Parks Associates Blog

Monday, February 12, 2007

Microsoft Launches “PlayReady”

Amid industry-wide speculation of where the DRM technologies will be heading in the next few years, Microsoft today debut a new DRM system “PlayReady” at 3GSM Conference.

Technical details are sketchy at this point, but the concept of “PlayReady” is a system- or platform-agnostic technology that does not hide access keys for individual devices. Rather, it holds a common key to a set of devices (defined as “a domain”) and content providers and device manufacturers can decide how many and what types of devices the key can unlock. From Microsoft’s press release, it appears that the technology is designed for the ultimate convergence experience: consumers will be able to enjoy multimedia content across PC, TV, and mobile phone.

This announcement will have a rippling effect on the media, technology and hardware industries. Immediately jumping out of my mind are three questions:

  1. PlayReady is definitely designed for interoperability, but what about “Playsforsure” and Zune’s own DRM system built upon the same Windows Media technology portfolio? Will PlayReady interoperate with “Playsforsure” and Zune’s “Playformyown?”
  2. Do the PlayReady’s launch and initial support from a group of marquee service providers indicate OMA 2.0’s demise in the mobile world? I don’t see Vodafone listed as a supporter, which leads me to believe service providers in Europe still have hope for the OMA standard, although the flare is dimming.
  3. PlayReady in many ways resembles Marlin/Coral’s approach to tie rights to users who own a domain of multiple devices. Registered devices can exchange paid content without restrictions, but devices outside the domain will be forbidden to trade content. Coral has demonstrated that in a lab environment but no commercial deployment has been reported yet. Now that Microsoft has gone one step ahead, but will this type of user authentication-based DRM perform as designed in a real world?

Answers to these questions will remain elusive for some time. But in an environment where anti-DRMism was recently hyped by Steve Jobs’ open letter, service providers’ warm reception on Microsoft’s solution, at least initially, is a silent “NO” to his proposal. We believe DRM interoperability is the future, but it might take some time for the battle to control the right technology behind interoperability implementation to settle down. Maybe Apple can contribute on that front, we hope.

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