Technology

Content Protection in the HD Age


The transition to high-definition television continues to baffle readers, and with good reason: Never has an industry managed to make products of so much inherent interest to consumers so hopelessly confusing. Roger Petersen writes:

Your article in late February (see BW Online, 2/23/06, "HDTV Moves to the Next Level") implies that a 1080p HDTV is more adaptable to future technologies than a 720p model. But I have read elsewhere that many TVs being sold today lack a high-definition copy protection (HDCP) connector, which means that if you connect a HD-DVD or Blu-ray DVD player, the resolution is restricted to 540p.

That would mean the money spent on that fancy 1080p TV is wasted without HDCP. Is this true? Do all 1080p HDTVs have HDCP now? I also read that PC video cards lack HDCP. I liked your article, but I think you only partially educated consumers.

This is a very complicated and controversial subject. HDCP is not a type of connector but a standard, developed primarily by Intel (INTC), for secure digital connections. The connector most likely to provide HDCP is the relatively new High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI). As far as I know, all of the new 1080p displays support HDMI and HDCP, or at least support them as best they can, since the copy-protection standards seem to keep evolving.

Also, as far as I know, no current PC graphics adapters fully support HDCP. This means that if you want to add a Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive, once they become available, you're probably going to have to upgrade the computer's graphics card as well.

HOW RESTRICTIVE? There's an ongoing fight between the content owners and the consumer-electronics industry over how restrictive HD content protection should be. Sometimes it seems as if the content owners would like to create a regime so restrictive that no one can watch their products, rather than risk the possibility that a single copy might be pirated. The consumer-electronics industry is understandably terrified at the response of consumers if their new and very expensive HD displays can't display content at the highest resolution.

Sony Electronics (SNE) issued something of a sanity check for the industry on Mar. 14 when it announced that its Blu-ray disks would display at full 1080p resolution. I can only hope that this announcement means that Sony Electronics' sister company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, will follow and drag the rest of the studios along. But in the entertainment industry, paranoia strikes deep.


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