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What's Really Behind the Next Analog Sunset

Starting in 2011, it's possible that certain high-definition content won't play in HD if the playback device uses an analog output. In 2013, it might not play at all. Which HD content and why?


Does change make you uncomfortable? Then maybe you should consider getting out of AV, because change has become an annual rite of passage. For example, in 2009 you had to navigate the end of NTSC (analog) broadcast television. In June, you began escorting users’ wireless microphone systems out of the 700-MHz frequency band. Now there’s the “analog sunset” for certain high-definition playback devices.

Starting Jan. 1, 2011, devices that play HD content that is protected under the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) will not be able to play said content at full resolution through analog outputs. What content are we talking about? Protected Blu-ray content … and that’s about it. Content providers (studios) want to discourage pirating, which is fairly simple to do when using analog signals, and force video playback over a digital output, such as HDMI, which includes HDCP copy protection. The sunset is from 2011 to 2013, at the end of which, protected Blu-ray content will not work over any analog connections. During those years, Blu-ray content can still run over an analog output, such as composite video, but only in standard definition (SD). This applies to Blu-ray players in showrooms and home theaters, as well as Blu-ray software that might serve digital signage and other applications. Unprotected Blu-ray content will not be affected.

So just stock up on Blu-ray players now, right? Not necessarily. Starting next year, AACS-protected content, such as Blu-ray discs of new movies, will include a software token in its data stream called an Image Constraint Token that will trigger an SD video stream when played over an analog connection (the best you can expect is 960x540 in a 16:9 aspect ratio). In 2013, AACS content will use the Digital Only Token, meaning it will only play over digital outputs.

Manufacturers of Blu-ray players could be the wild card in all this. The AACS agreement provides a baseline for restricting Blu-ray playback over analog connections, but there’s nothing to stop companies from dropping analog video outputs altogether. That may be the ultimate sunset. So now’s the time to start perfecting HDMI switching in the systems you design or coming up with hybrid analog-digital solutions. That is, of course, if Blu-ray is important to you and your users. If not, this is one change you shouldn’t worry much about.


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