Earlier this week, I participated in a telephone briefing on AACS (Advanced Access Content System), which is the copy protection scheme for next-generation high-definition optical discs. In my last Blog, there had been speculation that there might be problems on the horizon for AACS, which could have meant launch delays for HD DVD and Blu-ray. Well, it seems that those reports were greatly exaggerated, and interim licensing agreements are now in place for those manufacturers and suppliers of hardware and software of this copy protection scheme so that HD DVD can launch in March. The interim license for AACS does not cover MMC or Managed Copy, however; but will be covered in the final licensing, which will be available in about two months or so according to the AACS-LA group. This was good news for the HD DVD camp because if there had not been an interim licensing agreement for AACS, Toshiba could not launch its players next month.
However, there is bad news. And, it's a BIG problem. There's still the issue of component video, and I find it very troubling. It was learned that it will be up to the individual content provider (Hollywood Movie Studios) as to what will happen with each movie title released. Boy, talk about consumer confusion. The Hollywood Studio could simply "turn off" component video entirely; or, send an image at reduced resolution quality. Reportedly, at best, (according to the AACS-LA) a video image sent by component video could be as good as 960x540p, but NOT 1080i or 1080p. Supposedly, all titles released will say on the packaging what type of image can be viewed with component video. While better than standard definition, it would not be up to high definition quality! This also does not address the potential disenfranchisement of more than 3.0+ million owners of early HDTVs that don't have either HDMI or DVI inputs. Let's not even think about all of the A/V Receivers with component video I/Os and switching capability either. While I certainly understand that Digital Rights Management and piracy is a great concern for the Hollywood Studios, I want to know why it has to be at the cost of consumers who have plunked down several thousand dollars on an HDTV set. And, it was also learned this week that there could also be question about DVI. No one really knows if it will work with AACS. So, stay tuned here for future developments.
Now, speaking of Toshiba, on Wednesday I attended the first public demonstration of HD DVD at a PC Richard's store located at 86th Street and Broadway in NYC. Besides Toshiba personnel being on-hand at the demonstration, there were also key buyers from PC Richard's. I found out that the chain has already started taking orders for HD DVD players. Toshiba will begin shipping to retailers in mid-March. I also found out that that HD DVD will officially go on sale the week of March 26, 2006. While certainly this is good news for Toshiba, there's still a question of software availability. Yes, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Universal have all announced HD DVD titles, but there's still a question of availability and their respective retail prices. And, as of right now, chains like PC Richard will not be carrying movie titles. When queried, executives told me that they don't normally sell software, but they are talking to the Studios about carrying some titles at launch of HD DVD. Although, as of right now, there are no deals in place to sell HD DVD movie titles. So, does PC Richard's send buyers of HD DVD to Circuit City? Good question and nobody has an answer. I also found out that PC Richard and other retailers will be selling Blu-ray and HD DVD side-by-side. It will be interesting to see if they cancel each other out. But, that's of course if Blu-ray launches the June through August timeframe. There were rumors coming out of Asia this week that they could be delays for Blu-ray and PS3 in particular. Of course, the question here is if PS3 is delayed, will it affect the launch of Blu-ray? I ask this question because supposedly Sony has indicated that if PS3 doesn't launch on time that it would delay the launch of Blu-ray. I will be at the Sony line show next month in Las Vegas, and will try to get to the bottom of this rumor. But, that's another story for a future Blog in Digital TV DesignLine. These are exciting times for Digital TV. So, stay tuned.