DRM in MCE Rollup 2

I was posting to TheGreenButton.com and thought I'd save myself typing the same thing again, since it's good info, even if I am restating/repackaging existing opinion.  The following is a response to people who thought for some reason that Rollup 2 was applying DRM to things that it did not before:

Rollup 2 did not substansively change the way that we determine whether something should be copy protected or not; what it did was change some of the infrastructure of the underlying protection scheme.  Basically we revved the DRM version and refined some of the business rules that determine what level of DRM a piece of content gets.

Whether something is protected by DRM depends on whether the broadcaster sends us CGMS/A (Copy Generation Management System / Analog) flags on Line21 of the analog signal.  This is *not* the (in)famous "broadcast flag".  If you want to know more about how CGMS/A works, there is plenty of material on the net.  Another factor is Macrovision (software and/or hardware), or in Europe, the CP flag.

CGMS/A can set 4 different modes: CopyFreely (i.e. no protection), CopyOnce, CopyNoMore (i.e. it used to be CopyOnce, but you made a copy... so you don't get to copy it again), and CopyNever (no copies at all).  Since our whole business is built around timeshifting content, we don't count the one stored version as a copy at all, though in CopyNever circumstances the license is generally good for only a limited time.


I'm not a big fan of DRM, but I do see the business need for it.  Microsoft makes a big, inviting target for lawsuits if we even appear to be soft on protecting copy protected content.  That doesn't make me happy, since it attempts to restrict what I can do with "my" content, and no matter how much I am told (and cerebrally understand) that it's not mine at all, but I'm just licensed to view it, I still persist in thinking of it as "mine".  After all, I paid for it!  As a consumer, I want complete freedom in what I do with my content.  As a stockholder in Microsoft, I want to both protect from lawsuits and grow the consumer market, which seem to be opposing goals.

So what we have is a compromise: DRM.  We have encryption technology strong enough to make it not worth cracking (by the time you have cracked it, you've spent more than it would have cost to just go out and buy another copy of the content... probably many hundred/thousand/million times).  With the technology also comes the ability for us to open up windows to use the content in limited ways... hopefully the ways that consumers really want to use it.  Of course, you can't just send copies around to everyone.  But you CAN (or should, if it's working right) put the content on a portable device.  Or make a DVD backup.

There's more to this than most people realize, though.  Not only do companies like Microsoft and Apple have to guard against lawsuits, etc., but they have to make the studios and other content producers happy enough with the DRM solutions that they will go *farther* and give us more content in more flexible ways.  Do you think that Comcast, DirecTV or EchoStar would agree to attach a digital tuner to a PC that can decode their signal without an ironclad guarantee that the content would not just end up on the net?  They are terrified of that prospect... and with (arguably) good reason.  DRM is what we need to open up PC-based solutions for all of our content.  I don't want to pirate my Comcast Digital Cable feed... but I *do* want to watch it!  In high-definition and on my Media Center.  If the DRM gets out of my way, and lets me burn a DVD for my collection (hard drives are finite, after all), then I'm game.  I don't care if I can't just post a video of some HBO movie on the internet.  I don't really have the inclination anyhow.

I know there are a lot of folks out there who vociferously oppose DRM on principal.  The "information should be free" crowd argues on the principal that you cannot own information, and content is just information.  That isn't reality, though, and the courts and laws agree that people who create content can sell it.  I won't pontificate further on that, but leave with a parting piece of information relating to the prior paragraph: if the "no DRM" crowd wins, we won't have lots of content with no DRM suddenly... what we'll have is broadcasters and content creators that won't have any reason to share their content.  Hollywood will release it's next generation of DVD replacements, this time with something less laughable than CSS protection, and that'll be it.  No PC viewing of digital content, just analog.  Depressing to me...


This is just my opinion... I'm not a policy setter, and not on any DRM or Copy Protection team.  Fill in all the other disclaimers about my opinion not being my employer's, and all that. 😉

Comments (40)

  1. Jason Tsang [MVP] says:

    "CopyNever circumstances the license is generally good for only a limited time."

    Can you elaborate on this, especially the "limited time" part?


  2. Carlos says:

    "Hollywood will release it’s next generation of DVD replacements, this time with something less laughable than CSS protection, and that’ll be it." Fine, so let them. It’s just lost profits then. They are so concerned about lost profits from PC owners, that they are willing to lose those same profits by not offering it? Non-sensical argument. People who pirate movies will never buy movies. Instead of downloading a movie, they’ll just borrow a friend’s copy and watch it (what, is that illegal too now?)

    Let’s face it. Someone will crack Microsoft’s DRM within a week. Microsoft has never created any protection scheme worth a damn, and I think MS wants to protect Windows much more than they want to protect Hollywood movies.

  3. PeterRosser says:

    Well, Carlos, it’s been a week already and nobody’s cracked it, so I guess you’re just being hyperbolic. The encryption is not likely to be cracked anytime soon, and if it is, the impact will be felt far beyond DRM, because online shopping, business transactions, and all sorts of other things that currently use encryption will be compromised. That’s doubtful.

    When you say something like "Microsoft has never created any protection scheme worth a damn", you should probably say, "Microsoft has never created any protection scheme that could stop a criminal from copying Windows because they were more concerned about the 95% problem of casual copying than willful criminals." Perhaps you can point to someone that has created a protection scheme worth a damn? It’s a hard thing to do, and so far the only industry "success" has been with RSA, and maybe with 3DES & Blowfish (I say maybe because I personally think NSA has those last 2 cracked, but enough of my personal conspiracy theories).

    The output channel is another avenue of attack, but now that the outputs are being protected by COPP, you have a much tougher target there, too. COPP encrypts the content all the way to the video card, so it doesn’t even traverse the PCI/AGP/PCIe bus in the clear. If the certificate exchange fails with the output device hooked up to the video card, then no data is presented at all through the port. Putting a Y on the cable won’t help either, since decryption occurs on the output device itself (IIRC).

    So, looking at input side. You can mess with an analog signal to strip out all VBI data, but then you lose captioning, and you’re still only copying analog. Analog is pretty much unprotectable. Digital broadcasts, though, can be protected with 5C, which uses both strong encryption and certificate exchange. 5C has been out for quite some time now, and it’s also been secure. Things can change, but a lot of scary-smart people have tried and not yet succeeded.

  4. PeterRosser says:

    Jason: I posted a follow-up with more details about how we apply DRM. If that doesn’t address your question, please let me know.

  5. zzz says:

    > If the DRM gets out of my way, and lets me burn a DVD for my collection (hard drives are finite, after all), then I’m game.

    May you are game, I am not.

    Tell me, why the he** would anyone like to fill up their apartment with burned DVD’s? Or bought DVD’s for that matter? Do you have any idea how much work it is to store all the good entertainment you love at your home? That is utter stupidness. I did it so I can speak with authority that a point will come where people will notice how stupid it is!

    What people Really want, is a way to get HD content through their gigabit line (adsl2+ will do for h.264 if you don’t get fibre to the premise) such that you get to watch the HD movie once for $1, or you can buy it with $5 so that you can stream the HD content from the pipe or Wimax as many times as you like.

    What we need is to make traffic and connectivity *truly* cheap. I am talking about terabyte of international traffic for $0.01 before 2010. I am totally sick of paper, CD, DVD and *anything* that piles up! World needs just a couple master-level copies of the content and, like electricity, it is converted down to fit the pipe available at the premise. To top this off USA needs to stop using oil for cars.

    It is good to hear Bill Gates shares this vision according to recent news report. Now make it happen, and not just in USA/Japan!

  6. Ryan says:

    "I won’t pontificate further on that, but leave with a parting piece of information relating to the prior paragraph: if the "no DRM" crowd wins, we won’t have lots of content with no DRM suddenly… what we’ll have is broadcasters and content creators that won’t have any reason to share their content."

    I understand your side of the argument, but I disagree with your analysis. If DRM did not exist you are trying to say that Hollywood would stop making movies because they could not protect their content. I find that almost laughable. It’s as if the media companies are some big kid that will take the ball away if we don’t agree with their rules. Trust me, someone will play – there is too much money at stake to take the ball and run home. By agreeing with their DRM requirements we are placating a spoiled kid that increasingly demands to control how, when, and where we view content that we pay for.

    Again, I understand your argument, but I don’t buy it. Trouble is when hardware and software manufacturers cave-in to shallow threats, we will just never know.

  7. Robert Schlabbach says:

    "or in Europe, the CP flag"

    Could you elaborate on that? What CP flag? Where is this information transmitted?

    "what we’ll have is broadcasters and content creators that won’t have any reason to share their content"

    *LOL* Yeah, right. "Won’t have any reason"? How about MAKING MONEY for a reason? Hollywood DEPENDS on giving away their oh-so-precious content, and the PC market _is_ a considerable one. How about just BLOCKING their silly demands for DRM-overkill and keeping them out of this revenue-rich market until they come CRAWLING, because they really, really want all this money that’s to be made.

    Microsoft should have played for time and not given in to the demands of the "wrong" side. Microsoft should remember that it’s not Hollywood they get their money from – it’s the CONSUMERS. So it’d have been in the best interest of Microsoft to part with the consumers and stand against the DRM-overkill demands of the content providers…

  8. PeterRosser says:

    Ryan and Robert: let me clarify what I mean by the "share their content" comment. Of *course* they won’t stop making movies. Of *course* they won’t stop selling and/or renting us home-viewable copies. What they will and can do if they cannot get a secure DRM agreement is not let us make perfect copies. They will have DRM either way… the primary branch point is whether that DRM will allow people to play on other devices, or over the network to "secure" clients, or the other myriad of ways to get to content you have licensed.

    If we get stupid and stubborn about being anti-DRM on anything, anti-protection of content, and we miss out on collaborating with the content industry, then the protection schemes they implement will not have the flexibility we want. I don’t identify with the knee-jerk "No DRM" argument, particularly when we can find middle ground.

    When I mentioned DVDs, I meant it as an example only of a way to backup content. Properly implemented DRM should allow me to exercise my viewing license from any device I own, from anywhere I want. I think it’s a grand idea to have central storage of content, as long as you can properly protect it. Bandwidth is not quite there yet to stream true HD content over the net to most homes, but it will be someday.

    Robert: I think you underestimate the fear that the content industry has of PCs. A huge number of people viewing content for free gets the industry… what? Certainly less than any number of people who pay for it. I happen to agree that overly restrictive DRM is harmful to everyone involved, and that the publishers that use it should and will feel backlash.

    Like I said, I have no problem with DRM that gets out of my way. That’s the most important thing to me.

    It’s true that Microsoft makes its money from CONSUMERS, but CONSUMERS follow CONTENT. If we want to compete with set-top DVRs like TiVo and coexist with VOD, we have to respect the property rights of the publishers. No amount of "playing for time" would change the fact that publishers just are not going to give up their content or on DRM. DRM is just a container for protection that can be leveraged by a publisher. The levels of protection are not selected by Microsoft, and there is perfect justification for the most strict interpretation of DRM protection: there are valid scenarios where content should only be viable for 24 hours, or 12, or 6. The implementor of the DRM solution does not select the severity of the settings… but if it isn’t even an option then DRM is not usable for certain circumstances like it should be, and yet another protection scheme needs to be implemented.

    For example, strict DRM can be used by corporations to protect internal-only video communication. Why should DRM technology be limited to consumer scenarios? Just because someone could "abuse" it and set protections on their content that you don’t like? If you don’t like it, don’t buy it! I firmly believe in voting with your money–if a studio releases content with draconian DRM they will get punished in the marketplace.

  9. PeterRosser says:

    The Copy Protection flag can be set in PAL broadcasts. It’s basically like CGMS, except instead of 4 different levels, it only has On/Off. MCE treats the flag, if enabled, as equivalent to CGMS’ CopyOnce.

  10. Robert Schlabbach says:

    Ugh, do you mean MCE actually looks at the WSS bits (ETSI EN 300294) and restricts copying according to WSS bit 13? I think Microsoft is the one and only company who does that…

    That’s not the way to compete with standalone DVR devices which don’t care what the WSS bits say.

    So Microsoft’s product is DRM-locked, while all competing products (as far as PAL/SECAM is concerned) are not…

  11. PeterRosser says:

    I would have to look at the code to be sure exactly which standard it’s implementing. All of my contact with it has been at a higher level, mainly with the logic around what various inputs map to.

    There’s another way to look at the non-implementing competitors products: if and when the EU mandates compliance, they will face an expensive recall and/or update of their devices (in the worst case), or at the very least be forced to stop selling new units until they can comply. The CopyOnce setting isn’t egregious at all, really, unless you want to pirate the content and share it with the world.

    What *real world* scenario does it prevent you from doing? If there are legitimate things you want to do that you cannot, we should address them.

  12. Eric says:

    When I mentioned DVDs, I meant it as an example only of a way to backup content. Properly implemented DRM should allow me to exercise my viewing license from any device I own, from anywhere I want. I think it’s a grand idea to have central storage of content, as long as you can properly protect it. Bandwidth is not quite there yet to stream true HD content over the net to most homes, but it will be someday.

    Viewing license? You’ve got to be kidding me, I buy a DVD I own it, period. That’s how it’s marketed, "Own your copy today." not licensed. Show me where a court has said I can’t time/format shift and if you can I’ll show you another politician bought and paid for.

    Smoke meet ass.

    I’m with Ryan and Robert, this is ridiculous.

  13. PeterRosser says:

    "Viewing license? You’ve got to be kidding me, I buy a DVD I own it, period. That’s how it’s marketed, ‘Own your copy today.’ not licensed."

    You own the copy. The physical media. You do NOT own the content. Hard concept for some, but for crying out loud it’s not that difficult. It’s the core issue of intellectual property rights. The laws preventing you from making copies of movies have been around for decades If you actually read the post, you’d see that I am not a "DRM fanboi" by any stretch of the imagination. Unlike you, apparently, I live an work in the real world where I can grasp the concept, as hopelessly technical and advanced as it might be, that there exists a way to let me *use* something that I do not *own*.

    "Show me where a court has said I can’t time/format shift and if you can I’ll show you another politician bought and paid for."

    Leaving aside the inappropriateness of mixing of "politician" and "court" in the U.S., this is not about timeshifting, or using your license on other devices. DRM prevents you from neither… what’s your true beef?

  14. Robert Schlabbach says:

    "There’s another way to look at the non-implementing competitors products: if and when the EU mandates compliance […]"

    You’re not familiar with the EU, are you? 😉 But you may be aware that even in the USA, a court said that the FCC does _NOT_ have the authority to mandate compliance witht he "broadcast flag".

    As far as the EU concerned, our politicians wouldn’t even dare to try something like this. Maybe you’ve been misled by the tough rulings of the EU against Microsoft, but they in fact show that the EU is more on the side of the citizens and less on the side of big corporations than the US government is. The EU parliament stopping the introduction of software patents in Europe is more proof of that.

    In short: The EU is not in the business of mandating how users handle the broadcast signals they receive. The scenario you pointed out is EXTREMELY unlikely. And even if that ever happened, Microsoft’s software-only MCE would make it as simple as it gets to roll out a software update. Your argument does not stick at all. WSS restriction was a WRONG decision by the MCE team.

  15. PeterRosser says:

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. You did not address my core question, so let me restate it with more clarity:

    How is MCE’s compliance with the PAL Copy Protection bit impairing your fair use of the content you have recorded?

    Arguments in the abstract are fun, and I enjoy a good debate as much as the next guy, but can you honestly tell me that you’re being unfairly and adversely affected by our WSS compliance? (I still haven’t groveled through the code and compared it against the WSS specification, so I am presuming that is the one we’ve implemented.)

  16. zzz says:

    You can continue arguing about DRM, I’d rather be interested in what the VODish future will hold. Will I be able to get a 1080p or better stream from the net without advertisements, or nothing/less for one with advertisements. Offering new shows and ads with them would probably take some example from Amazon. No need to try push content at random when one can push what others with similar taste liked and thus create even better profiles. Given so huge benefit to advertisers, why they seem negative about video ipod? In IPTV, easy ad-paid access to long tail of entertainment, who will bother to think about freeloading the content if one can get anything even produced in full quality for almost free if they will accept watching few highly targeted ads? With proper pricing I don’t see many people, except those who do it as a hobby, freeloading the content.

    Funny thing is, ‘HD-VOD’ has been around on the p2p in some sense for some time now and in HD like quality. I did a comparison once and a 700 MB hdtv-rip is actually better than DVD when doing side by side of the same clip in hd-rip and dvd. The technology has been around for a while now. Why I can’t stream 1080p WMVHD directly from Amazon? I just purchased some WMVHD and had to wait weeks for international shipment of a plastic disc that is now buried under ton of other plastic cases and discs.

    I am hopeful that MS will push the buttons of Universal, Paramount etc. so that with Vista I’ll be able to stream even the old cancelled tv shows whenever I wish. 5 minutes free from the beginning and one click select whether I want to watch the rest with ads, no-ads (pay), multiple times, or unlimited times license.

  17. Eric says:

    No I own that DVD, it’s not that hard to understand. If were licensing it first sale doctrine wouldn’t apply, and it does. By core intellectual property issue I’m assuming you are referring to copyright, or is it trademark, or patent? Call it what it is not some lumped together buzzword. As you say the laws preventing me from making copies and DISTRIBUTING them have been around for decades, so has fair use which allows me to copy for backup or personal use. Laws pertaining to trademark and patent have been around for decades too. Enforce them instead.

    Considering the courts are appointed by politicians, it’s appropriate.

    I read your post thoroughly and never called you a fanboy.

    I’m not going to bother addressing your ad hominem attack about who can piss higher on the pole.

  18. PeterRosser says:


    This seems to coming down to a semantics issue; it is not my position that copying should be prohibited, when that copying adheres to Fair Use. When I am talking about IP, I mean the IP and the associated laws that are relevant to the discussion: Copyright law.

    As for judges, they are indeed appointed by politicians: once. And lest we quibble about whether I’m lumping all judges into a single buzzword, I refer explicitly to the appointed-for-life justices of the Federal Circuits and the State and United States Supreme Court. A cynic would claim that they are political, but they should not be. Nobody’s perfect–but by and large the whole idea of a justice system is that they are not political, they are interpreters of the law.

    I did not claim that you had called me anything of the sort. When I quoted you, I broke it out, and did it verbatim. So, there’s no skin off my back here… no biggie. I am sure you meant no rancor. >_> I did, though, catch the obvious implication (perhaps by your so-subtle-I-almost-missed-it reference to blowing smoke up your ass?) that you considered my opinion to be cheerleading the DRM.

    So… what scenarios is the current DRM preventing you from doing? If there are some legitimate Fair Use scenarios that cannot be met with DRM as is, you should complain loudly about them. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. DRM is a useful tool, as long as it’s implemented and used properly (neither of which is my claim for today’s iteration).

  19. Eric says:

    Yeah, you’re right Peter it seems that way, it’s hard to communicate clearly about something that has become so convoluted. I probably misinterpreted what you were trying to say, easy to do from behind a screen, always better over a beer.

    I thought the smoke blowing reference was about as subtle as a brick, but it wasn’t directed at you and rereading it I can see how you thought it was. It was directed at the whole DRM scheme in general. I don’t feel that Microsoft should be involved in policing for the **AA’s or any other content provider as the laws to provide them redress already exist.

    The biggest pain in my butt is the simple fact that I can’t watch DVD’s on my media box in 1080i/p. If I’d have known that it would have seriously impacted my decision to get MCE and I’ve had it since the first beta through MSDN.

    I’ve been a developing software strictly using MS products and technologies for 8 years and was REALLY exicited when MCE was announced thinking it would blow everything comparable out of the water, and it does, so thanks for you and your teams work, truely. But the little things like the DVD 1080 thing and the fact that I can’t burn a dvr.ms straight to DVD to watch in the bedroom dvd player straight from the MCE interface and probably some other things if I thought about it make me wonder why? You guys are MS, you have the leverage to say no, we’re not going to hamstring our users because they "might" do something illegal.

    Personally I think it’s because MS wants so badly to be the digital hub that Apple’s been crowing about for years they are willing to play content police for an industry they don’t need to be in bed with.

    Anyways, good discussion 🙂

  20. Scott says:

    Eric: dvd’s can be displayed in 1080i/p and and you can burn dvd directly from the MCe user interface.

  21. the-tv-guy says:

    The DRM being discussed here can be easily bypassed, thereby eliminating the need for anyone to hack it. Anyone can buy and install a simple device between your set-top-box and your tv tuner card. The "device" will remove all DRM. If you are worried about quality, you can buy a more expensive device. This approach wont work on HD, or in the case were your PC tuner is actualy tuning (DVB-T and ATSC-HD on MCE for now).

  22. Eric says:

    How so Scott? I can’t get it to do it. Every time I switch to component and 1080i it tells me now way. Is the burn to DVD from the interface only in MCE2005? I haven’t upgraded from 2004 yet.

  23. PeterRosser says:

    The "device" being referred to by the-tv-guy is a notch filter that removes Line 20/21 from the analog output of 480i signals, thereby removing all of the data that signals CP should be enabled. There’s nothing illegal about using those, but you do lose closed captioning, v-chip ratings, and other data used by modern TVs.

    Also, DRM on analog signals isn’t the true target for the content industry. It’s perfect digital copies they’re afraid of.

  24. James says:

    Just to elaborate on the device Peter and TV-guy both mentioned, they are legitimate pieces of AV equipment. They are just video stabilizing devices and are used to adjust the luminance signal of video to desired levels. The CGMS-A method of copy protection works by storing two control bits in the luminance signal, and like Pete said, in line 21 of the NTSC video stream. Almost all DVD players and DVR’s honor the values of the bit settings, which can be 00 for allow copying, 01 to allow a single copy, and 11 which allows no copies. It’s also used in DVD’s, and putting a device like this on the Y cable of component out will also remove it from the DVD signal. What’s most interesting about CGMS-A is that no one really owns the technology, not like Macrovision owns their copy protection methods. It’s sort of an industry standard thats come together over many years. So compliance is purely voluntary with TV signals.

  25. Jeff Gilbert says:

    Just caught this conversation, but I’d like to hear Peter’s response to Eric’s last about DVD/1080 and burning dvr-ms files. Is this a result of DRM and if so, how does this not blow Peter’s assertion that DRM doesn’t impact the regular use of content out of the water?

  26. PeterRosser says:


    We have never supported upscaling Macrovision-protected DVDs over component outputs to >480p resolutions. That’s a pretty specific scenario, and it’s been that way forever. If you hook up your Media Center via DVI+HDCP or VGA, this is not a problem, and has always been supported.

    Burning DVR-MS files from within Media Center is supported as of Symphony (2005) with the Sonic Encoders included with the system. Eric is running Harmony (2004), which did not include the Sonic bits. That was actually before my time in the group, so I may be mistaken there, but I think that’s right.

    DRM only is engaged if you are trying to burn a CopyOnce show. The local copy IS your copy, so it cannot be transcoded to a non-protected format. You can still burn it to DVD, you just cannot transcode it to native DVD format. In other words, you can make a backup that is playable on any device that supports the WMDRM license, but you cannot go off and make unrestricted copies.

  27. KenM says:

    Diving into this DRM nightmare; Broadcasters are ALREADY abusing it – so DRM resolves the which PVR to buy question down to: "Can I watch anything at all on this box?" Sitting here in New Zealand (a PAL TV standard country) with my nice shiny new MCE SP2 box watching Music Videos LIVE off the antenna; a video came on; and MCE promptly put up the Blue screen of Denial – so broadcasters/content providers ARE misusing these flags already – If I can’t watch live TV live; what’s the point in MCE? (Just as an aside – in this case I’m not too worried, as I was about to change channel, as it was a Jessica Simpson "music" video – but I can see the time coming soon, when I won’t be able to watch anything [live or not] with my MCE which makes it an expensive paperweight)

  28. Jason Dunn: DRM and I Go Head to Head: And it&#39;s a Draw Peter Rosser: DRM in MCE Rollup 2 Walt Mossberg

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