HD discs shortchange early HDTV adopters

Owners of early HDTV sets will get a nasty surprise when Blu-ray or HD DVD players hit the market this year, a new report said.

The mandatory piracy protection system used by the new disc players, called Advanced Access Content System (AACS), shortchanges owners of older HDTV sets equipped only with component video connectors, said a report by SciFi Tech.

The interim version of AACS approved for the first generation disc players won’t output a full HD signal from their component-video connections, since those jacks are analog instead of digital and thus have no copy protection, the report said.

“The ‘down-rezzed’ signals will be limited to a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels — exactly one-quarter the 1920 x 1080 pixels that you’ll get through the copy-protected digital connectors on the players,” according to SciFi Tech. “The potentially huge problem with this strategy is that the only HD inputs on a lot of older HDTVs are component video.”

Estimates vary, the report said, but it’s believed that 3 to 6.6 million such displays are in U.S. households. And the sun will set on analog video for good after Dec. 31, 2013, when AACS-licensed players can’t be made or sold with any analog video outputs, including the familiar yellow composite-video jack.

In addition to the down resolution issue, SciFi Tech said AACS has a few unresolved points, so the first players that are due to come out this spring won’t have all the features promised by HD DVD and Blu-ray. For example, users won’t be able to copy material from a disc to a personal computer via the managed copying function. Even when functional, however, copyright owners must give their explicit consent for the end user to make copies.

AACS was jointly developed by Disney, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba and Warner. It is considered mandatory by content owners.

Toshiba, who plans to ship the first HD DVD players in the U.S. as early as March, acknowledged that its first players will not support all the interactive features of the HD DVD format. However, the manufacturer said those features would be added later via firmware update. Toshiba players have an Ethernet interface for online connectivity.

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