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New MacBook HDCP Impairing External Displays

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In what seems like another addition to a long list of examples of how when you rent digital content, you’re actually renting it with a strict set of conditions, Apple owners are running into trouble with High Definition Content Protection (HDCP). The problem, affecting owners of the new aluminum MacBooks and MacBook Pro, occurs when you try to play some iTunes-rented movies on an external display attached to your notebook.

The HDCP causing the problem is intended to prevent copying high-def content across an HDMI connection. It’s also included in DisplayPort tech, which is the new standard for video output on current generation Mac portable computers. According to Ars Technica, the problem seems to affect movies protected by Apple’s FairPlay Version 3 DRM, although not all files which have Version 3 protection are affected. Whether or not the movie plays appears to be somewhat random, at least in Ars’ limited sample pool.

The person who pointed out the problem to Ars was just trying to play Hellboy 2 for a class of high school students using an external projector. Another case reported in an Apple support discussion thread occurred when a MacBook owner tried to playback content to his external 19-inch monitor. This report was quickly joined by many, many others. In all cases, playback works fine on the computer’s built-in display.

Is there a fix?

Is this another issue to be resolved quickly and with relatively little stir, like the trackpad hard-click recognition problem? Likely not, since a fix in this case might open up rental HD content to potential piracy. A software solution would take more time and attention to preserve HDCP integrity while allowing proper use for those who rented content and have no intentions of copying the content.

That’s not to say that Apple can let this one pass. One of the great incentives to even rent movies through iTunes is the ability to play it back on your HDTV or projector. If new MacBook owners (who represent a very sizeable group) feel like they’re playing Russian roulette when they rent content from iTunes, they’d simply stop doing it. And those caught unaware will go back to Apple for some kind of compensation and possibly swear off the service for good. Some angry MacBook owners are already seeing this as a ploy to get people to buy AppleTVs. This is probably not the case, but even the impression that it might be is damaging.

In a time when many are turning to their computers as home theater supplements and substitutes, Apple would do well to nip this in the bud right away. Since some movies do and some don’t encounter the HDCP problem, it may be a studio issue and out of their hands. If it is, they’ll have to lobby the studios, paint a picture of lost revenue, and hope to pressure a switch in the encoding of affected movies.

What do you say? Does this HDCP mess have you looking to jump the iTunes ship, or do you trust in an Apple fix?

14 Responses to “New MacBook HDCP Impairing External Displays”

  1. @mitch – you seriously miss the point, anyhow. The Mac doesn’t know who’s watching the screen. I have a projector at home that I use for personal viewing. The same thing could happen.

  2. “If new MacBook owners (who represent a very sizeable group) feel like they’re playing Russian roulette when they rent content from iTunes, they’d simply stop doing it.”

    Actually, it’s a bit more than that. A bunch of potential MacBook buyers – and I own and like an older gen MBP – aren’t going to be buying new MacBooks if they do this. It took MP3s without DRM to get my buying music. If the makers and sellers of video content don’t want my business, that’s fine. I have other things to do.

  3. I hear cardboard box manufactures are seeking the death penalty for anyone who reuses their cardboard boxes for a child’s toy, reshipping and/or a container for loose items.

    Corporate Slogan: Customers are criminals and must be punished.

    These are the businesses we give our hard earned money.

    Stop Funding Your Own Oppression.

  4. Suomy Nona

    I hate HDCP as much as any of you. I also hate the thieves who give cover to the studios in their demand for HDCP. But if you really hate it, look to your government, as it has been a big part of the “force for change” that has been enabling the studios to force it down everyone’s throat. The FCC has been a big supporter of HDCP. Apple was the last big holdout to cave on HDCP. Vista already had support for it. Incidentally, with an administration led by a person whose campaign received huge amounts of money from Hollywood studio heads, how much chance do you think we have of changing the trend towards HDCP? Just something to think about. There are no “good guys” on “our side” anywhere, anymore. Get used to being in the servile peasant position, for it is the way of “change”.

  5. “Someone trying to play a movie licenced for personal viewing in a public performance is clearly violating copyright.”

    This is not necessarily true. There are MANY types of additional licenses that schools, non-profits, etc. can purchase that specifically allow showing rented movies in public places. (Here is one, for example: )

    So all of you who are camping on that assumption are just distracting from the actual issue – that Apple is now supporting HDCP.

    This is not something that people should be upset with Apple about. Because in order for people to be able to view protected high-def content on an Apple laptop that also has a video-out port, they HAVE to support HDCP. If they don’t, they will be sued.

    So, be upset about this, be very upset. Just not with Apple. Please direct your anger where it belongs: the movie industry.

  6. No no, *you* don’t understand. The movie industry wants to redefine copyright and stop you using their content at all unless you pay for every second. This is not about fair use or copyright, it’s about pay per view.

  7. Sorry, in several countries, showing parts of a movie is considered fair use and not covered by copyright. So in this case, showing a scene from Hellboy to a classroom for educational purposes would be perfectly OK, but not the whole movie.

  8. Someone trying to play a movie licenced for personal viewing in a public performance is clearly violating copyright. There are a number of options here: admit that technology is finally catching up with copyright violators, lobby to get rid of stupid copyright restrictions, or only watch movies published by customer-friendly movie houses.

  9. This is yet another case where an honest paying customer is being harassed with anti-piracy measures, giving them a reason to just download the movie off a torrent site. At least then you’ll know you’ll be able to play the movie!

  10. @Mitch,

    shortsighted arguments here…. so you would agree to the fact that the web-cam on these display are hooked up to apple servers enabling them to see wether you might be doing illegal things in you living room?

    I think it’s totally out of place for apple to put such a control mechanism in external hardware but I guess thats the arrogance of their growth. If they are concerned about their own digital content being illegally played or distributed they should take measures at that level.

  11. “The person who pointed out the problem to Ars was just trying to play Hellboy 2 for a class of high school students using an external projector.”

    JUST trying to play a movie? in what could be constituted as a public place? to a public audience? Did they buy a specific rental or copy which entitled them to do this? When will these anti-DRM people understand that if they didn’t break the law constantly in the first place, perhaps public viewing rights would cost less?

    OK, it’s a pain if you can’t show an HD movie on your external display at home, for private use. But complaining because your mac stopped you from breaking the law? You’ve got to be a complete numb-nut!