In recent weeks, I've talked about my impressions of CES, types of displays, CableCARD, and next-generation optical discs among other topics. This week I want to talk about the trusty Component Video connector that we've become accustomed to over the past 10 years, and how it relates both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Forgetting the impeding 'Format War' for a moment, one of the big problems with both of these formats is Component Video. Now, in case you are wondering why would component video outputs be such a concern as it's been passing DVD signals at 480p and HDTV signals at both 720p and 1080i from set-top boxes and cable boxes to digital TVs for several years. In fact, it's been providing superior image quality to digital televisions everywhere.
The problem with component video is that right now it will NOT pass 1080i -- forget about 1080p - signals on either HD-DVD or Blu-ray players. Neither next-generation optical disk camps want to talk about this serious "little" problem. Why won't these new players (or future recorders) pass along a 1080i signal? The reason that it won't pass 1080i signals because component video is an analog connector, and not a digital one! The content providers (Hollywood Studios) are so concerned about piracy that they want the hardware manufacturers to "turn off" component video altogether. I'm not sure if that will really happen. Who knows -- anything is possible in dealing with the Hollywood Studies. But, what I do think might happen is that component video out will only pass 480p resolution -- no better than current DVD players. 1080i or 1080p signals from HD-DVD or Blu-ray will only be passed by HDMI. Period!! If that happens, and you don't have an HDTV with HDMI, do you really need HD-DVD or Blu-ray? Good question.
Essentially, by turning off component video on these new next-generation high-definition optical disc players, more than 3.0 million digital TV sets that have been purchased in recent years will not be able to receive HD signals from a high-definition optical disc player. Of course, some of the manufacturers have said that those people (early adopters) will just have to buy a new HDTV with HDMI connectivity. Is that really the answer people want to hear -- even early adopters? And, you're not just disenfranchising consumers who have bought HDTVs in recent years with component video, and not DVI or HDMI connectors; you are also leaving out people who have purchased AV Receivers in recent years that feature component video switching and even upconversion. It's a big problem.
This is a major dilemma, and no one is talking about it. The content providers want all audio and video signals sent via HDMI as it features robust copy protection and it’s an all digital connector vs. the old analog component video connector. Here's another problem with this scenario. Many newer sets only include one HDMI input, and several component video ones. And, if you own a newer HD satellite box or even a cable box, the connector of choice is HDMI for the most robust signals. It's only with new 2006 HDTVs that will now feature 2 HDMI inputs. And, depending on the manufacturer, it may only be high-end sets that will include more than one HDMI input. And, right now, stand-alone HDMI switchers are costly, and cumbersome to use. So, what to do?
What is the consumer to do? Right now, there is no answer. It's already February, and HD-DVD players will ship next month, and the first Blu-ray players the following month. And, still no word on the fate of component video from either the hardware manufacturers or content providers. Will it be turned off completely, will it only pass down resolution 480p signals, or will it depend on a code embedded in the software (on a specific disc) to either "turn on" or "turn off" the connector Will the consumer even know as he/she purchases the latest title such as MI-3 or whatever that its 'component video-enabled? These are all valid questions, but without a single answer because no one is talking. None of the manufacturers that I know really want to talk about it because they say that they are at the mercy of the content providers. Are they really?
So, this is a serious issue surrounding the next-generation high-definition optical discs. What can you do? I don't know. Should we tell consumers not to rush out and buy one of those new optical disc players until the dust has settled? Or, should we make sure that we tell the public that if they're buying a new HDTV, make sure that it has a minimum of 2 HDMI inputs. The same can be said if they're buying a new AV Receiver to make sure that it has, at least, 2 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. Even better, an AV Receiver that upconverts all incoming video signals to HDMI is even better. All I can say is stay tuned to Digital TV DesignLine for more developments.