HDTV Copy Protection

Everywhere you go, you see great new HD TV and players for sale. Prices are coming down. Eventually, but not tomorrow, every old TV and DVD player, cable box and satellite box will likely be replaced with HD rated equipment. As of yet, it is uncertain where the industry will go as far as to who will win the format wars between HDDVD and Blue-Ray. So we will likely see an assortment of players that either play one or the other or both. Possibly there will be a continuation of combo units that play VCR tapes also.

You probably cringe when you look behind your entertainment center with all the wires and stuff if you have all the traditional equipment like I do. Eventually that will be a thing of the past also.

HD content can be seen by connecting your device to your HDTV via 2 popular interfaces...DVI (Digital Video Interface) or HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface).

DVI can display all popular HD resolutions up to 1080i as can the HDMI interface. The difference is that HDMI combines both video and audio into one wire. DVI requires separate audio cables just like S-Video and all other analog type connections. Most likely you would use component or optical audio which delivers a higher quality.

An Intel spinoff group has developed a copy protection scheme called HDCP (High Definition Copy Protocol). Basically how this works is that via the DVI or HDMI cable, your HDTV and the component communicate back and forth exchanging encryption keys. Each frame is either turned on or off depending on whether the correct key or cookie is recieved. Keep in mind that not all HD content will be encrypted and unless it is encrypted may not be an issue.

What this is designed to prevent is the audio/video signal from being intercepted between the component and the video display and then recorded. Most likely where you would most encounter this I assume would be with HDDVD and Blue-Ray discs I assume. I'm going to also assume that the satellite and cable companies will continue to control content via subscription. However, they could just as easily deploy HDCP in thier HD DVR (Digital Video Recorder) offerings as well as any one of thier HD packages.

For people like me who refuse to pay extra for HD programming, likely will never get my satellite box replaced unless it literally dies. So even if I go out and purchace an HDTV...doesn't mean I have to watch HD content. HDCP only works over DVI and HDMI.

Certification of the HDMI 1.3 standard released last year requires the devices to be HDCP compliant also. This standard opens up a whole new level of HD possibilities. HDMI.org has some pretty good video presentations that explain the new standard.

Most everyone that has owned a VCR recorded a TV show or two right? I'm not going to discuss the legality or morality of doing this. It is possible, that at some point in time, this practice could be stopped. It would require both audio and video display options to use HDMI and have that be the only option.  Today we have several options and should remain that way for sometime to come.

According to what I have read though, It is mathmatically possible to crack the HDCP code. This means that some ingenious fellow could design a breakout box of sorts that sits between a component and a display and emulates a HDTV on one side and emulates a component device on the otherside and could care less if the audio/video gets tapped off of it and recorded.

Even without that, how hard would it be to take apart the display and tap into the A/V stream on the back side of the security chip? Probably would take a decent Electrical Engineer about a day to to that. I suspect it also wouldn't be that hard to make a telecine device that captures and records the display output either.

While this may slow piracy down for a fashion, the fact that the code can be cracked, chips can be purchaced, and they already have plenty of practice already...it isn't going to be a permanent situation.