Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Windows Vista, HDCP, and ATI/Nvidia

Thanks to all of you who sent in this link (Nate Carpenter was the first):

HDCP stands for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection. It exists as a copy protection standard for high-definition DVD's (both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray). Microsoft Vista is going to incorporate this standard, so if you want to watch a high-definition DVD at full resolution, your graphics card will have to support HDCP.

So will your monitor, but more on that later.

So let's cut to the chase:
Although ATI has had “HDCP support” in their GPUs since the Radeon 8500, and NVIDIA has had “HDCP support” in their GPUs since the GeForce FX5700, it turns out that things are more complicated -- just because the GPU itself supports HDCP doesn’t mean that the graphics card can output a DVI/HDCP compliant stream. There needs to be additional support at the board level, which includes licensing the HDCP decoding keys from the Digital Content Protection, LLC (a spin-off corporation within the walls of Intel).

After some investigation, Brandon and I determined that there is no shipping retail add-in board with HDCP decoding keys. Simply put, none of the AGP or PCI-E graphics cards that you can buy today support HDCP.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's "none" as in "zero."

What does that mean? It means that for anyone with a non-HDCP compliant graphics card or monitor, high-definition DVD's will be "down-rezzed" to 480p. That's also true, in general, of all high-definition displays, not just computer monitors.

What the hell?

So essentially, Hollywood wants to obsolete literally millions of high-definition displays, preventing them from displaying HD content at full resolution, because HDCP wasn't around when these displays were made. Even worse, millions of consumers who have purchased graphics cards in the last twelve to eighteen months, thinking they were HDCP compliant, have been deceived by ATI/Nvidia.

This is basically going to result in several gigantic class-action lawsuits. Both ATI and Nvidia will be sued. Sony's going to get sued. Everybody in sight is going to get sued.


When companies try to punish the very people who helped mainstream HD in the first place, when graphics card companies deceive their customers, they should be held accountable. And besides being held legally accountable, it's going to be the public relations nightmare of all time.

Good again. It should be.

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