DirecTV turns on DRM, breaks peoples' home theaters

Dave sez, "Want to watch your HBO subscription on DirecTV over HDMI? Good luck with that. Without any proactive customer outreach, DirecTV rolled out a misguided anti-piracy update last week that now requires an encrypted connection between the set-top and television to view HBO. In theory only very old HDTVs lack this 'HDMI Copy Protection' (HDCP). However, DirecTV's implementation appears flaky as some newer, capable sets are also impacted and no longer able to display HBO over HDMI. DirecTV's response to customers: switch to component cables. Which, incidentally, are easier to capture content from."

I reached out to both HBO and DirecTV for comment. HBO indicates their copy protection policies haven’t recently changed, while DirecTV’s rep confirms a HDCP requirement for premium channels when using HDMI connections and suggests customers with older TVs switch to component cables. I’d say this is anti-consumer and a misguided approach to reducing piracy as it’s much easier to archive video traveling via an analog component connection. Unless DirecTV or HBO’s ultimate intent is to provide lower resolution 540p video over component…

What makes this move particularly offensive is, unlike Blu-ray’s analog sunset, DirecTV’s lockdown is occurring on deployed hardware – with no outreach, knowledge base articles (that I can find), and essentially breaking formerly working customer configurations. Impacted subscribers can give up HDMI for component clutter or buy new televisions. Nice?

DirecTV Blocks HBO Over HDMI (without HDCP) (Thanks, Dave!)


  1. The encouraged response is really obvious.  Cancel your account with them, and start using ThePirateBay etc… to source all of your video entertainment.  That is what they *want* you to do, obviously.  It doesn’t make much business sense, but have any of the content distribution industries made sense in decades?

    1.  Totally agree… piratebay!
      I once wanted to be all legal until Windows registration started to bother me with multiple cumbersome registrations just because i was reconfiguring hardware. I installed a illegal copy to avoid that while having the legal copy uninstalled.
      But the top of humiliation was when i returned back with tens of legal DVDs from US to Europe and these would not play at all… and those who pirated laughing at me… screw it; I joined the dark side ever since.

    2. Exactly, if DirecTV wants to punish its paying customers and make them feel like suckers for paying… DirecTV gets what they deserve… no customers and going out of business.

  2. This is why I don’t bother worrying about paid-for or “illegal” content. The illegal content is quick, easy, and painless to aquire and watch. Doing it the legal way is either impossible (in this case) or difficult.  Until studios and networks wake up and educate themselves, they will bleed money.  DRM is a joke. The ONLY people it stops is the legal consumer. That makes sense…

    1. Until studios and networks wake up and educate themselves…

      Reality-free bubbles.
      Some people believe that Fox News is news, and you can’t tell them any different.  Some people believe that Sarah Palin would make an excellent president, and you can’t tell them any different.

      Some people believe that DRM is an effective way to counteract other modern technology, allowing them to maintain their “good ol’ days” business model with no modifications whatsoever, and if it fails, it’s because the DRM wasn’t severe enough.

  3. It’s amusing that they play this off as only affecting a few viewers with older TVs.  A TV with HDMI is not going to be very old.  The class of televisions that fit in this HDMI-but-no-HDCP category is probably mostly flat screens purchased for $2K to $6K,  three to five years ago.  I own such a TV and it was a major investment for our family at the time.  I don’t subscribe to DirectTV or HBO, so I don’t have any right to be indignant over this whole thing, but if I did, being told that my TV is somehow too old despite it’s high resolution and amazing picture, so I need to downgrade to the much much older component cables would give me a major case of the fuck-yous.

    1.  I don’t subscribe to DirecTV or HBO, either, and I have every right to be indignant over this whole thing, and so do you. Wrong is wrong.

  4. Screw HDMI. I’m content with an XVGA-resolution projector (and thus a 70+” TV that I can fold up and put in the closet!) and hunting for legal and not-so-legal programming online.  As long as there is an analog/component-capable signal, I’m fine thanks.

  5. HBO hopes they’ll sell more subscriptions if they can only stop people from stealing Game of Thrones. What they should instead realize is that cable TV is circling the drain, and that they best way to survive is to sell season passes to their content on iTunes and/or other services. 


  6. It really is mindboggling.  I don’t subscribe to HBO, so this isn’t a problem for me, but both DirecTV and HBO should take note of the fact that I could download a torrent of the latest episode of Game of Thrones in less time than it would take for me to get through to a real human at DirecTV’s customer support line, much less get an answer to why I’m suddenly staring at an error message instead of watching the programming that I’m paying for.

    It’s already a tough sell convincing someone to pay for something that they can get for free.  But when the free option is also of equal quality, accessible from more devices, and more convenient to obtain?

    That’s a “game over” scenario if ever I saw one.

  7. MythTV and HDHomeRun for the win! Silicon Dust’s new HDHR Prime has three tuners, and supports a cable-card, which means you can record from HBO and other high-plan cable channels. MythTV doesn’t implement any DRM.

    I subscribe to the basic basic basic cable package, just to make Internet cheaper. I have a transcoding script which eats the commercials out of the recordings for me.

    1. Sorry, MythTV just can’t record those channels. The HDHR Prime will enforce DRM on copy-controlled channels like HBO. If the host doesn’t negotiate DRM, it won’t stream the video. WMDRM and Helix are supported by the OCUR standard.  MythTV could implement Helix but won’t to remain fully open.

      Which channels get DRM is up to your cable provider. I have a Ceton 4-tuner in a WMC7 box, and most channels are recorded fully unencrypted. I can transcode, remove commercials, etc… There are the premiums and a few on basic cable that are protected (AMC is one I think). Those can’t be played on my monitor as it is DVI without HDCP. They do play from the Xbox 360 via HDMI, because MS realized if you’re going to have to use HDCP you better do it right.

      If DirecTV switches this on for the sports channels, they are going to have a lot of very unhappy commercial customers. Most HDMI splitters for feeding multiple TVs, such as in a sports bar, do not handle HDCP.

      1. Well, you’re mostly right.   You can get those channels on a mythTV box — probably not in HD — by using a DRM-compatible box which MythTV talks to.  Probably, depending on whether you can find such a box that MythTV *will* talk to. (componenent video out, infra-red controller pointing at the IR receiver.)

        But this doesn’t beat the DRM, so for the purposes of this discussion, you’re correct.

  8. Uh… I think you are confusing component with composite.

    Component cables DO transmit HD in an analog way. So you CAN have full resolution, not only base NTSC (480 lines of resolution, BTW, not 540p whatever that is).

    For a technology site i would have expected more.

    But i still agree with the spirit of the article, that retroactively breaking something that is not is stupid.

    Also note that folks that are serious about capturing HDMI use easily available dongle boxes that drop HDCP from the HDMI stream.

    1. I think Cory was referring to the 540p downgrade that component users all get when they opt for that method, rather than full-resolution HDCP over HDMI.

      Component is capable of running 720p, but when HDCP is involved, you won’t get that resolution, it downgrades to 540p.

      1. 1080i is not equivalent to 540p, unless the system is specifically designed that way.

        1080i60 transmits a 1920*540 field 60 times a second. It alternates between showing the odd and even lines of a 1920*1080 frame.
        1080p24 transmits a full 1920*1080 frame, but only 24 times a second.

        So, assuming a perfect deinterlacing job, the two are equivalent. 

        Now, some of the nastier DRM schemes do apply filters, downresing the frames to 540*960 before blowing them up again to 1080i. But don’t malign 1080i60.

      2. Uh… ok I got the 540p thing.  Woo boy.  It’s even worse than I thought if someone thinks that using component means a 540p output.

        1080i has nothing to do with HDCP.  It is the standard 1080 HDTV signal, whether you’re in analog or digital.  And HDCP is just a way to encrypt the digital stream.
        With HDTV, broadcasters use either 720p60 or 1080i60.  There is no 1080p signal.  The only 1080p you get on your HDTV is 1080p24 for movies from a Blu-Ray player or from your computer.

        Sports broadcasters like ESPN like to use 720p60, because the loss in spatial resolution is more than compensated by the increase in temporal resolution, providing smooth motion, essential in fast moving sports.

        Drama and regular TV channels typically use 1080i60.Finally, 1080i is not equivalent to 540p.  At all.  In 1080i60, each 1/60th of a second you get a top bottom scan of the image, alternating between the odd fields and then the even fields 1/60th of a second later.  It is not a progressive 540 pixel high signal stretched over 1040 lines!!!  Try compressing alternating odd and even fields in a 540p image and watch it.  See how smooth that plays ;-)

  9. LOL.. I just watched that exact  episode of Flight of the Conchords on my Cyanogen 7 Modded Nook Color Tablet with HBO GO.  I’ve been paying for HBO for years and wondering WHY because I never seem to be able to sit down and watch for any period of time (or nothing I want to watch is on at the time).  HBO GO was a great thing for letting subscribers finally have some freedom. A small victory..but look how long it took.

    For the record, I DO wholeheartedly agree that these new restrictions are asinine,  and probably so am I for paying through the nose for content I have only recently been able to actually make good use of.

  10. I have a Samsung Flat panel (Exhibition display) that is fairly old, with no HDMI but with DVI. It supposedly has HDCP support, but I can never get it to work with anything that requires it.

    Antifeatures at their finest.

  11. This happened to me last week, and not just with the DirectTV box. This HDCP crap also prevented my XBOX from streaming any premium content from either Netflix or HBOgo. 

    Luckily for all parties involved, the error corrected itself after I unplugged my TV for 10 minutes. Had it not, I was ready to throw the whole mess out the window and download the entire internet… twice.

    I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

  12. Shaw Direct (fomerly known as StarChoice) in Canada turned on DRM three years ago.  A lot of subscribers – even with current HD TVs – had their screens go black. 
    HDCP has been one fiasco after another.  It’s a testament to the notion that nothing is illegal if a hundred business people agree on it.

  13. I had a similar problem last year when I tried to hook the optical audio out on my tv to a audio receiver. It absolutely refused to do it. The tv accepted the digital audio in and the audio stream at that point didn’t have DRM but the tv had built in some sort of rule that said never to allow digital out when the source is digital. Analog in was fine for digital out.

    The studios and equipment manufacturers are killing themselves in the long run. Not just because people will turn to pirating to get to use what they already paid for but also because sitting in front of a screen isn’t the only activity that humans can engage in. I spent a lot of time researching how to get around all of these half baked playback schemes and decided to just go hiking instead. Now you’ll rarely find me sitting on the couch on a Saturday afternoon watching HBO or anything else… I’m out on the trail enjoying the world. Smart move studios, you broke the coach potato addiction that had held on to me from childhood. Now I’m worse than a pirate for them, I’m a non-consumer.

    1. TVs have always done this. The TV optical out is intended to be used with the built in tuner. It’s the simplest design, and has noting to do with DRM.

      Connect your cable box’s optical out directly to the receiver.

      1. I was playing MP3s off of a USB memory stick on my xbox. The audio receiver doesn’t have built in MP3 playing ability… it doesn’t even have a USB port. I think I should be able to do this easily but apparently this is not one of the approved usage scenarios and therefore must not be allowed.  And I can’t agree with it being ok because it’s always been this way or is “simplest”. Simplest would be to just let the audio go through like it is suppose to. It works fine if I use analog RCA cables to go from the xbox to the tv and then optical to the receiver. How is this in any way simplest?

        1. Depends.Perhaps if you set the Xbox to Stereo PCM, instead of some form of surround sound,the TV would retransmit it via its optical out. But the transmission of an Dolby Digital or DTS signal might just involve enough licensing complications to thwart the engineers.

          The synthesis of a dolby digital or DTS signal (from a multichannel PCM source)  would probably involve CPU cycles that the TV doesn’t have, and more licensing hassles. 

    1. It’s weird, to pay for the service while being the product, the advertisers are the real clients.  But hey, laissez faire, whatever.

      1.  It’s win/win. The media companies win when you pay for the service, and they win again when the advertisers pay them as well.

  14. HBO is lying about their requirements (which ultimately come from the movie studios, but since HBO is owned by Time Warner anyway…)

    While it may not be a “recent” requirement, they have had the impending HDCP requirement  for all suppliers for quite some time to be this spring. Showmax and Starz have a similar schedule for the HDCP requirements, as well as VOD.

    DirectTV supposedly has run their test channel 100,400,etc run as HDCP over HDMI for 4 years in order to test installs and setup. (I didn’t check to see if this was happening all the time in the intervening period, this is just supposed to be what it was).

    So, scheduled up to happen 4 years ago, and it finally is kicking in.

  15. I had that crazy message last week for about 10 minutes- then it suddenly went away ??? and I did not downgrade the connection.
    Funny how no notice from direct tv – and as for not being able to send out a message in time – What the hell they could have pushed it out on all the channels that do not come in like all their other messages THEY PROPAGATE OUT or how about the mail feature in their sat  boxes – they can try and sell you a bunch of shit but cannot tell you about something that is going to affect how you watch what you pay them for. PRICELESS………

  16. Dish actually implemented this months ago, with no customer warning.  They started last year with the pay per view movies.  I noted that I couldn’t watch HD PPV anymore, called and asked about it, was advised to swap my TV-DVR cables with component, and decided that I didn’t need PPV movies, anyway.  Then it happened to HBO and Cinemax, which I do value.  Called again; got the same advice.  BTW, on neither call could they explain to me why I was having this problem with my HDCP-compliant Panasonic TV. So, still not liking the answer, I tried swapping to component on my TV to DVD player connection.  That fixed it. I have to wonder why the Dish techs didn’t know that additional box connections could trigger the block.  But I overall wonder why I have to jump through these hoops at all, when I pay so much for satellite TV, and I don’t pirate content.  They should go after the criminals, not the entire customer base. A tough concept for an industry that obviously loathes everyone that buys their products.

  17. I find this type of DRM to be so incredibly stupid it physically hurts.  This isn’t going to stop the shows from getting pirated.  It takes only a single person to put the file up and you are done.  You need to find some way to magically block every single person in the world from pirating, and that just isn’t going to happen.  If you don’t get everyone, than the only thing you have done is piss off legit customers.

    This type of DRM doesn’t slow piracy in even the slightest and it fucks paying customers.  What is the point of this sort of madness?

  18. “Impacted subscribers can give up HDMI for component clutter or buy new televisions.”

    or unsubscribe. Always an option when you get treated poorly.

  19. Disclaimer:  I don’t pay a nickel to DirecTV, it’s in my mother’s house.

    Maybe it’s related, something odd happened today with the MLB network in DirecTV. Sometimes they black out games when they’re from local teams, but this afternoon even an analysis show called The Rundown was blacked out.

    Then about three months ago… there’s a wonderful PBS channel for children called Sprout, and DirecTV was going to move it to a more expensive package.  If you cannot afford to have Sprout anymore, how do you explain to your 2-year old that Thomas The Train and/or Calliou are gone from their lives?  Quality, values-oriented programming for children can be meddled with, but oh yes, you could still keep up with the goddamned Kardashians and the Nostradamus Channel.

  20. It’s 1080i which isn’t even true HD. What a fucking joke.

    This is why we pirate. Arr you that foolish DirecTV?

    1. 1080p is a fucking joke. Until HBO offers access to unencrypted 8k masters, it’s not worth paying for.

    2. You do realize that nobody actually broadcasts 1080p in the USA yet, right?  You want that, it’s either Pay-Per-View (and downloaded in advance), or on-demand through broadband internet.  The satellite distributors don’t have that kind of bandwidth yet. You gotta download 1080p programming if you want to see it in 1080p.

      Or, y’know, Blu-Ray.  Unless you’ve got an HDCamSR deck in your living room, which you picked up on eBay for around $55k.

      1. Good point. I didn’t realise this until you pointed it out as, well… I’m aware of what’s available through ‘other’ outlets.

    1. Doesn’t the Apple HD Box require HDMI– with HDCP? Is there even a option to use component video cables?

  21. This will cause people who had just been floating along paying the monthly bill to look at alternatives, and ultimately DirecTV is shooting itself in the foot. Just imagine the support call from a non-techie:

     “Ummm…my TV was working yesterday and now it’s broke….” 

     “Sir, you need to purchase new cables.”

     “My HDMI cable is fine, it works with the other channels.”

     “Sir you need to purchase 5 new composite cables and route them through your TV cabinet.”

     “To heck with this ($&@& I am going to call Comcast or UVerse”

     “Sir should I remind you that your contract doesn’t expire for 5 more months…”

    DirecTV was a good product at one point. I left them a couple of years ago for economic reasons, but after 2 years of NetFlix + OTA/HTPC I see no reason to ever go back.

  22. Gotta love how people blame the “free market” when it is in fact government intervention into the marketplace that creates these problems. Without all of the regulation and government granted monopoly rights through so-called “intellectual property” these corporations (another government intervention that doesn’t exist in the natural marketplace) would not be able to control things.

    It is only through the threat of violence by government law enforcement (government “law” is not Natural Law) that any of these corporations have such power over our lives.

    But by all means, keep going back to the organized crime lords (government bureaucRATS and politicians) that oppress you for salvation.

  23. Dear Content Providers like HBO and Distributors like Bell

    I download all your stuff to my computer via bittorrent then watch it on my TV. I would love to give you money  but you insist that I buy a bunch of crap that I don’t want to see for the stuff I do want and that simply isn’t fair. Bit like going to a restaurant and the waiter insisting that you pay for the shit sandwich along with the steak.

    If you ever come up with a box that I attach to my TV that allows me to pick and choose the shows and movies I want, when I want them, HD and commercial free and that’s all I pay for I’m in. Bittorrent has taught me that this is no only possible but very cheap and easy.

    So here’s hoping you pull your heads out of your asses before you drown in your own bullshit.

    Or not, I don’t care, I win either way.

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