New MacPro & DRM - Gotcha!

I am loving my new MacPro. Having traded and upgraded through a series of Macs, this is without a doubt my best Mac yet. So tell me, why do DRM & HDCP have to ruined my day?

* details of setup below


Let me step back a minute. Did I mention that when I upgraded from my old Nahalem 2009 MacPro to my new late 2013 MacPro I also got a Thunderbolt Display? I was hoping for an inexpensive (yeah right) Apple 4K monitor but the 27" Thunderbolt display is beautiful and quite a step up from my old Apple 23" Cinema Display. Because it was in stock, the monitor arrived many weeks before my Mac. Since it was just sitting there I opened it up and tested it out using my wife's MacBook Air and daughter's MacBook Pro. Both laptops worked perfectly and we had a great time watching HD movies on my gorgeous new screen. 

The Problem 

When my new Mac finally arrived I immediately set everything up and started to test things out. My new Mac was fast. I mean Usan Bolt fast! A few hours later I figured it was time to relax so I popped in a DVD using my new external LG Blu-ray player and sat down to watch. When I fired up DVD Player this is the screen I was greeted with:

What The France!!!  Being the trouble shooting type I tried various other DVDs all with the same result. I immediately suspected Digital Rights Management (DRM) was the cause so I opened iTunes and tried to play a purchased movie:

I couldn't believe it! I knew that HD content wouldn't play through my old Mac's AVI connection but at least it would play DVDs. When I bought my new set up I "assumed" that the digital nature of the Thunderbolt connection would allow full 1080p glory on my new display. To say the least, I was pissed. 


After poking around on the web and doing a little research here's what I found out. The presence of a graphics card with HDCP support installed on the Mac Pro is detected by iTunes and prevents HD content from being displayed unless your monitor has HDCP support.  The Thunderbolt Display does not have HDCP support. 

What is HDCP you ask? HDCP stands for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection, a copy protection scheme to eliminate the possibility of intercepting digital data midstream between the source and the display. It's basically a format designed by Intel to curry favor with Hollywood. Here's an explanation from one of the websites I found:

"A simple answer is that an HDCP session will result in the exchange of keys between the source and display device.  The source device will query the display to make sure that the equipment is HDCP compliant before video is shown.  Non-HDCP devices such as PC's and older model DVI products will work with any DVI compliant display, but the HDCP compliant boxes will show an image only on HDCP compliant display."

That means if your clunky old MacPro has a non-HDCP graphics card it will work with your non-HDCP display. But your brand new MacPro that does support HDCP won't work on your brand new non-HDCP monitor. HD content cannot be played on any non-HCDP compatible device. Period. You can download and play the SD version of iTunes purchases for free but where's the fun in that?

While HDCP appears to only provide point-to-point encryption between the graphics card and the monitor, it seems that the presence of a graphics card with HDCP support disables at least some of the software video decoding logic in iTunes.  It's assumed that the monitor has the necessary hardware logic to perform the video decoding.

I'm no expert but after poking around a little bit I found references to software hooks that enable DRM & HDCP as well as the hardware chip in the graphics card and monitor. So Apple is also complicit and wrote in some DRM switch in Mavericks, DVD Player & iTunes that made playing HD purchases as well as DVDs impossible unless you have a HDCP monitor. The good news here is that all internal display devices that Apple makes (iMac & laptops) support HDCP and will play everything. 

The Solution

That last bit about software hooks got me thinking: Are there other non-Apple applications that bypass DRM & HDCP?  Why yes there are!

To play DVDs I found two free applications. The first is Wondershare Player. It's a fine application and works with a lot of video file formats. I did have mixed results with DVDs so I kept looking and found DVDFab Media Player. Which I have set as my default DVD player. 

When you open DVDFab you get the a splash screen that asks you to open a file or your mounted DVD.

Once you select your DVD it opens up and plays just like you would expect. The only thing to get use to are the controls. To control your DVD you just need to hover the mouse at the edges of the movie. If you hover the mouse on the bottom you get the standard play menu.

 If you hover to the right you get the DVD Menu control

Hover at the top you get screen controls, chapter selection, sound & a camera icon to take screen shots. 

Blu-ray & DVD player

The best news of all was that DVDFab Player also plays Blu-ray disks! AWESOME! I did have a copy of Mac Blu-ray Player that I received in one of the many Mac bundle deals that were held during the holidays, and it also worked well for both DVD & Blu-ray disks. For me though, you can't beat free. I need to test things out for a few weeks but for now DVDFab will be my default player.

Lessons Learned

The internet has been around for a while and wether we know it or not we have all accepted DRM. When you use Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any internet movie streaming service you are using DRM. It requires hardware as well as software support and you need an Internet connection to make it all work. 

The challenge for me comes when you have purchased a new computer or TV, then hook it up with your brand new Blu-ray or DVD player and insert your very own purchased copy of your favorite movie then can't watch it. It's just wrong.

Thankfully there are work-arounds for watching Blu-ray & DVD shows. Too bad there is no easy answer for purchased iTunes content. To watch those movies and shows you either need to download the Standard Definition version or learn how to crack Apples DRM. Either way it's a pain. 

So what is the lesson here?  When you purchase your next DVD/Blu-ray player, Computer, Computer monitor, TV set, or other media device make sure you make sure it's HDCP compliant. Right now Hollywood is making all the rules so if you want to watch your shows you need to play the game. 

* My Setup

  • Late 2013 MacPro
    • 3.5 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5
    • 16GB 1866MHz DDR EEC RAM
    • 512GB PCIe Flash Storage
    • Dual FirePro D500 Graphics Cards
    • Apple USB Keyboard
    • Logitech Anywhere MX Mouse
    • Apple Trackpad
  • 27" Thunderbolt Display
  • LG Blu-ray Player 14X USB 3.0
  • CalDigit T3 Thunderbolt RAID enclosure
  • CyberPower UPS System - 1350W
  • Apple 2GB iPod Nano
  • Apple iPod Touch 4th Gen
  • Apple iPod Nano with watch band
  • Apple iPhone 5
  • Apple iPad 3rd Gen
  • Apple iPad 2nd Gen

PS - That large opening in the lower cupboard area is where my old MacPro fit. Amazing that Apple was able to fit all that power into their new MacPro. I now use it for my external RAID enclosure and UPS system. 


It was brought to my attention (thanks Mike!) that I missed the fine print when I downloaded DVDFab player. Sure enough, after digging through the preferences I found this screen.

Bummer!  Not that it isn't a great product, it is! But I like to try out free apps and see if I really need the extra features of a paid application. That's when I realized that VLC, the do everything open source, video application does play DVDs. You can read about all its features here

VLC decrypts DVDs through the libvdss library and it must be loaded in order to play DVDs. If you can't play a DVD you might need to install it. You can download it at this site:


This form thread may be helpful for installation


To play a DVD just open up VLC and at the initial screen just drag the DVD icon from your desktop to the player screen. It might take a while but when it's loaded it will automatically start to play.

When I finally settle in on the DVD player I like the best I will let you know.