The HDCP Plot Thickens

Wow! I just went back to IGN's site to make sure the link was correct for the previous posting and there has apparently been a behind-the-scenes deal struck that has delayed the use of the much-maligned HDCP system till 2012. It's only a rumor at this point, but should this be true and the new digital security protocols not go into place until 2012, it means that you will actually be able to watch HD-DVD and Blu-Ray movies on players that aren't equipped with HDMI cabling. In other words, your Xbox 360 (with not-yet-available external HD-DVD player) and the lesser Playstation 3 will be usable for hi-definition movie viewing in 1080p, supposed you have a tv that supports that resolution. Most don't. Yet.

Here's another great link explaining this all in a better way that I can.


But let's back up a bit, because I know some of my readers probably have no idea what I'm talking about. The other day when my mom was visiting, she was watching "Se7en" on DVD in my living room and commented that Morgan Freeman's complexion was a lot worse on my tv than her's. Was it all makeup, or was she watching a movie in high-definition? Not wanting to try and explain resolutions and progressive scanning to a woman who still prefers the ease of her VHS player over DVD, I told her, that, for her sake, she was watching the DVD in high-definition.

But she wasn't. My six-disc Onkyo DVD player is not an upscaling player, but merely a progressive scan player. So while my tv can support the high-definition resolutions of 720p and 1080i, the DVD player can only output in 480p. Normal, non-HD televisions output in 480i. What's the difference between the "i" and "p"? Well, that's just the difference between an image composed of a series of lines that are Interlaced versus one composed through Progressive scanning. If you want to understand the two technologies more, go ahead and Google it, but trust me that the "p" is better than the "i".

So, that brings us to the notion of watching movies in true high-definition resolutions. Namely anything greater than 480p. There are DVD players out there that will "upconvert" or "upscale" the signal into a faux HD resolution and while not nearly as expensive as they once were, they are pricier than standard DVD players (or even progressive scan DVD players) and they aren't all equal. The problem is that your final image can only be as good as the original source, in this case the DVD. No matter how good of an upconverting DVD player you buy, the image is not going to look as good as, say, Discover HD Theatre which is being broadcast in its native HD resolution.

Hence, the format wars. You may or may not be aware, but DVDs are about to undergo a very slow death as technology shifts towards either HD-DVD or the Blu-Ray format. Now, there's plenty of people who have been following this for years and know far more about it than me, but I also know there's a world of people out there like my mom who love their 15-year old wooden cabinet television that sits on the floor and "gets good reception". Aside from the fact that the government is mandating the switch from analog signals to digital, thereby spurring the populace's switch to HDTV, in a few years time most movies will be sold on either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. Or both. DVD will likely hang around for a number of years, but it will eventually fade away. For two reasons.

The first reason is resolution. 480p just isn't good enough anymore. Anybody who has ever flipped back and forth between a football game broadcast on a local station and one broadcast on ESPN-HD knows that there is a night and day difference in picture quality. And as more and more people look to dispose of their disposable income through home theatre purchases, they're going to want those higher resolutions. Especially since, effectively, 1080p is as high as anyone can see the resolution getting for a very, very long time.

The second reason the switch to HD-DVDs and Blu-Ray discs is going to happen is because of copy protection. At least originally, but with today's news it seems as if this may not go into effect until 2012. These high-definition media formats, once outfitted with the digital encryption and copy protection would only be playable in their truly high-definition resolutions (1080p) via an HDMI cable. And this brings us back the game consoles as well as some PC drives. Not everything that is planning on making use of the HD-DVDs and Blu-Ray discs has an HDMI output. Hence the uproar. For example, imagine if you bought the lesser PS3 thinking that you bought a Blu-Ray player, but only came to find out that it played your Blu-Ray discs at half the resolution you were expecting because without an HDMI cable, you couldn't decipher the encryption to prove ownership and legality of your copy of the disc.

Fortunately, it seems as if this "Image Constraint Token" copy protection has been done away with for the near future and those looking to buy the HD-DVD add-on for their Xbox 360 needn't worry about the lack of HDMI.

Of course this brings up the other piece to this puzzle: having a tv that accepts a 1080p signal. If you haven't bought an HDTV yet, I would suggest that when you do, you make sure it supports 1080p, as that's the resolution of the future. It will last you. I bought my HDTV nearly two years ago and it doesn't support 1080p. That's not a huge deal to me, as I don't plan on making the switch from DVD for several years anyway and by then they'll be a lot more affordable. But if I was going to buy a new HDTV today, it would definitely be one with 1080p resolution. Actually, correct that. I'd wait another six months to a year and let the technology solidify a little longer then get one.

But if I were to get one now, I'd take a long look at this one right here.

No comments: