"Print" key derails copy protection in first-gen HD software

Chicago (IL) - Copy protection has never been more sophisticated than in the high-definition age: An armada of hardware and software aims to fend off hackers and restrict access to high-definition content and prevent especially movies from being copied. But at least for now, you don't have to take the back road to disable HD copy protection. Just use the front door.

A new technology, a new opportunity for the content industry to lock down its content: With the introduction of high-definition content (HD), content providers are carefully modeling a multi-level copy protection technology to make direct access to the content as difficult as possible - and to avoid a scenario of CSS_Descramble, a program that knocked out the original DVD content protection with 60 lines of code back in 1999.

With some effort, at least the first generation of HD playback shipped with the first generation of PCs integrating HD DVD and Blu-ray drives can be used to copy HD movies without the need of hacker code. According to a report published by German computer magazine c't, users can take screenshots of content protected by Advanced Access Content System (AACS) and a High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) chip by simply pressing the "Print Screen" key on the computer keyboard - a technique that has been used for decades to take simple pictures of current screen content.

Of course, copying a complete HD movie in this method takes some programming knowledge, storage space and patience. A script can automate the screenshot process, which will result in about 162,000 separate 2-megapixel images for a 90-minute movie. c't claims that current PC systems are powerful enough to take and store 30 screenshots per second to enable a lossless recording of movie frames. Additional steps required for a successful copying process are the extraction of audio from a movie as well as merging about 50 GB of images into one movie and the merging video and audio. At least in theory, the security hole claimed by c't could open the door to copying HD movies.

The magazine said that it has verified the capability with Sony's first Blu-ray PC VGC-RC 204 von Sony as well as Toshiba's HD DVD notebook Qosmio G30. Both devices use a first-generation HD version of Intervideo's WinDVD application.

According to c't, the security issue was confirmed by Toshiba and apparently all shipped HD DVD notebooks are affected. While the company claims that WinDVD does not violate AACS LA and that there won't be a mandatory update for current Qosmio G30 owners, the firm said that it will be releasing a player update and a new graphics driver.

U.S. representatives from Toshiba, Sony and Intervideo could not be reached for comment.