These where the words uttered by Steve Jobs during a Q&A session at a special Macbook event three years ago when asked why the technology was not included in the Macbook refresh. As I learned the hard way tonight, maybe he was right.
I travel quite a bit for my day job, spending a few nights a week in hotel rooms with usually poor internet and nothing but time on my hands. I use this time to catch up on the several hundred e-mails I receive a day, and often will have a movie on in the background to help pass the time. Now, normally before a trip I will either download a movie from iTunes directly to my PC, or rip one of the blu-ray disks that I own to enjoy on the go. Due to a somewhat crazier than normal work schedule, coupled with leaving for the airport at 5:30am, I neglected to copy my ripped movies to my laptop. After a 7:00am flight, a day full of meetings, and a few hours of e-mails ahead, I decided to stop at a RedBox on the way to my hotel and check out a Blu-ray to watch. Knowing I would partially ignore the movie anyways, I selected Scream 4 (don’t judge me).
The hotel room I am staying in not only has a flat screen TV, but it also have a A/V port replicator on the desk, offering RCA, VGA and HDMI connections directly to the TV. This was perfect, I bought an HDMI cable with me, my Dell XPS 15 has an HDMI port, so my plan was to use the LCD TV as a second display for the movie. This is where the fun started. I connected the HDMI cable to my laptop and then the port replicator. Immediately my laptop screen flashed, and my desktop was extended to the LCD TV. I pop the blu-ray into the drive on my PC, fire up Corel WinDVD 2010, hit play, and viola!… an error message. My AACS keys were out of date, and this movie requires new keys, so I need to download an updater from the Corel site. I select OK, a web browser pops open, and keypack.exe starts downloading…at 1KB/second. Surely it’s my hotel internet that’s dog slow, after all, it’s 6pm, and there’s a convention at the hotel, so this connection is far from dedicated to me. I RDP into my home machine, and try the download there on my FiOS connection…1.5KB/second. Great, so it’s the Corel site. When the 4MB file finally finishes, I run the updater, it completes successfully, notifies me my keys are now up to date, and asks me to restart the player. I restart the player, hit play, and viola!…same error message. This time it informs me there is another patch available that is required to take advantage of newer features of this blu-ray disk. I select OK, a browser opens, and I see Chrome trying to suck down an 81MB file. After the excruciating wait to download a 4MB file, I almost give up, but then I notice the download speed has improved, and Chrome is reporting 5 minutes until complete. I apply the patch, restart the player, hit play and…well, you know the rest. Error. I roll up my sleeves, I uninstall WinDVD 2010, I reinstall, I reapply patches when asked, I hit play. Error. I contemplate throwing my XPS at the wall and taking advantage of the Dell Complete Care Accidental Protection, but cooler heads prevail.
I uninstall WinDVD 2010 again, and now I turn to Google to solve my problems. I start searching for the error messages I received, and the top result comes back in the form of an Advertisement for Corel WinDVD 11. A newer version. Surely they have fixed all the bugs that are currently plaguing my version. I download a trial. I install. I hit play. The movie starts. I raise my arms in victory. I had won. I had also wasted almost two hours, but I won. I fire up my work Virtual Machine, I drag the WinDVD 11 window to the second desktop on the LCD, I crack my knuckles and prepare for extreme e-mailing…the movie stops, an error message in its place. The message informs me this movie cannot be played on this version of my video driver, and I should update my driver. When I dragged the movie on the LCD, it also switched video cards from the Intel card the laptop display runs off of, to the nVidia card powering the HDMI port. A quick visit to the nVidia site confirms I am running the latest version of their drivers, so I assume this must be an HDCP issue. I open the nVidia control panel, select the “View HDCP Status” link, and it’s green across the board. “Your graphics card and display are HDCP-capable”. I immediately assume it’s lying to me, and my suspicions turn to the A/V port replicator. Could this box be stripping the HDCP protection so desperately needed to enjoy an HD movie? I plug my HDMI cable directly into the TV, hit play, the movie plays. So I found my culprit, but now I have another problem.
To avoid an extra attention from TSA, I only carry a 3 foot HDMI cable with me when I fly, and the TV is at least 6 feet from where I need to work on the desk. I connect back into the port replicator, select play…error. In between cursing, it hits me, I also own a license for SlySoft AnyDVD. If this is truly an HDCP issue, AnyDVD will “relax” the requirement for HDCP so I can enjoy my B movie while getting some work done. I install AnyDVD, apply the license, it scans the disk, I open WinDVD 11, drag it over to the desktop on the LCD, select play…the movie plays. Victory is mine.
Let me recap this long winded post. I had to ultimately upgrade my software player and circumvent industry standard copy protection (better known as DRM), just to enjoy a movie that I legally rented on a system approved for playback of HD material. All I could think of as the movie played was what if this had been my parents trying to get this movie to play? The laptop would have hit the wall several hours ago. There’s no reason any end user, highly technical or not, needs to jump through all these hoops to watch a movie. Especially a somewhat bad movie at that.
Maybe Steve was right. Apple does not tend to jump head first into a new technology until they are sure they can wrap a seamless user experience around it. My advice to Mac users, do not let PC users give you a hard time on the Macs inability to play blu-ray movies, you’re not missing much.