iTunes Store HD Movies Don’t Play on My Monitor: Solutions | iLounge Article


iTunes Store HD Movies Don’t Play on My Monitor: Solutions

Yesterday, Apple announced that the iTunes Store was now selling $20 high-definition movies for viewing on a computer, as well as renting computer-ready versions for $4-$5 in the same way that it has been through the Apple TV. In an impressive, though space-consuming feat, Apple provides users with both a high-definition video for computer and Apple TV use, as well as one that’s lower-resolution and capable of being played on your iPod or iPhone. The test video we downloaded, Punisher: War Zone, came in a 3.09GB, 1280x532 file, as well as a DVD-quality 1.15GB, 853x354 version. Unfortunately, the HD version refused to play back from a current-model MacBook through a high-definition external monitor—even an Apple Cinema Display.

If you’re using a relatively new Mac, specifically one with a Mini DisplayPort connector, and trying to play iTunes Store HD movies through any external monitor other than Apple’s recently-released 24” LED Cinema Display, you’re most likely out of luck. Click on the video and iTunes will give you an error message: “This movie cannot be played because a display that is not authorized to play protected movies is connected. Try disconnecting any displays that are not HDCP authorized.” Try again to play it, and the video playback window will appear, completely black, and no audio will be present. But if you try to play the same video on the screen built into your Mac, or on Apple’s LED Cinema Display, it will work just as expected.


The reasons for this error message are simple: Apple has started to support HDCP, “high-bandwidth digital content protection,” an Intel-developed way to stop high-definition videos from being played on older, less secure receiving devices. Virtually all VGA- and DVI connector-equipped external computer monitors sold in the past are non-compliant, so users of Apple’s latest Mini DisplayPort-based Mac computers will need to either watch the HD videos on the screens built into their computers, buy new, HDCP-compliant monitors, or transfer their files to an iTunes-authorized computer without Mini DisplayPort.


That latter option is available because Apple does not appear to enforce HDCP protection on earlier computers. We tested the same HD video on an older, DVI connector-equipped Mac mini with the same prior-generation Cinema Display, and it played without incident—as soon as we installed iTunes 8.1. iTunes 8.0.2 refused to play the HD movie at all, suggesting that iTunes would not authorize the video for that computer.


Even though Apple includes both HD and SD versions of videos when you make an HD movie purchase, iTunes doesn’t currently handle external monitor playback in an especially bright way. The HDCP error message is basically a dead-end, offering no obvious solution or alternative for users who want to watch the videos they’ve just purchased on their external monitors. Thankfully, there is an option. Right click on the movie, and an option will appear in the list of choices: “Version.” By “Default,” iTunes selects HD. But by selecting “Standard Definition (SD),” iTunes will play that movie on an external monitor—at the standard-definition resolution. It doesn’t make the best use of the monitor’s capabilities, but at least users can watch part of what they’ve purchased.


Also note that HDCP isn’t required for all HD videos. High-definition TV shows purchased through the iTunes Store will generally play back on both a computer and an external monitor without a fuss—a reason that users most likely haven’t come across this error message up until now. And homemade HD videos created by high-definition camcorders also play back without any sort of issue.

In any case, iTunes needs to be fixed to deal more appropriately with HDCP-locked content. Assuming that Apple can’t let users play back all the videos they’ve purchased on all their other monitors, the company should warn users conspicuously before purchase that the HD videos may not be viewable on virtually any external display they may own. It should also transform its current error message box to offer an automatic “watch standard-definition version instead” option. Given that the company has been pitching the “MacBook Plus External Monitor” solution for some time now, and also offers desktop machines that will suffer the same blacked out video phenomenon with many external monitors, these simple if not entirely satisfying options will at least save users the hassle of trying to figure out how to watch the videos they’ve just purchased on the monitors they own.

« Weird + Small Apps: BMW Z4, Colorific, Defuser, Fozy, iDrinkSmart, Remote, Watchmen + More

iPhone Gems: Metal Gear Solid, 1 vs. 100, Millionaire, Oregon Trail, Space Bikers + Topple 2 »

Related Stories



HDCP is not compatible with VGA or other analog connection. It is only available on digital interconnection (DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort).

You can play HDCP protected content on HDCP source connected to a HDCP display using a supported connection.

You’ll have to blame the content producer for imposing HDCP protection and Apple for not disclosing that HDCP content requires a complete HDCP chain and citing the only Apple products supporting this protection scheme (with a check box to not display this warning again).

Posted by AWx on March 20, 2009 at 12:25 PM (CDT)


So let me get this straight: if I have a first generation Macbook Pro (presumably lacking DisplayPort) connected via VGA to my Panasonic Projector, will a rented HD movie play?
- Rob

Posted by Rob on March 20, 2009 at 12:41 PM (CDT)


Correction: my first generation MacbookPro is connected via DVI to my Panasonic Projector. At any rate, will a rented ITunes HD movie play?
- Rob

Posted by Rob on March 20, 2009 at 12:46 PM (CDT)


The short answer is yes. See the article above, specifically the part where it says: “Apple does not appear to enforce HDCP protection on earlier computers.”

Basically, HDCP seems to only be enforced on mini-display port connections, which only came into existence last fall with the new MacBook lineup.  Older models use either DVI, mini-DVI or micro-DVI connections; none of which seem to enforce HDCP copy protection.  I’ve tested this on an MBP with both DVI 23” Cinema Display and a standard VGA connection.

This basically affects all of the current MacBook models (standard, Pro and Air). 

The new iMac is technically affected by this as well, although I seriously doubt that this would be an issue for most users, since you’d have to be using a secondary display connected via the DisplayPort as your primary monitor and not using the built-in iMac screen at all, which is a pretty odd configuration for an iMac. Note that the movie will play fine on the iMac screen, even with an external display connected, but it will fail if you try to send the movie to the external display in any manner, including using “mirroring” mode or dragging the iTunes movie playback window over to the other monitor.

The Mac Mini is a bit of a mystery at this point, since it includes both a mini DisplayPort and a mini-DVI connection.  HD movie playback might be available through the mini-DVI connection (which is what is used to drive DVI and VGA displays on the mini), but we haven’t yet been able to test this.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on March 20, 2009 at 1:10 PM (CDT)


DRM is a bag of hurt!

Posted by Galley in Greenville, SC on March 20, 2009 at 1:14 PM (CDT)


Yet another reason that I am glad that I got a last-gen MBP before they stopped making them! Matte 15” HDCP-less delight.

Posted by jiji on March 20, 2009 at 2:19 PM (CDT)


Too bad on the studio side.
It only means that ppl will continue to get the HD version of P2P networks - since there are no such problem there..

Posted by LinkTree on March 21, 2009 at 2:33 AM (CDT)


Does this problem not exist on any Windows configuration? Is it just that there’s too many variables for Windows machine configs to do something this stupid? And, if so, what on Earth made Apple agree to enforce this ridiculous form of DRM on just their own hardware, and, better yet, only their currently selling hardware?

Talk about a way to guarantee I’ll never pay for such a product, not only do I have give a username and password just to play the movie back at all, eventually, I’ll be required to only view it on officially approved hardware. As the RIAA s-l-o-w-l-y starts to come around to some sort of sanity, the MPAA is losing it faster than ever (i.e. developing audio watermarking technology to pinpoint theater and approximate theater seat that cam screeners originate from).

Posted by Code Monkey in Midstate New York on March 21, 2009 at 1:10 PM (CDT)


I don’t think that I will be renting or buying any supposed “HD” movies from iTunes (unless I’m desperate to rent something) until they are actually “HD”; i.e. at least 720 vertical.  Since when is 1280x532 considered “HD”?  As it is, 532 is less than 1/2 true 1080(p or i) that Blue Ray outputs.  The difference must be obvious when viewing the same content side by side.

Posted by Konki Kooker on March 21, 2009 at 1:49 PM (CDT)


To be fair, everything in HD is 720p, but what you actually get it’s largely dependent on the aspect ratio of the original movie…  Since many current theatrical releases are shot in a “Cinemascope” 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 aspect ratio, this means that these are hard letterboxed even in an HD presentation.

For instance, the same movies on a Blu-Ray 1080p disc are only going to be 1920x800, so you’re not getting “full 1080p HD” in that case either…  The black bars you see at the top and bottom of the frame are actually part of the presentation, since just about every widescreen television available is 16:9, and even if you had one of those rare 1080p 2.35:1 projectors, you’re still only projecting a 1920x800 image, since that’s all that’s on the disc to begin with.

In other words, if you’re using a 720p television set, you’re not losing anything in resolution unless you actually prefer to “zoom-in” on your TV and crop the left and right sides of the images off in order to remove the letterboxing.  There is some distinction on a 1080 television screen, but in our testing it’s not significant.

Note that if you purchase/rent a 16:9 movie from iTunes, you will be getting a full 1280x720 presentation (and the same 16:9 movie on Blu-ray would be full 1920x1080).

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on March 21, 2009 at 2:33 PM (CDT)


As Jesse David Hollington pointed out, despite the number in the term, 720p content may actually vary in vertical resolution due to the aspect ratio of the source content.  Apple could pad the top and bottom with black bars to fill 1280x720, but why bother? It would just bloat the file size with unnecessary visual data, increase download times and bandwidth expenses, and cover more of people’s displays when watching movies in windowed mode.  As long as nothing is being cropped off, you need not be alarmed.

Posted by Brian Sexton on March 22, 2009 at 2:52 AM (CDT)


Let me add to this: I have a DisplayLink adapter (basically a USB-attached VGA adapter) which requires special drivers. The HD content doesn’t play on my unibody MacBook Pro at all, even on the internal display. I’m assuming that it’s detecting the DisplayLink drivers (and DisplayLink is definitely not HDCP certified) and refusing to display the video. I don’t get a warning message, however—it “plays” the movie, but it’s completely black.

As others have said, HDCP is a bag of hurt.

Posted by Christian on March 23, 2009 at 8:11 AM (CDT)


OK guys, bad news for you… I have a first Gen Mac Pro hooked to a HDCP certified display (Samsung Syncmaster T240), connected via DVI (which, according to the docs on the monitor, supports HDCP), and I get the same error message.  Here is the kicker…. I get the error message on TV shows that I was watching last month on iTunes 8.0.2 just fine.  Now I am locked out.  How is that for progress?

Anyone else see this issue?  I have submitted a formal bug report on it, but I would like to see if anyone else has had this problem.  It may be a Mac Pro (tower) issue.

Posted by Joshua Murphy on March 23, 2009 at 10:39 AM (CDT)


The online vendors should provide a free downloadable DRM’d test videos that attempt to play on your existing hardware. If it plays, you are good, rent/buy with total abandon. If it doesn’t, you didn’t find out the hard way and aren’t out 20 bucks, and you can go buy new gear that’ll make DRM’d playback happen for you.

Posted by MIchael Brian Bentley on March 23, 2009 at 6:59 PM (CDT)


Actually, I’d argue that Apple should go one step further and implement this kind of test directly within iTunes itself.

iTunes can obviously tell if you’re running HDCP compliant hardware, since it’s iTunes that gives you the error message in the first place.  There’s absolutely no reason that Apple should not implement some type of test in iTunes itself to identify whether you have HDCP compliant hardware or not.

This could be a status available to the user in the iTunes playback preferences combined with a warning when attempting to purchase HD content that your computer might not be properly equipped to play back said content.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on March 23, 2009 at 9:39 PM (CDT)


I am connected from a Mac Pro to a Apple 27 inch cinema display using DVI.  And it still complains.  This royally sucks.  This is utter and complete nonsense.  Apple will not dictate hardware terms to me especially when I am using its own hardware.  AFAIK Congress did not ok device restrictions at the display side of this kind.

Posted by foobar on March 28, 2009 at 6:07 AM (CDT)


“The Mac Mini is a bit of a mystery at this point, since it includes both a mini DisplayPort and a mini-DVI connection.  HD movie playback might be available through the mini-DVI connection (which is what is used to drive DVI and VGA displays on the mini), but we haven’t yet been able to test this.”

Have you been able to test this now?

Posted by Nunuv Yurbiz on March 30, 2009 at 5:11 PM (CDT)


I am running a MacPro 2x2.66 dual core tower (circa 2006) with the original plastic bezel 23” Cinema display (circa 2003)...and still get the same message and problem with a TV show download.

itunes help folks referred to this page for a solution….ha! ha!

Posted by caddisfly on April 1, 2009 at 9:53 AM (CDT)


Solution is to stop buying from itunes until they fix the problem.  I’m not interested in guessing whether I will be able to play the movie I buy from them.  The whole AppleTV and itunes experience has been disappointing. Sad.

Posted by rlavin on April 14, 2009 at 5:30 PM (CDT)


The Mac Mini is a bit of a mystery at this point, since it includes both a mini DisplayPort and a mini-DVI connection.  HD movie playback might be available through the mini-DVI connection (which is what is used to drive DVI and VGA displays on the mini), but we haven’t yet been able to test this.

New (late 2009) Mac Mini with a mini-DVI -> VGA adapter fails to display HD content, too.  Just FYI, my old Dell PC laptop displays HD content via the VGA port just fine.

So glad I switched.

Posted by ibc on December 10, 2009 at 11:50 AM (CST)


More bad news:

I’m running the exact configuration the article says works with HD content:  A new macbook pro purchased in August, and the new 24” LED Cinema Display - and I’m unable to watch my HD copies of the most recent “How I Met Your Mother” season that I purchased from iTunes

Posted by chs33 on December 10, 2009 at 8:05 PM (CST)


But I have a problem it is that it says it can’t be played on this iPod and I bough HD movies from iTunes store I don’t got apple laptop

Pllleeaassee help!

Posted by Amar on December 11, 2009 at 12:58 PM (CST)


If I get a mini display to HDMI cable for my new MacBook Pro and plug it into my new HD TV will I be able to get around this?

Posted by Jud on January 30, 2010 at 2:06 PM (CST)


This is crazy. I just sent Apple an email so we’ll see what happens. My story is similar, a rental movie that won’t play from my Macbook Pro.
I’m furious.
The score looks like this:
HDTV - $2000
Apple hardware in the last year - $4000+
Rental movie - $5.00
Having company crowd around to watch a movie on your Macbook Pro laptop? - Stupid

Posted by Eric on January 30, 2010 at 4:48 PM (CST)


I have a Macbook. I have a VGA, DVI and recently purchased HDMI (Logiix - Mini Display port to HDMI adapter). I have tried all three with my monitor. I-tune purchased materials (all -Video, Movies, TV shows) will not play on the external monitor. All shows are standard res. as well. The monitor will play HDCP protected DVD’s via a HD-DVD (Test) player in HD 1080p. Therefore the monitor has the HDCP compatibility. It is simply (I assume)a handshake issue of the Mac to Monitor.
It is absurd for Apple to not allow the HDCP signal to pass to an external displays (with HDMI HDCP compatibility).

Posted by HARV SCHNEIDER on February 8, 2010 at 3:34 PM (CST)


I’ve recently updated my macbook pro (including the itunes update) and now neither the HD or SD will play on the laptop monitor at all! I’ve watched HD and SD on it before and since the update nothing will play. I’ve made sure the macbook is authorized and tried about 10 other work arounds and still I get the gray screen. Any suggestions?

Posted by Stanton Pickens on April 15, 2010 at 1:43 AM (CDT)


Why do people buy products Apple when they continue to lock down there devices and frustrate the consumer. Currently experiencing the same problem with my very expensive iPad using the Apple iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter.

Posted by Jim Zaino on May 27, 2010 at 10:48 AM (CDT)


When connect to an external analog monitor, use the overscan setting to get rid of the black bars on the sides. You can find this in the system preferences/ display pane when connected to an external analog display.  Worked for me.

Posted by Strawbot on June 1, 2010 at 12:38 PM (CDT)


Commerce, and technology, are scams.

Posted by Sal on July 24, 2010 at 4:44 PM (CDT)


What kills me is that I go out of my way to pay for an HD movie on itunes that I CANNOT watch in HD… When I could have found and downloaded the HD movie for free elsewhere. Probably faster.
Stop punishing the people who have actually paid for your content.

Posted by shawn on August 9, 2010 at 1:30 AM (CDT)


I just downloaded free tv episodes that won’t play on the ipod or the tower. at least they were free. this really is B.S.
Why do they even care what monitor we have? geeeze.

Posted by phil on September 9, 2010 at 10:10 AM (CDT)


The simple answer is because the movie and TV studios are so extremely over-the-top paranoid about people copying their stuff that they force Apple and other content distributors and manufacturers to add all of these extra restrictions.  If your monitor isn’t capable of proving that it’s only a monitor or TV then it’s assumed that it’s something insidious like a DVD recorder and you’re therefore capable of pirating the TV show you’re downloading.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on September 9, 2010 at 10:58 AM (CDT)


You actually can play the movie that you bought from itunes however it wont play in HD. The key is to go into your itunes folder>itunes media>movies, then select the folder for the movie you wish to watch and play the standard definition m4v file with quicktime. Not the hi definition picture you may have wanted but atleast you can watch it on your TV

Posted by Sam on September 19, 2010 at 2:10 PM (CDT)


You actually don’t even need to go that far.  Simply right-click on the movie or TV show in iTunes and choose Version from the context menu that appears. You can then select Standard Definition and iTunes will play that instead of the HD version.

You can also set ALL of your movies and TV shows to use the Standard Definition versions by default by selecting the appropriate option on the Playback tab in your iTunes Preferences.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on September 20, 2010 at 11:26 AM (CDT)


Well it was bound to happen sooner or later, Apple seems to be returning to the take it or leave it attitude I remember from back in the 80’s and early 90’s that nearly destroyed their company. They took their customers for granted, so their customers went to other manufacturers.

I doubt they will be able to count of the design/illustration industries to keep them a float this time, since apple threw that customer base to the road side soon as the company regained traction in 2000.

Posted by Yolkum on November 24, 2010 at 9:45 AM (CST)


Bye bye iTunes. Hello piracy. It sucks that someone totally willing and able to pay for content is encouraged to turn to illegal content because legal content is unusable.
I would call that a fail on the industry side.
People are going to steal your stuff, that’s life. You can’t stop them, not really. But if you make buying it legally a bad choice (like you can’t enjoy the experience of consuming your product) people will not feel so bad about stealing your stuff because “if I’m going to be punished anyway…”

Posted by Em on November 26, 2010 at 4:32 PM (CST)


... I can’t vouch for Apple when they do stuff like this… I can’t watch old episodes of the Boondocks that I purchased because of this crap… what if I can’t afford to buy a freaking HD TV? itunes gonna give me my money back? cuz I’m not spending hundreds of dollars to see something I legally purchased for a couple bucks!

Posted by Angry Apple Fan on December 31, 2010 at 4:10 PM (CST)


As others have pointed out, this is NOT Apple’s idea.  They have two simple choices:
  * do not sell any of the most popular movies and TV shows
  * sell DRM’ed versions of them which require a full HDCP chain to display

If you were a business, would you choose to not serve the portion of your customer base who has an HDCP chain?  Or would you choose to play ball with the studios and do it the way they insist upon?

I’d do just what Apple is doing, myself…  if they gain enough market share they can put pressure on the studios to relax these restrictions.  It worked with the music industry - iTunes used to sell only DRM’ed music but now has everything available in iTunes Plus with no DRM.

Hopefully, they will help the studios see the light as well.

Posted by Ben on January 2, 2011 at 2:42 AM (CST)


+1 “bye bye itunes, hello piracy”

Posted by Dannys on October 9, 2011 at 11:14 PM (CDT)


And this is why I pirate my movies and will continue to do so without guilt or reservation.

Posted by Michaelb on March 31, 2012 at 12:06 AM (CDT)


Should I pay an additional $99.00 for Apple TV so I can watch an iTunes TV, which cost ~$30.00, using a computer HDVI monitor connected to my MACBook Pro? DA

Posted by Tommy Carl Taylor on September 22, 2012 at 6:19 PM (CDT)


Apple TV at acost of an additional $99.00

Just an idea, Apple TV at acost of an additional $99.00 will allow you to view/hear all iTunes purchased content is this good or is Apple forcing users to pay more for content protection. Apple stock sell for ~$700.00 a share, it seems that Apple could better protected iTunes media content with-out the Apple TV.

Posted by Tommy Carl Taylor on September 22, 2012 at 6:19 PM (CDT)


I purchased a movie for my kids on iTunes called “The Smurfs” - it is the first time I’ve purchased a movie on iTunes. It was downloaded to our iPad on holiday. When I tried to play it for my kids on the HD TV with an HDMI output it would not play giving an error message something about HDCP copy protection. When we got back home the same thing happened. As they are little kids we do not allow them to use the iPad so we are not willing to show them the movie on the iPad. This is incredibly frustrating and of course my kids were very disappointed on holiday. I have Googled this problem and see it is another outrageous attempt at Apple trying to sneakily limit and solicit money from consumers in an underhanded way. I went back to iTunes to check and two things became clear:

1. On iTunes, HD download is set as the default in a tiny little button - it does not even look like a button but rather it looks like that is just telling you what the movie format is in. It certainly does not look like the other buttons such as “Details, Ratings and Reviews, Related” which are round and have a little arrow pointing to them - and they are a different colour grey.

2. There is NO mention of this HDCP thing anywhere on the page. There is no warning that this movie can only be played on certain formats or is limited to the device you are downloading it to.

I would like a refund please.

It is the last time I buy anything from the iTunes store! And I am certainly going to blog and Facebook about this. It is outrageous considering how expensive the movie download was - its far cheaper to buy the DVD on the internet! Selfish Apple strikes again…

Posted by WFree on November 3, 2012 at 3:48 AM (CDT)


Speaking as a dork technophone. 

Having just invested about $20 in downloading “The Bourne Legacy” on my iPad3 - and then being told when I connect it to my TV to play back that - it isn’t (f******g) compatible - or some such bull**** - you can perhaps guess just how may more films I am likely to buy on iTunes!

Posted by CeeBee49 on December 24, 2012 at 2:11 PM (CST)


I’ve encountered this exact same problem.  It irks me to no end.  In my office I have an old 23 inch apple studio display (very expensive from 2003) which still looks beautiful.  It’s connected to my spare MBP13, and I use it to watch tv and movies.  However none of my HD content purchased from Apple will play on the external monitor.

Being an apple user for more than 20 years, I decided to research Apple’s competitor (Google).

Please don’t call me a fanboy, but Google has the same exact restrictions in it’s “Google Play” store (for Android).

It looks like I’m unable to post links here, so Google this phrase (without the quotes) and look at the first result (on support-dot-google-dot-com/googleplay…)

“google play store movies hdmi out android”

To watch movies or TV shows from Google Play on your HDTV, you’ll need:

an HDTV that supports High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP)—check your tv manufacturer’s website to see if your HDTV is HDCP compliant
a Micro-HDMI to HDMI cable or an MHL adapter and HDMI cable, depending on your device

i.e., this means you can connect an android device to an HDCP device, via HDMI only (not an analog adapter).

Posted by Jackson on March 25, 2013 at 6:22 PM (CDT)

If you have a comment, news tip, advertising inquiry, or coverage request, a question about iPods/iPhones/iPad or accessories, or if you sell or market iPod/iPhone/iPad products or services, read iLounge's Comments + Questions policies before posting, and fully identify yourself if you do. We will delete comments containing advertising, astroturfing, trolling, personal attacks, offensive language, or other objectionable content, then ban and/or publicly identify violators.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.
Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter


Recent News

Recent Reviews

Recent Articles

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter


iLounge is an independent resource for all things iPod, iPhone, iPad, and beyond.
iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple TV, Mac, and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc.
iLounge is © 2001 - 2014 iLounge, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy