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ATI quietly modifies specifications

ATI Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Edition on Apple's store

VistionTek ATI board on CompUSA

ATI's own 9800 Pro Mac Edition spec page

Sony's VAIO VGX-XL1 system contains full HDMI output

Silicon Image says HDCP is the "only" protection to be used. FCC has also adopted HDMI says Silicon Image.
ATI, most of its partners, retailers claiming shipping consumer cards are HDCP-ready. These claims are untrue

Last week, several journals reported about the current state of HDCP support in graphics cards. The article touched on several topics, such as what is HDCP, what cards currently shipping supported HDCP, and why were cards being advertised as being HDCP ready, were in actually not ready at all. This was the case for every manufacturer, regardless of ATI and NVIDIA GPUs.

According to the Microsoft specification, high-definition video content that is transported using a DVI signal must be encrypted with HDCP. If HDCP is not present, regardless of whether an attempt at copying is made or not, the video is scaled down to low resolution to deter copying. For a manufacturer that wishes to use HDCP technology on its products, a signup with Digital CP is required. Upon a signed agreement, the manufacturer must pay the committee an annual fee of $15,000 and a royalty fee of $0.005 per product sold.  This allows a manufacturer to provide DVI/HDCP support, sufficient for high-resolution output.  If a manufacturer wants to implement HDMI, a DVI-compatible connector, an additional $15,000 annual fee to HDMI is needed along with $0.04 per product. To actually implement HDCP protection, unique keys are required on a per product basis which is provided by the committee and requires implementation at the manufacturing level. According to NVIDIA, an extra chip is required that stores unique decoding keys.

Most of ATI's recent retail products are currently shipping with advertisements claiming that the products are HDCP-ready. On ATI's website, the term HDCP-ready was also used, for example on the X1900 series specifications page. Curiously, ATI's professional products such as FireGL list "HDCP-compliant". We spoke to ATI and asked it why the terminology difference and what the difference was in its view, between compliance and ready. Unfortunately, we did not receive a sound response to that question. In an interesting turn of events, today ATI has begun to silently remove references to HDCP-ready on its consumer products.

The image to the right is a screenshot that shows a Google cache of ATI's X1900 specifications page compared to what the specifications page is today. Google's cache clearly highlights the missing HDCP-ready claim that was present since launch. While FiringSquad's article presents a significant problem with ATI's claims of HDCP support, the problems go much deeper than expected.

A quick search on etailers such as NewEgg, CompUSA, Best Buy, and a host of other stores also list ATI's specifications, and most of ATI's recent products are listed as supporting HDCP. In fact, many of ATI's add-in board partners like Diamond, HIS (the Excalibur line), PowerColor, and VisionTek all list HDCP-ready. The ATI store, Apple store, and OEMs such as BOXX Tech all list ATI products as support HDCP.  We've included screenshots of some of the websites boasting identical information to ATI's spec-sheets.

We spoke to a number of ATI's partners and asked if the boards were ready to output a HDCP-DVI signal and unfortunately the general answer was no. Some board manufacturers said that the boards that are currently shipping do not contain the HDCP decryption keys necessary to support HDCP at the board level. Regardless of the GPU, if the board does not have the necessary component and key, HDCP will not work. We further asked ATI's partners as to what possible reason board level support for HDCP was left out but the same reason was given almost unanimously: ATI did not consider HDCP to be ready because copy protection for Blu-ray and HD DVD was still up in the air, and therefore did not feel it was worth it to pay the licensing fees necessary to be fully HDCP-compliant.

This is where ATI's professional products differentiate from consumer level products. So if no money was spent on including HDCP support, why claim HDCP-ready? More AIB partners explained to us that upon the release of Vista, a driver update can be applied to enable HDCP output. Unfortunately, we already know that this is not the case from information provided to us directly from other AIB partners.  To enable HDCP, a board must include the necessary hardware and key at the time of manufacturing.  It may be possible to send in your board to an AIB partner and RMA it for a new HDCP compliant board (which would involve new hardware, but potential reuse of key components such as the memory).  NVIDIA stated that a BIOS upgrade, a driver upgrade, or retrofitting a board after the fact will not work.

AIB partners say ATI claims the uncertainty of Blu-ray and HD DVD is the reason why keys were not purchased. However, according to Microsoft's HD content protection documents, it is clearly defined that Windows Vista will ship with HDCP support and will also contain support for both high-defintion formats. ATI argues that HDCP may end  up not being required for Blu-ray and HD DVD playback but according to the MPAA, this is not the case. Considering how hard the RIAA is pushing on MP3 copyright issues, the MPAA will be very adamant that high-definition movies be protected.

Visiting, several hundred supporters of the technology are listed on the adopters page, and ATI Technologies is one of them. With a significant amount of industry leaders backing HDMI/HDCP, and ATI's clear presence on the HDMI members board, the argument that HDCP might not be required is far fetched. Audio/Video products such as home receivers, flat panel TVs and other devices have been shipping with HDMI and full HDCP compliancy for well over a year now. In fact, Sony is already shipping PCs with full HDCP compliancy.

According to Godfrey Cheng, ATI's marketing director, it is up to the board partners to put in the necessary keys for HDCP-DVI decoding. Unfortunately, this still does not explain why ATI's own "Built-by-ATI" video cards also claim HDCP support when this is clearly not the truth. Users who visit ATI's latest website revision, especially for the X1900 series, are now greeted with a "fixed" specifications page that omits any reference to HDCP support. However, those who visited ATI's website before yesterday and purchased any one of ATI's cards will be disappointed to know that they will not be able to play back HDCP-DVI signals, either from Blu-ray, HD DVD, or Windows Vista. A search on ATI's website on various consumer products now show "HDMI interoperable", which means there is either a physical HDMI connector available or a DVI to HDMI adapter supplied. This solution however, only outputs a standard DVI signal. ATI does not currently ship a consumer video card with an HDCP/HDMI or HDCP/DVI output.

The bottom line: ATI has publicized that many of its consumer products are HDCP ready, when in fact are not. Some products boast HDMI connectivity, when they do not even have a physical HDMI connector nor do the products ship with an adapter. Even if they do, having a HDMI connector does not mean the board is able to output a HDCP-DVI signal. Products such as ATI's own X1900XT claim to support HDMI connectivity. Unfortunately, HDMI compatibility doesn't mean that the board can output a HDCP-DVI or HDCP-HDMI signal. Customers who have any one of ATI's currently shipping consumer (enthusiast, mainstream, gaming, entry level) products that were advertised to support HDCP were misled. Many of ATI's add-in board partners also repeated the same specifications as those listed by ATI.

ATI was unreachable for comment at the time of publication. Instead, ATI's website has been changing gradually to remove any previous mention of "HDCP-ready" and specifications have been replaced with a more generic "HDMI interoperable" spec.

ATI has sold millions of products with a claimed feature that does not and will not work and most customers will not find this out until they attempt to play Blu-ray and HD DVD titles. As a company with an incredibly loyal following, this is a big issue that ATI needs to address to its customers immediately.

Update: ATI has restored the HDCP wording on its website as of 1:05PM EST today (02/17/06).  Unfortunately, it's back to the original phrasing.

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Ho hum
By Sharky974 on 2/17/2006 5:41:53 AM , Rating: -1
Another ATI hate bash on the web.

I will give these stories as soon as I see some about Nvidia lying. But since I dont see any of those..I can only assume these stories are BS until further notice.

Just like every site trashed ATI for short R520 supply, and exactly zero have trashed Nvidia for FAR FAR worse 7800 512 supply.

Stop the ATI trashing headlines "Dailytech".

RE: Ho hum
By Spoonbender on 2/17/2006 6:44:34 AM , Rating: 2
You refuse to believe it until NVidia gets caught at the same thing?

Riiiiiight... by that logic, Bush cannot be blamed for anything unless it is proven that Clinton did the same?

That's ridiculous. The evidence is there to see. They tell you exactly how to check it. They give you a link to ATI's current specs, and tell you to check Google's cache. Is it a conspiracy to make ATI sound bad? If so, Google is obviously in on it.

That's the dumbest thing I've heard all day. "I don't want to believe that the object of my fanboyism can be caught doing something wrong. Hence it must be untrue, *despite* the evidence being publicly available".

Good morning, wake up. This is the real world calling.

As for the "Why don't people criticize Nvidia" whining, again, wakey wakey! They do.
Several sites have criticised the 7800 512 availability (Although it wasn't as bad as the R520. The 7800 was available at launch, it just got sold out very quickly, and they couldn't keep up for a while. That's not comparable to the absolute lack of anything R520. But NVidia did take a lot of flak for it. And just a week or two ago, NVidia was attacked for posting positive posts about them on forums or something. And for posting slides about how evil ATI were.)

If we can get over the whining and bitching and "I refuse to believe that my company can screw up" stupidity, *both* companies have always acted like 3-year olds. When they're not engaged in mudflinging against each others, they're always promising more than they can deliver, and claiming support for things they can't do.

So stop the ATI whining.

RE: Ho hum
By z3R0C00L on 2/17/2006 10:15:21 AM , Rating: 3
nVidia WAS CAUGHT with the same thing.. remember Purevideo on NV40 hardware (6800GT and 6800 Ultra). To this day those cards to no support Hardware Purevideo. In fact they don't even support WMV HDTV acceleration like they claimed.

What do you have to say about that?

RE: Ho hum
By RobFDB on 2/17/2006 7:22:30 AM , Rating: 3
Are you completely brain dead? Seriously just look at the pictures. The article isn't some kind of flame designed to damage ATI, it's designed to show that ATI have mislead consumers about the specifications of their graphics cards.

Closing your eyes, putting your hands over your ears and shouting "LA LA LA LA I CANT HEAR YOU." doesn't change the fact ATI said some of their cards are HDCP ready and they clearly aren't. The evidence is there.

Dailytech aren't some trashy tabloid news service. And why are you so keen on stopping people commenting on this article? Blind fanboyism really winds me up.. And before you take a shot at me, I have 2 systems, one has a 9800 Pro in it, and the other a x850 XT PE.

RE: Ho hum
By smitty3268 on 2/17/2006 7:43:27 AM , Rating: 3
Just like every site trashed ATI for short R520 supply, and exactly zero have trashed Nvidia for FAR FAR worse 7800 512 supply.

Anandtech, a related site, has trashed Nvidia for poor supply of the 7800GTX 512s. As much as they did about poor R520 supply anyway.

I will give these stories as soon as I see some about Nvidia lying.

Umm, don't you remember that big story a while back about how Nvidia was cheating in its drivers and artificially boosting benchmark scores by lowering quality? Or does that not count as cheating?

RE: Ho hum
By smitty3268 on 2/17/2006 7:47:36 AM , Rating: 2
*******! I meant to say "lying", not "cheating" at the end of my previous post.

And I'm actually an ATI fan, here, with both of my systems currently running Radeon cards. But the kind of blind fanboyism you're showing really irritates me.

RE: Ho hum
By DigitalFreak on 2/17/06, Rating: 0
"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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