DRM and HDCP – Apple’s contradictory stance – by “Stephen D”

When Apple rolled introduced their new line of unibody aluminum Macbooks in late 2008, they introduced a new type of display connection: Mini DisplayPort. This new format supported was developed by Apple, and is simply a miniaturized version of DisplayPort, an open standard put forth by the Video Electronics Standards Association. Its main purpose is to either connect a laptop to monitor, or a computer to a television. However, the introduction of this connection as the sole video output in the unibody Macbooks was a significant blow to consumers by limiting the potential choices for what they can watch certain content on. The DisplayPort standard off which this connection is based includes support for High-bandwith Digital Content Protection, or HDCP. What this means is that high-definition (HD) content is protected while traveling between the source and the screen, effectively closing the “analog hole” that pirates sometimes take advantage of. In practice this means that certain iTunes content, when purchased legally through the iTunes store, will not necessarily play on a given TV, monitor or projector. Instead of your desired movie, you will see a dialog box similar to the following:

Apple HDCP warning
Apple HDCP warning

Courtesy of arstechnica.com. http://media.arstechnica.com/journals/apple.media/iTunesHDCP-large540.png

This is a controversial action on Apple’s part, as it requires you to purchase a compatible display in order to watch any movies purchased, since the new Macbooks don’t have a VGA output. Additionally, consumers are not informed that iTunes movies and rentals are laced with DRM. The only clue that consumers have to this, before getting the warning message above, is a footnote that states “Requires HDMI with HDCP or component video.” (http://support.apple.com/kb/SP19) Apple is effectively tricking customers into buying DRM protected media, then dictating how they it.

Bringing HDCP to the new Macbook line is a step backwards for Apple, and forcing consumers to watch their legally purchased movies is not a right Apple should be able to dictate. In the same month that Apple started selling the new unibody Macbooks, they arranged a deal to provide DRM-free music with the four major labels for the iTunes music store. This was a big step forward for Apple, so it’s surprising to see that Apple chose a conflicting view for movies. It is a foolish move for Apple to punish customers who attempt to purchase movies legally. By making the process harder for legitimate customers, Apple is in fact driving more users to piracy. Instead, Apple should use a protected mp4 file, in the same way they use protected AACC files. That way, Apple could protect the content by making sure that the files are linked to an authenticated user, and customers could watch movies however they pleased. However, Apple has ended up treating customers poorly, and the following XKCD seems truer than ever:

Courtesy xkcd.com. http://xkcd.com/488/

One thought on “DRM and HDCP – Apple’s contradictory stance – by “Stephen D”

  1. I agree that this is frustrating. HDMI is pretty much the universal standard as far as HD connections go, found on all HDTVs and many of the new Windows laptops coming out. One of my friends recently purchased a nice LCD TV, and wanted to hook up his laptop to watch some movies he has on there. Yet, without an HDMI port on his unibody MacBook Pro, he has to buy a MDP to HDMI adapter now. And, if he got those movies from iTunes, he might not be able to watch them on his TV.

    I’m guessing there’s a lot of people out there who want to do the same thing: hook their MacBook up to their TV/larger monitors to get HD content. Since iTunes might not let them if their TVs or monitors are not HDCP compliant, some will probably turn to illegal sources to download DRM-free movies that are sure to work, just like DRM music on iTunes deterred people from buying legal music.

    It almost seems as if digital video is lagging behind audio as far as the DRM war is concerned. Hopefully, Apple will eventually be able reach an agreement with the studios to offer DRM-free video on iTunes, just like the music breakthrough earlier this year. HDCP content may reduce some piracy, but it also hurts the average consumer who just wants to watch some of his purchased content on his TV or monitor.


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