Selectable Output Control: Hollywood Wins, U.S. Consumers Lose

For designers of set-top boxes selectable output control is hardly a technical challenge, but there’s inevitably something a bit deceptive about all this.

By Cliff Roth

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Video/Imaging DesignWire
(5/11/2010 2:34:21 AM)

For several years Hollywood has been pushing for “selectable output control” — a euphemism for switching off outputs on cable-TV and satellite-TV set top boxes. The idea is to let viewers watch movies using the content-protected HDMI connection to the TV set, while disabling the non-protected analog outputs (component, S-video, and/or composite).

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has now apparently caved in to Hollywood pressure and made a decision to allow cable and satellite providers to decide which output connections will work at any given time. They’ve put some limits on it — including a 90-day time limit (see AP article in TVNewsCheck) — but who knows for how long these limits will stay in place. Once you’re on the slippery slope, it’s hard to keep from sliding down, and I predict that eventually service providers will be able to switch these connections on or off whenever they want.

Despite the FCC’s claims to the contrary (consumers will get to see new movies sooner), this is not a good move for consumers. It will create confusion (whether or not a movie will work will all depend on how the TV is hooked up) and it deprives consumers of a functionality they previously assumed they had (sound familiar?).

For designers of set-top boxes selectable output control is hardly a technical challenge — many STBs can already switch off connections to save power. But there’s inevitably something a bit deceptive about putting a bunch of jacks on the back of the box, and then telling customers they don’t really work, at least not all the time. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to label these jacks so that consumers understand they only work some of the time.



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