Intel Insider: Hardware DRM At Home In Sandy Bridge

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News Posted: Thu, Jan 6 2011 9:59 PM
Intel's Sandy Bridge made headlines this week for its improved efficiency, reduced power consumption, and much-improved graphics engine, but there's another important feature that's not yet gotten the same degree of press. One of the new technologies incorporated into Sandy Bridge, Intel Insider, is designed to ensure that only paying, authorized users are able to view premium content (as defined by the broadcaster). In the company's words: "Intel Insider is a service that enables consumers to enjoy premium Hollywood feature films streamed to their PC in high quality 1080P high definition....Think of it as an armored truck carrying the movie from the Internet to your display, it keeps the data safe from pirates, but still lets you enjoy your legally acquired movie in the best possible quality."

DRM? Don't Be Silly

According to Intel representative Nick Knupffer, this is not DRM. In his blog post, Knupffer explains that DRM "is a piece of software, not hardware...I will say that Intel Insider is NOT a DRM technology."

Claptrap—and not just according to us. Dictionary.com defines DRM as "Any technology used to limit the use of software, music, movies or other digital data." Wikipedia calls it " a term for access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to limit the usage of digital content and devices," while Webster's Online Dictionary states that DRM is "a generic term that refers to access control technologies...to limit usage of digital media or devices."


Intel's Sandy Bridge, wafer style

Intel's attempt to redefine the term echoes The Onion's recommendation to lower the number of obese Americans by raising the definition from 55 percent body fat to 90 percent body fat. Is Intel Insider DRM? Absolutely—but that's not automatically a bad thing.

The only reason Knupffer is attempting to twist his terms is because the label 'DRM' carries such a stigma. DRM didn't become a curse-word because people inherently objected to it, but because so many companies have introduced bug-ridden, ill-considered schemes that effectively punish loyal customers for staying legitimate. The success of both Steam and iTunes (pre 2009) indicates that while consumers may never like DRM, they're willing to accept it if the restrictions aren't too draconian.

Knupffer, meanwhile, argues that technologies like Intel Insider are necessary to truly bring HD content to the PC.
Currently this service [1080P streaming] does not exist because the movie studios are concerned about protecting their content, and making sure that it cannot be stolen or used illegally. So Intel created Intel Insider... This technology is built into the new Intel chips and will become even more important once wireless display technology like Intel’s WiDi become more popular, as it would prevent pirates from stealing movies remotely just by snooping the airwaves. WiDi enables you to wirelessly beam video to your big screen TV easily and in HD."
It's by no means certain that content providers are just one secure pipeline away from hurling 1080P content around the tubes willy-nilly but it's possible that content providers might explore new methods of delivery more readily if they felt their products were protected in some way. Sandy Bridge's new technology will undoubtedly spark controversy in certain corners, but focusing too much on Intel Insider is a mistake. Successful business models aren't built solely on the presence or absence of a hardware security level, but on a company's ability to balance 'reasonable' restrictions against the personal freedoms customers' expect. 
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3vi1 replied on Fri, Jan 7 2011 8:29 AM

>> [Intel said:] "...it keeps the data safe from pirates, but still lets you enjoy your legally acquired movie in the best possible quality."

No.

No DRM has ever stopped a pirate. EVER!  Please give me an example where it's working today, if I'm wrong.

All this does is put artificial restrictions on what the legal consumer can do. They want to be able to sell you the same thing, over and over and over... Also, the DRM makes it require much more computing power to decode the content you paid for.

When the major MP3 sellers got wise and started offering DRM-less tunes, it looked like things were getting better. Why do we have to go through the same BS all over again for the movie industry's benefit?

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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3vi1 replied on Sat, Jan 8 2011 8:28 AM

BTW:  The HDCP master key has been cracked and published.  And, even without it pirates have always been able to rip the content as it leaves the system.

Therefore, Intel can't seriously say for one second that this is to stop pirates. 

What it will do is inconvenience legal users who purchase content that make use of it.  "ERROR!  You can only play this on a device that supports Intel Sandy Bridge TPC/DRM.  Sorry, AMD user!".  Meanwhile, people will learn that the pirated versions work on all devices with no hassles.

Therefore, this technology encourages piracy.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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Joel H replied on Sat, Jan 8 2011 2:28 PM

No it doesn't. The entire point of hardware-level encryption is that the HDCP stream itself can be wrapped in additional layers of interlocking security. Also, you can bet the way is clear for AMD to develop a similar standard. If it wasn't, AMD could sue Intel again, starting *that* whole show over.

To the best of my knowledge, TPM has never been cracked without physical access to the chip.

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3vi1 replied on Sun, Jan 9 2011 12:16 AM

>> No it doesn't.

Yes it does, and you won't dissuade me from that. If people can't do what I want with my legally purchased content - including device shifting (which this tech will prohibit), they're more likely to acquire future content from a source that "just works" the way they want it to work.

I'm sure this is patented, so AMD would have to license it.  And, the desktop is not the world - What about the billion ARM-powered devices?  It will never be ubiquitous.

Liken it to the example where a friend has a hard to get CD, and it's only sold as DRM'd WMAs on the internet, a Mac user is about 1000% more likely to just rip their friends CD than become a legal consumer.

>> The entire point of hardware-level encryption is that the HDCP stream itself can be wrapped in additional layers of interlocking security.

The entire point is to make sure they can sell you the same content a few years down the road when your player's obsolete, now that the data is digital and they can't sell you another type of media. It's artificial obsolescence.

It doesn't matter how many layers of interlocking security you wrap the media in - it's got to come out of the system at some point, where it will be ripped. Even if pirates have to resort to a hi-res camera pointed at a digital screen in a soundproof booth, it will be done. You don't even need hacking skills to get by it.  DRM is absolutely useless against pirates.

>> TPM has never been cracked without physical access to the chip.

...which you and the pirates have, since it's in the end-user device.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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Joel H replied on Mon, Jan 10 2011 12:56 PM

3vi1,

The point of anti-piracy measures is to make piracy more difficult, not to actually eliminate it. Sure, companies *want* to kill it, but I think the message has pretty much gotten around at this point that the best you can do is reduce the amount. We can't really have this convo without first acknowledging a very important fact: People steal. They steal en masse--and they *don't* steal less when a product is pointedly DRM-free. If you want more info on this, Google 'World of Goo piracy.' WoG is an indie game that got rave reviews, sold for less than $20 when new, and contained absolutely no DRM. The piracy rate was north of 90%.

When you're facing a piracy rate that high, a DRM solution that can lower the rate to 85% from 90% has just increased your revenue 50%. The developers of World of Goo decided DRM wasn't worth it--but it's not hard to see why other companies think it is.

The difference between 'good' DRM and bad DRM is that good DRM gives people sufficient leeway to do most of what they want to do. Both iTunes (pre-2009) and Steam are excellent examples of DRM services that became hugely successful precisely because they extended trust (Steam lets people play in offline mode) and offered users the ability to burn music to CD (after which it could be ripped or dealt with as the user saw fit). The point that Apple moved away from DRM isn't relevant to my point--I'm only offering this as an example of a successful business that used DRM.

By contrast, the system Ubisoft used for Assassin's Creed 2 is one of the worst to date. No offline play. Game requires constant server connection even in single-player mode. Heavy server load could randomly kill game sessions, and there was no save function to account for this. Steam, in this case, was the friendly librarian who trusts that you'll bring back your books. Ubisoft turned itself into a jailkeeper and got slammed.

It's easy to hate the RIAA, the MPAA, and their various sister organizations, but piracy is a problem that affects both the small indie developer and the big honking company. The networks know this, and are dragging their feet on things like WebTV partly as a result, though there's a definite advertising revenue concern there as well. If a technology like Intel Insider helps accelerate rich content's move to the Internet, it's a good thing. Music companies signed on with iTunes way back when in part because iTunes *did* offer them at least moderately-protected content distribution. Eventually, iTunes competitors introduced their own services without DRM and marketed that as a competitive edge. Streaming video content could play out the same way.

Also: When I said TRM requires physical access to the device, I don't mean you just futz with it a bit. There's quite a bit of modification involved, IIRC. Sure, it's technically possible, but I don't think you'll ever see many people doing it.

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realneil replied on Mon, Jan 10 2011 1:44 PM

DVD Fab 7 Platinum

Dogs are great judges of character, and if your dog doesn't like somebody being around, you shouldn't trust them.

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3vi1 replied on Mon, Jan 10 2011 2:29 PM

>> Google 'World of Goo piracy.' WoG is an indie game that got rave reviews, sold for less than $20 when new, and contained absolutely no DRM. The piracy rate was north of 90%.

>> When you're facing a piracy rate that high, a DRM solution that can lower the rate to 85% from 90% has just increased your revenue 50%. The developers of World of Goo decided DRM wasn't worth it--but it's not hard to see why other companies think it is.

Read all of what 2DBoy said: They compared the 90% number to another game that *did* ship with DRM, and the piracy rate was *the same*. In fact, the DRM'd game had a 92% piracy rate.

There are even people like me, who would buy the legal version, then use the cracked version (because the DRM is either annoying or doesn't work under Wine on Linux). So not only does DRM just inconvenience legal users, but it sometimes turns them into pirates.

Great game, WoG, though: I bought it as part of the Humble Indie Bundle.  I probably would not have bought it if the bundle was not advertised to be DRM free. 

 I tolerate the Steam DRM, but only begrudgingly and because it works with Wine.  I've even sent their lead programmer suggestions for modifications to Steams DRM to implement a 'lending' system such that you can designate two or three permanent 'family members' and let them play your games (as long as you or another family member is not playing your copy of the game at the same time), such that it would behave more like boxed copies.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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Joel H replied on Tue, Jan 11 2011 1:02 PM

3vi1,

You may tolerate it grudgingly, but you *do* tolerate it. That's a big part of my point. When consumers are presented with good services that don't treat them like thieves, the majority tend to accept DRM. It's possible this new Intel DRM scheme may make broadcasters feel more comfortable with webcasting content--but the presence or absence of Intel Insider *won't* determine whether or not the business model's *built* around webcast content sink or swim. If Fox makes buying access more punishing than acquiring the same content elsewhere, people won't pay.

It's a pretty fine hair to split but I think it's an important one.

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KevinQ replied on Thu, Feb 3 2011 1:24 AM

The issue regarding Intel Sandy Bridge recall has a huge effect not only on the company but as well as on costumers. Intel introduced a recall Monday of its Sandy Bridge processor. A glitch in the platform overlooked in tests was uncovered that is anticipated to eventually degrade Sandy Bridge performance. Intel's recall of Sandy Bridge is anticipated to cost the business about $1 billion and create opportunities for Advanced Micro Devices, one of Intel's chief rivals.

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