Q & A on the ANALOG SUNSET

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What is the Analog Sunset?
It is a period from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2013 when manufacturers are required to phase out analog connectivity to their devices. It is causing all sorts of grief across the AV industry, and will directly impact consumers.

What is the difference between ANALOG and DIGITAL signals?
Analog is a continuous electrical signal, whereas digital is discrete. Analog signals are continuously varying where digital signals are based on 0's and 1's, or as often said, "on's and off's." Think of it as a light switch that is either on or off (digital) or a dimmer switch (analog) that allows you to vary the light in different degrees of brightness.

Why is this occurring?
This move is driven almost entirely by the motion picture industry and their efforts toward copy protection to stop media piracy. The "analog hole" that exists in current technology allows content output to pass around decrypted Advanced Access Content Systems (AACS), High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP), Extended Display Identification (EDID), or other digital copy protection protocols. Digital signals do not allow for variance. The either are there, or they aren't.

So what is the big deal?
Manufacturers pay thousands of dollars for unique protocol keys that allow their devices to communicate with other devices. Data is sent from the device to the display and back several times a second, attempting to match display parameters and authenticate. If the key can't be sent and confirmed continuously, the system assumes a breach has occurred, and the devices on one or both ends can be bricked, or rendered inoperable. This can be triggered by the content and/or the equipment, and can occur with or without a display warning. (Wireless pathways are not exempt from key confirmation.)

Protocols are not a new thing. They have been included on commercially produced DVDs since 1995. More recent protocols are far more intricate, affecting playback, source, processor, and display technologies, and making it dramatically more difficult to design a presentation system than it was even 5 years ago. Practically all of our media display systems on campus currently employ an analog distribution of signal. These protocols will not shut down a working analog system, however as pieces fail or digital technology integration is required, entire systems will need replaced.

Switching to digital for large scale presentation systems will require substantial hardware and cabling reconfiguration and replacement.
After the switch, these "improvements" often will impact user experiences, taking the "friendly" out of user-friendly.
For example:

  • Working digital systems can take as long as 8-20 seconds to switch between devices. This can be longer if more devices are in the path. Video is lost during authentication. Multiple simultaneous displays require additional protocol authentication, exponentially slowing response.
  • HDMI (the primary consumer driven cable distribution platform) has run limitations and requires conversion (fiber) and amplification, which adds to costs. These conversions also must meet key pass requirements.
  • Blu-Ray discs can take 30-100 seconds to provide confirmation prior to playback.
  • Netflix and Amazon streaming services currently do not work with distributed media systems, nor are they licensed to do so.
  • VGA and composite video connections are disappearing from devices. Laptop manufacturers are going to display port and HDMI connections. Projector and display manufacturers are primarily going to HDMI. Source decks (DVD, Blu-Ray, etc.) are mostly HDMI or optical component.
  • Everything in classroom systems has to be the same aspect ratio, or greater than minimum to allow for varied content and the projector's native resolution. This creates a real-estate issue on our existing screens.

Any good news?
Maybe some at your home. The analog outputs of cable or satellite TV set-top boxes, including receivers or DVRs, are sometimes improperly associated with the analog sunset. In the United States, the FCC has a regulation, 47 CFR 76.1903, that explicitly prohibits the disabling of analog outputs on cable and satellite set-top boxes, so you can continue to watch these devices on an analog TV, however this concession means little if your old TV is one the wain. "Digital cable" through an analog connection on one of the newer televisionsis often much worse quality than the standard definition analog television you are accustomed to watching.

Stay with us. We'll continue to provide updates as the Analog Sunset moves toward the horizon.