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Why Doesn’t Sony Remove HDCP For Playstation 3 Gameplay? October 20, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.

I know I waited a bit longer that I should have to start doing direct gameplay capturing on this site, but that was because I was waiting for capture devices to come to the market that could capture 1080p gameplay through HDMI and that has only been possible in the past year.  Earlier in the summer, I picked up an AverMedia Live Gamer Portable capture device for the site and I love the thing.  It can capture HD video game streams to either a PC or Class 10 SDHC memory device through either an analog or digital connection.  It works well on my Xbox 360 and Wii U, as all I need to do is plug a HDMI cable directly into it from my console, and I can capture all the game footage I want in crystal clear 1080p at thirty frames.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my Playstation 3, and it’s because of a decision that Sony made at the beginning of the PS3’s development and sadly still has not rectified.

My one issue with my capture device is it cannot capture PS3 footage through HDMI.  In fact, no game capture device currently on the market can capture PS3 footage through HDMI.  That is because the Playstation 3 uses HDCP encryption on all content coming out of its HDMI connection.  Because of that encryption, no footage at all can legally be captured through HDMI on the Playstation 3, forcing me to capture gameplay footage through a lower quality analog connection.  And yes, an analog feed, even if it is in HD, is lower quality than a digital one.  Just take a look at my comparison video to see for yourself.

AverMedia pleads innocent to this and has made it clear that this issue is completely Sony’s doing.  I don’t blame them, they are simply complying with the law.  It is highly likely that Sony chose to completely encrypt all of the PS3’s HDMI content to prevent PS3 owners from copying High-Definition video streams from Netflix or Blu-Ray movies, but if you ask me Sony took it a step further by HDCP encrypting PS3 gameplay as well.  The downside of Sony’s decision to encrypt gameplay with HDCP is that any review sites who do side by side comparison videos taken between multiplatform games will not have the best possible video source on the Playstation 3 as they would on Xbox 360 or Wii U, throwing off the reliability of comparison videos.  Granted, most video game review sites have captured all of their HD content through analog connections up to this point, so this hasn’t been much of an issue until recently.  Because an analog signal doesn’t have as high a picture quality as a digital one, gamers will see artifacting from the capture device that they wouldn’t normally see if they had used a digital connection even if both consoles were captured at the exact same resolution.

I have talked about my issues with HDCP in my HDCP History article, but I understand the need to have it active while watching a Blu-Ray Disc or Netflix.  I don’t understand why Sony enables HDCP during gameplay.  The Xbox 360 and Wii U do not HDCP encrypt their HDMI game streams.  On top of that, if HDCP is such an essential feature of the Playstation 3, why aren’t the Playstation 4 or Xbox One going to encrypt their gameplay footage?  In fact, the PS4 and Xbox One will ship with built-in live game streaming and game DVR features right out of the box, all of which can be made more useful for users that have separate capture devices.

I think the plan was that the PS4 would encrypt their HDMI stream and force players to use only the PS4’s supplied features to stream or record gameplay.  Sony bowed down from that decision after a lot of media pressure, and the fact that the Xbox One would not be doing it.  We don’t know yet if HDCP encryption will be removed from the PS4 at launch, or will be removed with a Day One firmware update, but Sony has confirmed that it will be removed.  The press was very happy about this development and gave Sony props for changing their minds.  My question is if it was so unpopular on consoles that aren’t even out yet, and it can be removed with a patch or system update, why doesn’t Sony go one step further and do the same thing on the PS3?

We live in a time when everyone wants to be able to have the opportunity to record their gameplay sessions and share it with others.  There are tons of popular Let’s Plays across the internet, and more are being uploaded every day.  The Playstation 4 and Xbox One will ship with internal DVRs so gameplay can be recorded and streamed without the need of a separate capture device, but an external capture device offers a lot more flexibility on game captures, particularly for longer gaming sessions.  There is no reason to encrypt PS3 gameplay, Sony, and tons of reasons why you shouldn’t.  You’re not going to have it on the Playstation 4, remove it from the Playstation 3.  All you’re doing is forcing players to use a lower quality connection to capture footage from your games, making them look in a lower quality than they otherwise would have.

UPDATE:  Since writing this article, the PS4 has been released and Sony has not removed the HDCP encryption from the console’s HDMI game stream, even though they had promised they would before launching the console.  While Sony has not changed their intent to remove this stupid hindrance to recording gameplay, as of the time of this writing the PS4 is still HDCP locked, and it was not removed with the PS4’s Day One 1.5 firmware update.  Meanwhile the Wii U and Xbox One are also out and have no HDCP encryption on their HDMI outputs, permitting their users to record their gameplay digitally to their heart’s content.

I really am struggling to understand Sony’s decision to launch the PS4 with HDCP encryption and not remove it with the Day One firmware update when all of their direct competitors have no such hindrance in place since the day their products hit shelves.