ATI responds about its lack of true support for HDCP but questions are still up in the air

Last week we reported that ATI had made false claims about various products shipping with HDCP-readiness when in fact this was not the case. ATI claims that its products were "ready" because at the GPU level, HDCP support was built in. The issue however, was that full production cards did not ship with the appropriate decryption keys set at the board level at the time of manufacturing.

There has also been some confusion between HDMI and HDCP. The two standards are different and do not represent the same thing. HDMI is the digital interface to which devices connect for video output and HDCP is the content protection mechanism put in place to deter copying. It is possible to have HDMI without having HDCP.

The problems were compounded because advertisements were widespread with claims of either HDCP compliancy, HDMI compliancy, or in some cases both. Some products even claimed full HDMI compliancy when in fact the boards themselves did not ship with a mechanism to take advantage of the interface. On the other hand, boasting about HDCP readiness when in fact a product is only half way complete in terms of being able to output a DVI-HDCP signal or HDMI-HDCP signal is simply incorrect.

The issue was brought to ATI because whereas NVIDIA does not manufacture its own boards, ATI does. The number of NVIDIA partners that claimed HDCP support but failed to deliver on the board level are in fact, in the same coup as ATI or any one of its partners who made such claims. ATI boards that do claim this however, are extremely widespread and according to many users, purchases were made based on the fact that customers believed that the boards would be able to output an HDCP-DVI signal when the time came that such a signal would be required for playing back HD video.

In light of publishing our findings, ATI's Senior Public Relations Manager, John Swinimer responded with an official statement:
Recently published articles about HDCP have made ATI Technologies aware of product information inconsistencies on the website. ATI is ensuring the accurate information about HDCP support is properly presented. ATI's recently announced graphics chips, the Radeon X1000 family, are HDCP - ready and can be used to make HDCP-enabled board products. Many components have to be HDCP-enabled before a system can be used to view protected content. They include media content itself, the operating system, the video player software application, the graphics chip, and the monitor. ATI and our Add-in-Board partners will ship board products enabled for HDCP as soon as it is useful for our consumers – when more of the industry infrastructure is in place.
ATI's response above brings a very clear picture: products were advertised and shipped as HDCP-ready but in actuality were not (only the GPUs are). ATI and many of its partners did not indicate that products only featured HDCP at the GPU level, and that full HDCP-DVI output will not be supported. Even though ATI's statement says that its Radeon X1000 family is HDCP-ready and can be used to manufacture HDCP-enabled boards, built-by-ATI products are continuing to be sold at such places as CompUSA that say HDCP is supported. Also, there is no statement published on ATI's website but the compny has updated its specification pages to include the following note:

This feature is supported by the asic and can be specified by PC manufacturers for its add-in-boards. This feature is not typically enabled on stand alone cards.

As the last sentence in ATI's response concludes, none of ATI's products or any of its partners' products currently support HDCP. Despite ATI's response, it is clear that many customers have made purchases believing that they will be HDCP capable, in time for Windows Vista, but will have to upgrade their video card. ATI did not respond to us in regards to what its plans are for customers who purchased its products for HDCP support. The same question is being asked to NVIDIA's board partners who also made similar unfulfilled claims.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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