Selective Output Control, Video on Demand, and You

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A recent ruling by the FCC could affect how you watch Video on Demand (VOD) movies from your cable or satellite provider. The ruling authorizes the activation of Selectable Output Control (SOC) for VOD offerings.

What does that mean?

At issue are movies available for VOD before the DVD release date. According to Hollywood, this presents an opportunity for piracy. Digital streams can be copy protected, but analog signals can't. In theory one could tape a VOD movie playing on a TV with a VCR, and use that to create pirated DVDs, which would hit the market before the official DVD release date, potentially affecting sales. Enter the SOC.

What does Selectable Output Control do?

SOC is encoded into the digital stream coming from your VOD provider. It prohibits a streamed movie's output via analog connections — that is, component, S-video and composite video. SOC disables your equipment remotely from providing anything other than digital output for the duration of the showing. This may be done to older satellite and cable boxes, or even to your home theater receiver.

The FCC ruling allows content providers to use SOC only for new movies. It can be incorporated in a VOD movie for 90 days, or until the release of the DVD/Blu-ray version, whichever comes first. The ruling (FCC document DA 10-795) also calls for the use of HDMI, which prevents the film industry from requiring an entirely new digital output format.

What does all this mean to me?

If all of your equipment is HDMI capable, you have no worries. You can order your VOD, send it from your cable or satellite box to your HDMI-equipped receiver and on through to the HDMI input on your TV. What you won't be able to do is record it to disc, tape or a hard drive. All analog outputs on your equipment will be switched off for the duration of the movie.

If you have any older equipment, or limited HDMI capability, VOD may become unavailable to you or just too big of a headache. In the future, other content owners may seek similar legal protection. This remains to be seen. In the meantime, your equipment‘s connections will now determine whether or not you can keep watching VOD.

Important note: Subscription channels for movies remain unaffected.