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2010: The Year AACS and HDMI Kill Off Component Video

by February 17, 2010
Bye bye component video

Bye bye component video

Digital HD (high definition), like that enabled through HDMI and Blu-ray, is awesome. It offers amazing picture and audio quality. It allows you to conveniently connect one single cable to provide both picture and sound. It is royally going to screw up a lot of homes next year. Wait, what was that last part?

After December 31, 2010, manufacturers will not be "allowed" introduce new hardware with component video outputs supplying more than an SD resolution (480i or 576i). If the manufacturer has existing models in its line-up, it will be able to continue selling that model until the end of 2013.

The AACS licensing authority, in its "Final Adopter Agreement," plans to enforce a provision that forces consumer electronics companies that make Blu-ray players (and any other AACS devices) to eliminate analog video. This has been referred to as the “Analog Sunset,” where the analog ports on Blu-ray players will be phased out entirely. Should this go through as planned, it's going to disable or throw a wrench in a lot of existing custom installations as soon as the end of this year. To say that this is going to wreak havoc on the installation market is an understatement.

Lest you think that this won't affect existing players, note that after January 1, 2011, the manufacturers of Blu-ray discs will be able (at their option) to insert an Image Constraint Token into any Blu-ray disc. This is a sort of "digital flag" that will turn off the high-definition component video output in the player (effectively turning it into a low-resoluton 480i/576i output). The goal is to make sure that all high-definition video will only be made possible through "secure" digital connections like HDMI. 

AACS is really hosing the legitimate consumer with this change. They will turn upside down those users who have earlier pre-HDMI custom installations, forcing them into alternative (and expensive) connectivity options or causing them other costs that they would otherwise have not needed to incur - just to get them back to where they were in 2010. Add to this the complete conundrum companies like Kaleidescape will face as they continue their MPAA-thwarted attempts to expand their business model. We've even read stories about Hollywood-based mastering engineers having to use Slysoft AnyDVD HD software in order to circumvent AACS and BD+ restrictions just to get their work done.

In short, the studios in Hollywood don't care about you, logic, or making money. Well, actually they care a LOT about making money, however they are too thick to read the signs presented by the music industry and therefore are missing some of the greatest opportunities to encourage actual sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. People want to be able to copy and stream their home movies legally. The trouble is, when a company like RealDVD comes along to present a solution, the studios pull out the lawyers and kill it. 

Well, congratulations for at least keeping a perfect record... of short-sighted, poorly thought out business decisions.

Decoding the Actual AACS Provisions

The actual AACS provisions are fairly clear and understandable, leaving little wriggle room for those manufacturers facing these upcoming dates. The first (below) sets the end of 2010 as the final time period for producing (manufacturing) a player that has analogue outputs above interlaced standard definition. This isn't even 480p, they actually specified interlaced SD output. Analog Sunset – 2010. With the exception of Existing Models, any Licensed Player manufactured after December 31, 2010 shall limit analog video outputs for Decrypted AACS Content to SD Interlace Modes [composite video, s-video, 480i component video and 576i video] only.

The next provision is incrementally worse, since it completely does away with analogue outputs entirely. Analog Sunset – 2013. No Licensed Player that passes Decrypted AACS Content to analog video outputs may be manufactured or sold by Adopter after December 31, 2013.

We spoke with several manufacturers, who had differing opinions on what they would do when this sunset hit. One popular Blu-ray player manufacturer had this to say: 

"We have not planned anything for the AACS sunset rules yet.  Our current product development projects still have all analog video outputs - component, composite and S-Video.  In case any new products do not make [it] into production in 2010, we will revise based on the then-current AACS rules.  There are some rumors floating around that the deadline will be extended, but we are not betting on it. If the deadline stays, we probably will omit analog video altogether instead of limiting to SD interlaced.  If all analog video outputs are omitted, at least we save the trouble and cost for analog copy protection."

What to Do If This Happens to You

For those who aren't using component video at all, this won't be a big deal. But if I were you I wouldn't sit on my laurels and laugh at those who are going to suffer this mandatory "upgrade". After all, they are ultimately keeping you, through similar restrictions, from legally copying content onto your portable devices except for the sanctioned procedures and files provided by some studios. Want to know why you can't (legally) rip and stream your Blu-ray discs over Sling? AACS and DRM are why.

In particular this is going to cause some serious growing pains for installers whose clients' systems are going to stop looking good overnight. And they'll hear about it - in spades. Many installers have, in the past, avoided HDMI because of technical issues associated with the format. It's unruly, more expensive to use, and downright clunky in terms of the speed of switching inputs and its reliability. If the installer did not take into account the possibility of a change in format, they may be facing a very unpleasant backlash from clients. Even those who did provide for HDMI will have to deal with clients who have been using the redundant component video connections simply because they were there.

If you are a consumer, or a custom installer who is dealing with a component-only wiring schema, you have several solutions at your disposal:

  • Deploy a set of baluns, which use one or two Category 5e or 6 cables to carry HDMI over longer distances. These devices are typically capped by stand-alone boxes or wall plates  which require power and convert to and from HDMI.
  • As much as we hate to admit it, wireless HDMI may be a solution, if you can afford it, have no traffic going between the transmitter and receiver and the distance supports the limitations of the system. You're taking your life into your hands with these systems, but under controlled circumstances they can do just fine.
  • Gefen, among other companies, also offers a system that uses coaxial cables and a hardware device on each end (baluns) to convert cable to and from coax. This can be done over a single coax (up to 1080i resolution) or over 5 coax cables for full resolution HDMI.

Keep your eyes peeled as manufacturers are trying very hard to combat the limitations of HDMI with solutions over power lines, coaxial cable, and even standard wireless networks. These may also provide solutions that will help alleviate a short-sighted or pre-HDMI installation.

Why This Sucks

We make no bones about calling out Hollywood studios on their ignorance, anti-market practices and general thick-headedness. These AACS rules are especially frustrating because they, like those FBI and anti-piracy warnings on discs, only affect users intending to legally copy software to a local hard drive. The AACS rules will have absolutely zero effect on actual piracy since the Blu-ray Disc's AACS/BD+ system has already been broken and spread far and wide across the Internet. 

Anyone can copy a BD disc and play it back over analogue outputs.

You just can't do it legally. And there's the rub.

About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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