Why Do Hollywood and the CE Industry Fear Component Video?

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.


  1. hurin

    You can easily find BD rips in decent quality of almost any movie in 720p. And no pirate uses or will ever use component, that true.

    That said I don’t see why anyone would want to use component to watch a bluray, it would be like feeding your dog prime rib and eating it’s poop.

    • Its quite simple – there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of HDTVs out there, that do NOT support HDMI. My uncle has a 65 inch projection he bought about 10 years ago, and I have a friend who bought a 70 inch flatscreen the summer before HDMI came out. These were expensive investments at the time, and the televisions are perfectly good. However, because of the age of the set, they are forced to component.

      I guarentee you that these people probably won’t be buying new sets. Then again, they probably won’t be buying new Blu-Ray players either unless one breaks.

      And I TOTALLY agree with the distance thing – DVI and HDMI both start having problems beyond, oh what’s the limit, 12 feet or so? I actually have a bit of an issue with this up at the church – I have a 75 foot dvi-cable-run from the projector to the comptuer. Even with an amplifier, its really only good for SD video and low-framerate high-res video. Full motion video at 1080 drops frames like crazy. I would have went component, but figured DVI would be easier, and didn’t know better at the time.

      Sadly, neither do the other people on the team. They just bought a 100-foot HDMI cable to go from another computer to a flatscreen to display announcements. They did not buy an amplifier. DOPE! I’ll let them mess with it a few days, then when they call me asking why they are not getting a signal, I’ll tell them.

      On the plus side, the DVI and HDMI are a HUGE upgrade from the coax they were running all over the place when I came in.

      I also know of MANY establishments (bars, restraunts, etc) that use component – IE the television is mounted to the wall, and the box is in some other room. Once again, distance makes running HDMI impractical. This would be an issue if they ever decided to implement some broadcast flag limiting resolution over component.

      Point is, HDMI is in many ways superior. I have gone all-HDMI at home on my main-television to eliminate cable-clutter and do HD Audio. Other than being able to do 24fps on Blu-Ray, I SEE no difference between HDMI and component – with the exception of one component cable that actually had a bad end and would introduce noise into the picture. But at least I got a picture – I had a kink occur a few weeks ago in an HDMI cable and that resulted in NO picture.

      • hurin

        If you need long cable runs, It would be optimal to use SDI instead, and get a couple of converters HDMI -> SDI and SDI -> HDMI. Problem is if you need a handshake.

        Component is bad because it’s analog, so to get the signal from the player to the flatscreen using component would require a digital to analog to digital conversion, and this will give you signal degradation no matter how expensive the hardware is.

  2. I’ve had handshake issues with my Viewsonic media box and my receiver to the TV, it only works right directly plugged into the TV so I have to use an optical cable to my receiver to get the sound, I’m sure its more the box than anything else as I have no issues with the PS3 or Xbox360 through HDMI, but still with component there wouldnt be a problem like that at all, that HDCP junk is stupid and I’ve had the occasional issue with other devices because of that and the “handshaking” thats going on

  3. Keith

    In a perfect world, the movie studios and CE’s will realize that there is absolutely no possible way to stop the pirates. They will always win. In the meantime, they’ll continue to screw the legitimate user with their futile efforts.

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