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Motorola 6416
So, my Motorola DCT6412 Packed it in over the weekend (note to self: add ventilation to my entertainment console… plasma TVs, Receivers, PVRs, AppleTVs, and XBOX360s can generate lots of heat) and I swapped it with my cable company, Shaw Cable, for a newer DCT6416 (same model, but bigger hard drive — strangely the model does not exist according to Motorola’s web shite).

Now, because I have all this crap.. er.. stuff hooked up to my Panasonic TH37PWD8UK TV I needed to buy a receiver not too long ago that would switch between all of the devices. Enter the SONY STR-DG800 which switches but doesn’t upconvert HDMI and Component inputs. I had set it all up with the old DCT6412 without much difficulty, and utilized the glorious HDMI output from the DCT6412 to the Plasma via the Sony Receiver. Worked great. Right?

So, after the 6412 kicked, I went to SHAW and got a 6416. I should note at this point that the 6412 I had was first-generation, and probably did not include the dreaded HDCP, one of the worst consumer technologies ever invented. HDCP’s sole purpose in life is render the benefits of HDMI (simple cabling, easy connections, maximum quality) completely ineffectual. HDCP has a Handshaking protocol which includes whitelists and blacklists of devices which it should and should not send a signal to. Read the WikiPedia entry to see how it works, and to derive the opinion as I did that, like other DMCA-inspired technologies, it is complete bullshit.

Anyway, now that I’ve adequately foreshadowed, when I hooked up the devices I was greeted by a text display saying:

“The HD Content Protection of your display has been compromised. Please use the YPbPr outlets for your HD content.”

… and then a green screen where I would otherwise have expected to see Rescue Me.

Because I was talking to Shaw Support anyway to activate the new box, my customer support representative and I worked through a number of options for the next hour, including upgrading the firmware, resetting the box from the network and locally, and connecting the 6416 directly to the television using HDMI. None of these worked… all resulted only in a brief TV video signal accompanied by the dreaded GREEN SCREEN. We knew the box was working, because the audio was fine. We new the connection was good, because every time we restarted it I got the TV signal briefly followed by green.

So, we gave up… I disconnected the HDMI cable and tried Component which, of course, worked because it’s analog. I had to unplug another device but I figured it was short-term. I then did what any self-respecting geek would do… I GoOgled.

My search revealed a discussion where it was evident that for a time, Motorola’s implementation of HDCP was incomplete, and made no accommodation for intermediating devices like A/V receivers (including my SONY). To make a long story short, only a firmware upgrade to version 12.35 (released in mid-2006) resolves the problem. I checked my firmware version on the DCT6416 and it’s an older version. No problem, right?

I called Shaw Cable Customer Support, asked whether they could update the firmware on my DCT6416, and got the following response: “The HDMI connection on the DCT6416 is unsupported.” Shaw has forked the Firmware from Motorola by adding a number of customizations, and has fallen a number of months behind updating for key code. The Rep even admitted that he was aware that many customers have had the problem and a number of problems related to HDCP handshaking.

While it’s tempting to blame Shaw for this, the real culprits are Motorola, who failed to exercise proper diligence in testing their implementation, Intel and their subsidiary Digital Content Protection, who obviously have little interest in ensuring the quality of HDCP, and of course US Lawmakers who enacted the DMCA in the first place and subsequently approved HDCP.

So, here’s the upshot: HDCP is so riddled with versioning issues that it’s made it difficult for hardware manufacturers to integrate into their components properly and impossible for cable companies to support their customers who try to use HDMI, resulting in so many usability and connectivity problems that it’s made HDMI completely useless to all but the most basic users who, by the way, probably don’t care about the differences between and benefits of HDMI vs. Component Video.

Congratulations… yet another example of the DMCA screwing up progress in the consumer electronics industry. In the meantime, fix your firmware, Shaw!