Netflix and HD: a DRM disaster that costs you your videos and control of your hardware

Davis sez,
I recently purchased a new HD monitor, but when I installed it, I lost the streaming capabilities on Netflix's website. When I tried to troubleshoot the issue, I had to agree to let Netflix "reset my DRM" by destroying my files. After talking with Netflix's technical support, I learned that the real issue had to do with the HD capabilities of my PC setup. Because Hollywood wants to punish people for using technology that is outside of their protocol, they are denying me access to low resolution internet videos until I downgrade my monitor to standard definition.

As if DRM isn't evil enough already, I now have to give up access to files I've already bought and even then might not be allowed access unless I have specific approved HD equipment that allows Hollywood to control how I consume my media content. I understand that content owners want to be able to charge for their content, but something is wrong when their DRM won't even allow you to pay to use their product.

Link (Thanks, Davis!)


  1. So is the problem really “Netflix and HD” or Hollywood and HD? I say the latter — it’s not Netflix’ malfeasance.

    But yes, something is wrong, mildy stated. And they will not change — not for a long, long time. Hollywood speaks, we are to listen. They have the money & the politicians.

  2. There would appear to be a simple solution to this in the first instance – get VirtualBox or VMWare Server and clone his Windows installation into it. I’m not sure whether he could run his new screen through it but it would separate his Netflix files and his Amazon files.

    Of course it would also be a good idea to write to Netflix and/or Microsoft and explain that their DRM systems are destructive and that they would be held responsible for the replacement of any third party media made unplayable by this modification. If you are going to have a global DRM system it has to work globally.

    And indeed, the author could stop using DRM-crippled services. If everyone did that instead of accepting it and seeing it as a problem ‘Hollywood’ would see its revenues fall and realise that they can’t abuse their customers. Personally, with the exception of DVDs, which I play on a multi-region machine anyway, I go for this.

  3. And companies wonder why people would rather pirate DRM free media that they can use anywhere than pay for spyware laden, DRM crippled, crap resolution, movies that required a bloatware package to be able to use. And the funniest part is that all that DRM crippled media is available on the P2P networks without the DRM. Just goes to show, when you “do the right thing” and pay for your content, they still treat you like a criminal.

    Remember folks, there’s no DRM in ARRRRR!!!

  4. ugh, just tried the instant Netflix service (again…second chances man) — must use IE (6 or better) and has to install not just an .msi but also an activex plugin for drm as well as a windows media player 11 upgrade.

    what happened then? I got a typical ‘you don’t have the rights to this media’ drm error popup for every video I tried to play. Problems like this often seem to happen with drm stupidity (at least for me)…not just the added nuisance of the additional signup hoops.

    That’s when I walk away, and I just wanted to see how well I could watch some movies already in my queue on my pc…and I will do a little work to get something…I just went through captcha and double opt-in just to leave this comment…browsing back to the story when the email verification link wasn’t customized to take me back to the story I started registering from (just a suggestion).

    When will we all just admit that if you can see it or hear it you can record it.

  5. Netflix has a bigger P.R. fire burning – and a lot of users hopping mad. Just before Christmas they removed their new releases listings and replaced them with a limited list that only shows titles that are in stock in the warehouse – that only displays 4 titles at a time and requires a mouseclick to see the next 4 – and that includes DVDs released months ago as if they were new releases.

    Since Netflix also removed the contact form for emailing customer service, upset users have gradually found their way to the official Netflix Community blog – and left over 900 angry comments. (Well, figure 600 angry comments and 300 trollish/sockpuppet defenses.)

    Chief among Netflix defenses for this move is that customers don’t like having to wait for movies, and the strategy of only listing movies they don’t have to wait for is succeeding. They also point out that the Releasing This Week list can still be found if you have the ultra-double-secret URL (not posted anywhere on the site of . (The list looks thinner then usual to me. I don’t think it is updating properly.)

    There’s also a petition up at . Only 1000 signatures so far, but word is spreading.

  6. quick fix for this. Don’t use windows Media center edition, or at least read the thousands of posts throughout the internet about HD DRM restrictions that occur with MCE and Vista before looking surprised when it doesn’t work. I currently have my HDTV hooked up at 1080i on an ATI HD2600/dvi-hdmi running anything I want including netflix and amazon, no problems. The key is I’m using XP Pro.

  7. I tried to stream a movie from netflix. They just bitched about how lousy my computer is. Funny, “other” websites stream movies to me just fine.

  8. C.D., could this problem be a result of the kind of “chaos” that is clearly active in the market place? There are competing technologies and the market is at war. There may be an egalitarian ethic out there in some idealized form, but I think that if we want a future with more technology, we will have to deal with the unfairness of the war, at least for a while. Making an issue out of could help also. Companies don’t like bad press

  9. I can’t say I’m surprised; this is exactly
    the sort of pain that Microsoft users have signed up
    for. It would be foolish in the extreme to expect anything else from a company that has explicitly
    allied itself with the MAFIAA and invested enormous
    resources in DRM. (At the expense, I might add,
    of security, since any operating system with embedded DRM is insecure-by-design.)

    What puzzles me is why anyone would expect
    a different outcome: they’ve deliberately set
    themselves up for this by making a series of poor choices (e.g., use of any Microsoft product, acceptance of media with DRM, etc.). It may not
    be the path they wish, but it’s the path they’ve chosen.

  10. This is dumb… It’s why people pirate movies. Why would u pay for something that later will break down and become unusable?

  11. Daha: Arrgh! I guess I haven’t looked at my queue since Christmas, that is INCREDIBLY annoying. Time to warm up the flamethrower. Thanks for that link.

  12. Agree with #5 Krisjohn. I use Netflix for what it’s worth, and the only reason I stream a movie is to preview it before actually wasting a rental on it.

    Seriously read a book people. I think stats say something like 50% of people never read a book again once they get out of college, and for those that never went to college it rises to 70%.

    buy what you can without DRM, and ignore or steal the rest.

  13. This news release may have something to do with their dislike of your own HD equipment:

    “Online and DVD-by-mail service Netflix is partnering with LG Electronics to develop a broadband enabled set-top box that will deliver HD movies from the PC to the TV. While similar devices made manufacturers such as Apple and Vudu have failed to catch on, none have had such a large and dedicated subscriber base to market to. Netflix has 7 million subscribers who have collectively watched more than 10 million movies and TV shows via its “Watch Instantly” online feature. The service has cataloged more than 6,000 titles in its streaming library so far.”

    So they want you to buy their set top box to watch on your HD screen. They know that most people are ignorant enough of technology and will assume that they need this box to go with their HD screen and just get it.

  14. @scoots,

    you have to admit jerry rigging a pc to an hd monitor is not going to have the best user experience when streaming watch instantly movies.

    there will be value in a netflix box, especially when it’s embedded into other set top boxes you would have anyway, how can you deny that?

  15. Rukasu (#7):
    If this is what Mac users have to look forward to, I would rather they spend their development dollars elsewhere. I really don’t want all that DRM crap slowing down my machine and making it unstable just so I can watch a video now and then.

    Yes, I know Quicktime and iTunes have DRM embedded, but I trust Apple to do a decent job of making it as unobtrusive as possible.

  16. wolfrider

    So 70% of people that didn’t go to college stopped reading books after not going to college?

    I guess I’ll never understand statistics.

  17. @ #14

    I agree, Wolfrider. I don’t understand how people can not read books in favor of the same old crap that keeps being repackaged and marketed on tv and in the movies. My boyfriend read a grand total of three books last year, and all of them were (ghost)written by pro-wrestlers. I just don’t get it.

  18. To me, the whole High Def thing is overhyped, over-mandated, and useless. For some time I’ve been going the opposite direction, watching more and more vids on my 2.5″ ipod screen (not downloaded but ripped, btw). Various political and technological methods are being used to try to cram HD down the public’s throat, but I resist because the whole premise with HD is that every movie is an immersive experience… and that’s a misguided perception. To me, movies are a *storytelling* experience. That’s why books work, for example; it’s all about storytelling. Relying on 4x pixels to sell a story is like George Lucas relying on spending $13,000 per second on special effects to try to make that Jarjar StarWars movie not reek.

  19. Stories like these make me appreciate services like Miro all the more. I’m the kind of person who is in the mood to enjoy some non-interactive (non-game) entertainment once or twice per week on a whim. Those whims are fleeting so I need instant gratification. I open up Miro (which I leave resident to download my content) and watch precisely the shows I want, in the order I want. My subscribed content is all already downloaded, waiting for me. I can watch BBTV if I want 5 minutes of entertainment, or start up a 45 minute video podcast (about video games, of course), watch the first half and close the program, and resume where I left off later. No DRM, no commercials, and certainly no hassles with my brand of monitor.

  20. ok, remember when hdmi/protected path/etc were originally being promoted there were plenty of assurances from ms et al that this exact scenario would never happen. the worst that would happen is that you would receive a sd picture instead of hd…

    intelligent people had serious doubts about that. it appears they were correct.

    as i said at the time, i am not interested in having my pc neutered in the same way my audio receivers are. the pc is a multi-purpose tool and not just an entertainment device. the content cartel needs to be reminded of that.

    drm is bad for you.

  21. A year ago I purchased an HP Media Center PC, marketed as an HD-DVD system. It came with an HD-DVD player, HD-DVD software, and one movie. It also came with an HP 24″ 1920×1200 monitor with DVI inputs, for watching movies at the full 1080p resolution.

    Alas, the HD-DVD system won’t play HD-DVDs – the monitor doesn’t support the HDCP DRM system.

    It turns out that I could have bought a lesser HP monitor that supported HDCP, but had less than 1080 resolution. In other words, I could watch High Definition movies if I gave up the ability to watch them in high definition.

    I’ve since installed the free upgrade to Windows Vista. Now I can’t watch home-made DVDs. I can use the system to create and burn a home movie DVD, and it’ll play on other players, but the system itself won’t play it. It will only play commercially made DVDs.

  22. @ kinokino

    Where is this jerry rig of which you speak? You mean taking the same cable I have use to get the signal from a BlueRay or HD-DVD and connecting it directly to my media PC which has graphics handling capability far exceeding the resolution of both the source and the monitor. This box is nothing more than a DRM DLL (or Binary Blob in Linux speak) in a physical form. So on top of having to cope with what it won’t let me do with my own equipment, I have to find a place to store this brick. Those who want real HD-HTPC performance are a niche market, no matter what we would like to think. The most likely combo box will be the one from the cable company that will down-res their HD signal to analog for old sets. The cable companies will have control of these and since the only output is SD analog, there will be all sorts of connectivity options since you get nothing of theirs they consider worth stealing.

  23. I guess so, but.

    I just found the streaming feature of Netflix a couple of days ago and watched a season’s worth of 30 Rock with no problems whatsoever. It was pretty cool, I thought, and didn’t cost me anything extra. So I had to use Explorer and agree to some horrible license. DRM; bad. Tina Fey; good.

    Now if I can only get around to mailing back that Netflix DVD I have lying around here somewhere…

  24. This HD/Blu-Ray business is a sucker’s game.

    Seriously, no one in their right mind is going to drop a penny for this stuff until a hybrid player is out. Of course by then, media-free will be more and more prevalent…

  25. @kinokino

    I didn’t say that the Netflix box wouldn’t have value. Just because a product adds value to a service doesn’t mean that you should be forced to buy it just to access the service you have already paid for.

  26. I understand that content owners want to be able to charge for their content, but something is wrong when their DRM won’t even allow you to pay to use their product.

    Not really, it’s just the actualisation of their marketing dreams. Recently you’ve seen “buy it once per device you own”. This is just the logical progression of that “Buy it again and again, unable to use it on any device you own”.

    Get with the program! Consume!

  27. With every horror story of the way these arrogant media producers think they have the right to control consumer hardware, the more resolved I am to never buy DRMed media at any price. But I also put my money where my mouth is, and try to throw my support behind programs like Sanctuary, which I discovered wasn’t encumbered by DRM after I tentatively downloaded one episode to see if it would be trouble or not (it’s in HD too).

    Every time a consumer gives money to the content creators who try to force control schemes upon them, they’re just begging for more abuse. Whenever a consumer just decides to take their money elsewhere when confronted with DRM shenanigans, they’re empowering themselves. As for me, I’m more than content to just let those companies keep their “property” if it means so much to them that they insist on treating me, the consumer, with disrespect.

  28. Don’t you people realize that simply by -existing- you have to pay movie studios money? It was posted in the license agreement they had tattooed to the inside of the birth canal. Tough shit for you if you weren’t able to read it on your way through.

    As for HD, I say “all the better to see how much your movie sucks, studio bastards.”

    Seriously, though, you totally have to give them your money. ALL of it. Go do it right now.

  29. Karo @31: I agree, but the fork is two-pronged.

    1. (which you mentioned) Do not, ever, pay for DRM-encumbered media or in any other way support DRM monetarily.

    2. (equally important) DO pay those who do the honourable thing and pledge not to f*** you over with DRM.

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