New technology has been created which could prevent the theft of DVDs and electronic products. It all revolves around a microchip which renders the products unusable until they are "activated" when bought over the counter.

It's a company called Kestrel Wireless which is talking to Hollywood studios. It wants to start licensing its RFA (radio frequency activation) security microchip for use on mass market DVD movies and other products.

How it works

It's a bit like an over-the-counter version of the Genuine Windows Advantage validation scheme that Microsoft uses with its software. It starts with a customer bringing a protected product to buy at the check-out. There, the product is scanned using an RFA-enabled RFID (radio frequency identification) reader and information from the embedded chip is sent to the Kestrel network for authentication.

The network then verifies the information and, assuming all is correct, sends confirmation in the form of the chip-enabling code. This in turn enables/switches on the functionality of the product. The whole process takes less than one second.

The practical upshot of this is that were you to steal a DVD from a store without having it 'enabled', you would not be able to play it on any DVD player. That's because part of the embedded chip is opaque, and turns transparent only when activated. DVD players need the part of the disc where the chip is embedded to be transparent to start playing the disc.

Other uses

This technology can be used on any kind of electronic or media product including DVD players themselves, or TVs, flash memory cards etc.

But theft prevention is only one benefit of this new technology. Many shops currently display products behind glass cases or cages. The fact that stealing a product would be pointless means that eventually the RFA technology could lead to less glass cases, enabling easier browsing for legitimate customers.