from the drm-doesn't-work dept
We've recently discussed the fact that HBO severely limits the availability of its shows to non-subscribers, and I've speculated that the success of HBO-style programming owes a lot to piracy as a way around those restrictions. But HBO is terrified of piracy—so terrified, in fact, that they're willing to toss roadblocks in the path of their subscribing customers as well. Ars Technica saw some complaints on a satellite forum, and discovered that DirecTV users with older DVRs and TVs are suddenly unable to watch HBO shows, thanks to newly-activated encryption:
"No problem until today trying to watch HBO," a standard definition TV owner with an HR 20 DVR noted on Saturday. "Get message that the program is content protected. I can view every other channel except HBO. This wasn't the case last week. Something new?"
Ditto declared another poster a few hours later: "Noticed something strange this week also regarding HBO. Although my Sony is connected via HDMI I get the message that my 'set is not compatible with..... ' displayed too briefly to read in its entirety. It is displayed when changing between HBO channels. Same TV, same HR20 for nearly six years, never a problem prior to this."
"As of today, I can no longer watch HBO over HDMI to my television," another consumer disclosed. "I get an error message that says 'HDMI connection not permitted. Press SELECT for more information.' (And pressing Select does nothing.)."
Turns out the problem is HDCP encryption, a newer part of the HDMI standard that premium channels are requiring pay TV operators to implement. Ostensibly this is to stop people from obtaining high-definition copies of movies and TV shows—but of course, HDCP was cracked a while ago and this will do little or nothing to stop the dedicated (and highly organized) groups that make such copies available. Meanwhile, it forces a bunch of paying customers who were happily and habitually enjoying the content to suddenly go out and get expensive new equipment (or, quite reasonably, turn to piracy to replace what was taken from them even though they still pay for it). DirecTV suggests a workaround—switching to component video instead of HDMI—but as Ars points out, this is a pretty weak response: component video is much lower quality, and some content still won't work, because first-run movies employ selectable output control (another silly DRM restriction) to prevent analog output.
It's truly amazing that companies like HBO still pursue such strategies. There is not, and never has been, a form of DRM that effectively prevents piracy—but every single form of DRM reduces the value of the product to legitimate subscribers. It's pretty bizarre to continually punish the only people who aren't engaged in the behavior you want to stamp out.