Broadcast Flag

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What is the Broadcast Flag?

The Broadcast Flag is a bit flag in the ATSC datastream. It was approved by the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in early 2004. According to the FCC's original plan, all ATSC hardware made after June 2005 would have to support the broadcast flag, and it would be illegal to sell, import, or manufacture non-compliant hardware. In the American Library Association v. Federal Communications Commission (ALA v. FCC) court case, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the FCC lacked the authority to impose this rule. Therefore, to date (October, 2007) manufacturers are not required to support the broadcast flag.

Several attempts have been made to implement the FCC's broadcast flag rules. Typically, broadcast flag provisions have been tacked onto other legislation. To date, these attempts have been unsuccessful; however, this tactic could one day work.

What happens if a show has the flag enabled?

If the broadcast flag is enabled, the following takes place:

  • If you have a card that does not honor the broadcast flag, you see no effect.
  • If you have a broadcast flag compliant card, your card will automatically downconvert the signal to 480i (interlaced DVD quality).

If the broadcast flag is disabled, there will be no effect on any type of card.

What cards implement the broadcast flag rules?

Please edit if you know.

Will I be able to hack a compliant card to receive full-quality HDTV?

The broadcast flag basically prevents high-quality recording of protected content. It will theoretically be impossible to "hack" compliant cards using software, as compliance with the FCC regulations implies a hardware device handling downconverts, not drivers.

Where can I get more information?

More information on the Broadcast Flag can be found at

G4TechTV (Note that this article is several years out of date.)

Electronic Frontier Foundation