GPU Support for HDCP
Although ATI has had “HDCP support” in their GPUs since the Radeon 8500, and NVIDIA has had “HDCP support” in their GPUs since the GeForce FX5700, it turns out that things are more complicated -- just because the GPU itself supports HDCP doesn’t mean that the graphics card can output a DVI/HDCP compliant stream. There needs to be additional support at the board level, which includes licensing the HDCP decoding keys from the Digital Content Protection, LLC (a spin-off corporation within the walls of Intel).
After some investigation, Brandon and I determined that there is no shipping retail add-in board with HDCP decoding keys. Simply put, none of the AGP or PCI-E graphics cards that you can buy today support HDCP.
I did not believe this at first. Surely, I was misinterpreting the content of the emails I was receiving. After all, everyone is hyping up H.264 support and HD-DVD/Blu-Ray playback. When I go to http://www.ati.com/products/RadeonX1900/specs.html
I see HDCP support listed. Am I supposed to know that the board doesn’t support it because I can go to http://www.ati.com/products/radeonx1900/radeonx1900xtx/specs.html
and see that HDCP is omitted? If that’s the case, am I supposed to know that the board has “48 shader processors” when it’s only listed in the GPU specifications page?
What we’ve confirmed
We’ve been able to confirm that none of the Built-by-ATI Radeons support HDCP. If you’ve just spent $1000 on a pair of Radeon X1900 XT graphics cards expecting to be able to playback HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies at 1920x1080 resolution in the future, you’ve just wasted your money.
NVIDIA, being a GPU manufacturer was unable to discuss the plans of board manufacturers. We contacted all six of NVIDIA’s Tier-1 board partners. None of the GeForce 6 or 7 video cards available on the market, including the most recently released GeForce 7800GS, have HDCP support. So if you just spent $1500 on a pair of 7800GTX 512MB GPUs expecting to be able to play 1920x1080 HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies in the future, you’ve just wasted your money.
How can these companies be so oblivious? Playing Devil’s Advocate, I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, by the time Windows Vista comes out, most people are going to upgrade their GPU. If the HDCP support was very expensive, then paying for the HDCP license now would be like paying for something you don’t use. So I dug around for HDCP licensing costs. Turns out, that the answer is available at the HDMI website. HDCP licensing requires a $15,000 annual fee and a per-device fee of $0.005, i.e. a fraction of a cent. That’s not too expensive. There goes that argument.