Flip4Mac WMV is unable to play DRM protected content

flip4mac logo.pngMy friend has a problem. He’s a Tottenham fan (a mediocre London-based soccer team, for those outside the UK) and although many might consider that a problem in itself, that’s not what I’m talking about here. His problem is that he has a paid subscription to watch Tottenham play live on the internet but he can’t watch it on his Mac.

When he tries to watch highlights and live matches on his spanking new Macbook he gets the error: “Flip4Mac WMV is unable to play DRM protected content”. Flip4Mac is a plugin that allows users to watch content designed for Microsoft Windows Media Player on Macs. However, it doesn’t work when content is protected with Digital Rights Management (DRM).

It’s extremely frustrating – and grossly unfair – that Mac users who have paid to watch something online should encounter this problem. Even worse, there’s no simple way round it such as installing a codec or using another browser.

The harsh reality is my friend and other users like him are innocent and unwitting victims of the multimedia war between Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft’s Windows Media Digital Rights Management is a protected and encoded format which won’t work on any other platform than Windows. It’s Microsoft’s little way of ensuring that ditching Windows isn’t quite as easy as it should be and in my opinion, is an issue that should be contested in court along with Microsoft’s sneaky bundling of Internet Explorer with new PCs.

I looked into the problem on my friend’s football website and the club say the reason they have had to protect subscription based match footage is because people have been taking it and posting it for free across the net. However, they blame Microsoft for “forcing” them into using Windows Media Player DRM:

Following the rapid growth of a range of video and stream sharing websites over recent months, a significant volume of content which is provided on an exclusive basis to subscribers was being made freely available on the Internet. We have to have a solution that will satisfactorily safeguard the content. This has required us to DRM the content and due to changes made recently we are no longer able to support Apple / Mac products. Please be advised that this has been forced on us by Microsoft and not a business decision made by Perform or its partners.

I find this a little hard to understand. Why not use Microsoft Silverlight to stream DRM content which also works on Macs? NetFlix made this switch a while back and if it works for a huge site like that, I’m sure it could work for a lowly London football club.

Luckily, I have convinced my friend not to throw his Mac in the bin quite yet. Fortunately, he can install or run Windows on his Macbook using one of the following methods. Note that both require a Windows installation CD and the latest version of Windows Media Player installed.

Run Windows Virtually Using an application like Parallels, VMWare or VirtualBox you can install and run Windows within OS X just like using another application. The streaming might not be perfect and watching a 90 minute football match in it may slow down your Mac a bit but its the easiest way of watching a match while running OS X at the same time.

Install Windows Using Boot Camp This involves installing Windows on your Mac so that you can choose whether to boot your machine in either OS X and Windows. You can do it very easily using Boot Camp which comes pre-installed with OS X (Just search for it in Spotlight). The disadvantage is that you won’t have access to OS X while running Windows but the advantage is that its as fast and as stable as if you were using a Windows computer.

Let this be a lesson to other live streaming sites out there thinking of choosing Microsoft Windows Media Player DRM to stream content. There are other options that will work just as well on Macs and protect your content.

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