AACS Analog Downconversion

HDBlog.net talks about AACS downconversion today.

I’m definitely opposed to the draconian measures that are currently de-riguer in the digital media arena, but one of the restrictions that doesn’t worry me that much is the AACS donconversion issue.

I have to admit that I’m in a relatively good position for this, since my TV already supports HDMI-HDCP. My own situation aside though, I really don’t expect there to be much of a hue and cry from average consumers over this one.

First the numbers:

Widescreen SD DVD - 720x480 anamorphic = .35 megapixels [EDIT: removed my skepticism…DVDs really are encoded at 720x480 not 640x480]

Downconverted AACS HD DVD - 960x540 = .51 megapixels

HD DVD on a 720p tv - 1280x720 = .9 megapixels

“Full” HD DVD - 1920x1080 - 2 megapixels

The question is what is the subset of consumers that are going to be affected by this problem? My belief is that the number of people that are adversely impacted by this is going to be very small. First, it’s only people that will own HD sets that are not HDCP compliant. As HD set buying takes off, my guess is that more and more sets will support HDCP and that by the time a significant percentage of people actually own BD or HD-DVD players two or more years from now, greater than half of those sets will be perfectly capable of getting the benefit of the HDCP HD signal. This is based on the fact that my quick googling suggests that only a small portion of the homes (certainly less than 25%) currently have HD sets. This means that in two years as HD discs take off, something more than half of the sets out there (assuming that we can get to 50% penetration of HD sets with some other portion buying HD->SD converters) will probably have HDCP.

The only people that will be left behind in this equation are the people that bought non HDCP compliant sets within the last year or two that still have those same sets two or so years from now when High Def DVDs are available and common. So who are these people? These are the 10% of people that had HD sets in 2004. My guess is that the 10% of people that had HD sets two years ago are not going to be bothered by this problem because those are the exact same people that are going to upgrade to 1080p sets in a year or two that will support HDCP. Protecting the early adopters from themselves is hardly a real hot consumer issue that lots of people are going to get steamed about. Ironically, the early adopter types that bought HD sets in 2004 are exactly the types that are most likely to have killer 1080p sets in 2008 when this all matters.

So the idea that AACS is going to going to be some big problem for lots of people seems pretty unlikely to me. I suppose that theoretically there may be extreme low cost mass market component only 720p sets being sold in 2008 that cater to people who are scrambling to replace an old SD set on the cheap, so you’re then talking about a difference of .51MP to .9MP, but I’d have to imagine than any crappy low cost set being sold without HDCP in 2008 is going to suck in many many ways and your basic problem is going to be that the PQ always sucks, not that it’s slightly worse when watching an AACS DVD.

Honestly I don’t think the average person would say that there’s a significant perceived difference between 1280x720 content on an HD channel and a 720x480/640x480 anamorphic DVD played on a good progressive scan DVD player. When I show people (like my dad or my inlaws or whatever) the HD channels I get vs a DVD the comment is basically “that looks good.” Nobody ever says “Hey! That picture is clearly missing .55 megapixels!” The only group of people that will have any right to complain are the people that bought non-HDCP TVs for Christmas a month ago and that are going to be ever so slightly annoyed when they’re forced to watch the downconverted picture in two years.

Anyway, some of this relies on some assumptions that may or may not be valid in two years but who cares. I’m far more concerned about the broadcast flag and the restrictions that the TV studios are planning to impose on timeshifting and you should be too.

TL, DR.

It should be noted that AACS allows for the enforcement of this downconversion, but it’s optional. It remains to be seen if the studios are going to force analog outputs to downconvert, and on which discs. It’s not a global, always-on thing. It’s disc-by-disc.

BTW - AACS is used in Blu-ray as well as HD-DVD. So this can happen on either format.

Right, and each disc that does so must be clearly labeled. Fox actually opposed the downconversion over analog, so we may presume their Blu-Ray titles will work full rez over component.

Oh, and anyone who has been watching Lost when their local affiliate dropped the HD feed for a few minutes knows the huge difference between broadcast standard res (480i) and HD glory.

That I agree with. I think that most people see a clear difference between 480i and a good DVD. The difference when switching back and forth between, say, Jay Leno in HD and Jay Leno in SD is stunning. Still not funny, but visually stunning.