If you’re a fan of the podcast, you’ve no doubt heard by now that I use Windows Media Center for my TV. It has always met the needs of my family and never ceases to impress people who visit. However, it hasn’t been upgraded in a couple years now and is starting to show its age.
Some of that age showed itself this Christmas holiday. My mom gave the grand kids a couple movies (Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2) on Blu-Ray for them to enjoy. We were all excited to watch them, however there was one problem; the media center doesn’t have a Blu-Ray drive. Well, that’s a problem that we’ll have to address later. In the mean time I have four kids and some house guests who want to watch the new movies.
Out came my laptop to the rescue! My laptop not only has a Blu-Ray drive, but also a super powered GPU and HDMI out so it was ideally suited for playing Lightning McQueen on our big screen LCD. Popped in the disc, hooked the laptop to the TV, and . . . nothing. Nothing at all. The computer could see the discs but couldn’t play them. I was stumped. We had borrowed another Disney movie, Tangled months earlier and had watched it without issue. Why we suddenly couldn’t see these movies now were a complete mystery.
In the end I was able to save the day by putting in a different movie and the kids had a great time. However it left the question as to why my perfectly good laptop couldn’t do something as simple as play a movie. I checked the codecs, but they were all good. I wondered if something was wrong with the media player, so I reinstalled VLC. I thought maybe the video drivers had corrupted and the system was no longer HDCP compatible. Thankfully, Nvidia had included a little utility that goes through everything connected and gave me the HDCP thumbs up for the whole setup.
Call me nieve, but I never thought that the issue could have been DRM related. I guess I figured that a movie that WE BOUGHT, playing on a laptop WE BOUGHT, to a television WE BOUGHT wouldn’t have such issues. As it turns out there are two types of Blu-Ray players; stand alone and connected. The stand alone player doesn’t bother with DRM because it uses HDCP certified only equipment. The connected player uses an internet connection to download the latest SSL certificates so it can play the latest content that might be protected with those certificates. Obviously a laptop is a connected device, so it needs to download and install the latest and greatest certificates, right? Right.
Here’s where things get really annoying though; unlike the SSL certificates you might use on a website you can’t just automatically install these mystical Blu-Ray SSL’s. To install them, you need a specialized program like PowerDVD or WinDVD.
To recap: to play a disc YOU BOUGHT, on a computer YOU BOUGHT, to a television YOU BOUGHT . . . you must BUY an additional $120 piece of software! Or, you know, you could just BitTorrent the movie FOR FREE and watch it IMMEDIATELY.
In the end I found a great little program called MakeMKV that reads the entire contents of the disc, strips away all the DRM, and allows you to export just the parts you want. So why not? I throw the disc in, uncheck all the extra features, take away all the extra subtitles and languages, and hit start. Twenty minutes later I had a shiny new 1080p rip of my movie with both 7.1 and 2.1 surround sound and captions. I had become a pirate over a movie that I legally owned.
Now strictly speaking, I am allowed a single digital “back-up” copy of any media. The law allows anyone to turn anything they own into a collection of files they can play on their computer. This law scares the crap out of movie studios! So instead they try and entice you will extra features to keep you using their DRM protected discs. Now because of their ridiculous DRM requirements there are now additional DRM-free HD rips of their movies in the world. Sure, they’ll be here on my media center and not seeded out into the world, but the fact remains that they wouldn’t have even existed had I simply been able to put the disc in my system and hit play.
Even more annoying is the knowledge that should I want to upgrade my media center to play Blu-Ray’s, I CAN’T because Windows Media Center doesn’t support this stupid SSL certificate system! The movie studios of Hollywood have ensured that I have no choice but to pirate EVERY Blu-Ray I ever buy!
Good job guys. Way to keep that piracy at bay.