Thursday, January 27, 2022
MacNewsOpinions

You can’t watch copyright protected video on a Mac with an iPad connected via SideCar

I’m sure some Apple World Today readers figured this out a long time ago, but I just noticed an issue with using my iPad Pro with SideCar and my 16-inch MacBook Pro. You can’t watch full screen copyrighted video under such a set-up. Evidently, it’s an issue that’s been around for a couple of years. 

SideCar is the feature that allows you to use your iPad as a display that extends or mirrors your Mac desktop. And most of the time, it works fine.

However, I found that if I’m watching movies or shows from Apple TV+, Netflix, etc., on my MacBook Pro with a “Sidecar-d” iPad Pro that the videos won’t display the picture. Audio still plays, but the video screen is totally black. As soon as I turn off Sidecar, it works fine.

According to a thread on Apple support forums, this is a copy protection bug. Apparently, you can’t watch any protected content on a streaming service or through Safari. 

The problem also exists when using Airplay, though I have no issues with streaming on an external monitor with my MacBook Pro. The best explanation I’ve found online is this (also from an Apple Support forum): Netflix uses Digital Rights Management (DRM) to protect content. In a web browser, this is done using EME (Encrypted Media Extensions), and uses DRM products such as Google’s “Widevine” (found in Chrome, Firefox, Brave, etc.), and other technologies. 

When connecting an external display or other device, these DRM technologies require those devices to support something called High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP), which is an anti-piracy mechanism. It ensures the external device is “safe” and is not a recording device being used to duplicate the video feed. Many modern external monitors, TVs, projectors, etc. establish HDCP through an HDMI cable connection, and everything “just works.”

I believe Apple’s Sidecar feature works differently. Instead of sending a typical display feed to the iPad, it is sending an HEVC/H.265 video feed using technology similar to FaceTime video streaming. This is a non-standard/proprietary implementation for attaching a secondary display. It likely does not support HDCP and thus would be seen as an unauthorized display and probably why Netflix video playback stops working. I suspect the same issue arises with most other popular video services.

If accurate, it’s unclear why Apple implemented Sidecar this way – maybe technical limitations with iPad hardware, USB-C/Wi-Fi, HDCP licensing fees, time constraints, or something else. I hope there’s a path to a proper solution. Watching streaming video using Sidecar is definitely a big use case for me.

If you have more up-to-date info, feel free to post in our comments section.

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.

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