Copy Protection Silliness, HDMI, Component and Upscaled DVDs

Ever tried to play an upscaled DVD on your DVD or Blu-ray player through component cables? Well, unless you have one of those Asian players that the MPAA hates, then you won’t be able to, all thanks to a quirky copy protection rule that’s frankly just silly. I’ve been aware of this little bit of copy protection silliness, but it hasn’t really affected me since I use HDMI, that is until last weekend.

What happened was that my 5 year and 1 month old Pioneer plasma TV, which came with a 5 year warranty, decided (one month out of warranty for those that are paying attention) to break. Actually, everything works except for the HDMI input, and even that works except when you feed it a copy protected source. Anything that required HDCP no longer worked, and apparently this is a well known problem with early Pioneers.

Diagnosing the problem was difficult at first, because I could get my DVD player’s startup screen, but once I played a disc, everything would go black. But when playing a non commercial disc, everything worked. A little bit of brain work pointed me towards the fact that the HDCP chip for the TV had probably fried. I have a PS3 connected to this TV as well, and nothing would even show up, since Sony took the extra step of ensuring no picture at all if HDCP wasn’t enabled.

As I am in the planning stages of buying a new TV (most likely one of those Panasonic Viera plasmas, since they are now the new Kings of plasma now that Pioneer has pulled the plug), I decided it wasn’t really worth it to try and fix the problem, at least not until I’ve got my new TV. Everything would still work if I connected through component, and to be honest (and even using fairly poor quality cable), the differences were minimal. And that’s when I encountered the silliness I mentioned above.

PS3 Component Cables

No HDMI? No problem, on the PS3, sort of ...

The PS3 was connected via a new set of PS3 component cables I got (the fact that Sony only bundles composite cables with the PS3 is an insult the PS3’s HD capabilities, in my opinion – I know that most people use HDMI, but *some* people can’t and by using proprietary connectors, it makes the situation even worse). It took a while to get the picture right (see Addendum below), but once it was working, Blu-ray played great, not as good as HDMI, but hey what can you do, right?

But when it came to playing a DVD, the picture wasn’t so good. While you can watch a 1080p Blu-ray movie in 1080i (or 1080p if your TV supports that kind of thing through component), but you cannot actually watch a 576p (or 480p) DVD upscaled to 720p or 1080i, not legally anyway. Apparently, this is done to prevent copying. Except I can still copy Blu-ray movies outputted to 1080i (or 1080p). To sum up, Hollywood doesn’t want you to make copies of upscaled DVDs (ie. fake HD), but is perfectly happy for you to make copies of Blu-ray movies (ie. real HD). Does this make sense?

A little bit more brain work from me and I think I figured out why it actually does make sense, at least in the twisted logic that Hollywood employs. You see Blu-ray uses a new copy protection mechanism called AACS and as part of the specifications is something Image Constraint Token (ICT), which all Blu-ray movies carry. Basically, this allows component output to be disable or limited to lower resolutions if the studio wishes, which when activated will bring the Blu-ray situation in line with the upscaled DVD situation when it comes to output via component. In order to promote Blu-ray, manufacturers and studios came to an agreement not to implement ICT until later on, I guess they didn’t want to turn off people who had invested heavily in analogue equipment. And, this is the twisted logic part,  because Blu-ray *has* the ability to prevent HD output via component (even though it wasn’t turned on), this is why Hollywood deemed it okay to allow HD output via component for now. If the DVD copy protection scheme *had* the ability to also limit HD output via component at some stage in the future, and chances are, it might have been allowed until studios realised that they have nothing to fear on this front at all. But because the DVD copy protection scheme was invented before upscaling was the norm, the sledgehammer approach was deemed the only solution, and that meant disabling all HD output via component.

There is also another set of twisted logic in play. Analogue means reduced quality, everyone knows that. So Blu-ray via analogue means the copy made is an inferior version compared to the original, which might be okay in Hollywood’s eyes. But if you take a digital standard def DVD, upscale it to high def, and then output that via analogue, and then re-digitize that, then you might end up with a copy that’s fairly close to the original. And that, in Hollywood’s eye, is not okay. Of course, anyone can just rip the DVD and retain 100% of the original quality, which is what everyone does. Just how many DVD and Blu-ray movies are actually pirated via component is quite debatable, not when there are much easier ways to make 1:1 copies. Ironically, DVD ripping may be the only way to watch your legally purchased DVDs upscaled via component, as non copy protected discs are still upscaled perfectly.

PS3 Slim Contents

Note the two pronged PS3 Slim power cable, which probably means no more component inteference problems on the PS3

So in my situation, until I get my new TV, I’m stuck with watching DVDs in SD, while still being able to enjoy Blu-ray movies in HD glory. At least until some studio implements ICT. Luckily, this problem is largely a problem of the past, as HDMI is now far more common and comes in greater numbers of connectors on TVs than even component, and so it won’t be a problem most people will have to suffer. That is unless your TV’s HDCP chip is fried …

Addendum: I mentioned earlier about taking a while to get the picture right on my PS3 via component. The problem I ran into was the common PS3 component interference problem (horizontal or diagonal wavy lines), as described here on the official PS3 board, and luckily with solutions. My solution to the problem was to follow the information in the posted thread and remove the ground prong from the power plug, and the interference went away. This type of interference doesn’t affect the HDMI output, so that’s why I’ve never noticed it probably until now. Just why I need to do this with what is otherwise a high quality piece of electronics, I have no idea. I have never run into this problem with the dozens and dozens of low, and high quality equipment I’ve ever used, or help install for other people. And I did notice that neither the Wii nor the Xbox 360 uses the ground connector, and apparently the PS3 Slim doesn’t have it anymore either. Design fault anyone?


10 Responses to “Copy Protection Silliness, HDMI, Component and Upscaled DVDs”

  1. Weekly News Roundup (10 January 2010) | DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Just what the world needs, another blog « Copy Protection Silliness, HDMI, Component and Upscaled DVDs […]

  2. Weekly News Roundup (2 May 2010) | DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] since my current TV’s HDMI connection broke, I’ve been looking for a new TV. I almost got a Panasonic in February before discovering the […]

  3. Weekly News Roundup for the week ending 19 September 2010 | DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] It was short lived, we hardly knew thee, but HDCP copy protection has been cracked, with the master key posted on Twitter of all places. People at first were sceptical, but a few days later, we had confirmation from Intel, the company that developed HDCP, that, yes, the posted key was in fact the legitimate master key. So what does the master key do? Well, it the way HDCP works, it allows legitimate source keys (keys for things like Blu-ray players) and sink keys (keys for receiving devices, mainly TVs and monitors) to be generated, and therefore it means that there is no way now to tell the difference between authorised devices, and unauthorised ones, thus killing HDCP as a viable DRM scheme. Well some articles screamed that “Blu-ray copy protection has been killed”, it isn’t quite that simple. Yes, Blu-ray players rely on HDMI and therefore HDCP copy protection, but the disc itself is still protected by several other layers of DRM, including AACS. However, it will now be possible to intercept the HDMI output and get access to the raw digital stream to make copies of the movie, although that will require a bit of hardware ingenuity, although something could be done in software too. Those around when DVD ripping first came onto the scene will remember Power Ripper, the tool that used PowerDVD’s screen capture tool to rip DVDs, frame by frame. Since then, many DRM schemes have protected this sort of ripping by disabling screen capture or encrypting the path from software to screen. But with HDCP out of the way, this kind of ripping may be possible again (and this time, since HDMI carries audio too, the whole stream can be riped). Of course the question is why would anyone want to do this when there are much easier ways to rip Blu-ray movies? But there are also other applications other than ripping, such as allowing movies to still be played via HDMI even when the TV’s HDCP chip has died. […]

  4. Weekly News Roundup for the week ending 9 January 2011 | DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] makes it better? HDCP, the DRM (sorry, “content protection”) for HDMI is one of the worst things ever, and if Intel Insider is a new take on HDCP (to protect Intel’s “content […]

  5. Reddzone Says:

    I also have a 5 year old TV and the HDCP chip will not work with my DVD player or my AppleTV.  It is ironic that I would have to break the law (e.g. – rip the DVD) to watch DVD’s on my TV because my HDCP chip is not functioning.  Even worse to pay a repair guy several hundred dollars to fix this problem which is designed to prevent me from copping the movie.  Ironic that I have NEVER even heard of a movie being copied from the HDMI output and even more ironic is that the output is fine on the VGA from my computer and it would be much easier to copy from the computer.  

    Given how easy it is to rip a DVD or out put the VGA on a computer Hollywood should give up on this asinine strategy. I wish we could take the RIAA to court to recoup all of the money I have to spend just to watch the $@!%#@ media that I have legally purchased.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    As an update to this post, to make matters worse, Hollywood has deemed HD analog too much of a danger to allow, and so from the beginning of 2011, newly manufactured Blu-ray players are no longer allowed to output HD via analog (it will be limited to 540p):

    Old players are not affected, so hang on to those or you’ll need to buy a brand new TV.

    By 2013, no Blu-ray player is allowed to even have analog output any more.

    It begs the question: does Hollywood want us to buy movies or not, or do they want up to download pirated copies that don’t have these restrictions!

  7. Melvin Frohike Says:

    Pirate it. The MPAA is digging their own grave. I will still support the indies, and small companies, but I won’t spend money at the theater, or purchase a big name title anymore. I honestly can’t remember when I last went to the theater. It’s been at least a few years. I’m in no rush to see some terrible regurgitated junk. Netflix, Hulu, etc., or pirate it. The MPAA and RIAA think we’re just greedy people, but it’s their greed that caused this problem, not ours. I would happily stop watching movies, and just read books, if that will shut them up. Most big budget movies these days are garbage anyways. Maybe I’ll go see the next Nolan or Cameron movie, but that’s about it. All I know is that this junky protection means I can’t connect through composite to stream/record the PS4. It’s not like I would have been stealing anything by doing it. I think I may just sell the PS4 unopened, for a sizable profit, and stick to PC.

  8. Silliness Says:

    I agree, this closing ALL holes(by limiting you to only a single encrypted HDMI output) is just asinine. Now I see Blu-ray rippers popping up all over the internet, and the MPAA is no longer able to stop them all. Limiting you to just 1 HDMI port to hook to your TV gives you no choice, and there is no failsafe backup strategy if the only connection you are allowed to use doesn’t work. All this to stop a copy method that doesn’t even exist? Give me a break! That is why they got rid of component too. Now even if I had the money, I don’t feel like starting over with a whole new format, even if I got all the necessary hardware to do a Blu-ray to a blank Blu-ray disc. For starters, I would have no way to hook up todays Blu-ray player to my old TV set anyway. I know it would take at least a year for me to get my return on investment on a Blu-ray burner if I got one, so I am attempting to sit this one format out. PS: watermark detection has quietly been added to Blu-ray players without anyone having a choice, so it would cause a watermarked copy that didn’t have the encryption to mute after 20 minutes. Cinavia is being added to some titles, look for the tiny crescent symbol on the bottom of the package near the bottom toward the back of the package.

  9. Silliness Says:

    Now 4K content is coning out, but they are adding HDCP 2.0 and 2.2, and you have to have BOTH in order for everything to work. I know of NO one that has pirated off an HDMI port anyways, and no one in their right mind would waste 10 or more terabytes for a single movie. This silliness does nothing to address the ripping straight off the disc.

  10. Melvin Frohike Says:

    I can’t speak for 4k content, but you can most certainly pirate any 1080p protected HDMI source you like. Be it PS4, blu-ray movies, etc. It’s not only not that complicated, but also rather inexpensive. It just requires a capture card that does 1080p hdmi, and the proper adapters to bypass the encryption. All of it can be bypassed with ease. Just because you don’t know anyone, doesn’t mean you couldn’t google how to do it, and realize this isn’t exactly top secret black hat stuff. In fact I learned it purely to be able to stream my PS4 to my laptop capture card, in order to use the laptop as a monitor (and no, I’m not talking about the disable HDCP option in the PS4 settings, which is different).

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