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HDTV Device Gains Support

April 17, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six major consumer electronics companies announced their support Tuesday for a new piracy- resistant digital connector for high-definition TV sets, DVD players and other devices.

The long-anticipated move could bring more high-definition movies from Hollywood studios, which have pressured the electronics industry to add copy-protected digital connections to their gear. But it also spells bad news for about 2.6million people who've already bought HDTV sets, all but a handful of which have no digital inputs.

"I think we've got a grandfathering issue that we've got to manage very carefully," said David H. Arland, director of U.S. government and public relations for Thomson Multimedia, maker of RCA sets.

The new connector, called the high-definition multimedia interface, or HDMI, is a variation on the digital video interface, or DVI, used to link personal computers and their monitors. Built to handle high-definition video and six channels of audio, it transmits a vast amount of encrypted information in one direction only and thus is virtually unusable for recording.

The specifications for HDMI still are being developed by Silicon Image Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chip maker, and the six electronics companies--Thomson, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Sony Corp., Hitachi Ltd., Philips Electronics and Toshiba Corp. Products with HDMI connectors aren't expected for a year or more.

Most of those companies already have announced products with DVI, which doesn't transmit audio. Four Hollywood studios, the cable TV industry and the two leading satellite TV services announced their support last July for DVI and its copy-protection technology, which is made by Intel Corp.

Two studios--Fox Group and Universal Studios Inc.--praised HDMI on Tuesday. Both have announced plans to release high-definition movies on digital VHS tapes, using two layers of copy-protection technology.

Steve Tirado, chief operating officer of Silicon Image, said HDMI adds features sought by consumer electronics companies, which should speed its path to the market. He also said the connector is critical to Hollywood, which plans to restrict some of its high-definition movies to devices with encrypted digital inputs.

Dave Kummer, a senior vice president of satellite TV firm EchoStar Communications Corp., said studios have proposed such a restriction for "high-value movies," such as pay-per-view films.

The satellite receiver would transmit high-definition signals through digital connectors, limiting the output on analog connectors to one-fourth the picture detail.

"My feeling is, would you rather not have it at all? They certainly have the right just not to release it," Kummer said.

The possibility of losing access to some high-definition programming is a hot topic among many HDTV owners, who've invested more than $4billion in their sets.

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