Apple and HDCP: A DRM success story

February 24, 2012

Digital Rights Management is an ugly subject. Sometimes, however, it flies below the radar because it “just works.” That is generally the case with Intel’s High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, especially as it applies to Apple products, like with Display Port (DP), High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connectors.

I was vaguely aware — it just works — that Apple TV uses HDCP, which the company talks about in this Knowledge Base article:

      HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) is a form of digital copy protection that requires compatibility between a source, such as your Apple TV, and a receiver, such as a high definition TV. Apple TV (2nd generation) supports HDCP.

      See also: HDCP, Wikipedia.

HDCP also gets a mention in Apple’s iTunes TERMS AND CONDITIONS (Usage Rules, viii), but only that “an HDCP connection is required to view movies transmitted over HDMI.”

If you search the web for HDCP, what you’ll find are links to technical information, very similar to the results for a FairPlay (Apple’s iTunes and App Store DRM).

Yes, you will also find links to articles about problems users are having and, of course, people hacking these technologies, but many of the topics are months or years old — not exactly a hot button issue.

That said, HDCP is fairly remarkable in that so few people talk about this digital rights management scheme. Fundamentally, there isn’t a lot of controversy simply because HDCP just works…

Isn’t that the way DRM should be?

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3 Responses to “Apple and HDCP: A DRM success story”

  1. James:

    I’ve definitely had trouble with HDCP in the past. Most recently when I bought a 27″ Thunderbolt display iTunes TV shows would not play with a HDCP error. Apple fixed it with a firmware update but it isn’t pleasant to find out you can’t play something that you’ve legitimately purchased because of an obscure DRM failure. This wasn’t the first time either though Apple has always resolved the issue.

    I’ve never really understood what problem HDCP is trying to solve anyway. Are there really that many people who will go out and buy a hardware device capable of recording video in sync with the audio, in real-time from an HDMI cable? More than people who will rip a blu-ray video instead? It doesn’t seem likely.

  2. Ronald O Carlson:

    The problem they think they’re solving is the analog gap — the ability to intercept and record data between the device playing and the one displaying. Yes, it’s sad…

  3. Ken Berger:

    HDCP and HDMI are BAD, slow not very reliable and generally problematic. Change between inputs on your computer and it takes 10 to 30 seconds (at best) for it to sync up – but most of that time is copy protection.
    And when it fails as it does eventually it is ugly. I have spent hours trying to get my Macbook Air to display on HDMI in conference rooms (through the mini displayport) and same with TV’s. And even my cable box fails and news to be re-booted once every few months to make the HDCP and HDMI work.
    People should not put up with this it was a bad idea form the start and MSFt had to take it out to make Vista work and Apple will take it out to make the real Apple TV work.

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