Scott Morrison

DRM: What it Is and Why You Need It
By Scott Morrison

LEIGHTRONIX just returned from another highly successful NAB Show in sunny Las Vegas. NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show is the world’s largest annual convention encompassing the convergence of media, entertainment, and technology. The unquestionably hot topics this year included online video, high resolution video, and video over IP — technologies LEIGHTRONIX has already been perfecting for many years.

This union of media and technologies amplifies copyright concerns of major studios and media distribution providers like DirecTV, DISH Network, and other MSOs (multiple-system operators). All of these providers require some form of DRM (Digital Rights Management) and the agreed upon rules are expected to be more strictly enforced now that AT&T and DirecTV have merged. This rapidly evolving “merging of technologies” is also blurring the semantic distinctions between DRM (asset protection) and conditional access (transport protection — AKA CA and CAS) with the terms now commonly used interchangeably. While an inevitable addition to any significant video over IP workflow, DRM can be a difficult concept with a lot of variation.DRM

What is it?

DRM schemes are various conditional access technologies used to control how content (or even hardware) is used. They are a means to protect intellectual property from distribution (piracy), modification, or unauthorized use. While watermarking for forensic tracking is sometimes considered an acceptable deterrent, DRM requirements typically consist of two parts: encryption and authentication.  Encryption is the process of applying an algorithm to data that scrambles it, making it unreadable without a decryption key. Authentication is assuring that only customers with correct permissions can access the decryption key.

Effectiveness via the Possibility of Repercussion

Some groups, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), oppose DRM as ineffective (e.g. pirates will pirate regardless) and stress a user should be able to copy and use their legally purchased content as they wish. However, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) criminalizes bypassing or circumventing DRM even if no copyright infringement occurs, bolstering effectiveness by virtue of repercussion.

Forms of DRM

Various forms of DRM herald back to the late 70s/early 80s with one of the most notable examples being Microsoft’s on-disk copy protection included on the release of the first computer game, “Adventure,” available for the “new” IBM PC. And who could forget Macrovision on VHS? Tapes were injected with varying signals into the vertical blanking interval, driving a VCR’s automatic gain control crazy as it would continually brighten, darken, and blur the video signal of copied VHS tapes. Later models of VHS recorders and DVD recorders would recognize the Macrovision DRM and simply refuse to record, although early forms of Macrovision were easily bypassed with about $40 worth of external electronic components.

Software creators typically battle piracy with numerous approaches including product keys, limited install activations, dongles (required physical devices that attach to your computer), and the ever-annoying persistent online authentication. However, the nature of multimedia content such as video and music presents a different set of difficulties for providers trying to protect their content. IP streaming of video and audio to a myriad of receiving devices, many possessing multimedia capture capabilities, consistently demand more powerful encryption technologies to scramble the signal.

What are your options?

There are a number of “Hollywood approved” DRM solutions available today including LG’s Pro:Idiom™, Verimatrix VCAS™, Cisco’s VideoGuard™, and SECUREMEDIA® by Arris. Each has their pros and cons as some solutions may have more features yet require additional hardware, key servers, and/or annual subscriptions that can cost thousands of dollars per year depending on the configuration of the intended application.

LuxeVision + Pro:IdiomThe comprehensive IPTV solution from LEIGHTRONIX, LuxeVision®, is fully compatible with several of the DRM providers listed above. Though in some cases the cost of the DRM portion of a system quote is greater than the entire IPTV solution (televisions excluded). To mitigate most of that expense for our customers, we lean toward the LG Pro:Idiom solution due to native support already included in some direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) hospitality hardware as well as select smart TVs (and certain set back boxes). With no additional DRM hardware required and no annual encryption fees, what’s not to like?

The convergence of media and technology has made DRM an inevitable aspect of any video over IP workflow. Supported by strong legislation and ever-evolving technology, DRM is the best defense against piracy and unauthorized use. LEIGHTRONIX IPTV solutions not only offer an affordable, superior interactive television service, but provide numerous avenues for DRM. For more information, call the LEIGHTRONIX solution specialists at (800) 243-5589.

Scott has been managing sales at the national level for over eight years at LEIGHTRONIX. With 25-plus years of experience in the professional video market, Scott’s primary responsibilities include establishing and maintaining dealer distribution channels.

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