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Better Late Than Never: Why Sony's Abandonment of HDCP Matters

Matt Gardner
DRM, Game footage capture, HDCP, PS4, Youtube

Better Late Than Never: Why Sony's Abandonment of HDCP Matters

YouTube is big business these days, with swarms of the loud and the angry preaching from atop virtual soapboxes. It's allowed fans a forum of their own making, made stars out of gamers dedicated to single franchises thanks to their bottomless knowledge, allowed players with palpable proficiency to get noticed beyond the walls of their hometowns, and given us endless entertainment, fresh perspectives of games old and new, and Pewdiepie screaming in unintelligible terror at things that go bump in the night.

It's given all of us a way of sharing our experiences, to the extent that video sharing is a massive part of the new console generation, with limited features built into both the Xbox One and PS4. But the operative word there is "limited". To give Microsoft their due, they've never been particularly bothered by HDCP encryption when it comes to games.

Better Late Than Never: Why Sony's Abandonment of HDCP Matters

HDCP is short for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. It is a means of encrypting the information that gets passed along an HDMI stream from an HD video device. It's the reason that you can't record Netflix via a capture box, an understandable form of digital rights protection that simply stops unauthorised copying of Blu-ray movies, digital shows and so on. It also the encryption that prevents HDMI recording on PS3 and, until recently, the PS4.

That little switch got turned off today, and it's good news for everybody concerned.

For YouTubers, the advantages are obvious. Now none of us have to worry about trying to convert the signal in order to make recordings. There have been ways of recording PS4 footage, most of them slightly shady, but also unofficially endorsed by Sony. I asked Sony at the time I received my PS4 about capturing footage -- though the PS3 has a component cable that could output at 720p and be used with capture kits, the PS4 refused to compromise (and why would you want to?!) -- and I was advised by a rep to obtain a signal splitter.

Better Late Than Never: Why Sony's Abandonment of HDCP Matters

Now, of course, we don't have to worry about faffing about with such things -- now capturing PS4 footage is open to everyone, and that essentially means a whole bunch of new people keeping games alive online, extending the lifespans of titles with weird and wonderful spins on older games, providing free publicity to a wider range of newer material.

The point was made when YouTube's ContentID turned into DRM Skynet that publishers were shooting themselves in both feet by trying to bringing copyright infringement claims against YouTubers who been doing little but shouting about those publishers' games. There was a feeling of biting the hand that feeds at work. Something had to give, of course, but rather quickly disclaimers began appearing across developers pages and writs were cast about by publishers delivering opposition to Content ID's vomitous spewing of copyright strikes. The wider message from the industry was simple: keep making the videos you've been making.

Better Late Than Never: Why Sony's Abandonment of HDCP Matters

Thus the HDCP encryption seemed strange when the PS4 first emerged. It might perhaps have been understandable had Sony made more of a network of videos for themselves. The onboard "Share" capabilities are easy to use but incredibly limited in scope, deliver videos short in length and poor in quality, and they're tethered to Facebook of all things. In case you missed the backlash against the Faceboculus buyout, everyone apparently hates Facebook.

But the HDCP encryption has been lifted and now everybody wins. Content creators can get back to doing what they do best, newcomers can get stuck in without having to worry about circumventing a potentially litigious inconvenience, and Sony get free publicity and a wider showcase for their games.

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