not stop piracy"

There are very few industries that have seen an equal amount of buzzwords and confusing information surfacing in recent years than digital entertainment. HDTV, HD video, HDMI, HDCP, Blu-ray, progressive and interlaced resolution, HD DVD, AACS are just part of the current flood of keywords and abbreviations that describe a transition from the way we watch TV and movies today and in the future. For the average consumer and sales assistant, it is almost impossible to decrypt spec sheets and get an idea what certain feature sets of high-definition devices really mean.

One of those areas is high definition resolution, which is available today in 720p, 768p, 1080i and 1080p versions. Each resolution is typically associated with image quality, with 720p being the lowest and 1080p the highest. In the HD format race, the 1080i limitation of currently available HD DVD players is seen as a disadvantage for the format, while the 1080p capability of Blu-ray players as an advantage. If you follow our coverage of this industry, then you already know that we are highly critical of this topic, as it offers the marketing departments of IT and consumer electronics (CE) companies a huge playground to blur specifications by overstressing certain aspects or leaving out key characteristics of devices.

Supporters of the HD DVD camp, including Universal Pictures, recently announced the formation of "North American HD DVD Promotional Group" that will be funding a $150 million marketing and advertising campaign - "The Look and Sound of Perfect" - to counter the perception of a superior Blu-ray format. This event provided an opportunity for TG Daily to chat with industry executives not only about HD DVD, but also about the current HD environment and developments as well as digital rights management approaches. In the past, we have covered multiple angles of HD from the IT and CE perspective. This time, Jerry Pierce, senior vice president of technology at Universal Pictures, offered the opinion of a major film studio.

TG Daily: Let's cut to the chase right away. What we know today is that Blu-ray players support output in 1080p [progressive] and HD DVD devices are limited, at least for now, to 1080i [interlaced]. So, Blu-ray has the edge right now? Does the difference between 'p' and 'i' matter?

TG Daily: What was the key reason for Universal to go with HD DVD and not Blu-ray?

TG Daily: Rich features - or interactive features - are one of the big advantages that HD media promise to offer over a regular DVD. What exact features could that be?

TG Daily: When will we see such interactive content on discs and what exactly will they allow us to do?

TG Daily:Internet connectivity appears to be enabled by Ethernet ports that are integrated into HD players. Why aren't there wireless capabilities available today?

"We don't expect [consumers] to make copies of HD DVDs for their friends. And we don't think customers want to do that either."

TG Daily: Copy protection or digital rights management (DRM) is another major issue in high definition video. What is your view on necessary DRM?

TG Daily: Let's go into the other direction: What would be an acceptable DRM approach?

TG Daily: What about private copies of movies?

TG Daily: DRM appears to need some sort of a compromise between want the content industry feels is necessary to protect its content and consumer's expectations of what they can do with it. Do you feel that you have found that middle ground yet?

TG Daily:For the first time, IT companies are deeply involved in the generation of a new video format. This scenario is especially apparent in the creation of entertainment center PCs. What value do such devices represent to Hollywood?

"In the future, you will see more executive crossover and you will see more IT people in the studios - many more than you saw a few years ago."

TG Daily: So, you have this apparent need to collaborate with IT, but there appears to be this gap of understanding each other and it looks like that it will mostly depend on IT to learn how Hollywood works in order to be able to develop successful technologies. How much work is left to be done on that end?

TG Daily: Is the current confusion around HD a concern for you?

TG Daily: Thank you for the interview.