To ward-off bootleggers in the motion picture industry, Dolby Laboratories Inc. is developing digital rights management software for servers used by theater owners that are swapping out celluloid for digital projector and IT networks.
A spotlight will shine on the San Francisco-based developer of music and sound systems' new server technology next month. Dolby's server technology will support the Walt Disney Studios rollout of "Chicken Little" on Nov. 4 across the country, and will debut in about 85 theaters in digital 3-D format, in which Industrial Light & Magic, a Lucasfilm Ltd. company, rendered the movie. Studios, including Disney, will say they will save about $1 billion annually from not having to produce and ship film reels. Instead they distribute the movies in digital format either by satellite, fiber or on hard drives that are shipped through the mail.
Dolby has been working to develop DRM for several years. But its complicated software, and similar projects have been known to take up to ten years, Tim Partridge, senior vice president and general manager for Professional Division at Dolby Labs told TechWeb on Wednesday. "We're bullish about digital cinema because we think it's a much better defense against piracy than current systems," said Partridge. "The first level of security is the information during transmission, whether satellite or hard drive, is very securely encrypted."
Dolby built the servers from the ground up, rather than purchase them off the shelf. Partridge said it gave Dolby tighter control on the security features built into the servers. The average 80 gigabytes compressed full-length movie file with about 60 megabits per second data transfer rate is very susceptible to theft and misuse, especially if the theater's network is connected to the Internet. When the movie is decrypted in the server it's most vulnerable to attack, and a sophisticated pirate can rip-off the content from off-the-shelf equipment too easily, he said.
Dolby's servers run on Linux. With digital cinema technology maturing quickly, both software and hardware upgrades are already in the works. Among the fixes already known is an upgrade from the MPEG compression standard to the JPEG 2000 compression standard based on the digital cinema specifications finalized last summer by the Digital Cinema Initiative LLC, an industry consortium formed by the top studios to develop digital cinema standards. The group disbanded last month after completing the task.
More software upgrades may be in order if and when the movie industry moves from 2K (2048 x 1080) resolution projectors to 4K (4096-by-2160) in theaters. These 4K projectors display images at more than four times the resolution of current high-definition projectors. The server processor speeds would have to increase from today's 250 megabytes. It's not known if and when that would happen.
Security may be the most important issue the movie industry faces today. Digital rights management is designed to ensure that copyright holders can collect fees and control movie and other content use.
"The digital files Sony Pictures creates are much closer to a film negative than a release film print that we would send to theaters," said Al Barton, VP of digital cinema technologies at Sony Pictures Entertainment. "We must protect the content of these digital files better, and in turn we can bring customers a better experience."