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FCC gives Hollywood control over your home theater
Written by Daniel   
Monday, 10 May 2010 17:54

From ARS Technica

After almost two years of deliberation, the Federal Communications Commission has granted Hollywood and cable companies permission to shut down analog streams to HDTV equipped home theaters. The geek term for this is "selectable output control" (SOC)—until now forbidden by the FCC. The Motion Picture Association of America requested a waiver on the SOC ban in May of 2008, arguing that without it, Hollywood studios could not securely offer consumers pre-DVD released movies on television.

"We conclude that the service that MPAA proposes would serve the public interest and that providers of first-run theatrical content are unlikely to offer the service absent the ability to activate SOC," the agency's Order, released on Friday, explains. "While a waiver of the SOC prohibition will prevent consumers who rely on unprotected audiovisual outputs from accessing this service, we are convinced that in the absence of a waiver the service will not be offered at all."

That "unprotected audiovisual outputs" bit means that it's tough input jacks for consumers who bought early HDTV systems that didn't include digital connections like HDMI. The studios want to limit output to digital because the scrambleable streams are less easy to illegally copy. So analog only HDTV systems won't be able to get in on this early run movie action.

But the FCC did add some conditions to this waiver on the SOC ban.
Strings attached

First, these waiver windows will only last for 90 days after the first activation of the analog stream block, or until the retail release of the movie on some form of prerecorded media (such as DVD or Blu-Ray)—whichever cut-off date comes first. The MPAA actually asked that the deadline "not include media formats comparable to the new Services, such as prerecorded media with restrictions on output to protected digital interfaces." The FCC saw this for what it was—in effect a request for a limitless waiver as new video viewing systems (such as Blu-Ray) replace DVDs.

"As DVDs are phased out and retired as a source of prerecorded media, this could lead to the unintended consequence of allowing an SOC waiver to continue in perpetuity," the agency noted.

Second, the SOC waiver will only apply to CableLabs approved digital outputs for cable, direct broadcast satellite, and IP video systems. "We must ensure that MVPDs [multi-video programming distributors] do not develop a preference for an output that would discriminate against retail devices in favor of proprietary devices," the agency's Order warned. "No commenter has suggested that protected outputs like HDMI provide inadequate protection for high-value content"—HDMI being the popular digital connector for HDTVs, DVDs, DVRs and other devices.

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