HBO Decides It Still Isn't Difficult Enough To Watch HBO Shows

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.

Filed Under: drm, encryption, hdcp, hdmi, piracy
Companies: directv, hbo


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  1. icon
    Frost (profile), 19 Apr 2012 @ 5:36am

    Enforcement vs good service

    More proof that taking a hard line is just stupid. Bans and "enforcement" is almost invariably a bad idea. Anyone sane would choose to make content as easy and enjoyable to get as possible and then simply seduce people away from pirating - it's still more work to go find "illicit" copies than it is to just subscribe to a service and get them delivered to your set. Price it reasonably and remove all the BS and watch people subscribe in droves.

    Instead, they're choosing to screw their paying customers over and are trying to literally change civil liberties and laws to make taking a hard line even easier - even though nobody anywhere truly believes DRM or enforcement will work.

    I don't know why they'd do this, because it seems so stupid to me, but I presume somebody somewhere makes more money from it, just like the "war on" drugs is still being "fought" because a lot of people make a lot of money off it. Any sane observer of the whole thing will have realized by now that the only way to truly make things better is to legalize everything and then seduce the users away from being junkies and treating people who need help getting out of it... but again, that would just totally interrupt the gravy train for the DEA, the for-profit prison complex, probably some alphabet soup agencies we don't even know yet and so forth.

    A softer line to the goal you're after invariably works better than trying to enforce your way there... but that presupposes that your stated goal is your actual goal, and not just a smokescreen. I think we're seeing lots and lots of smokescreens right now.

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