HD Oh My: Aim Carefully At Foot and Pull Trigger

You might not have noticed that there’s a simple way to completely eliminate aviation terrorism. You might also not have noticed any cessation of HDTV programming on CBS. Yes, I’m ranting once again about content protection.

What set me off this time was a blog-blurb blitz about a new cable from Honeywell. If you’re like me, you might think this is a cable for a home thermostat.

It’s for home use, alright, but it ain’t for a thermostat. It’s an HDMI cable. And the reason it’s the subject of the blog-blurb blitz is that it’s said to be a “self-healing” cable.


Heck, we’ve finally entered the age of nanorobotics! Your cat gnaws through your HDMI cable, and a team of tiny welders shows up to repair the damage, just like the workers in a termite mound. But that ain’t exactly what Honeywell had in mind.

(click thumbnail)Honeywell “self-healing” HDMI cableNope. According to the blurbs, Honeywell’s cable has circuitry built into the connectors that looks for messed up HDCP data and fixes it. HDCP is high-definition content protection. It’s added to HDMI signals to prevent unauthorized redirection of digital essence (I am not making this language up), in other words to prevent pirates from stealing HDTV programming.

Now, then, maybe you expect that data ought to be able to pass through a whopping 3 feet of cable between your set-top box and your TV uncorrupted. But maybe the folks at Honeywell have also been reading blog-blurb blitzes, like the ones about the perfectly legitimate HDMI connections between certain recorders and certain displays that don’t seem to work right.

Maybe it’s the recorder. Maybe it’s the TV screen. Maybe it’s the HDMI/HDCP. Whatever it is, it’s preventing a viewer from seeing some pictures on a TV that costs as much as a car, so why not shell out another few hundred bucks on a self-healing cable, if that does the trick?


One blogger said the new cable would make for sharper pictures and clearer audio, not to mention “more accurate” aspect ratios and colors and “less clipping on your surround sound” (as if some clipping is only to be expected). My, my! That reminds me of the functions of the “coherent electrons” inspired by the Tice clock I wrote about long ago. But the HDMI/HDCP problems are real, and they ain’t being caused by data getting corrupted over a lengthy trek of less than a meter.

I ain’t going to say you can’t engineer an HDMI/HDCP system that allows authorized connections to work right. But I will go out on a limb and say that you can’t engineer an HDMI/HDCP system that will completely prevent unauthorized content capture from working—not if you’re going to let viewers watch and hear shows they’re entitled to get.

It’s like those money dispensers at banks, the ones the Department of Redundancy Department calls ATM machines. Financial gnomes can encrypt the data going between ATMs and their hosts so well that the world’s best hackers can’t access the money in your account (the only reason there is any money left in your account). But no amount of data encryption is going to stop a thief from following you from the ATM, bopping you over the head with a sap, and stealing whatever currency you just withdrew.

Likewise, there’s a big industry involved in high-tech conditional access, preventing people who ain’t paid for HBO from getting HBO delivered via their cable, satellite, or phone-company-TV boxes. They sometimes use the same kind of encryption as the financial industry (or spooks) to prevent you from seeing what you ain’t supposed to get, and, if they do, you might as well pay for what you want; it’ll be cheaper than trying to hack the encryption.

That’s conditional access. Copy protection is something else entirely.

Once you’ve gotten access, pictures and sounds are about as secure as money you’ve withdrawn from an ATM. But this time, instead of a sap to the head, all a thief needs to use is a camcorder.


I get a big kick out of how the Hollywood studios are trying to prevent camcorders from being used in movie theaters, but they don’t seem to care about them being used in homes to capture the same material. Heck, it’s easier at home. You can use a tripod, align perfectly on a brighter screen, and run mics over to the speakers.

You don’t need an encryption-hacking supercomputer for the copying. Canon’s TX1 HD camcorder is advertised on the Web for less than $300.

Now, then, the fact that you can aim an HD camcorder at an HD screen doesn’t make it any less illegal to do so, and I’m all in favor of throwing the book at anyone who steals intellectual property. Heck, TV Technology might not continue to provide my monthly pea if you were to distribute these words without the accompanying advertising.

So I’ve got nothing against conditional access, and I’ve got nothing against pursuing anyone who steals stuff, whether it’s with a sap or a camcorder. What I don’t like is ignoring the camcorder problem and forcing folks to pay for Honeywell’s magical cable in an attempt to get their home theater systems to work.

Want to use fingerprinting to identify pirated material? Go for it! Watermarks? OK, as long as they don’t reduce picture or sound quality. But the same Hollywood that gets most of its money from home video seems to have forgotten that it once tried to stop home video with the Betamax lawsuit and is now, effectively, trying to stop HD home video.

CBS said years ago that they’d stop broadcasting HD if there wasn’t a broadcast flag to stop piracy. Well, now, there ain’t any broadcast flag (which would’ve been an even bigger problem than HDCP), and CBS is still broadcasting HD. Last I heard, they ain’t yet been pirated out of business.

Want to completely eliminate aviation terrorism? Just ground all planes.