Studios OK movie-download technology

Hollywood studios have approved a new technology and licensing arrangement that should remove a major obstacle consumers now face with burning movies they buy digitally over the internet onto a DVD that will play everywhere. The deal could make it easier for educators to buy movies online and then show them in their classrooms.

Sonic Solutions Inc. on Jan. 4 introduced the Qflix system for adding a standard digital lock to DVDs burned in a computer or a retail kiosk. The lock, known as “content scrambling system,” or CSS, is backed by the studios, TV networks, and other content creators and comes standard on prerecorded DVDs today. All DVD players come equipped with a key that fits the lock and allows for playback.

But movie download services such as Movielink, CinemaNow, and’s Unbox haven’t been able to use CSS until now, because studios feared widespread DVD burning could lead to piracy. Studios have experimented with an alternative to CSS used by movie downloading service CinemaNow, but only a small number of titles are available for such burning–and some users have complained of problems with playback.

With Qflix–and its studio-backed copy-protection system–consumers should have more options. But they’ll need new blank DVDs and compatible DVD burners to use it.

The system also can be used in retail kiosks, which could hold hundreds of thousands of older films and TV shows for which studios don’t see a huge market. Customers could pick a film, TV episode, or an entire season’s worth of shows and have them transferred to DVD on the spot.

Burning a DVD will take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes using Sonic’s technology, the company said.

Consumers still would be subject to restrictions placed by the movie service and studios. For instance, using the copy-protection technology in Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Media system, a service could specify that a given title can be burned no more than two times.

Still, the solution opens the door for educators to use movie-download services to buy movies online and then burn them to DVD for showing to their students–giving them a potentially more convenient option for procuring video content.

Sonic has been working for three years to develop the technology and get studios to agree to amend the CSS license to allow a “download to burn” option.

“We are pleased and encouraged to see efforts like Sonic’s creation of Qflix that addresses the need for industry standard protection,” Chris Cookson, chief technology officer at Warner Bros., said in a statement.

The initial companies participating in Qflix include Verbatim Corp., which makes blank discs; the movie-download service Movielink; video-on-demand provider Akimbo Systems Inc.; and the Walgreen Co. chain of drug stores.

Studios still must figure out pricing schemes that appeal to consumers and protect their lucrative retail business. Some retailers, such as Wal-Mart, have talked about starting their own online downloading services or installing kiosks to burn DVDs in the store.

Also, most consumers will need a new DVD burner that includes the latest software. Some burners can be updated, Sonic said, and companies such as Plextor, a Qflix partner, are expected to market Qflix-enabled DVD burners that connect with a USB cable.


Sonic Solutions Inc.

Verbatim Corp.


Akimbo Systems Inc.


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