For years now, movie studios and the consumer electronics industry have been pushing to close the so-called “analog hole” – i.e. the ability of DVD and Blu-ray players to output unencrypted high-def video over analog connections. Last week saw a major push in that direction when it was announced that new Blu-ray players will cripple the resolution of video transmitted over Component. I’m sure the lawyers must see this as a great victory, but what does it really gain anyone?
Although analog, there’s no technical limitation preventing Component Video connections from transmitting high-def video up to 1080i resolution. Yet this strikes great fear into content providers, who are terrified that the unencrypted nature of analog video is a gateway to piracy.
As such, DVD and Blu-ray players have already been hobbled for a few years now to a maximum of 480p resolution when playing DVD video. Nonetheless, Blu-ray players have continued to allow up to 1080i backwards compatibility over Component for true high-def Blu-ray video. This has always seemed asinine to me. It’s OK to transmit a true high-def signal unencrypted, but not an upconverted standard-def signal? What kind of moron pirate would want to bootleg upconverted video, when it’s easier and faster to copy the video at its native resolution and later upconvert it downstream if necessary?
The requirement for Blu-ray backwards compatibility has always been a sore issue for the CE industry. Component Video was a necessary evil at the time of the format’s inception, when HDMI still had limited install penetration in homes. All along, Blu-ray manufacturers have been actively planning for the forced obsolescence of Component. All Blu-ray players since the very beginning have been programmed to enforce the 480p limitation for DVD content (which can be upconverted all the way to 1080p over HDMI). Players also have a provision to limit Blu-ray content to 540p over Component if the disc being played were authored with a feature called the Image Constraint Token. However, the threat of ICT was never actually utilized until recently.
Then came word that new Blu-ray players manufactured in 2011 are restricted to 540p resolution over Component for any and all content. By 2013, Blu-ray players will eliminate Component Video outputs altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, I like HDMI well enough. Most of my gear is connected by HDMI by now. The all-digital connection eliminates the threat of analog interference, and the consolidation of both video and audio into a single cord has been a major help in cutting down on cable clutter in my HT rack.
Nevertheless, HDMI is far from perfect. The HDCP encryption that’s a mandatory part of any HDMI transmission is prone to handshaking issues, especially when any sort of signal switching or splitting device is used somewhere in the chain. HDMI is also very poor at transmitting a signal over long distances. Many home theater installers still consider Component Video a more stable and reliable connection type. What it comes down to is that there’s really nothing wrong with Component that should justify forced obsolescence.
Let’s be honest here; the lack of encryption on Component is a red herring. Eliminating Component Video will do absolutely nothing to curb piracy, because no pirate uses Component Video to copy discs in real time. Pirates use software to crack the encryption (every form of encryption has been cracked by now) and rip the digital data straight off the disc. That’s faster, easier, and more efficient.
Eliminating Component Video serves no purpose except to punish consumers who’ve been using it legally for its intended purpose – to watch video on their home theater gear. Actually, that’s not true, is it? Eliminating Component Video also forces those consumers to buy new HDMI-capable equipment whether they truly need it or not. I suppose that’s been the real goal all along.