Microsoft eases copy protection in XP

Microsoft Corp. is easing up on its copy protection technology in the upcoming release of its Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system, and will allow users to record TV shows onto CDs and DVDs and play them back on a variety of devices.

Microsoft's special purpose entertainment operating system, which will be available later this month initially on PCs from Hewlett-Packard Co., will feature software that combines several digital media applications into a single user interface.

It includes special software that allows users to control applications using a remote control. With it users can watch DVDs, listen to digital music and view digital photos and videos. It also features a DVR (digital video recorder) application, similar to the one made popular by TiVo Inc., that allows users to watch live television on their PCs, pause and rewind live programs, and record them on a hard-drive, CD or DVD.

The company had originally designed the software to allow users to record TV programs, but only play those back on the PC on which it was recorded. After taking heat from customers over the strict copy protection features, Microsoft said this week that it is shifting its plans. When the operating system is released in its final version, users will be able to play their recorded TV programs on any number of media players, according to Tom Laemmel, product manager with Microsoft's Windows eHome Division.

The Media Center software records TV programs in the industry standard MPEG-2 (Moving Picture Experts Group) format and allows them to be played back on any media player that supports that file format, Microsoft said. One catch is that the MPEG-2 files will be tagged with information that identifies them as files created in Windows XP Media Center Edition. Therefore, while the files will play in any media player that supports MPEG-2, such as RealNetwork Inc.'s RealPlayer, those players will have to be tweaked in order to recognize Microsoft's unique tags.

"It is an MPEG-2 file but it doesn't look like one," Laemmel said.

Windows Media Player 9, when it is released in its final version later this year, will be tuned to identify and play the files. Other media player makers will have free access to Microsoft's technology in order to tune their players to recognize the files as MPEG-2. "It's up to the other companies to decide whether they want to support the file type," Laemmel said.

Additionally, the company will allow broadcasters to block TV programs from being recorded using an encryption technology from Macrovision Inc. There are currently only a few content producers that use the Macrovision copy protection technology, Microsoft said.

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