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CinemaNow, Widevine bring movies to more devices*

August 18, 2008 |  9:01 am

CinemaNow, Widevine DRM for streaming and downloadable online video, reaching Macs, iPods, iPhones, supplanting Windows Media* UPDATED 5:10 P.M.: CinemaNow took issue with the list supplied by Widevine CEO Brian Baker of devices expected to have built-in CinemaNow players. "CinemaNow expects many different manufacturers will be interested in taking advantage of this technology, and we would certainly expect the leaders in the space, including the manufacturers and devices mentioned in this article, to work with us in the future. However, please note that the companies listed in the article are not confirmed CinemaNow partners at this time," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Two of the main differences between legitimate and illegitimate online movie services are ease of use and inventory. Not to put too fine a point on it, but legal services offer more hassle and fewer titles than illegal ones do. Today, online movie service CinemaNow announces the latest in a series of efforts to reduce the hassle factor, licensing anti-piracy technology from Widevine that should make it easier for customers to watch CinemaNow movies on their TV sets, Macs, iPods and other portable devices. It's an incremental move, but clearly a step in the right direction.

Like competing efforts from Amazon.com, Apple and Blockbuster, CinemaNow's online movie service hasn't made much of a dent in the home video market -- despite the expectation of some analysts that downloads will soon be a multi-billion-dollar business. Uptake has been slowed at least in part by the major studios' insistence that their movies be wrapped in DRM, and by incompatibility among DRM flavors. Because CinemaNow relied on Microsoft's DRM, its downloadable movies were hard and/or expensive to watch on any device not running a version of Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Rather than simply staying the course, CinemaNow is trying to overcome the DRM-imposed hurdles by building its store into the software running on portable devices, set-top boxes and even advanced TV sets. The store will take the form of an iTunes-like application that customers use to find, order and play movies, TV shows and music videos. That strategic shift was the motivation for deals with DivX, uVumobile and Macrovision that CinemaNow announced earlier this year. Widevine's technology, which is widely embraced in Hollywood, deters piracy through DRM and conditional-access controls. It works on a full range of platforms and with a variety of formats, enabling CinemaNow to start offering streams as well as downloads, and to reach Macs and Linux computers in addition to Windows PCs.

Specifically, Widevine will be used in the CinemaNow player software that several consumer-electronics manufacturers plan to embed in their devices, as well as providing secure streams and downloads from CinemaNow's website. According to Widevine CEO Brian Baker, the products expected to have built-in CinemaNow players include the Nintendo Wii, high-definition disc players from LG and Samsung, advanced TVs from Samsung and Vizio, and Intel-powered portable Internet access devices. "In addition," Baker wrote in an e-mail, "Widevine has built support for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Our application is available in the Apple store and enables CinemaNow and other customers to provide secure content directly to these devices as well." It would be a coup for CinemaNow to gain entry to the iPhone and the iPod, which up to this point have been iTunes' turf exclusively.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for the Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

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