While 4K TV penetration moves faster than expected, 4K content protection becomes problematic

by on July 15, 2015

Stephan Jukic – July 15, 2015

4K Content producers who want a wider market for the movies, shows and other programming they’re creating can be happy at the amount of penetration that 4K TVs are garnering on the market. TV makers themselves obviously have a lot to cheer about that piece of news as well.

However, one problem is presenting itself for both parties in different ways, and that’s the matter of content protection against piracy, at least according to a recent ABI Research report.

The analysts describe in a cumbersomely named report titled “Set-Top Box and Home Networks and Multiscreen Video Middleware and DRM Market Research”, how high resolution and ultra-High Definition video content are extremely fast growing markets in the new, expanding 4K TV landscape and therefore are in urgent need of enhanced content protection services. These services have to follow the 4K content trend with adaptability and readiness for protecting that content against pirates and rampant digital content piracy.

The ABI research report has noted that current guidelines for decent 4K content protection in TVs depend on hardware-level security measures that work together with software-level security like HDCP 2.2 to create a sort of end-to-end system of security from the publishing side to the consumption side of content.

4K-specific content protection technologies like HDCP 2.2 are key current weapons in the battle of protecting content from pirates.

4K-specific content protection technologies like HDCP 2.2 are key current weapons in the battle of protecting content from pirates.

This sort of protection structure requires a lot of dedicated space on SoC (system on a chip) technology.

However, despite the fact that such root of trust and trusted execution environment hardware will probably create better security, ABI explains that it will also lead to a growing dependence on new security hardware solutions. Furthermore, this sort of system could cause compatibility problems for legacy systems like set-top boxes, smart TVs and mobile devices or PCs when it comes to integrating with the new 4K protection environment.

Thus, in addition to hardware security, ABI is expecting to see the use of technologies like forensic watermarking being used for copyright protection and content identification. Furthermore, the popularity of multi-screen technology in the HD/UHD video market will also lead to even more complex security issues, of a kind that previously didn’t exist with more classical content security.

Why? Because this multi-screen environment means not only more devices in general being used for 4K content viewing but also many different devices types which will all have their own individual security needs for how content is protected in transmission to them and once stored within them. In other words, end-to-end security is becoming more important than ever while at the same time it also becomes more difficult than ever due to growing display electronics complexity.

API also cautions that this complexity is further augmented by the massive amount of different actors involved in getting 4K video to devices and running it securely on said devices. These actors include chipset makers, content creators, display manufacturers, media player manufacturers and of course also the companies that transmit the content all over the place.

4K UHD TV penetration is expected to hit 61% by 2020 on the North American market alone and this means that the security issues described above will only become more complex as they become far more important than they are even now, especially in an environment of smart TVs, 4K playing browsers and streaming 4K video apps which all continue to roll out regularly in new versions and models.

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