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Why Your Conference Room Technology May Soon Be Obsolete: Part II

by Tim Heneveld on August 27, 2009

As the VGA connector continues its rapid transition towards obsolescence (referred to in Part I of this post) many people simply assume that using adapters (such as HDMI to VGA) will solve the digital-to-analog connectivity problem. While this may work in the short term, it ignores the looming problem of DRM (Digital Rights Management), a way of encrypting new media to protect against copyright infringement. DRM uses something called HDCP (High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) to control which devices are allowed to receive the video signal. So how will you know if you’re using digitally protected content? Well, for starters, your adapter will just stop working.

Here’s how it works. A Blu-ray player or a computer with a digital output is connected to a digital display (like a computer monitor or a digital projector). The display sends a signal called EDID (Extended Display Identification Data) to the player to determine what resolutions and content protection to use. After a “brief” exchange of data, they work out the best signal based on both the player’s and the display’s available resolutions. When an HDCP protected disc is inserted into the player, the player asks the display for a “key” (a key is a number that allows the device to receive the protected content). The player determines that the display has an appropriate key and releases the encrypted video signal. As long as the key stays in place, the video can be sent. If anything interrupts the key (like a distribution amplifier, signal splitter, or adapter) the signal stops or never even starts!

In a home theater, where we are connecting a single Blu-ray player to a single flat screen display, this may work very effectively. But in the world of large scale Audio-Visual system design, we commonly want to send signals to numerous and varied displays. Digital signage systems in theaters, retails stores, and church lobbies send the same content to multiple displays. Auditoriums and arenas normally have more than one video screen for audience viewing (not to mention things like preview monitors for the production staff). Corporate Board rooms routinely send information to multiple displays in the main room as well as sending content offsite during video conferences. If your content source (like a computer) has a limited number of keys to use, what will you do if you’re one short? This is the real problem.

The writing is on the wall here my friends. The entertainment industry is pushing for all new media to be digitally encrypted with HDCP. While this can be a real positive advancement for movie studios and record labels (because it helps protect their copyrights), it can be a real headache for the rest of us.

Many of the organizations we work with (theatres, schools, churches, hospitals, etc.) have a heavy investment in their display technology, and they cannot afford to scrap their entire AV systems. Even if they can afford a new system, they’re afraid that the new one will quickly become obsolete by the newest and latest and greatest. While no one can design a “100% future-proof” AV system, we can adapt to the technology around us, making the right decisions for complex AV problems. And that’s why we’re here, to help make the connection.

Tim Heneveld

Tim Heneveld

Tim Heneveld, CTS-D, has worked in almost every aspect of the Audio-Video and lighting industry. From System Design to Project Management to Studio and Live Engineering. Tim has overseen audio, video, and lighting systems as well as operations, and provided recording studio and live sound engineering around the world for recording artists of all genres. Tim is a Certified Crestron and Extron Programmer, and is the Senior AVL Design Consultant for Acoustics By Design, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Chris Prosio September 15, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Great Article. I have been discussing the same with my clients/ partners in way of products that support HDCP, and why we can not just “strip” the copy protection away.
One solution is to run the Blu-Ray in analog to a switcher/ converter that can take the signal back to digital. This is not perfect, but is a work around in the current environment. In the end, the solution I see for systems in the HOW and Corporate Market is a “professional” Blu-Ray player that the end user buys a key for a fee. This key would allow for the digital transmission of the signal with out the hand shake at the display end. In essence, it a digital bypass of the protection code, and there is a licence fee attached. Kind of like a ASCAP/BMI licence. The days of a church doing a movie night, with out paying Disney for the showing of Toy Story, is gone- in the digital world.

Bill Dianis September 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

I am in the process of reviewing copyright issues for music for my church. I have come to the conclusion that strict compliance with the letter of the law is, in practice, impossible. Annual licenses (e.g. CCLI) do not cover all the day-to-day situations we encounter. Now, DRM could affect video equipment. A solution might be for churches to have special media with DRM free content, but then pay a license fee (or just stay with standard definition video, as we have done). It’s unfortunate that churches, which are not wealthy to begin with, might be faced with increased license costs.

Tim Hamilton September 17, 2009 at 9:53 am

I’m glad to see other folks talking about these issues! I think that we’re going to need some sort of blanket DRM licensing (like ASCAP or CCLI) to allow people to easily use and display content. Whether the “powers that be” will let it happen (or happen at a reasonabe price) remains to be seen! For now there is the analog work-around from the Blu-Ray player, but the analog component connections are rapidly disappearting from Blu-Ray players, especially the consumer grade products. Soon you will only find them on the $1500 professional units, and they may last long there either…

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Andrew Pelt January 13, 2010 at 6:03 pm

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Domenica Drelick April 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I always enjoy reading quality articles by an author who is definately up to snuff on their chosen subject. I’ll be watching this thread with great interest. Keep up the great work, till next time

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Brian Atkinson June 4, 2010 at 8:18 am

Feel free to quote or re-post our articles in context and with proper citation and links back to our original content.

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