Digital video is confusing. You get some clear advantages, since signal degradation becomes a thing of the past, but if you’re not someone who works in video for a living, it’s difficult to keep it all straight. And standards are a problem. You can’t just assume that two devices will work together because they’re both “digital.”

One of the problems is physical incompatibility. Some devices have Displayport ports. Some of them have HDMI ports. The solution is easy: get a cable with an HDMI connector on one end and a Displayport connector on the other. Problem solved.

And now the guy who sold it to you is a criminal. (You aren’t necessarily. Possession isn’t illegal, just sale or manufacture. So don’t sell it at your garage sale in 2019.)

This should be a skit on a comedy show, not a news headline.

Filthy contraband. You'd never know unless I said so, would you?

What makes it even more ridiculous is that an Amazon search reveals these contraband cables have been on the market since at least 2004. And Displayport and HDMI are designed to be compatible with each other. Not 100% necessarily, but close enough that they usually work.

Let me tell you a story. In 1985 or 1986, Dad bought a VCR. He probably bought it in St. Louis, and he probably just went to a convenient consumer electronics store near one of the I-55 exits, and he probably just bought whatever reputable brand-name VCR was the cheapest, because that’s what I’d do, and I learned it from someone. Then he brought that VCR home, and realized the VCR had F connectors on the back rather than the usual RCA jacks. In the 1980s, what you did in that situation was drive to the nearest Radio Shack, spend a few dollars on weird cables with the right connectors in the right places, then plug the VCR into your television. Problem solved. The cables probably ate up all he saved (and then some) by buying a weird VCR–and that was probably the reason it was on sale in the first place–but in the end, at least we had something that worked.

Today, since we’re 21st century digital boys, if you run into a situation where you want to plug a Displayport-toting computer into a monitor or TV that has an HDMI connector on it, you can get into trouble. Actually it’s more likely the company that made the cables will be in trouble for selling it to you, but still, it’s ridiculous. Why are some cables and adapters with dissimilar connectors on each end legal, and some aren’t?

It was fine in the 80s. In fact, in the 80s you could violate copyright laws with those cables. Today, those cables don’t even let you do that. So it’s not even an overreaching nanny state thing.

What this means in practical terms is that someone who has a Sony computer and a Sony TV can probably connect the two just fine. But those who dare to want to connect an HP or an Apple computer to a Sony TV probably won’t be able to do it much longer. Why? Who benefits? Just the lawyers, and some of the companies those lawyers represent. But it would be very interesting to get a look at those lawyers’ own home theaters to make sure none of them have any illegal cables.

If I can make my digital gadgets work together, I should be able to do it.