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Blu-ray and HD DVD To Include Down-Conversion Option

The digital sky has been falling for the last several days with reports that the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) copy protection scheme that will be used by both Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD will allow content providers the option of down-converting HD signals from the analog outputs of the players.

The so-called "Image Constraint Token" is a digital flag carried on the next-gen disc. According to reports, when the player detects this flag it's forced to down-convert the image from 1920x1080 to 960x540 before outputting the signal to the player's analog outputs. The copy-protected digital outputs will remain at full 1920x1080. Whether the Image Constraint Token will be employed is up to each individual studio.

While this news has predictably been met with a lot teeth-gnashing on virtually all fronts, folks, this is nothing new. The studios, in conjunction with cable and satellite providers, have held this hammer over us for years, and thankfully not exercised it. At anytime, many of our HD set-top boxes can be set for down-rez, but the studios and their partners at the cable and satellite companies have so far been smart enough to realize that doing so would decrease the incentive for people to buy their HD programming.

Don't get me wrong- this is a reason for concern, just not full blown panic, at least not yet. I should also note that it's amusing to me to think back to how much time the studios and manufacturers spend at press events talking up all the great, consumer-driven features the next-gen HD disc formats will be endowed with, and then something like this rolls along. What benefit is this to the consumer?

I'd be the last one to accuse the studios of being forward-thinking when it comes to Digital Rights Management, so it's even harder for me to guess where they're going to go with what might be well dubbed "Analog Rights Management." I wouldn't think the studios would want to shrink the potential pool of early adopters for Blu-ray and HD DVD by placing such limitations on the software before either format is established in the market.

But if the studios do apply this feature, and the numbers of analog-only HDTV owners is great enough to hurt them by not buying the new players and discs, that's how your voice will be heard. Here's to hoping it won't be necessary. Here's to hoping that the studios realize the most effective way to fight piracy is to offer full resolution Blu-ray and HD DVD movies to everybody at prices that are low enough that people won't consider inferior pirated copies made from analog.

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