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Apple TV and the DRM Achilles Heel

Having managed to get myself an Apple TV a few weeks ago, I finally had a reason to go off and buy some video content on iTunes. So far the ownership experience had been relatively straightforward: Plug it in, answer some simple questions, sync it with iTunes and you're done.

Only the software update didn't want to work, giving the rather vague message "can't check right now, try again later". Um, ok. But apart from that, a relatively pain free experience.

Having had a bit of time, I took the credit card, went "what the hell", and started buying a few music videos on iTunes. Unfortunately the heady experience of shopping was short lived just as the first video had finished downloading.

Despite having paid good money to buy the videos, my Apple TV told me "You are not authorized to play this content".

A storm was brewing on the horizon, and that heady rush of shopping with gay abandon cooled swiftly to a nasty case of buyers remorse.

Is Apple TV a lemon?

It was soon becoming clear that this device was going to put up a fight, so it was off to trusty old Google. Surely someone else on the net has had this problem and solved it? Other people have had this problem all right, but as to solutions, they are few and far between.

Apple themselves offer a vague and non committal iTunes authorizations page entitled Apple TV may not play content purchased from the iTunes Store, and it offered a number of things I might try. Not the definitive solution to the problem, just a few vague things that might work, but then again, might not.

Some of the things they suggested include "deauthorizing and reauthorizing your iTunes" - it was not clear why this would have made any difference, as it was the Apple TV device that refused to play the content, not the iTunes player itself. Regardless, I tried it, and it made no difference.

Their next strategy was resetting the device - first by using the "reset" option, then when that made no difference I performed a factory reset of the device, and resynced all the music and videos back to the now blank device from iTunes.

Again, no effect.

The next step that was recommended was to follow an elaborate process to delete and reimport all my iTunes music, and at this point I went "whoa there, hang on just a minute".

All this drama, because a device I paid good money for, refuses to play content that I paid good money for.

Apple have perfected the art of making their customers want their products, keeping buyers remorse at bay long after the product was purchased. But in this case, I have a product with amazing potential that is virtually useless to me.

The traditional music industry has bent over backwards to devise strategies to sell content to people, but at the same time restrict the devices on which that content can be viewed.

The problem is that once you have crossed the threshold beyond which it is too difficult for an average person to get their purchase to work properly, the potential purchaser will simply stop bothering.

Buying those music videos was a cool idea earlier this evening, but right now, I couldn't be bothered.

The traditional music industry would have you believe that piracy is their biggest threat, but in reality it is the hurdles the industry has built into their own devices that ultimately will be their downfall.


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Imagine my surprise when our CTO proudly proclaimed his newly delivered HDMI TV and how he was going to stream his terrabytes of content to it... Until I said "Uhm, HDMI has DRM built in". We had an argument about it, until we turned to google and I was proven right. At the moment, I don't think the HDMI DRM is enforced, if it isn't, it will probably "turn on" at some stage, and make a lot of happy customers, not so happy. People EXPECT to be able to watch their content, period.

Strangely, once again, the Porn industry are the only guys who truly understand the technology and the market. I've always been amazed at the ability of small companies to adapt to change, or rather, big business' reluctance to change.

Even your average garage band are realizing that giving your music/videos away is good business. The really absurd thing, to me, is still how the music industry hits record earnings and online sales at regular intervals, whilst crying about how the internet is killing them.

I finally bit the bullet and tried to follow the instructions to reimport my iTunes library from scratch.

Now my playlists are screwed, and it has made no difference to the Apple TV.

The device is a brick: It's going back to the store tomorrow to be replaced.

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