Apple TV DRM makes iTunes rentals incompatible with many TVs

Fred sez, "Those who rent videos from iTunes to play back on their Apple TV units may discover that they can't watch them unless their displays support HDCP -- the DRM technology that infects most Hollywood digital video these days."
When I attempted to watch the movie, however, the Apple TV displayed an error message: "This content requires HDCP for playback." HDCP (High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) is a form of digital rights management (DRM) that prevents you from playing video over DVI and HDMI connections (in my case) if you don't own compatible hardware that can decode the signal properly. (In other words, HDCP is more crap DRM that does nothing but irritate legitimate customers.)
Of course, people who use the Pirate Bay to get the same videos for free have no such problems. Hollywood only punishes paying customers. Smooth. Link


  1. …and people who print their own banknotes don’t have to wait in line at the ATM.

    What’s your point, Cory?

  2. #2

    No ATM tells you your wallet is incompatible with currency. HDCP serves no useful purpose for the general public, only for the Hollywood suits. Hollywood feels it’s worth the gamble to frustrate owners of older televisions if it means they can prevent people from recording iTunes movies onto another format.

  3. You couldn’t be more right, Cory. HDCP is such a crock. The notion that only the digital out can do high-def, and that the digital out has to be encrypted, is such a lame attempt to put the genie back in the bottle. People who pirate movies will find a way. I get annoyed at DVDs that have the noskip flags on FBI, Interpol, etc. warnings. Only those who don’t use piracy tools (honest customers) have to watch the legal warnings.

    This is one of the reasons Blu-Ray will be a hard-sell for a while, too, though afaik early players don’t have the anal. hole plugged yet. People who pirate won’t care overly much whether or not the video is high-def. People who have decent TVs without an HDMI port, though, might care…

  4. There’s a bunch of problems with HDCP, including the fact that sometimes the encryption handshake between devices goes wrong; that chaining devices is problematic (using HDMI hubs or daisy chains); and that HDCP has “self help,” meaning that your legitimately purchased HDTV or whatever could be disabled by a Blu-ray DVD or other device — if the cartel that controls the encryption system has a problem with the manufacturer of your equipment. That’s right. They can revoke HDCP, in which case, your HDTV would only be able to play unencrypted stuff over DVI or HDMI.

  5. After reading the article, one question comes to mind;

    What the hell is the author doing without an HDTV? He’s a technology blogger and he doesn’t own a key piece of equipment necessary to perform that function?

    Would you buy a cookbook from someone who doesn’t own a stove?

    The man wrote a book about the Apple TV and had to borrow an HDTV to write it!

    What’s wrong with this (analog) picture? Suck it up, get a credit card and join the 21st Century.

  6. @#3 All true, (or at any rate, I agree with you).

    My point was that Cory’s observation that downloading movies illegally can be easier than doing so legally doesn’t mean a whole lot because most things are less onerous if done without regard for the law.

  7. Yeah, just a tad sensationalist. High-def digital Hollywood video requires HDCP. This is nothing new from HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s not consumer-friendly, but at least make the headline reflect responsibility appropriately:

    “Hollywood HDCP DRM makes iTunes rentals incompatible with some older HDTVs, just like on High-Def DVDs”

    Show me a legal download service with unprotected 720p or better output and a reasonable selection and I’m there.

  8. It is made clear that watching an HD program over DVI or HDMI requires HDCP.

    I was curious (and still am, after this information-light article) whether component would work. I’m sure i won’t at some point.

    (This isn’t saying HDCP isn’t a pain, or useless — all of that is true. But this isn’t a surprise.)

  9. #6: Just because you blog about tech doesn’t mean you can afford to buy it all. Bear in mind, the majority of the population still doesn’t own an HDTV, so this is still useful news to a lot of people (the AppleTV is still a much more useful and much cheaper device to many than a new HDTV unit).

    Besides, the blog post itself highlights a decent point – what if you’re away from your HDTV (in a hotel or on a train for example) but still want to play your content on a laptop, for instance? what if you want to rent a few movies so you can watch them on the move? The Pirate Bay lets you do this, but Hollywood won’t let you pay for it…

    @tubman: name one other industry outside of entertainment where the blocks are deliberately put into place after the product is manufactured. The whole problem with this stuff is that it’s only put into place after the product is created, and after that will only affect legitimate paying customers. It does nothing to stop piracy, only to punish those who actually pay.

    #9: Well, this is the kind of thing that stopping me from investing in HD. I had enough ball-ache over the years with region coding, etc. in standard DVD so I’m not about to invest in HD until I can be sure that I can play my movies where I want to. It would be nice if Hollywood stopped bitching about piracy until they offer something that people actually want to pay for in the first place.

  10. #6: You’re right, it’s a little silly that I don’t yet own an HDTV, but they do cost money that I don’t have – and believe me, more credit isn’t the answer. And since I was able to use my Dell monitor as a display while writing the first edition of my Apple TV book, an HDTV wasn’t really required. It’s only since this HDCP issue arose that I’ve started thinking that it’s time to finally break down. The good news is that I’ll be spending much less money this year than last for a TV.

    #10: Yes, HD over component video works, just not in my specific case (lack of component inputs on my display).

  11. @#7

    Your ATM analogy doesn’t really work…it’s much, much more work to successfully counterfeit money than it is to walk over to a cash machine, pop your card in and make a withdrawal.

    “most things are less onerous if done without regard for the law”

    If we’re sticking to the spirit of the original point about apple’s movie rentals and assuming that the cost of something isn’t a major issue, I can’t think of many common situations in life where an illegal route is easier than the legit alternative.

  12. @#11 When you say the blocks are only put in place after the product is created, what is the product you’re referring to? Has someone come to your house and DRMed your TV, HTPC, movie files and Bluray discs while you weren’t looking? Microsoft may have done, so there’s that other industry you were looking for :)

    I don’t like HDCP any more than anyone else does – not least because I bought my first supposedly HD Ready HDTV before HDCP was adopted – but I think there are a few disingenuous claims being made on the subject.

    Firstly, it’s not entirely true to say that picking up a movie from, say, the Pirate Bay, is hassle-free: assuming you know enough to get a client and blocklist set up, you then need to learn how to distinguish between the real stuff and malware, poor quality rips and hoaxes. Then it’s simply a matter of waiting for the download to complete (possibly days in the case of HD video) and getting used to most of your outgoing bandwidth disappearing for a good deal longer while you seed back to 100%.

    Secondly, it’s not true that DRM has no impact on piracy either, particularly when it comes to rental. Can you seriously imagine anyone renting a DRM-free movie via download, and then deciding after their 72 hours (or whatever) are up, “I liked that movie so much that I’ll want to watch it again and again, but I’ll delete the movie like I’m supposed to and then I’ll download exactly the same file for more money so that I can keep it forever”. Without some form of rights management (whether physical or digital), there’s no such thing as a viable rental market, so bemoaning the existence of DRM on rented files is pointless. If, on the other hand, you want to criticise the implementation, that’s a different story.

  13. @#13 The analogy works better than you might imagine :)

    Firstly, I’m pretty certain that most people would find it easier to print $100 million than withdraw it from their checking account, but if that’s not true for you, keep adding zeroes until it is.
    Secondly, and by an uncanny coincidence, the reason why banknotes are difficult to copy is because governments have gone to considerable trouble in implementing copy protection mechanisms (digital as well as analogue).Hmm… maybe they’re on to something with this HDCP stuff.

    Perhaps you were simply too well brought up to pass the time imagining circumstances under which ignoring the rule of law might expedite matters. In Italy, however, we’re brought up with a more sceptical approach to legal impedimenta. If you already know how to drive, isn’t getting a license a waste of time? Wouldn’t it be quicker (and cheaper) to transact business informally and in cash, rather than dealing with all those invoices, accountants and tax returns? Do you save any time be waiting at the supermarket checkout to pay for your purchases instead of simply walking out of the store with them?

    Obviously, in some countries at least, such pastimes might result in extensive first-hand experience of the local judicial system, but then again, you could say the same from downloading movies from the Pirate Bay.

  14. @Tubman & @Corey … Thanks for the link over to the blog. Appreciate that. And, Tubman, yeah, all I have is the 30″ Cinema Display at work. (A PowerBook G4, an MBP 17″ and the AppleTV). Lookit I’m Apple to the gills. Legit on my music and video… and all I wanted to do is playback a RENTED video through to the Cinema Display same as the non-HD Pixar shorts I purchased (which DOES play back!).

    I think Apple’s allowed someone to stomp on their Johnson on this one (if not self-inflicted). My $.02 anyway. And, as a result I won’t be renting any more HD content from Apple until this POS situation is rectified.

  15. The headline reads Apple TV DRM makes iTunes rentals incompatible with many TVs, but the Dell 2005 2005FPW is not a TV. It’s a monitor (with S-video and composite ports, for some unknown reason).

    Suppose you had a standalone DVD player in 2004, and were shopping for a widescreen display to show movies on. In 2004, the number of standalone dvd players that could use unencrypted DVI ports or VGA ports could be counted on one hand. Most had encryption. Most had component video.

    The AppleTV is no exception. It encrypts its HDMI port. It has component outputs.

    And if you bought a HDTV in 2004, you could get something that used those interfaces. No, it wouldn’t have been dirt cheap, like the Dell. It might have been larger than what you really needed. But it would have worked.

  16. @#17 The Dell isn’t a TV, but that doesn’t make the headline any less true: there are plenty of HDTVs around which aren’t HDCP compliant (I own one, for example). While it may be true that you could buy an HDCP compliant TV in 2004, it would have been something of a speculative purchase given that HDCP only got FCC approval in August of that year and EICTA didn’t roll it into their HD Ready spec until January 2005.

  17. Neither Blu-Ray nor HD-DVD require HDCP for high resolution output. They can downscale or refuse to play without HDCP, but studios don’t currently use that option.

  18. Let me get this straight – you need a display/TV that allows your player (video card, dvd player, whatever) to transmit the video over the digital connection?

    Why does the display have anything to do with anything?

    Tell me if I have it wrong – but the HDCP displays only exist to allow HD video sources to *not* play back non-drm material?

    This is insanity.

  19. Neither Blu-Ray nor HD-DVD require HDCP for high resolution output. They can downscale or refuse to play without HDCP, but studios don’t currently use that option.

    I’m pretty sure that if you want to connect a display digitally to Bluray, HDDVD or the AppleTV, it requires HDCP. It you want to connect your display via an analog connection, you can use component video. The dell monitor apparently supports neither.

    I suppose it could be worse– imagine if OSX 10.5 was laden with “tilt” bits, ala Windows Vista.

  20. HDCP’s stated purpose is not to prevent playback on certain TV’s. Rather, its purpose is to prevent videos from being sent digitally to devices which could record the digital signal. It’s intended to guarantee that only televisions can receive the unencrypted signal.

    Of course, it doesn’t serve this purpose because all that needs to occur is that the pirates need to get their hands on one HDCP chip and record its output. As a lot of TVs, including some very cheap ones these days, have HDCP chips in them, they aren’t hard to get a hold of. So all it does in practice is prevent legitimate consumers from playing HD movies out through DVI connections to monitors whose manufacturers didn’t or couldn’t buy HDCP chips. That is to say, what it is achieving in practice is the purpose that Songe suggested it has.

    Theoretically, the HDCP standards group could revoke the keys from the compromised HDCP chips, however, there is no mechanism for them to know which chips have been compromised.

    At some point, someone will probably take the time to read up on the existing research and use this to actually completely break the encryption scheme of HDCP. It’s a master key system whose master key can be extracted, allowing anyone who wants to to build chips which can decrypt HDCP. However, there’s a bunch of work which would need to be done to break it in practice. Thus far, no one has actually done that. I got an inquiry from a mod-chip company who was looking at the possibility once, but they don’t appear to have actually pursued this.

    By the way, the example about rentals is spurious. This is an encryption of an uncompressed HD signal between the video source and the display. Recording 720p DVI, if you had a device which could record it, would require about 10Gigs per minute. So that 90 minute movie would take up most of a terabyte. That’s some pretty serious storage. You could possibly throw out some information on the assumption that it’s an 720p MPEG source and only store half of that, but that’s still quite a bit. And that’s only if you had some way to record it.

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