I’ve been wanting to post this entry for a while, but I didn’t have the opportunity to compel an extra pair of hands to assist with some necessary, salient portions of it until tonight.

For those who were hoping Mountain Lion’s AirPlay would be a revolutionary step in the “your content, wherever you want it” battle, I fear you may be in for a bit of a disappointment. Quite by accident, I stumbled upon some eerie signs that location-aware video DRM will be alive and well as an integrated part of Apple’s forthcoming release of Mountain Lion.

Since I have a shiny, new 1080p Apple TV and a device capable of running Mountain Lion, I’ve been experimenting with the awesomeness that is AirPlay. Despite claims to the contrary, most of the time routing MacBook Pro Desktop video & system audio to the tiny black box of happiness works flawlessly (even more so since the recent Apple TV update). It’s been a treat to be able to play owned-backup copies of my favorite samurai videos (I should buy stock in Criterion) with subtitles via VLC.

However, on a lark I tried to play one of my Avengers : Earth’s Mightiest Heroes episodes (we subscribe via iTunes) using QuickTime Player and, much to my chagrin, discovered that there lies within the heart of the tame Mountain Lion, a DRM beast.

The easiest way to show this is with what happens when I try to take a fullscreen snapshot with Skitch as I’m playing the DRM-laden episode:

I managed to get #3 to help me record a video (albeit crappy) of what happens when I try to route the Desktop video to the living room TV via AirPlay: (youtube link)

In case it’s not obvious, the video plays fine on the Desktop (in QuickTime) prior to the AirPlay route, but goes equally as blank when the AirPlay device is chosen, yet reverts to playing when AirPlay is disabled.

This means the API hooks are there to prevent DRM-laden content from being used with AirPlay (or snapped via screen capture) and that, in turn, means your hopes of AirPlaying Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Video content may be dashed despite all of those services working now (in the betas).

Video is the last content area to understand the need to be open. Amazon & Apple sell untainted music and even Tor is going DRM free (joining #spiffy folks like O’Reilly Media).

I own that episode of The Avengers yet am not able to do with it as I please. Yes, I could have streamed it over the Internet from iCloud to the Apple TV or even routed it via the local iTunes to the Apple TV, but I wanted to use QuickTime (though, just for a test). What’s to stop Apple or other companies from requiring a special streaming license if you want the ability to use AirPlay or just disabling it altogether in favor of forcing you to use something as horrific as Google TV (full disclosure, I own a Logitech Google TV box, too)?

Combine these restrictions with the inevitable “you will only be able to use Apple-authorized apps in Mac OS” in a post-Mountain Lion release and your hopes of using VLC (or any other player that will not conform to draconian rules) to bypass this silliness will be equally as dashed as your naive AirPlay ones. If there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get your content to the screen of your choice, why would you choose to remain legal (moral arguments notwithstanding)?

I hope, in the long run, Apple manages to figure out an sane, amenable solution to this silliness. In the meantime, I’m going to pop in a DVD and crank through some Godzilla flicks. At least I can be fairly certain that should work for quite a while longer.

Street sign photo via jbonnain