The Ever-Mutating CD

Although the CD was successfully released into the music industry gene pool 20 years ago, several companies are still tinkering with its DNA in order to assist record labels in restricting how consumers use their discs.

SunnComm has been working in the lab for the past few years to develop a way to prevent consumers from copying CDs while still retaining replay compatibility with most CD and DVD players. After several fits and starts, the company is reporting that its latest mutation, MediaMax CD-3, may be able to do the trick. Earlier this summer, SunnComm and BMG entered into an agreement to use MediaMax on CD releases worldwide.

Last week, SunnComm announced that it successfully completed what it terms "the external testing phase" of its MediaMax technology. The company reports that test procedures were performed by the Professional Multimedia Test Centre (PMTC) located in Diepenbeek, Belgium "with the intention of determining compliance with the official test procedures and guidelines for protected content recently outlined by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPA)."

The PMTC testing center says it exposed the MediaMax CDs to an "extensive array" of consumer electronic CD players, including home entertainment systems, car stereos, boom box players, walkman type players, and popular DVD players. "Test results confirmed that SunnComm's MediaMax CDs will provide playability on any consumer's playback system without exceptions or limitations," reports the PMTC.

The testing company also says that CD copy protection robustness tests were performed to determine the security level of the product against "unauthorized copying" of the digital content. Tests were conducted "using a large set of Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh computer systems in tandem with many of the known ripper programs available on the market today." The PMTC says that "none of the ripper programs used in the testing process was able to produce a usable unauthorized copy of the protected CD, yielding a verifiable and commendable level of security for the SunnComm product." Compatibility with consumer fair use rights was not noted.

The PMTC's Frans Pender says that evaluating the technology "was a very compelling test for us. It achieved a very high level of playability combined with an incredible level of security for the music." SunnComm's Eric Vandewater adds, "Completing this external testing phase for our product was a crucial step toward large-scale deployment of protected MediaMax CDs. The positive test results produced by the PMTC provide assurance to both the record industry and those who purchase CDs that the SunnComm MediaMax technology will securely deliver high quality copy management and CD enhancement products to the audio CD market."

Privately held Consumer Surround Sound (CS2) announced last week that the Sony disc manufacturing facility in Terre Haute, IN is now pressing the company's flagship product, the CS2CD. The first disc being manufactured at Sony's plant with the new process is Activate Entertainment's Kool Keith presents Thee Undatakerz.

According to CS2, the CS2CD version 2.0 allows DVD-playable video and slide shows to reside on CD albums and singles "without interruption of traditional CD listening practices in CD players." The company says that compatible DVD players include Panasonic, Toshiba, Pioneer, Philips, RCA, GE, Daewoo, Apex, and all Chinese-made DVD players and PC CD/DVD-ROM drives.

CS2's William Grecia explains, "Everyone is looking for the format that will salvage and revive music retail. CS2CD is the only format that can do so. I have been developing the final version of the CS2CD for three years, and some believed this product would never reach replication at a major facility. Not only did CS2CD achieve replication status, but the process is plant friendly."

Grecia reports that CS2CD discs cannot be cloned, but that "unlike other restrictive commercial 'copy protections,' CS2DC allows full CD audio playback in PCs and DVD players." Grecia also claims, "CS2DC is the perfect balance between retaining consumers' 'fair use' rights, and the music industry's need for a retail product that consumers cannot re-create with a CD/DVD burner. Major record companies can use this format to boost and revive retail. My indie clients are replicating at the same places the big guys are. My next goal is to make a big impression at the upcoming CE show."