The Computer Blog

Sunday, November 23, 2008

More on iTunes HD Restrictions and the New Apple Notebooks

This morning I ran a few tests using my new 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro (late 2008) and my new Mac Pro (late 2008), purchased iTunes HD content, and my current Apple Displays to see which would trigger the dreaded “Display not authorized” messages. Here’s what I got:

MBP with 20 inch aluminum DVI Apple Cinema Display – no play (Display not authorized message);

MBP with 23 inch DVI Apple Cinema “HD” Display – no play (Display not authorized message);

Mac Pro with 23 inch DVI Apple Cinema “HD” Display – played

These results have some rather far-reaching implications.

First, the content restriction problems with external displays appear to be largely restricted to the new MacBook and MacBook Pro notebook lines because of their implementation of HDCP or DPCP via the mini-Display Port. If you buy a current Mac Pro and run it with any of the Apple Cinema Displays (the 20 incher, the 30 incher, or a “discontinued” 23 incher), have an older MacBook or MacBook Pro and do the same, I believe you’ll be able to play HD content without any display restrictions. That’s based on my being able to play HD content on my MacPro using such a set-up. However, if you’re thinking about committing to such a set-up, unless you can do it at zero cost, you need to aim some serious questions at the Apple representatives in your local Apple Store before you buy. I only have a few machines to use as test rigs, and that’s certainly not enough to draw conclusions with a very high degree of certainty.

Secondly, it does appear that if you buy a new MacBook or MacBook Pro with a mini-Display Port, the ONLY external monitor you can currently use to watch iTunes Store HD content will be the 24 inch LED Cinema Display about a week away from release. I’ll let you know for sure if that’s the case as soon as we get ours.

Thirdly, Apple’s “discontinuance” of its 23 inch “HD” Cinema Display” at the same time as the release of the 24 inch LED Cinema Display implies that Apple intends for it to be the former’s replacement. Considering how many comments from professional users in various online forums have argued against the inclusion of both an iSight and glossy screens, the 24 incher is aimed squarely and only at the owners of the new Apple notebooks. Whether this signals a profound shift out of the professional computer market for the company, a market Apple has courted for years with its Final Cut products and its relationship (however rocky) with Adobe, remains to be seen; but it does appear that Apple is focusing in on its notebook market, almost to the exclusion of its other family members as well as its older equipment owners. If so, this could prove to be a fundamental mistake that will not only significantly impact its computer sales but its iTunes Store sales. At worst, it could put Apple in the position of having to buck some of the movie industry’s DRM constraints to improve both.

Consumers and the limited number of professionals who buy the new 24 inch LED displays, especially if the mini-port Display technology moves to the Mac Pro line, will be happy with their results; but if you want to use some other display and play iTunes Store HD content, I’d steer clear of any new Apple machine that includes the mini-Display Port as its only video interface. Your other and perhaps better option is to steer clear of any Apple iTunes Store HD content.

For me or any Apple fan, those are bitter pills to swallow, but sometimes the truth hurts; and this is one of those times.

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