Hollywood’s paranoia about piracy has led them to demand some form of hardware level Digital Rights Management on any devices that will play back the up and coming high definition video formats such as Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs and the hardware makers have complied with Intel developing a new standard for encrypting high definition video signals called High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). If you’re like me and build your own PCs rather than buying them from an OEM such as Dell and you want to be able to play back high-def DVDs of the future at 1980×1080 resolution then you need to make sure the system you build supports HDCP starting with the video card and going right on through to your LCD monitor. If you don’t then you’ll be limited to DVD quality video and DAT quality audio—a reduction of 75% in quality from what you would normally get with Blu-Ray or HD-DVD.
As a result a lot of folks have been building systems with the latest and greatest video cards assuming that they’ll have HDCP support once the discs start hitting the market later this year, but when the folks over at The Firing Squad decided to do a review of HDCP compliant LCD monitors they made a surprising discovery. Namely that not one of the currently available high-end video cards is actually HDCP compliant:
We’ve been able to confirm that none of the Built-by-ATI Radeons support HDCP. If you’ve just spent $1000 on a pair of Radeon X1900 XT graphics cards expecting to be able to playback HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies at 1920×1080 resolution in the future, you’ve just wasted your money.
NVIDIA, being a GPU manufacturer was unable to discuss the plans of board manufacturers. We contacted all six of NVIDIA’s Tier-1 board partners. None of the GeForce 6 or 7 video cards available on the market, including the most recently released GeForce 7800GS, have HDCP support. So if you just spent $1500 on a pair of 7800GTX 512MB GPUs expecting to be able to play 1920×1080 HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies in the future, you’ve just wasted your money.
Oops. This is odd considering that there are already HDCP compliant Media Center PC lines by the likes of Sony on the market that you can buy today. The upshot is you can’t build a PC yourself at the moment that’ll be HDCP compliant and it’s unknown when you’ll be able to do so. Ironically this’ll probably drive folks who have invested this kind of money into upgrading their systems into engaging in piracy in order to take advantage of their investment.
The really ridiculous part of all this is that no one seriously expects HDCP to prevent piracy of full quality high-def content—in fact the encryption has already been successfully defeated long before it ever appeared in a single product:
HDCP uses a linear system for generating the shared secret… The flaw is that any device whose public key is a linear combination of public keys of other devices will, when assigned a private key that’s a similar linear combination of the other devices private keys, successfully authenticate.
This flaw is fundamental, and cannot be worked around.
HDCP’s linear key exchange is a fundamental weaknesses. We can:
- Eavesdrop on any data
- Clone any device with only their public key
- Avoid any blacklist on devices
- Create new device keyvectors.
- In aggregate, we can usurp the authority completely.
The attack to circumvent this DRM scheme is described by one of the researchers as “neither complicated nor difficult” utilizing a “straightforward application of 40-year-old math” and yet The Powers That Be decided to go ahead and use it anyway ensuring once again the only people who’ll end up being hurt by this DRM system are the folks who were trying to play by the rules.