[news=http://www.itouchplc.com/itouch/images/universal.jpg]One of the nastier capabilities of both Blu-ray and HD DVD allows for content holders to force image quality degradation onto users whose TVs aren't quite up to snuff. The original plan was simple: if a TV lacked a secure HD input (i.e., HDMI or something else supporting HDCP), studios could instruct next-generation disc players to reduce the quality of the video output to something less than 720p. This has been billed as an anti-piracy measure, inasmuch as it is designed to keep the pristine, full digital HD signal away from anything that's not locked down. Consumer advocates have attacked the plan, however, saying that the only thing it is likely to stop is honest people from enjoying their discs' full HD potential.
Following on the heels of Sony, Universal has confirmed that they will not be using such capabilities to downgrade video on their offerings, at least for now. This marks what looks to be a major studio to turn away from the so-called image constraint token—the name given to the AACS software functionality that allows for downsampling video to 960x540 (approximately NTSC). Paramount, Disney and Twentieth Century Fox have all backed off of using the ICT, leaving Warner Brothers as the only major studio saying that they will use the it. According to BusinessWeek, sources say that Warner will use the ICT on "at least some" of their initial titles.
The question is, why are they forgoing ICT? For now, it looks like good business sense is driving the discussion. Even today, not all new TV sets support HDCP, and the vitally important "early adopter" crowd contains no small number of people with HD sets that were sold before the HDCP requirements were known. In short, most of the studios understand that launching new, expensive players alongside rather expensive movies could flop if the ICT is used extensively. After all, a Blu-ray player may cost $1,000, but if you can't get anything much better than existing DVD playback, why bother?
If this is the studios' motivation, we should expect the ICT to become more prevalent as the penetration of TV sets with HDCP support increases. There's always a chance that studios will shy away from this functionality entirely, but holding your breath is not advised.