Want to legally copy a DVD? Get Real

Company's new software is all about duplication

Copy a commercial DVD, go to jail, right? Not if RealNetworks has its way.

The company best known for bringing streaming video to the Internet back in 1997 has developed RealDVD, a new technology for legally copying commercial DVDs to your PC and storing them for later viewing.

The company touts the service, which leaves CSS encryption intact, as ideal for consumers who want more flexibility, less clutter and a lower risk of damage to their precious store-bought DVDs.

It also eliminates the hassles of "constantly removing and inserting new discs" into a player while watching a complete series of a popular TV show, according to a RealNetworks presentation scheduled to take place Sept. 8 at DEMOfall 08, a technology conference taking place this week in San Diego.

The only hitch is that no major-studio licensing deals are yet in place. The home video division president of one of the six major studios said he was unaware of RealDVD. "This is the first time I've heard of it," he said.

Still, he said he "might consider" a licensing deal, should copy-protection be rock solid.

Another studio home video division president said he has not yet met with RealNetworks, but a meeting has been scheduled. He said he's intrigued by the concept. "It sounds interesting," he said.

Jeff Chasen, vp of RealNetworks, says he and his team are just beginning their talks with studio executives "about the product and the opportunities we'll thinking they're interested in."

"There are a bunch of illegal DVD rippers out there," he said. "We are one of the first mainstream PC applications that do this in a legal framework.."

A third studio home video president interviewed for this story at least buys into the concept. "The industry is moving toward having packaged goods be more flexible--that's why we developed digital copy--and this could be another way to move the content around in a way consumers want, which we are in favor of," he said. "But we have to dig in and take a look at what exactly they are talking about."

In its presentation, RealNetworks says RealDVD is licensed software that saves a secure copy of commercial DVDs to computer hard drives with CSS encryption intact--unlike most DVD copying products on the market today, which cater to homemade DVDs of family movies and other non-professional fare.

RealDVD saves an exact copy of the DVD image from the original disc to the PC's hard drive or portable drive. The saved DVDs are then encrypted and locked again to make sure they cannot to be stolen or shared. Cover art, genre information, MPAA rating and actor information are imported automatically during the saving process, and users can watch a DVD at the same time they are saving it.

Saving DVDs takes an average of 30 minutes and consumes four to eight gigabytes of space. Saved DVDs can be played on up to five PCs, as long as they all belong to the same user who initially saved the disc.

RealDVD will retail for $49.99, although the introductory launch price is $29.99. Additional licenses are $19.99, with a limit of four. It will be available initially only for PCs, with a Mac application slated for next year.

RealNetworks said plans are now underway for RealDVD integration with consumer electronics manufacturers.