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Will High-End DVD Players With Digital Video Outputs Force The Adoption of a Standard? Print E-mail
Friday, 11 October 2002
Exploiting a loophole in the DVD Consortium agreement, a handful of mostly high-end A/V manufactures are showing and/or selling prototypes of DVD players with configuration that allow a straight digital connection between a DVD player and a digital video source such as a plasma screen, a DLP or a D-ILA projector. In order to make an official DVD player, you have to pay a license that sets the rules of how you can configure the player's software. A digital video out is a violation of these rules that can cause the seller to face a penalty reportedly as high as $100,000 per unit sold. The companies that are getting around the rule are those who buy OEM DVD transports from other companies and then repackage them. Those companies never signed the DVD agreement, and are thus technically not eligible for the penalty.

The effects of removing as many as four layers of analog-to-digital conversion between a DVD player (a digital source) and a TV (also increasingly a digital component) is stunning, as shown by Accurate Imaging at the CEDIA trade show last week in Minneapolis. They showed a store-bought DVD disc played back on their own player, via their own encrypted DVD signal. The picture looked noticeably better than that of a DVD that goes through all of the extra A/D and D/A conversion found in a traditional system.

Copyright owners of material usually found on DVDs, aka the Hollywood studios, aren’t very pleased. There are two digital video technologies being vigorously discussed, namely: DVI and Firewire (1394). Neither have been agreed to by the studios and/or many of the equipment manufacturers. It looks as though some of the companies that push the higher limits of A/V performance aren’t going to wait for a standard to offer a more simple connection.

So what happens next? The studios could sue the high-end companies or try to hit the OEM companies up for their penalties. They could also take a page from DIRECTV, who pretty much ignored the people with augmented an “H Card” (which gives you every channel available in the system, including pay-per-view, sports and porn) while they built the overall numbers of users to higher levels. They then switched to the “HU Card,” which is far more difficult to bootleg. Some hardcore satellite thieves bought entire PCs to emulate the card so that they could continue stealing the signal. Most were so hooked on DIRECTV that they simply paid for the services that they had learned to love on their old “H Card.”

No rational A/V enthusiast disagrees with the premise that the movie studios deserve to protect their content from rampant piracy. Even the studios agree that consumers should be able to have one or a few copies of the DVDs we buy. What they object to is the out of control copying of their movies overseas. Piracy, most of all, gives more reason for Hollywood and electronics manufacturers to officially adopt a digital video standard and move on to profit in these boom times for the A/V and home video industry.

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