« | April 2007
April 16 2007
Bruno Fernandes: AppleTV and Missing Content
The hacks and enhancements for AppleTV have been coming fast and furious since the day the little "Mac nano" was released. Some really great possibilities exist with this affordable and convenient platform, both in front of and away from the TV.
While a number of people have been throwing their own content at the box in the form of XVID and other encoded files, including at higher resolutions, I think everyone is noticing that a big piece of the puzzle is curiously missing. Namely HD content in the form of movie and TV program releases.
What I haven't seen recently is anyone making an educated guess on the real reason. The reality of the situation is that no conspiracy exists and the reason for lack of content is a very simple one. Simple to explain in any case. HDCP. Or rather, lack thereof.
High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection. Unlike source-based DRM for music files and typical video downloads that decode a file at the player level, HDCP covers the whole stream from source to final display destination. That means there's no decoding on the computer and instead the fully encrypted content is only decoded at the display.
Apple quietly updated their displays over the past year to support HDCP over DVI. How many people knew that? Current HDTVs all support HDCP as well... But what Apple has not done yet at this time, is to release any computers with HDCP support. That includes the little Mac nano (err, AppleTV). Why not? There just wasn't any need. Until now.
With no announced HD DVD nor BluRay strategy, more "traditional" sources of Hollywood content were of no concern to Mac OS. And therefore Hollywood-mandated HDCP, while a worthwhile topic for "the future," was simply not of high enough consequence to devote resources to during a very aggressive product cycle. No one will argue that 2006's release schedule was a pretty ambitious one for Apple. They definitely succeeded in surpassing most consumer expectations and analyst predictions at the same time.
So now here we are. AppleTV is a reality and by all accounts selling rather well. Implementing HDCP is not trivial. But thankfully for newer adopters, most of the hard work has already been done by the hardware component vendors. Your Intels, Nvidias, ATIs, Silicon Images, etc. What's left is bits of software at the OS and application level for managing the encrypted content, shuffling keys around and such. Oh, and a huge minefield of legal red tape and loops to jump through for certification and licensing... This is probably where it gets really sticky.
With huge amounts of work on various Apple projects now nearing the completion stages, it's unlikely that Apple cannot devote manpower to accomplish the engineering needed to add HDCP to their product line. They'll have to work with Intel, Nvidia and ATI of course to make sure all their display drivers are ready to go. The display hardware in newer Macs, as hinted above, fully supports the ability to "turn on" HDCP with software work.
Some people will argue about restricting output until such time as a full implementation can be released. However, dealing with non-HDCP displays is one thing, that's done by both HD DVD and BluRay, by down-sampling the video to DVD (SD) quality. But lacking HDCP support in the first place doesn't even get you onto first base unfortunately. It's the most basic level of support missing that precludes the playback of this content at any resolution.
Another misconception is that anything with HDMI ports already supports HDCP. Well, according to HDMI.org:
The HDMI standard does not require HDCP. However, it is required by industry groups and governmental regulation.”
Not to mention it's certainly no requirement (though it is compatible) with DVI. And no iTunes strategy will be complete unless the content is able to be used on a Mac. The AppleTV is a sync destination, but it doesn't live in isolation any more than has any iPod.
As mentioned above, having a chipset that support the protection doesn't mean it's being used or can be used until such time as required software is also developed and installed.
Until such work is completed and certified along with an HDCP license obtained, there's no chance Hollywood will license its content for file-based HD distribution to Apple.
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