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Big Media will Follow Indie DRM-Free Lead

In today's consumer electronics products, hardware IC features play little role in protecting copyrighted content. Popular digital rights management schemes that depend on secure software implementations such as Windows DRM, Fairplay, and AACS are routinely targeted and hacked.

However, processor companies are enhancing their architectures and embracing security features that will simplify secure software implementations and make it much more difficult to copy and share protected content. By 2013, more than 60 million CE devices are expected to ship with hardware security.

That is one of the key conclusions of a new study and market assessment from ABI Research entitled "Hardware Security in the Consumer Electronics Market."

"There are basically no secure processors in consumer electronics right now. They will start showing up in commercially available devices in the next couple of years, and will take hold rapidly starting in 2009," says principal analyst Steve Wilson.

This hardware-assisted security will find a home in PCs, portable video players, and digital media adaptors, as it already has in cable set-top boxes and elsewhere. "Hardware features supporting security have already been embraced in the PC environment for business-class devices," says Wilson, "and are penetrating mobile handsets. The pressure to create more secure networks for content distribution is what will drive PC and CE manufacturers to use more secure platforms. Don't expect Hollywood to start releasing DRM-free movies."

There isn't a standard way of implementing security at the system level, and the industry is trying to work that out. But hardware security features being built into processors fundamentally embrace certain world-standard cryptography methods and common underlying approaches to security. They are DRM-agnostic and security system-agnostic.

"The successful vendors in this field will be those who are working closely with the studios, content suppliers, and distributors," concludes Wilson, "working to meet their needs for secure platforms. Suppliers in this market are starting to figure that out."

In contrast, I believe that all the successful players within the digital content ecosystem will stop denying or resisting the end-customer desire to avoid DRM implementations that serve no meaningful purpose, from a customer's perspective. Indie producers have taken the lead thus far, by making their content DRM-free. Big media producers will follow, eventually. I predict that semiconductor-based DRM will become yet another technology in search of a market.

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