The "Analog Hole"

Consumers that legally obtain entertainment media (movies, songs, etc.) have a right to make a reasonable number of backup copies to protect their purchases against damage, loss, equipment failure, or equipment obsolescence. Producers of entertainment media try to make it more difficult to make backup copies than to simply purchase another copy. Modern "copy protection" schemes use encryption to make it difficult to produce copies of digital media. However, all entertainment media must be presented to viewers or listeners in analog format, and the resulting analog signals are susceptible to copying. This is known as "The Analog Hole", and it is the subject of scrutiny and controversy by media consumers, media producers, and engineers.


Hollywood and the entertainment industry have a problem: they can't prevent their customers from making backup copies of their products.

It isn't that they don't try... They do! Numerous "Copy Protection" schemes make it difficult and time-consuming to make copies of entertainment media, even for customers that have purchased legitimate licenses to enjoy the entertainment in the privacy of their own homes.

But ultimately, their battle is pointless, because there is one approach to making copies of entertainment media that will always succeed. It's as if all of the copy protection theories have a big, glaring hole in them. In the industry, this approach is known as "The Analog Hole".

Unless you've been living under a rock since about 1972, you've seen more and more electronic equipment "go digital". Old-style analog equipment has almost disappeared. Hollywood executives and their cronies in the entertainment industry have been especially worried about one aspect of this transition to digital technology: using digital techniques, it is possible for consumers to make absolutely PERFECT copies of the data bits that can be played by digital equipment to recreate a movie or a song.

Because of this concern, powerful encryption techniques have been used to make it extremely difficult to make and use a copy (authorized or not).  Politicians have been "bought", and their influence has been used to create laws that may make it illegal even to study existing, cryptographic digital copy-protection schemes!

However, back in the heyday of the analog Video Cassette Recorder (VCR), before all of this ballyhoo over digital protection techniques, both the universally-accepted common laws of commerce and the Supreme Court of the United States of America confirmed that consumers of media also have certain, reasonable rights. Among these are:

1- Consumers have a right to "Time-Shifted Viewing" of entertainment media that has been broadcast over the public airwaves (record now, view later),


2- Consumers have a right to make and retain a reasonable number of "backup copies" of media that they are licensed to view or hear, in order to protect against equipment or media failure.

These two well-established rights have formed the basis for the VCR, DVR, and Home Theater industries. They allow consumers to record broadcast TV programs, and view them later. They also allow consumers to purchase licensed "libraries" of entertainment media for long-term storage and repeated viewing or listening, within the privacy of their own homes, with reasonable protection against equipment obsolescence, or media failure.

As a profit-seeking industry, Hollywood HATES all of this! They really, Really, REALLY want to sell you the same entertainmant over, and over, and over again.

For example, after paying to see a fine, old movie in theaters, your rich grandparents may have purchased another, expensive copy, on old-style 16mm film back in the 1950s, when Kodak and Argus and their competitors first made home projectors popular among the wealthy. Later, they bought that same movie again, in Sony's "Betamax" format. After a few years (as the popularity of Betamax faded into oblivion), they may have purchased it again, on a VHS tape. Then came DVD. Then Blue-Ray. Then iTunes and Amazon allowed convenient purchase of that same movie, in an all-digital format, on the iPod or iPhone, your Android tablet, or other portable media player that you carry in your purse or pocket.

Each of these legally purchased copies was accompanied by a promise (either written or implied) for long-term, general enjoyment at home. But, in each case, the entertainment industry executives knew that the time would come when the film would break, or the tape would degrade, or the disk would become scratched, or the file would be lost, or the equipment required to play it would become obsolete. They also knew that although customers would reasonably claim the right to make extra copies to protect themselves, as long as it was more difficult to actually MAKE those backup copies than to simply BUY an additional, licensed, new copy, that most people would continue in the wonderful pattern of buying the same program over, and over, and over again.


--What a great racket!


The result of this has been a kind of a balance of competitive tension between media producers and media consumers. On the one hand, media producers take steps to make it difficult to make backup copies and to restrict sale of the required tools. Consumers, on the other hand, seek tools and techniques to make it easier.


Enough customers buy enough extra copies to keep Hollywood absolutely SWIMMING in money.  But a few customers, willing to wade a little deeper into technology, are able to continue enjoying their purchased entertainment media libraries for decades without buying them over and over again, either by taking extraordinary care of the original media, or by making a reasonable number of backup copies.


Recent chapters of this battle have focused on DIGITAL technologies, because of Hollywood's well-founded fear of "pirates" that can make perfect copies.  However, these efforts have backfired, because the professional pirates always have the resouces that are necessary to circumvent the protection schemes.


The real victims of this fight have been the customers that have purchased legal, licensed copies of entertainment media. For them, making a perfect digital copy has become increasingly difficult. Hollywood may CLAIM to be sympathetic to the plight of customers, but I think that (in secret, at least,) they are happy because of the result: most customers conclude that it's easier to just go out and buy the same movie again than to make a backup copy, or to convert licensed entertainment from one media format to another.


While the focus of this battle has been on DIGITAL technology, millions of people have been quietly succeeding using ANALOG techniques.


"ANALOG"?  Yes! Analog!


The truth of the matter is that analog interfaces will always be with us, because all of our human senses are fundamentally analog in nature. Our eyes and our ears are analog devices, and the entertainment industry MUST present their information to us in these analog formats in order for us to see or hear the results.

Analog displays and analog speakers are well-established in our homes. Every TV set built from the dawn of time until about 2 years ago included analog inputs, and even today, the vast majority of new TV sets still include analog interfaces that are compatible with these well-established standards, in order to maintain compatibility with existing DVD players, VHS players, computers, and TVs.

Do you remember when broadcast TV went "all digital"? In the USA, most TV stations replaced their analog transmissions with digital ones during June of 2009. But this transition could never have been successful in the marketplace without millions of low-cost, readily available "Digital Tuners" that converted the new digital signals into old-style analong ones for use with their old, existing TV sets.


For example, here's what one of these systems looks like:

It has an "Antenna" connector for reception of over-the-air digital signals. It then converts those digital signals into old-style analog signals, which it sends on to an old-style TV through the "Composite Video" connectors of the type that have been present on most TV sets since the mid 1970s. It will be a long, Long, LONG time before theses interfaces disappear completely!


And now, for the "dirty little secret"....


There are NO effective copy-protection techniques that work in analog environments!


It is NOT difficult to copy analog video or analog audio signals. (There are a few techniques that succeed enough to annoy those making copies, but none can withstand efforts by any electrical engineer of even very modest skill.)


It's true that Hollywood would like to see these old analog interfaces fade away. They are pushing modern, encryptable, digital-only interfaces, like "HDMI" into the marketplace. But even in the distant future, when all of the old analog Composite and Component media interfaces fade away and Hollywood's content is delivered to our TVs through an encrypted interface under their restrictive controls, we will all still be using our analog ears and our analog eyeballs to to enjoy our entertainment media. And by then, I believe it will be possible to simply point a high-quality digital movie camera at our display screens, and make a good copy that way! It will NEVER be possible for media producers to prevent their customers from making analog copies.


It's true that analog copies are never perfect. There is always some some distortion and degredation. However, today's modern analog equipment can make a very good copy of a DVD, a VHS tape, a home movie, an audio tape, or a vinyl disk. The quality of the result will depend on the sophistication of the analog equipment used to make the copy.

Low-cost equipment (costing U.S. $200 or less) can copy a commercial DVD with a resolution of 640 x 480 that is almost as good as the original, using the old "Composite Video" connectors. (Click HERE to see our review of the "Neuros OSD" recorder using this technology).  More expensive analog equipment, using the more modern "Component Video" analog connectors, can copy a commercial DVD or Blue-Ray disk in "High Definition", with results that will look very good on your modern, 47 inch flat-screen TV. Critical video fans will be able to discern the slight degredation in video quality compared to the original, but those people that use these techniques to make backup copies of their entertainment media are in almost universal agreement that the quality is entirely satisfactory.

If you ever wonder about the resolution and quality of video images using high-quality "Component" analog interfaces versus HDMI connections, just take a quick look at the back side of TVs being displayed for sale at you favorite retailer or "Big Box" store. The chances are that you're going to see analog "Component" connections in those stores (and they're in the business of selling image quality)! You know that if HDMI displays resulted in images that looked better to the money-spending public, those retailers would have adopted them agressively. There is no reason to dismiss analog interfaces when considering a backup media conversion strategy for the video content that you've produced for yourself, or that you've legally licensed for private viewing in your home.


And there's more good news for the consumer: all of today's popular analog recorders produce modern, digital results that can be edited, or copied, or converted to different, modern formats, without further degredation or restriction! A single analog-to-digital conversion is all that will ever be necessary. Once that conversion is made, the resulting digital version, and all copies or derivatives thereof, can be perfectly preserved.


This is "The Analog Hole"! We believe that fear of the analog hole is the real reason for Hollywood's enthusiastic support of the new, digital "HDMI" interface, whose digital data, subject to modern legislation and strong encryption, can be restricted far more effectively.


And we just thought that you should know about it!