How’s that for a clickbait headline, huh?
Sadly, it’s also pretty much true.
Yesterday both Sony and Microsoft held their E3 press conferences. I won’t bore you with the details, but there were big screens, lots of games, and less dubstep than one might expect. But we also finally got a look at the PS4 hardware, and can compare the specs and connections on the two systems.
Know what isn’t on either unit? An analog output. So I get to gloat.
Analog output isn’t really important for playing games. Most people play on HDTV’s via HDMI. Yes, I know an angry vocal minority of you do use HD via Component – but you are in the vast minority, so sit down.
What analog output IS important for is game capture – specifically game capture on systems that are also Blu-Ray players. I won’t get into the details – you can read my previous article – but basically Blu-Ray devices need to protect the HDMI output with DRM.
In this generation, that’s the PS3 – so the only way we’ve been able to capture Ps3 gameplay in HD is through its Component output. The Xbox doesn’t have that issue, since it’s not a Blu-Ray device – but the Xbox One is.
Moral of the story: it looks like the only way to capture gameplay on the Xbox One or PS4 will be through the native capture apps built in to each console.
UPDATE 2013-06-11 22:33
But can’t they just turn HDCP on for movies and off for games?
This has come up a lot, so I figured I’d address it in a more complete way than I can on Twitter. While technically it could be possible, I don’t think it will work that way.
Currently the Xbox 360 and PS3 handle HDCP differently. The PS3 initiates HDCP on boot – Xbox only does so when you fire up protected content, like Netflix. I’m pretty sure (but can’t confirm) that this difference is due to the PS3 being a Blu-Ray device, which means more restrictive rules for compliance. So right there is the first hurdle: if a Blu-Ray device is required to always protect the HDMI output with HDCP, that’s the end of external game capture.
But let’s pretend that isn’t an issue, and that Blu-Ray devices can turn on and off HDCP depending on the content. Even if this capability is available to them, I still don’t think the XBone or PS4 will implement it. The PS4 is simple: PS3 already protects everything. There’s no reason to change that – gamers already expect it, and it’s beneficial to Sony to control the gameplay publishing ecosystem.
XBone is, I believe, also a simple answer: it won’t work as advertised if it dynamically activates HDCP. In the reveal event, Microsoft demoed their Instant Switching: the ability to switch seamlessly between gaming, TV watching, and whatever else you want to do on your XBone. Know what doesn’t work instantly? Enabling HDCP. For Instant Switching to work the way they’re showing in this video, no way in hell are they activating HDCP on the fly.
So those are my thoughts on why, even if dynamic HDCP is possible and legal, we will still see always-on HDCP on both the PS4 and XBone.
UPDATE 2013-06-21 09:50
Hauppauge says capture WILL work
In a Facebook post today, Hauppauge – maker of the HDPVR line of game capture hardware – posted on Facebook that it looks like both the Xbox One and PS4 WILL work with the HD PVR2.
We talked to Sony and Microsoft people at the recent E3 show, as per now it looks like Xbox One and PS4 will both work with HD PVR2. However, as we just saw for Xbox One, specs could change to what we know right now. Neither Xbox One nor PS4 are released today, so we can’t test and confirm yet.
Regardless of the final specs on the Xbox One and PS4, there will always be a way to use these new gaming consoles with our great HD PVR video recorders. For example HDMI to component video convertors are available on the market already today which would work with any model HD PVR or HD PVR 2.
Hauppauge also specifically addresses the PS4 versus the current always-on HDCP of the PS3:
Did you know? The most popular question we received at E3 2013 was “If I buy a new PS4, will I be able to record my gameplay?”. So, we asked a number of Sony employees who stopped by our booth to check out the HD PVR 2 demos we were running. And it looks like that, unofficially, gameplay can be recorded with the HD PVR 2. But it also looks like Netflix and Blu-ray movies will not be
recordable. Of course it is pretty early to know for sure, but it looks like the PS4 will finally follow the Xbox 360 and not encrypt the HDMI output on gameplay but encrypt ‘premium’ content using HDCP.
For those of you who have an original HD PVR and want to use it with a PS4, Hauppauge is looking into HDMI to component video converters which will allow your PS4 games to be recorded with the HD PVR using Component video.
My reaction: skepticism.
Without further details, it’s impossible to know what this means for the thousands of YouTubers currently waiting in limbo. Does this mean that the outputs of Xbox One and Ps4 are both HDCP-free? For the reasons I’ve already stated, I find that really unlikely. I reached out to Hauppauge via Twitter, and got a somewhat cryptic response:
@videograndpa when playing games, it has yet to be confirmed
— Hauppauge Comp Works (@HauppaugeHQ) June 21, 2013
So then we’re back to selective HDCP – which I also find unlikely, but less so than completely open HDMI out. Hypothetically, if Blu-Ray compliance doesn’t require always-on HDCP, and if you can disable features like Instant Switching, then maybe it’s possible. It also seems like Microsoft is explicitly saying this when asked:
— carygolomb (@carygolomb) June 21, 2013
— carygolomb (@carygolomb) June 21, 2013
At this point, it’s a little tough for me to trust that Microsoft is being consistent and correct in its messaging to gamers. But if this is indeed accurate, then that means there’s no HDCP present when games are being output. That’s the current Xbox 360 behavior.
Another thought: could the console makers initiate an HDCP connection that only works with approved devices like the HDPVR? In theory, HDCP is just a key-pair handshake between compliant devices; if the XBone knows exactly which devices are allowed to capture (like the HDPVR), it could selectively accept handshakes from those devices in certain allowed circumstances.
Is that still compliant with the HDCP standard? I have no idea. I don’t make software, and am not an expert on content protection. But I’ve never seen an HDCP-compliant capture device, and am also not sure that level of decision-making complexity is possible within the spec. So if this is what’s happening, it will be very interesting.
And to address Hauppauge’s second mention of HDMI->Component converters: if the HDMI signal is protected by HDCP, it is illegal in America to convert that signal to analog. Period.
What do they say on real journalism sites?