When Apple released its new MacBook and MacBook Pro models, as well as updated MacBook Air models, one feature of those latest laptops touted by Apple was their Mini DisplayPort video connection. This new connector is part of an open standard and is smaller than the DVI, mini-DVI, and micro-DVI ports found on the previous generation of Apple laptops. But there’s one feature of the Mini DisplayPort on Apple laptops that isn’t sitting well with many users—High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).
HDCP is a digital rights management (DRM) specification developed by Intel to help content providers protect their content across DVI and HDMI connections. Like other forms of DRM, HDCP will not allow content to be played on non-authorised devices. And because purchased content on the iTunes Store—protected by Apple’s FairPlay DRM—is HDCP-enabled, owners of new MacBooks are finding they can no longer play the TV shows and movies they’ve legally purchased from Apple on many external displays. In other words, unless your external monitor or television is HDCP compatible, you’ll be stuck watching your purchased content only on your computer.
“This is a remarkably short-sighted move for both Apple and Hollywood,” wrote Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a post to the organisation’s Web site. “This punishes existing iTunes customers.” He also called new MacBook’s a downgrade in everyone’s previous investment in iTunes content.
New Apple laptops with Mini DisplayPort connectors don’t have the same video output freedoms as earlier models.
Although Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment, Macworld confirmed the issue by testing a new MacBook using Apple’s $45 Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter. We connected it to a LaCie monitor in the Macworld Lab and attempted to play a video file from the iTunes Store, and got an error message saying the connected display was not authorised to play protected movies (we got the same result with a large Pioneer plasma display in a conference room). When we connected the MacBook to an HDCP-capable ViewSonic display with an HDMI port (using an HDMI-to-DVI cable), the video played fine.
HDCP currently has almost 400 licensees and has generated nearly one billion HDCP keys. Each compatible device has its own set of unique keys.
The EFF thinks Apple’s inclusion of HDCP will actually help bolster piracy as users look for ways around this form of DRM.
“As for the movie studios, this gives legitimate customers one more compelling reason to avoid ‘legit’ sources of content in favour of downloading from The Pirate Bay or ripping DVDs using Handbrake,” wrote von Lohmann. “So this is just another example of the way in which the MPAA companies use DRM not to stop piracy (since this will, if anything, encourage people to opt for the Darknet), but rather to control those who make devices that play movies.”
However, von Lohmann told Macworld that the EFF is not considering legal action around this issue.