Digital Rights Management has been in the news in recent weeks. First, there was a lot of speculation about AACS. Initially, we weren't sure if AACS (Advanced Access Content System), which is the copy protection scheme for next-generation high-definition optical discs, would be in place in time for the launch of HD DVD in a few weeks. We are happy to report that Toshiba will receive initial licensing for AACS, but Managed Copy is still a few months away. Presumably, Managed Copy will be in place for the launch of Blu-ray Disc on May 23rd, at which time content (titles) and BD players will be available at retail simultaneously. As you probably know, Blu-ray goes one step further in copy protection by adding BD+, which makes it even harder for pirates to steal content. Of course, there is the question as to whether it will interfere with consumers trying to play back movies. So, on this front, we will have to wait and see.
Digital Rights Management can be a tricky thing as we have seen late last year with BMG Music that added watermarking to some of their CDs. Unfortunately, it had to be abandoned because some of those titles with the watermarking would NOT play on some CD players, and there was quite an uproar. This is a real concern with the robust copy protection schemes for next-generation high-definition optical discs. Will some players not be able to play back some discs because the copy protection is simply too robust? We don't know. We hope not. While I can understand the Hollywood Studios' concern about protecting their intellectual property, should be at the expense of the user? All a person wants is "fair use' of the content.
Another version of copy protection is the "Image Constraint Token" or ICT that is also part of HD DVD and Blu-ray. What is the "Image Constraint Token"? It’s the software instructions that tell the high-definition signal to either pass or not pass via component video. Component Video has been around for about 10-years and today passes 480p (DVD and satellite quality) and 720p/1080i (high-definition quality). It is found on DVD players, set-top boxes, A/V Receivers, and HDTV sets. However, HD DVD and Blu-ray players also include ICT circuitry. If invoked by the software (movie title), it will either down res the visual image, or "turn off" the signal completely on component video. So, it was heartening to hear from Sony Pictures this week that it would not invoke the "Image Constraint Token" on its initial Blu-ray Disc releases. Lionsgate, who also announced Blu-ray titles, didn't specify about ICT. Sadly, we don't know what the other Hollywood Studios will do. Now, I have to say that there is speculation that Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Picture/Buena Vista will invoke ICT, but neither company has officially announced its strategy just yet.. And, how long are they going to wait especially since HD DVD launches in a few weeks. I should also add that Warner Bros., has not announced pricing either for HD DVD discs. My question is, "What are they waiting for"? Although, the rumor that I heard recently is that component video would be turned off by 2010 on all next-generation high-definition disc players and recorders. I hope not. As this story unfolds, I will keep the readers of Digital TV DesignLine abreast of all of the latest developments. These are exciting times for Digital TV. So, stay tuned.