After receiving significant critisism from various online resources about the lack of HDCP-ready graphics boards, ATI says that there is no need for such cards, considering that there is no HDCP protected content available, at least for now.
The story began last week, when an enthousiast website Firingsquad.com posted an
article reporting the current state of HDCP support in graphics cards. The
article examined which cards currently shipping, support HDCP and strongly
critisized the fact that ATI and NVidia are currently advertising some of their
cards as being HDCP ready, while they were not.
For all those who are not familiar with the HDCP definition, it is a copy
protection standard for digital high definition (HD) content. According to the
HDCP specification, HD video content that is streamed through an HDMI or an
HDCP-DVI port should be be encrypted to prevent illegal copying. Any attempts to
copy the video would result in a downscale to low resolution to deter copying.
But what is the need for HDCP? As is widely known, movie studios plan to use
HDCP on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Once that is the case, you would need HDCP capable
hardware or you won't be able to view these DVDs and of course create an HD
backup, as explained above. Creating a backup is another story, for now
let's stick to graphics cards.
So in order to watch an HD video, you need a HDCP capable TV (any TV Set with a
"HD Ready" logo should by definition be HDCP capable) and a HDCP capable playback
device, i.e. a PC or DVD Player (Blu-Ray, HD DVD included).
In the case of a PC, you will need a PC player, an "HD-Ready" monitor as well as an HDCP-ready graphics card.
Canadian ATI has been accused of advertising most of its latest retail cards
as "HDCP-ready". For example, ATI's X1900 series was dubbed as "HDCP-ready",
while some of the company's professional products listed as "HDCP-compliant".
"Generally, our graphics chips are HDCP ready, but the graphics boards out
there are not (yet) HDCP capable" explains Mr Rene Froeleke, ATI's Technical PR
Manager for Europe. "In order to make a graphics adapter HDCP capable, it needs
the HDCP keys. If a board manufacturer wishes to build a HDCP capable graphics
adapter, we can supply them with a secure BIOS ROM which includes these keys and
the AIB can then build a HDCP capable graphics adapter. The HDCP capable interface
of such a graphics adapter can be either DVI or HDMI," Froeleke explains.
"What we do is that we can supply a BIOS ROM image which has a secure area
into which we can put the necessary HDCP keys. The remaining part of this
BIOS ROM is then used for all other BIOS information that is required on a
But what about the consumers who have already spent significant amounts of money for a
high-end graphics card? Will they have the chance to upgrade their cards and make
them HDCP-ready in the future? Actually no, as Froeleke explains:
"As there are stringent measurements in place in regards to the distribution
of HDCP keys, we can not simply flash existing boards with a BIOS that would
include these keys."
Sapphire, one of ATI's AIBs, showed a graphics adapter with HDMI
interface at CES in Las Vegas in January. However, it is not clear whether the
company plans on releasing this board anytime soon.
However, in an interesting turn of events, today ATI seems to silently remove
references to HDCP-ready on its consumer products pages.
Commenting on the pricing of the future HDCP-ready graphics cards, Froleke said
that the extra cost should not be very high.
"I don't know how much of a price difference we will see between HDCP capable
and non-HDCP capable boards. Simply from a hardware perspective, they would
be very low (just the extra costs of using a secure ROM and maybe using a
HDMI connector instead of a DVI connector)," said Froeleke.
"Most of the extra costs you will see will be a result of the costs for the
HDCP keys as well as extra costs in distribution of the product. Lower-volume
products with special features will usually cost more in the
distribution as they will ship in lower quantities, Distributors won't want
to keep them in stock, System Integrators and Resellers will only order them
at request but once ordered they need them urgently so they will be shipped
express and by air etc. These costs should not be underestimated
and can not be predicted accurately, as they will adjust to the market
demand," said Froeleke.
For a manufacturer that wishes to use HDCP technology on its products, a fee paid to the HDMI committee is required. Upon a signed agreement, the manufacturer
must pay the committee an annual fee of $15,000 and a royalty fee of $0.15 per
product sold. If HDCP protection is implemented, then the fee is reduced to $0.04
ATI's spokesman also said that currently, consumers do not need an HDCP-ready
graphics board, since there is no HDCP protected video available.
"As you can imagine, it is hard to estimate when exactly the market will require
HDCP capable boards and if customers can see the benefit already, " said
Froeleke. "I am not aware of any HDCP protected content out there. And as long as this kind of content is not there, customers will usually not pay a premium for a product that offers a feature they don't need yet."