Announced in September, the company’s Vision product allows users to store music, movies and photos on a single server, and distribute the content throughout the house via client devices. (Seecomplete details and specs on the Escient Vision.)
When the system debuted, however, the company had not yet worked out the hairy issue of DVD copy protection. Initially, Escient was going to require users to rip DVDs on their own PCs, and then transfer the content to the Vision servers. This approach might help Escient skirt content-protection regulations, but it would be unwieldy for consumers.
"It would limit the ease of use and limit the customer base somewhat if we only allowed importing over the network," says Chris Commons, Escient vice president, product planning and development.
The company announced today that consumers will, in fact, be able to import DVDs directly to the server via the product’s built-in DVD drive. (Escient prefers the term "importing" to the more unseemly "ripping.")
In September, Commons says, "We were telling everyone that there were legal issues surrounding the importing of movies." Now, he says, "We've resolved those issues so you can import movies on the front-panel DVD drive."
Exactly how did Escient "resolve" those issues? According to Commons:
We're maintaining all of the encryption that’s on the movie so when we’re moving a movie from a disc to the internal hard drive, it’s copying bit for bit with all of the encryption intact. We're adding our own second level of even more stringent encryption to protect it [DVD content] when it’s on the Vision storage system.
Once the DVD is imported onto the Vision device, it cannot leave the network, and cannot be uploaded to the Internet. Hence, copy protection is preserved.
You know that, and I know that, but will the DVD authorities concede?
What Will the DVD CCA Think?Escient recently became a member of the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA), which licenses the Content Scramble System (CSS) used to encrypt DVD content.
The organization is no friend of DVD ripping, no matter how "protected" the content remains. In fact, competitor Kaleidescape protects ripped DVD content as vigorously as Escient does, but nevertheless has found itself in court against the DVD CCA.
Here’s how Kaleidescape purports to protect DVD content:
It should be noted that the Kaleidescape System protects video content much more securely than does the CSS encryption system used on the DVD discs themselves:
- The Kaleidescape System stores video content on a hard disk drive in its original CSS-encrypted form, decrypting it only at the time of playback like any other DVD player. Moreover, the Kaleidescape System wraps the CSS encryption "keys" found on the DVD disc in an extra layer of military-strength encryption.
- It is impossible to use the Kaleidescape System to upload or transfer movies to the Internet. The Kaleidescape System is a completely closed system.
- It is impossible to "burn" copies of DVDs with the Kaleidescape System. It cannot be used to create pirate or counterfeit DVDs.
Kaleidescape prevailed against the DVD CCA in the first legal round, but more on a technicality (the case concerned an alleged breach of contract) than on the issue of DVD ripping. Subsequent to that ruling, the DVD CCA has attempted to alter its CSS licensing contract to expressly prohibit the ripping of DVDs.
(Clarification: Michael Malcolm of Kaleidescape points out that the server manufacturer did not win its initial DVD CCA case on a "technicality." Indeed, the court found that Kaleidescape most certainly adhered to the DVD CCA's licensing agreement. The comment above was meant to convey the fact that the court simply ruled on the letter of the legal agreement between the two parties, rather than on the broader issue of fair use and DVD ripping. Our apologies for any confusion.)
In the meantime, DVD content remains protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prohibits the removal of encryption technology from DVDs. In that regard, Commons notes, Escient is abiding by the statute. “We’re actually maintaining encryption from the DVD to the hard drive," he says.
Escient to Ship in FebruaryOriginally slated to ship in January 2008, the launch date for Vision has been postponed until February so that Escient can add the necessary software for content security.
The product is years behind Kaleidescape and other suppliers to the custom installation channel, but Commons says that the holdout was deliberate. “We wanted to get all of the issues worked out, to get confident in our position,” he says.
When it is released, the Vision line will be one of the more affordable media servers for the custom installation channel, starting at $3,999 for the 500 GB VS-100 server. Not insignificantly, it has the backing of Escient, a longtime leader in the whole-house media server category.
According to CE Pro research, more home systems integrators (28 percent) have used Escient media serversthan any other server in the past two years.