Craig Barrett, the chief executive officer of Intel, has called for the adoption of a worldwide DRM (digital rights management) system that allows consumers the flexibility to manipulate the content they own in ways of their choosing and has criticised some existing or proposed systems for the restrictions they enforce.
Barrett was speaking in Tokyo on Tuesday as part of a seminar to promote Intel's vision of the future digital home.
At the heart of the company's envisaged digital home is a set of standards that allow computer and consumer electronics devices to interconnect and communicate with each other.
Such standards are being developed by the Digital Home Working Group, of which Intel is one of 17 founding members, and the group is expected to publish its first specification during the next quarter. Devices based on the standard are expected to begin appearing in the second half of this year.
"What we want to do is be able to share content anytime, anywhere on any device," he said. "This is the whole concept of the home network in the digital home. It's making these devices interoperable so if you have content on one device you can share it on any other device at any time."
But the DHWG standard only addresses the technical interoperability of such devices and DRM technology is potentially a large spanner waiting to be thrown in the works of what the group is trying to accomplish.
Anyone who has obtained content from one of the licensed music download services, such as iTunes Music Store or Napster, may have experienced such problems already because of restrictions placed on copying or moving of the files and many people have been frustrated to find that DVDs bought on an oversees holiday don't play back home because of regional rights management.
"Once you see how easy it is to move content around, then sometimes you are faced with regulatory issues about what you can do with content that other people own," said Barrett.
"I think everyone involved in the Digital Home Working Group fully supports content protection that protects the people who own the content. But one aspect is when a consumer has access to the content, does the consumer have the right to move that content from device to device to device that they own in their home. The basic concept of the DHWG is the ability to use that content anytime, anywhere within your home once you've purchased it," he said.
Barrett cited as an example a copy protection system that will be introduced on digital satellite and terrestrial broadcasting in Japan from April this year. The system will allow consumers the ability to record a TV show but not the ability to make any copies of that recording. Consumers will be able to move the recording, for example from a hard disk to a DVD, but some functions such as editing of the recording to remove commercials or unwanted portions of a program won't be allowed.
"I think one of the barriers in Japan in terms of the full implementation of the digital home will be the copy-once policy and rather than having a copy-once policy I think its more appropriate to look at the digital contents rights management or protection capability that the industry across the world has been working on, the so-called DTCP or Digital Transmission Copy Protection over Internet Protocol (DTCP-IP)."
DTCP-IP is being developed by Intel along with Toshiba, Hitachi, Sony and Matsushita (Panasonic) and can be employed, according to Barrett, to allow content to be securely shared between devices within the home while preventing its passage to third-parties. He also stressed the importance of such a copy protection system being a base worldwide standard from which any local or regional initiatives are built.
"I think it's important ... that we adopt a minimum base line of copy protection technology and don't have different regions try to second-guess or re-invent that," he said. "I think this an area best left to the industrial members - the content owners, the consumer electronics manufacturers and the PC manufacturers - to deal with and government should take a stand-offish solution and not try to dictate solutions on top of those technical experts in the industry working on."
While the adoption of a common standard is likely to ease the transition to the digital home of Barrett's dream and also hasten market growth, the use of the DTCP-IP technology would also put Intel at the heart of potentially one of the most important future technologies. Intel, long at the centrr of many major computing technologies, is currently a minor player in the consumer electronics space but is keen on making just as much a name for itself there as it has done in the computing field.
To that end, earlier this year the company set up a US$200 million (£106 million) venture capital fund to invest in companies developing hardware, software and networking products for the "digital home." The fund, managed by Intel Capital, has already invested in three companies: Bridge, MusicMatch and Entropic Communications, according to Barrett.