Problems with Apple TV, AirPlay, and HDCP restrictions

Ted Landau
29 November, 2010
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The tech specs web page for Apple TV (second generation) states: “Requires HDCP when playing protected content.” HDCP (high-bandwidth digital copy protection) is an encryption technology designed to prevent unauthorized copying of protected digital video content. What all of this means is that, if you connect your Apple TV to a non-HDCP-equipped television, you won’t be able to view any protected content. Instead, you will be informed that “this content requires HDCP for playback. HDCP isn’t supported by your HDMI connection.” As virtually all current television models have HDCP support, this will mainly be an issue with older HDMI-equipped televisions.

In theory, you should never see the Apple TV’s HDCP error message if you either have a television with HDCP support or if you are attempting to play unprotected content. Unfortunately, reality has not always followed the theory.

As noted in an Apple Discussions thread, numerous users have reported getting the HDCP error when attempting to watch protected content on a television with HDCP support. In most cases, the problem can be easily solved by re-establishing the connection between the Apple TV and the television. Specifically, unplug both the television and the Apple TV for about a minute (leaving the HDMI cable connected). Next, plug the television back in followed by the Apple TV. The content should now play.

At the other end of the spectrum, Adam Christianson (my colleague over at The Mac Observer) was unable to play non-protected content (his own iMovie video) to a non-HDCP-supported television via AirPlay. Attempting to do so resulted in the HDCP error.

To be clear: there are now two ways to stream a video from iTunes on your Mac to the new Apple TV. The first is to access your Mac’s iTunes Library from the Apple TV and select to stream the video. This worked fine for Adam. The second is to select the Apple TV from iTunes’ AirPlay menu and then select to play the video. This is the method that did not work for Adam. The problem suggests that the AirPlay connection to the Apple TV enforces HDCP restrictions in a manner separate from the Apple TV itself. There may be some bug here.

I am not sure how wide-spread these problems are. In my own testing (to HDCP-supported televisions), I have so far had no trouble playing either protected or unprotected content over the Apple TV, either via Library sharing or via AirPlay. On one occasion, the HDCP error did pop up on my first attempt to play a protected movie over AirPlay. But it all worked fine on my second attempt.

Let us know in the comments if you’re having similar issues.


16 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Pierre says:

    Hi Ted, Yes I’ve been super frustrated as I set up my new AppleTV on Saturday night and watch plenty of trailers and YouTube video, listen to radio etc… Then on Sunday night, I rented my 1st movie and … Bingo, I got the following message:”This content requires HDCP for playback. HDCP isn’t supported by your HDMI connection.”
    I’m using an Apple HDMI2HDMI cable (MC838ZM/A) and my Apple TV is connected to an LG LCD TV 32LP1R. I havent been able to figure out if it is a non-HDCP-equipped television despite my search on the Internet. Any ideas what my next steps should be? Except replacing my 5 years old TV? Thanks,

  2. Pim Moerman says:

    I get the same error displayed but interesting enough, only when I airplay video content from my iPad. I have no problems with streaming video from my macbooks.


    hi, I have the same issue. My TV is LG HD and uses HDMI
    and I bought the APPLE TV 2.

    I bought a movie on my iPad and tried to send it via
    my apple tv streaming to get the HDCP error message also.

    At first the movie deleted from my Ipad when I sync with my macbook pro, so I had to reload via itunes.

    If i try to stream either from my macbook or ipad the same
    error message comes up?
    Can someone help ? What is the point of buying movies if they wont play back ?

  4. Bryan says:

    I also encountered this problem when I airplay video from iTunes (Windows), my television is samsung, I don’t know if it is hdcp-enabled.

  5. Jason says:

    I am having the same issue. I have a Toshiba 42″ LCD TV (can’t readily find the model number, but I’ve only had it about 8 months, so relatively new) connected via HDMI to a Sony STR-DH510, which is then connected to the ATV via HDMI.

    I have played about a dozen movies on it, and only seen this message with one movie. I actually was investigating if it was an issue with the movie itself (played via itunes on my PC), when I started coming across all of the articles and forum posts concerning the issues being associated with the ATV.

  6. Alex says:

    I solved my HDCP problems by replacing the HDMI cable. (latest version) This should fix the problem.

  7. Ralf Holighaus says:

    I have the same problem as mentioned in the article: I have connected my ATV 2 to an old 42″ Plasma using a HDMI-to-DVI cable. Works great if using the ATV to play from a home shared iTunes. Trying to airplay from iTunes any video (unprotected, my own recorded films) results in the HDCP error.

    Sorry Apple, but that’s lousy.

    I would understand that rented videos need HDCP because of the paranoid film industry who obviously try to go through the same learning curve as the music industry (where people decided that DRM was too complex and instead preferred the easier, hazzle-free way of downloading their songs from some peer to peer network).

    But I just want to air-play my own videos from my mac to an old-fashioned device and I fail.

  8. Nixx says:

    I have become very frustrated. Supposedly, my TV does support HDCP yet I am still unable to play protected content. I have completed all of the trouble shooting, yet still get the same results. At this point, I’m not sure if it is the ATV2 or my Samsung television that is causing the issue. Apple Care support has been very helpful with trying to assist with resolution. However, the rep at Samsung didn’t even attempt to be helpful.

  9. David says:

    I have the same problem using a Toshiba Regza LCD TV. It is less than 18 months old. Perhaps Apple can provide an update or patch to rectify.

  10. Warwick Nichols says:

    Well, all I’m trying to do is show my own pictures from a mac mini to a home theatre projector via a HDMI switcher and I get 1/2 second of picture followed by 3 seconds of nothing. Projector is old but bloody expensive – HDCP? I hope not!

  11. Warwick Nichols says:

    Sorry, should have mentioned the ATV2 as the medium. Warwick

  12. David Shaw says:

    I was able to fix the HDCP error by following these steps on my Apple tv device:

    Click on Menu / Settings / iTunes Store / Video Resolution (changing the 720p HD setting to Standard Definition). 

    Then click Menu button twice to return and you should be right to go. 

    Hope this works for you too. 

  13. Rain says:

    Why are we trying to dance to this tune? HDCP is poorly implemented.
    I will vote with my wallet. No more iTunes movie or TV show purchases.
    No tolerance for this.

  14. alonestarstateofmind says:

    I have an Apple TV with SW version 5.2.1
    Each time try to play any purchased content or even Netflix content I get the HDCP error message. Started with Epson projector using a v1.4 HDMI cable. Plugged into my LG Plasma and continued getting the Error message. Plugged in a ROKU player & everything works. Plugged in a Blu-ray player & streamed content just fine. The common denominator IS AppleTV! Whatever the problem is lies within the AppleTV. So, everyone go get any other streaming media player other than Apple and your problems WILL be solved!

  15. Mr19 says:

    This just happened to me. Apple TV has always been my go-to option for movies, but not any more. My DirecTV on-demand option actually works. It is often a dollar more than Apple TV, but I can actually watch the movies I buy on DirecTV–something I can’t do now on Apple TV.

  16. Al Smith says:

    I have an ATV connected to a Denon system displaying on a Samsung TV. This issue suddenly began occurring after a recent Denon firmware update. I found a posting on one of the Apple support sites recommending changing the ATV video HDMI setting in the Settings from Auto to RGB Low. I have tried either RGB low or high and either now works fine.

    So this is one solution but I am not sure why this works. I have also seen postings recommending changing the order of device power-up, but I tried the video setting first so will stick with that since I have a programmable remote which I did not want to reprogram to change the sequence.

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