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Analog Sunset

 What is it?

In general terms, Analog Sunset describes the AV Industry's current move away from analog systems toward devices that are digital in nature. This move affects components such as displays, video sources, high definition content, broadcast television, and communication protocols including HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort.

Specifically, the Analog Sunset is actually quite narrow in scope and refers to a regulation called the Advanced Access Content System, or AACS. The AACS is a digital rights and encryption management system adopted by content providers and device manufacturers specifically for high definitition (HD) content on Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD. As we all know, HD-DVD is now obsolete, so the AACS effectively only applies to Blu-ray.

What is AACS and why do we need it?

Well, as consumers we don't need it, but content providers want it. Analog signals are very easy to copy, which of course is not in the interest of the content providers. AACS is a way of restricting HD content, thus preventing piracy and protecting the content providers' property rights.

How does AACS Work?

AACS works via both hardware limitations and software constraints. Hardware limitations are placed on Blu-ray players, while software constraints are included in the Blu-ray discs themselves.

On the hardware/manufacturing side, AACS is implemented in two ways. The first stipulates that any AACS licensed player made after December 31, 2010 will limit analog video output with AACS content to standard definition only... i.e. 480p or less.

The second hardware limitation under AACS says that analog video will be disabled on all AACS licensed players manufactured or sold after December 31, 2013. In other words, Blu-ray players will only have digital outputs like HDMI, DVI etc.

So you say, 'Well I'll just keep my old player'. Not so fast...

From a software standpoint, AACS introduces two devices to restrict content: Digital Only Token (DOT) and Image Restraint Token (ICT).

DOT is a flag imbedded in the content that disables the analog outputs on the player; yes, even the older ones. However, DOT can only be deployed on Blu-ray Disc movies offered for sale with in six weeks of the initial theatrical release. It is also required that any disc with DOT be labeled as such. In real life, DOT is not very relevant considering the typical time-lines between theatrical and disc releases. If you do see a disc with DOT and do not have a digital setup yet, wait six weeks before you purchase!

ICT is something to be more aware of. It has been deployed since December 31, 2010 and similarly to DOT is a software flag that limits the analog outputs to standard definition. No more high-definition from those red, blue, and green connectors. The good news is that ICT cannot be applied retroactively, so all of your older movies that don't have the ICT will continue to play as they always have, assuming your player still has analog outputs, of course.

How about sources other than Blu-ray?

Downloading and streaming services may or may not have AACS or other restrictions imposed. Protection on this type of content is dependent upon particular agreements the services have with the providers, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

As for set-top boxes like satellite, cable, DVR, and other receivers, the FCC actually prohibits disabling or restricting analog outputs on these devices...with one exception. The MPAA successfully petition the FCC to allow Selective Output Control (SOC) for video-on-demand (VOD) service. However, this can only be applied when first-run movies are made available before they are released on disc or for 90 days after theatrical release; whichever comes first.

In terms of personal computers, there are no hardware restrictions but the AACS regulations do apply to AACS content. Playing a Blu-ray disc or other software driven content that has AACS licensing will be restricted. Your own movies or any other non-protected content will not be altered.

More to consider...

Aside from the technical aspects of the Analog Sunset, there are the practical aspects as well. The AACS regulations are largely driven by movie studios wanting to protect their content against piracy, and it is forcing the transition when it comes to Blu-ray.

There are other reasons for entities to want to protect media content. For example, a financial institution conducting video conferences certainly wants to restrict how that content may be recorded or copied. Universities may want to limit the copying and redistribution of lectures.

However, digital also has a lot to offer beyond content protection and many manufactures are going to take advantage of it. Digital formats can easily handle current high-definition (1080p) content, but it is capable of much more including greater resolutions, 3D, Deep Color, Audio Return, Consumer Electronics Control, and more.

In the consumer market, there are basically three digital connections available: HDMI (Audio and Video), DisplayPort (Apple's HDMI equivalent), and DVI (Video only). HDMI has become the industry standard. These digital transmission methods offer a lot of benefits, but also have many pitfalls of which you should be aware. To learn more about how HDMI works and how it may affect your AV systems, refer to our HDMI primer article on our website.

Analog Sunset Summary

In a nut shell, the regulatory aspect of the Analog Sunset only applies to AACS licensed content on Blu-ray and some VOD services. Since 2010, analog outputs only provide standard definition content, and this output will be disabled after 2013.

How the Analog Sunset affects you depends on your system. If you simply have a Blu-ray player connected to single TV with an HDMI cable, you have nothing to worry about. However, if your system is more complex and includes multiple sources or TVs, you could be greatly affected. AVDomotics can review your system design and recommend any upgrades necessary to ensure your system use and enjoyment is seamless.

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