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What is the Analog Sunset and Why Should You Care?

January 30, 2017

What is the Analog Sunset and Why Should You Care?

The nature of life is change, and the pro AV industry is no different. New innovations, trends and opportunities emerge all the time, and value-added resellers (VARs) like yourself make it a priority to keep up.

One of the biggest changes in the last 20 years has been the gradual evolution from analog to digital technology. Over the last five years, you’ve likely heard the term “Analog Sunset” used frequently during discussions of the analog-to-digital changeover. But what exactly is the Analog Sunset, and why should you care?

What is the Analog Sunset?

The Analog Sunset refers to the process of analog high-definition devices becoming gradually obsolete. As digital technology has continued to advance in capabilities and popularity—and as its prices have come down—the shift from analog to digital has become inevitable.

Technically, the Analog Sunset is a result of the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) license agreement, which is the binding document signed by content owners and device vendors to help prevent illegal copying of consumer media. The original concern was that analog video outputs on Blu-ray players (and other devices) would make it too easy for consumers to bypass copyright protections and illegally duplicate videos, games and other media.

Once the AACS agreement was updated to protect newer digital devices like Blu-ray players, laptops, flat-panel monitors and projectors, VGA and component video analog connections were no longer offered on (most) new equipment. As a result, two big changes occurred in the AV industry:

1. Blu-ray devices with an analog output at a resolution that exceeds S-video or 480i digital video can no longer be manufactured or sold.

2. Content providers were allowed to embed code in their media that prevents it from playing on an analog system.

How does the Analog Sunset affect you?

So what does the Analog Sunset mean for you as a VAR? First, if you and your customers ever work with commercial media on an AV system, you might be limited to digital-only devices and/or content. This usually isn’t a big issue, except for your customers who are working with a lot of legacy analog devices.

When it comes to professional analog media, VGA or component outputs are nearly a thing of the past. As of Jan. 1, the vast majority of device manufacturers ended support for these analog outputs. However, as this standardization has occurred, some VARs have started to run into a problem with extended display identification data, or EDID.

EDID helps a digital device automatically recognize what type of display is connected, and then send the best possible corresponding signal. However, in certain cases, the external display may not provide EDID information, which results in a completely blank screen.

Needless to say, this EDID issue can lead to some significant problems for AV customers and VARs. For example, a presenter at an event may be using an older laptop with a VGA connection. Certain new video drivers still require an EDID “handshake,” which may mean that the presenter can’t display a single slide. Or, a school that incorporates new digital screens might encounter recurring problems as teachers attempt to link them to other legacy devices.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid these types of problems is to specify an all-digital system whenever possible. Unfortunately, many customers’ budgets are severely limited, so the transition to digital must happen gradually over several years. In order to ensure that analog and digital devices and media can be used together seamlessly, look for outputs based on TMDS standard, such as HDMI cables and switchers.  

There are also EDID emulators available that enable end users to get a clear signal using digital and analog devices together. However, it’s important that your customers realize these are temporary fixes on the road toward an all-digital system—regardless of how long that transition takes.

How has your company adjusted to the changes brought on by the Analog Sunset? Do you see it as more of an opportunity for the industry as a whole, or do you think it has stifled growth?