September 8, 2008

image A grail that may not be among the most holy will soon be attained by consumers as Real Networks will today unveil RealDVD. It’s premise is simple — provide a simple and legal way for consumers to copy or rip their commercial DVDs to their hard drive. Upon loading up a DVD with RealDVD installed, you’re given the option to play or save the DVD along with the gentle reminder that you should not save the DVD if you do not own it, digitally reminiscent of the “Don’t steal music.” sticker that came with iPods. Indeed, for personal movie pirates, RealDVD will be a Netflix subscription’s best friend.

The good news is that RealDVD faithfully replicates the DVD experience — all the menus and extras are there. And you can even pick up movies where you left off. I had feared that there might be some pretty unsavory catches such as a limit to the amount of time in which you could watch the DVD or the number of DVDs the program could store. However, DVDs are confined to an authorized PC or portable hard drive and there is no compression beyond that of the original DVD so a dual-layer disc could consume nearly 9 GB of disc space. Portable hard drives are inexpensive these days, but one benefit to RealDVD would be eliminating a second device in terms of the portable DVD player. There also doesn’t appear to be any portable media player support lined up at launch.

Still, RealDVD is a nice option for the business traveler looking for an alternative to buying (or repurchasing) movies online. It will have an introductory price of $29 (regularly $39) and consumer swill be able to authorize four other PCs at $19 per license. It will be available later this month. We’ll seeĀ  whether Microsoft, Apple, or other companies will follow suit in offering similar capabilities.

Update: A cNet story leads me to wonder whether RealNetworks obtained authorization from the DVD Copy Control Association in producing RealDVD. (The New York Times story essentially confirms that Real has not done such licensing.) The legitimacy of such a license was what was at the heart of the Kaleidescape lawsuit as far as I know. I expect this product to get challenged by the MPAA.

Here’s some footage of RealDVD:

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