Here we go again — analog is dying. Analog video may be closer to death this time, but it's probably better to call it an execution.
Analog video is being declared an old horse that's hard to handle and in need of replacement. The Advanced Access Content System (AACS) license agreement aims to stop piracy by limiting the analog video output from Blu-Ray players. The system's founders include IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Toshiba, Sony, Panasonic, Warner Brothers, and Walt Disney.
This is being done under the disguise of creating “opportunities” for new business models for content providers, distributors, and content aggregators. Providers will be allowed to “develop, promote and license technologies designed to enhance digital entertainment experiences for consumers.” Remember that the AACS knows what is good for us. Apparently, the assumption is that we are all guilty of copying movies to the detriment of the entertainment business. This is our penalty for the industry's inability to control the copyright of art by other means.
For example, a 10-megapixel picture, typically 1,364×768 pixels in resolution, will be limited to 640x480i. The downgrade will be unmistakable. Most people using a high-definition display would consider the image unacceptable. One day, your signal is looking good, and the next day, it looks bad enough for you to say, “Something is wrong here.” The AACS will be reviewing additional technology as potential solutions. Note the word “potential” — I guess we don't have an answer here just yet.
The intent (which I will paraphrase) is to thwart professional mass distribution of unauthorized recordings, such as theatrical camcorder piracy. In case you are not familiar with this process, individuals record movies inside a theater, duplicate the video, and sell copies on the street. This black-market form of manufacturing has been around since the mid-1970s. It started with VHS videotapes and has now progressed to DVDs. Now it is piracy of an international nature, and it does need to be stopped.
According to the AACS, major benefits for the consumer include:
- Enabling new entertainment experiences across multiple devices (what a new idea)
- Supporting the delivery of next-generation content, including high-definition video (I always get the present next generation confused with the next, next generation)
- Providing increased flexibility while remaining transparent to legitimate users (perhaps a definition of “legitimate user” would be helpful here)
A major AACS milestone was reached on Dec. 31, 2010, when manufacturers could no longer construct Blu-Ray players (including those built into PCs) with high-definition analog outputs. Also on that date, manufacturers of Blu-Ray discs were allowed (but not required) to embed their discs with a Digital Only Token, which disables a player's analog output. Some recent Blu-Ray titles have these tokens, and some don't.
The next major milestone will be on Dec. 31, 2013, when video manufacturers will have to eliminate analog video outputs altogether. In case you are wondering, cable, satellite, and telephone company TV settop boxes are not affected. One exception: The analog outputs of these boxes can be disabled for video-on-demand showing of movies still in theaters.
Time to flip, flop, and fly. Analog video could die.