Written and adapted for blog.vanns.com by Adam Melton. Original article by Keith Brugman.
You may not realize it, but your new Blu-ray discs might not be giving you the picture you expect. Sure, if you’re using that fancy cable known as HDMI you haven’t noticed any problem (and won’t), but if you’re still relying on component video cables for your picture, you may be watching (cue gasp and bloodcurdling scream) standard definition.
With the dawning of January 1, 2011 (or, more accurately, the ending of December 31, 2010), bits of programming in new Blu-ray discs called Image Constraint Tokens limit the resolution of video passed along analog video cables to 480p.
What is happening?!
While this may seem a bit confusing, infuriating, annoying, and just a teensy-bit inconvenient, it’s part of a transition from analog to digital that’s been going on since 2006 as part of the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) licensing agreement, better known as the Analog Sunset. Basically, the AACS is an agreement by all the major players in the HD video market (Blu-ray and the now defunct HD-DVD) to protect digital content rights.
This content protection plan has been being pushed out in regular phases, with the final portion coming into effect in 2013 when analog outputs will no longer be available on Blu-ray players produced under AACS. Unless a new output format is introduced, this more than likely means you’ll be limited to only HDMI for viewing Blu-ray movies.
Why is this happening?!?
Basically, content protection. Analog cables just don’t have the same types of copy protection that digital cables do. Much like the Spanish in the 1700’s, movie studios are worried about pirates, and are taking these measures to make it harder for content they own to be distributed outside of their control.
The eventual goal of these measures is to move to strictly digital signals.
What can I do?!?!
First of all, calm down. Take a deep breath. Then go take a look at your home theater set up.
Only see HDMI cables from your Blu-ray to your TV? Great, you’re good to go.
The IC tokens only limit resolution when video is being passed via an analog cable. Specifically, the only cables this affects are component video cables (that is, the red/green/blue inputs, usually paired with a set of audio red/white inputs). If you’re connected by a set of composite video cables (that is, red/white/yellow inputs), you’ve already only been watching standard definition, as the single video cable (yellow) doesn’t have the capability to pass HD content.
The most common place you’ll find a component video connection running will be if you’re using an older or (pardon our language here) cheaper receiver that doesn’t have HDMI capabilities. There are two ways you can deal with this.
The first is to buy a new receiver.
The second is to run HDMI directly to your television, and run your audio signals back from your television to your receiver using an analog audio cable pair. The downside of doing this is that, in many cases, your television is not as efficient at controlling multiple components as a receiver is, and the audio quality may not be as good.
(If you had trouble reading that, I humbly recommend option one)
A more complicated setup generally means more frustration when it comes to movie time. It also means that the less technically proficient in your home may not be able to use the equipment properly (it’s up to you whether that’s a downside).
High definition (bye definition)
One last thing to keep in mind is that this only affects Blu-ray disc players. So your DVR, media box (Apple TV, Google TV, etc.), and other devices are not going to be carrying these tokens as part of the AACS changes. These changes also don’t affect Blu-ray discs manufactured before this year.
So, if you’re not seeing a high definition video from your latest Blu-ray discs, it’s not quite time to panic yet. There are a few stopgap measures you can take to get your HD picture.
Of course, I recommend upgrading.