24.06 20092

DRM enforced on Audio Chip?

This is not so new news, but still want to drop some frustrations here…
While trying to record audio from my system for a screencast I discovered that I was unable to select sound from my speakers (waveout mix, stereo mix or sometimes called “What you hear”). At first I thought this was a Windows 7 issue with my drivers. But upgrading my drivers from the ones supplied by Microsoft to the ones supplied by Lenovo for my T500 did not help either.  So I contacted my buddy Google.

nowaveout

Soon I found some discussion on this topic on several forums including the Lenovo support forums.

Lenovo has an official kb article on this:
http://www-307.ibm.com/pc/support/site.wss/document.do?lndocid=MIGR-70822&selectarea=SUPPORT&tempselected=5

The solution according to Lenovo:

Symptoms #1 and #2 were caused by a design change agreement between Microsoft and the audio chip hardware supplier. The new change drops the support of mixed-stereo function and direct playback of microphone. The change in design calls to have these function implemented in application level in future. The goal of this design change is to begin standardizing the audio industry. The design change affected all PC vendors worldwide. In the future, Microsoft and audio vendors expect individual applications developers pick up these functions.

The industry has been trying to protect digital rights for ages without much luck so far. And consumers are fighting this with all sorts of workarounds.
So I started looking for workarounds on this one…  since I am not trying to workaround DRM, but just want to create a webcast using sound from my PC. (In this case a demo of the Flash HDX Experience Tech preview of Citrix).

Some Workarounds I found but did not work for my T500 with Windows 7:

  • Change driver inf file from crippled drivers
  • Stick a cable between headphones out and mic… does not sound like a very good idea…mic-input is mono and will give you terrible sound.. and maybe even blowing up your soundcard (mic’s are passive devices)
  • Buy an external Audio card, USB or PCMCIA… but we did not buy quite expensive notebooks to buy extra soundcards…
  • Use Virtual Audio Cable

I tried the last without luck either because. The installation went OK but after the installation I got this pop-up:

wdmkerneldriver

Mmm, wonder if this kind of driver ever gets digitally signed. This also counts for Vista X64 versions.

Apparently other major vendors, like Dell and Packard Bell introduced the same issues. Dell however fixed it with an driver updated, since they only crippled the driver. But with Lenovo however it seems to be hard coded in the chip (In my case a Conexant High Definition SmartAudio 221).

Rumors go that this was done under the pressure of the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America).

For now I can only record my microphone sound… yeah! I wonder where this goes in the future… and if you have a solution to workaround this issue… please drop a comment, thanks.

The only workaround I found to record “what you hear” is to use Total Recorder Pro, which installs a signed kernel driver to record all sounds. I installed a trial which seems to really work on Windows 7, but I haven’t figured out on how to use this kernel driver to record Audio in other applications. Or use the Physical Cable solution…

More info here:
Lenovo Support forum thread
Ripten on Dell Stereomix issue