A more sophisticated method of attack is to install a PCI Express card into the computer and use it to monitor and record the content in unprotected form as it passes over the PCI Express system bus. Windows Vista will include a technology called PVP-UAB (Protected Video Path User-Accessible Bus) which essentially encrypts this content as it passes over the bus to the graphics adapter. PVP-UAB and PVP-OPM are a major development in content protection technologies. Traditionally, content protection has really lacked comprehensiveness – one could always use the analog nature of the eventual output to copy even the most heavily-encrypted digital content. Not so with PVP. One would be challenged to circumvent a heavily-fortified PVP-aware piece of content.
PVP is in no way constrained to Windows, and HDCP protection is rumored to be a feature in Mac OS X Leopard (10.5). Given that Leopard is expected to launch around the same time as Vista, you can probably expect to see smarter DRM on the Mac next year as well. This certainly makes sense given that the iTunes Music Store has become almost synonymous with DRM technology (albeit easy to break).
On the Linux front, it is harder to say what will happen. HDCP licensing involves fees, something that does not fit well with GPL-licensed software. It is possible that this will create an opportunity for Linux packagers to add value to their distributions, although this would not really solve the fundamental problem that the core Linux code would not support HDCP.
One big driver of PVP will be next-generation DVD technologies, Blu-ray and HD-DVD – both of which will almost certainly require HDCP at a minimum. It is rumored that these technologies may allow you to play content without HDCP, but with a deliberate degradation in quality.
So clearly content is about to become armed to the teeth. Is this a good thing? It is hard to say. As I write this article I am playing music through a Napster music subscription, which allows me to download and play an unlimited number of copyrighted songs for a flat monthly rate. This is only possible because of the strong digital protection built into the WMA format, which Napster uses. As a user (a Bent one, that is), I really have to say that the onrushing wall of content protection technology looks a little ominous, but at the same time I absolutely do not want to give up Napster and other content services made possible by progress in DRM.
HDCP is probably the most annoying of the upcoming technologies as anyone unlucky enough to own a monitor, LCD TV, or projector that does not support the feature will have a devil of a time playing content in upcoming years, particularly of the high-definition variety. To make matters worse, it is unlikely that any “converter boxes” will become available for these devices as this would undermine the standard as a whole.
So are we headed for DRM Hell? Probably not in the near future – unless you just spent a lot of money on an HDTV that does not support HDCP – then you’re headed for DRM purgatory. Just don’t expect to be able to make copies of content you buy without permission from the content overlords – or a little help from the DRM cracking community.