Support wanes for antipiracy chips

Until recently, many makers of chips for consumer-electronics devices hoped to build anticopying technology into the chips themselves, a process known as "hard coding." That technique speeds up a device, saves on battery power, and makes the antipiracy technology harder to break through. Prominent security researchers say that hardware-based rights management technologies are more secure than alternatives that rely primarily on software.

Chipmakers have not completely abandoned efforts to create such copy protection features, but developers now say that they're ready to move ahead with what some call a second best alternative in order to feed surging demand for chips bound for new multimedia devices such as MP3 players, cell phones, and PDAs. This so-called soft coding--putting antipiracy rules into software that is more accessible to users--is slower and less secure, but lets companies adapt to rapid changes in the market more easily, developers say. "In the past we've invested in hardware security that has not borne fruit," said Michael Maia, vice president of marketing for Portal Player, a company that makes multimedia chips focused on portable devices. "But there's a big risk there, because the market changes so much. Until it stabilizes enough, we will be soft coding."

The impasse over copy protection has stretched on for years, feeding distrust between the entertainment industry and consumer-electronics makers swept up in the digital technology revolution. Delays in hammering out antipiracy features for MP3 players and other devices have led to at least one proposal for legislation that would mandate the creation of a government-backed copy protection standard--a plan that was greeted with a standing ovation in Hollywood and catcalls in Silicon Valley.

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News source: ZDNet

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