Video Business reports that in a deal reached this week after tense negotiations, the eight-company consortium behind the Advanced Access Content System (AACS), created for use by both upcoming high-def DVD formats to prevent unauthorized copying, has agreed to require hardware makers to bar some high-def signals from being sent from players to displays over analog connections.
So what in the hell does all that technical mumbo jumbo mean? As we know, the studios this year are all set to start releasing film titles in both formats of the new high definition DVD disc (HD-DVD and Blu-ray). Standard DVDs output a picture that's 720 horizontal by 480 vertical lines of resolution (720 x 480), whilst both new high-def formats will deliver a picture at a 1920 x 1080 resolution - meaning a huge difference in the quality and detail rendered.
Now practically all digital televisions (plasma/LCD) released before about mid-2005 use 'analog inputs'. For those who've had to plug in their equipment themselves it means you've used either a combination of red-white-yellow cords or red-green-blue cords to get a picture from your DVD player to the television. The latest model digital televisions use a direct single cord interface known as HDMI and or DVI.
What this agreement means is that those with the latest digital TV's (the ones with HDMI or 'DVI with HDCP' interfaces) will get the full 1920 x 1080 resolution experience when they play their HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. However those early adopters with the older sets will be forced to watch a downconverted 960 x 540 signal. Meaning that whilst the picture will be a very minor improvement over regular DVDs, the picture itself will only have 1/4 the resolution of the new high-definition format. This effectively renders both next-generation DVD formats useless for hundreds of thousands of television sets, and is a slap in the face to the early adopters - the very group that's supposed to drive the next format.
Why is this being done? Studios fear that pirates will be able to capture and record the unencrypted analog signal, which could then be re-converted into a pristine, unprotected digital copy for later distribution. Never mind the fact the equipment to pull off such a trick costs many thousands of dollars and unlike current DVD movies (around 4Gb in size), not many people who engage in piracy can afford the time to wait around downloading a 25-35Gb movie file.
I myself got a new TV last year, at the time no HDMI-equipped sets were on the market where I live. So if you're in the same position I am (I'm someone who has been very keen on adopting the hi-def DVD format), should you just give up on the next-gen DVD format? Here's where the news gets brighter. As part of the deal, studios will be required to disclose on a movie's packaging whether the image will be down-converted (called by the moniker 'ICT' or 'Image Constraint Token') - in other words clear labelling will identify if this nasty trick is being employed (thus boycotts will likely follow).
The studios themselves are still fighting it out - Warner Home Video is at present the only studio that seems to be a strong proponent of the idea, whereas 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has argued against it. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Video are undecided, Disney and Universal are still making up their minds too though its expected they will adopt it.
The first HD-DVD release titles hit the market March 28th.