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ATI quietly modifies specifications

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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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By deeznuts on 2/17/2006 3:30:20 PM , Rating: 2
Since this article did not provide a link to the product page at ATI where those cached pages were, I wandered to the ATI site to take a look. I notice at the bottom of the page there is an addendum, saying ATI added back in the language it took out.

This nVidia not being a cardmaker and ATI being one (well they outsource it but they do brand it, same thing) piqued my curiousity. If you go to the homepage for the X1900 series on the ATI site, here:, you will notice that there are two menu buttons on the left. One for X1900 technology, and one for ATI products. If you click on the one for X1900 technology, and go to specifications, you do see it saying that the X1900 chip is HDCP ready: If you go to their X1900 products page, where they talk about actual cards,, on none of their specifications do they list HDCP ready capabilities.

So their X1900 technology page, talking strictly about the GPU is analagous to nVidia claiming HDCP ready. When you go to their products page, they do not list HDCP ready or compliance. What their AIB partners did was on their own (just like nVidia). So unless someone has a cache of ATI's site with the PRODUCTS specifications claiming HDCP, I don't see what ATI did was different than nVidia, or therefore totally wrong. A little misleading maybe, but nothing egregious. What happened I bet was that ATI got scared, pulled the language, realized what they did wasn't legally wrong (after talking to lawyers), and put it back.

This took me 2 minutes to do btw, and several others quickly did too.

By Tuan Nguyen on 2/17/2006 3:33:39 PM , Rating: 2
The link to Google's cache is in the article. But here it is again:

Also, notice the update at the end. Since this morning, ATI has re-edited its spec pages to include the HDCP-ready bit once more. So now both the cache and the currently available spec page are the same. Prior to this morning, they were as they looked in the first screenshot.


By Tuan Nguyen on 2/17/2006 3:35:32 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, about NVIDIA, since it doesn't produce boards, it hasn't claimed anything. The chip containing the approved HDCP keys are done at the board manufacturing level. If NVIDIA board partners have claimed HDCP-compliance without keys, then they are in the same boat as ATI. This article mainly points out ATI because it produces its own boards as well as marketing.

By deeznuts on 2/17/2006 3:45:30 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, that link you provided to me shows they are claiming HDCP readiness at the GPU level, the X1900. It says at the top "Radeon® X1900 Graphics Technology - Specifications." Notice the Graphics Technology. As I said earlier, this is analogous to nVidia's site, since it is just talking about the GPU, not actual cards. If you go to ATI's product page, here:
and select any of their products, actual cards, and go to specifications, you notice that none of the specs list HDCP readiness.

So how is this wrong or different than nVidia?

By Tuan Nguyen on 2/17/2006 3:49:46 PM , Rating: 2
See here:

:) "HDCP ready"

NVIDIA doesn't claim HDCP readiness or compliancy, it leaves that up to its board makers. NVIDIA doesn't make boards, ATI does.

By deeznuts on 2/17/2006 3:58:20 PM , Rating: 3
Ummm, bro, did you read my posts? I've said it twice now, here is the third. Those are specs of the GPU. Not the card. Ok I'll break it down further, here are direct links to their "PRODUCT" specifications.
XT -
Crossfire -

No mention of HDCP.

On the page you linked
They also list Crossfire features a few lines below the HDCP language. Does this mean all X1900 cards have Crossfire features? No, this is a list of capabilities, not actual features found on all cards.

By Questar on 2/17/2006 4:26:59 PM , Rating: 2
Tuan, he's right.

What you have linked to is a technology page (it says so at the top), not a product page.

By deeznuts on 2/17/2006 3:49:07 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, and I forgot to add. Don't you question why ATI would add back in this language? A huge company with a multibillion market cap, in-house legal team with probably several top notch law firms on tap, in my opinion would not haphazardly add back in language especially when it pulled it amid media furor.

I think they spoke with their counsel and came to the conclusion what they did was not wrong.

By BCanR2D2 on 2/17/2006 10:21:11 PM , Rating: 3
Just because their legal dept/counsel says that the wording is fine DOESN'T make it misleading the general public, as this discussion has shown.

Wouldn't it make more sense to at least state that with the appropriate hardware configuration, it can handle HDCP.

Clearing up muddied waters is what is required - leave the GPU specs to have HDCP, but at least let people know what boards that support it. At least let people know that without the appropriate hardware, included at manufacture that this feature will only work at that time.

Confusion like this means only one thing - money for lawyers.

Still doesn't mean ATI is in the clear, since they lead the companies they supply GPU's to believing they had hardware capable of producing HDCP content.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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