Theater Mode


The Loss of My Fabulous Home Theater System

My story begins in the late 1990s when I was watching my 32 inch Toshiba CRT television. CBS was airing a special about High Definition television. They were talking about a proposed major change in the TV standard in the US. The then current NTSC (National Television System Committee) standard had been in use since 1954 when the first production Color TV was introduced by RCA. The prior black and white standard was seamlessly updated to include color. Now a totally new digital standard was to be adopted and would be labeled ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee). In the late 80s, I did see a $39,000 Japanese 16:9 high definition plasma television at an electronics exposition where they were using high-def laser disk player for content.

Note. The changeover to ATSC was to take place on December 31, 2006. But because of the outcry, this was postponed until June 12, 2009.

Anyway, my experience with digital TV really bagin in 1998 when I purchased a mini desktop PC to be used as a media system. I installed a video card that could output analog video. I then bought a Hauppauge TV tuner card. I hooked everything up and – it didn’t work. The image on my 32 inch Toshiba TV was not anywhere near as good as broadcast TV.

This system went through a number of iterations with hardware and software upgrades before I gave up on the idea altogether. I did hook my Dell 24 inch 16:10 PC monitor to this PC and did for the first time view digital TV. I had tuned in a 1080 digital broadcast of a football game with the Dallas Cowboys. That’s when I noticed and could clearly see the interlacing in the picture. This system was crude and had no buffering or image enhancements found in modern day TVs.

It would be in 2007 when I finally realized that if I was to have TV, I had to move up to a digital TV. I also wanted to watch movies on a big screen, not on my PC at my desk. I then ordered online a 47 inch Westinghouse LCD – not TV, but a 1920 by 1080 60p monitor – which is still around today. To handle the higher bandwidth, I built a bigger desktop style PC with a high powered ATI Radeon video card, a DVICO Fusion HDTV ATSC/QAM Tuner card, and an HD-DVD drive, and I was ready to go. That’s when I discovered that infrared technology wasn’t for me.

I had the bright idea of using two monitors for this setup. Then eventually after a lot of fiddling and talking to people online, I finally came up with a system I used for nearly 11 years. Eleven years of contentment, freedom, ease of use, and enjoyment.

With the help of K-Lite Codecs, RedFox AnyDVD, Power DVD 9, an ATI Radeon graphics video card, and a PC with nearly a terabyte of disk space, I had a system that played virtually anything I could put into it. Be it VCDs, DVDs, HD-DVDs, Blu-Rays, every imaginable video format, I could play it. Also, I didn’t need the help of a kludgy – stupid 80s-technology infrared remote control.

Starting in early Y2k, AMD’s ATI Radeon video cards had a capability of doing something called Theater Mode. This was a duel monitor setup such that the main Windows XP control console could be assigned to a small side monitor and rendered video streams could be displayed on a large wide screen high definition monitor.

I would start a player application in a dialog box on a small monitor that sat to one side on an end-table next to my La-Z-Boy. Then when I started the video, it would play in the small window. The raw video was then sent in pure full screen non pixelated full definition form to the high definition monitor without any accompanying windows controls, frames, or icons.

Note. The ATI Catalyst Control Software Suite Version 9.1 was the last version that would successfully support this functionality.

How I was able to get Blu-Rays to play the same as DVDs was via AnyDVD and a HDCP compliant monitor emulation API layer between the Blu-Ray player software and the ATI video driver. It did this by emulating the HDCP decoding normally done in the video card. This API would capture any video including that which was rendered via Adobe Flash and HTML5. This meant I could play YouTube videos on the small screen and the full screen video appeared on the high-def monitor. Simply put I didn’t have to drag the web browser playing the YouTube video to the large monitor to watch it.

I have no idea where this API DLL came from. I think in my frustration in trying to play HD-DVDs and Blu-Rays, I found this piece of software on some obscure website. For all I know, it might have come from China or Russia. I stupidly never did document this DLL thinking that there would be other more improved versions.

As for region coding, AnyDVD would allow me to automatically and seamlessly pay DVDs and Blu-Rays from any country. And I could skip over anything on any disk including commercials, previews, and copyright warnings. I could just click on the menu button and I was immediately taken to a menu ready to play the movie or select a TV show.

One more thing. I had a digital TV Tuner card in this PC that also doubled as an analog video capture which allowed me to play my old Beta video cassette tapes and laser disks.

All control was done from the small monitor beside me. All video was watched on the big screen.

How nice. How wonderful. How – it would all eventually end.


High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection

Because of regulations and obsolescence, and after consulting with a large number of so-called PC experts, I eventually found that I would be relegated back to the 1980s when it came to watching videos.

Sure there was Windows Media Player or VLC, but under Windows 10, they are fraught with restrictions. I cannot play any of my HD-DVDs and PC based Blu-Ray Players are all inundated with bloatware, commercials and pop-ups. Also I would have to pay for upgrades every one or two years.

I still have this Windows XP PC, but I either lost the HDCP emulation software or it was rendered inoperable. Also, RedFox has long since done away with AnyDVD support for Windows XP. Then there is the fact that I could no longer play YouTube videos because the pre-HTNL5 YouTube Flash Player was no longer supported under Windows XP.

This is what I am now forced to use. How gross. How stupid is our culture.

“There’s one constant in all the galaxy – and that is the bureaucratic mentality.”

I did price a number of sophisticated media systems that were said to do what my media PC did. However, they were all extremely complicated, extremely proprietary, and extremely expensive.

I literally spent hours with these guys who built these systems. It seems one has to go to flight school to learn how to watch TV. They all agree that it is no longer simple and straight forward to set up a media system. These systems require Wi-Fi networking, central servers, tablets, smart phones, streaming, casting, ripping… All of which will not allow me to play my old HD-DVDs, European DVDs, or any unapproved video formats.

Now here I am with a box full of infrared remotes, three disk players, a Raspberry Pi, a TV tuner and a flaky HDMI switcher connecting it all together, not to mention, a bunch of stuff behind including a box to strip the audio out of the HDMI, a composite video to HDMI converter, power strips for everything, and – well, all those wires that need to go to everything.

This – thing is a POS.


The answer: Paranoid producers attempting to enforce Video and Audio Copy Protection.

For example…

The Blu-Ray – The Last Physical Digital Medium

Simply and succinctly put: to play Blu-Ray disks on a PC, it has to be a Windows PC or a Mac. Also you can only play the discs directly with special software that is licensed to play Blu-Ray Discs. To play Blu-Ray discs on a dedicated device it must be a Blu-Ray player that is licensed to play Blu-Ray discs. To play Blu-Ray discs on a gaming device, it must be a gaming console that is licensed to play Blu-Ray discs. You cannot play Blu-Ray discs on a Samsung, Apple, or other smart phone or tablet. You cannot play Blu-Ray discs on a Raspberry Pi or any other Linux based computer system. You cannot play Blu-Ray discs on a PC with any other operating system.

Note.  there is software that will allow you to rip a Blu-Ray such that the resulting ripped file can be played on a Linus, andriod or IOS device.  The problem is, not only does it take a very long time to rip each Blu-Ray, but the space requirement for each disk ripped is rather large, 40 to 60 Gb.

The following are licensed Windows 10 compatible Blu-Ray player software packages:

  • Cyberlink PowerDVD
  • Macgo Blu-ray Player
  • Corel WinDVD
  • Aurora Blu-ray Media Player
  • Aiseesoft Blu-ray Player
  • Leawo Blu-ray Player

The following are the only gaming consoles that are licensed to play Blu-Ray discs:

  • Sony PlayStation
  • Microsoft Xbox (with optional app)

The following companies are licensed to distribute Blu-Ray Players in the United States:

  • Denon
  • JVC
  • LG
  • Magnavox
  • Marantz
  • Onkyo
  • Oppo
  • Panasonic
  • Philips
  • Pioneer
  • Samsung
  • Sharp
  • Sony
  • Toshiba
  • Yamaha


Region Free

Region codes are basically DRM (Digital Rights Management) techniques that allow producers to control the playing of video discs in various regions of the world.

DVD Region Codes Blu-Ray Region Codes

There are no region free DVD or Blu-Ray players licensed to be sold in the United States. The players that are listed for sale on Amazon and eBay are name brand players that, without permission of the manufacturers, have had their firmware modified by less-scrupulous third party vendors. These players are often older models with a significant price markup and, depending upon the model, they can have a number of glitches or bugs. Also, if and when the firmware needs to be updated, the multi-region capabilities will be disabled upon the installation of the new firmware. Patching the firmware to enable multi-region is very difficult if not impossible.

The manufacturers of players need to keep their firmware up to date to accommodate new disc releases that will inevitably have upgraded functionality on new disc releases including updated security protocols. Often times these vendors of region free players who have modified the firmware are in business only for a short period of time – meaning, here today, gone tomorrow. Most will not post updated firmware nor will they give buyers of players a backup disk or file with a firmware patch.


Restrictions, Restrictions, Restrictions

In today’s world of prerecorded media such as movies, TV, music and eBooks, the industry has employed many tactics to attempt to circumvent piracy. In often futile attempts at employing copy protection, the media producers have made it nearly impossible for home theater companies to design and build easily configurable state-of-art home and office media systems. Not only do copy protection systems cause players to be more costly and difficult to configure, but these protections also hurt consumers who can’t play, read or understand the content. Meaning, copy protections may not allow certain users access to content. A glaring example is reading for the blind.

Though they have access to recorded books for the blind, new releases of reading materials as well as periodicals are either not converted to audio or are delayed for as much as one or two years.

Though we live in a technically capable world, it is against the law for anyone to use text to speech software to verbalize written digital materials that the publisher has locked down – which is 99% of released materials.

The problem with all copy protection methodologies that exist today is these schemes are easily and eventually broken or hacked. In reality, all they really do is keep people from watching, listening to or reading purchased content on their own terms. One might think the producers are in reality imposing control rather than protecting their content. It’s so easy to copy stuff, yet it’s difficult to actually use purchased media.

For example, most are able to get around copy encryptions (BD+, AACS, and other DRM protections) found on DVD or Blu-Ray discs by using a decrypter. In other words, a piece of software that is downloaded from the internet which runs in the background on a Windows PC can basically decrypt any code placed on a DVD or Blu-Ray that supposed to prevent it from being ripped. There are many free and paid software solutions currently available including:

  • AnyDVD HD (The leader in Blu-Ray decryption)
  • DVDFab Blu-Ray Passkey (Another good decrypter and less pricier than AnyDVD)
  • Blu-Ray/HD DVD Copy Helper (Free but with limited features. You must already have a Blu-Ray player software installed for it to work, like PowerDVD)

There are also many types of disk to disk copy programs that can easily duplicate Blu-Ray, DVD and CDs.

So, now here I am, a 70 year old guy who just wants to watch my collection of 10,000 discs, tapes, and media files, all of which I legally obtained, but can only use on Hollywood’s terms.

And all I get out of those minions at the various technology stores is, “Sorry, this is the way it is.”

The boots of communism are slowly marching towards our way of life. And most of the young not only vote for it, but they relish it.  I just hope it doesn’t happen till I’m gone.

SteveS March 3, 2019