HDCP 2.2 protection for 4K content might be expensive and problematic for consumers

by on February 10, 2015

Stephan Jukic – February 10, 2015

While 4K ultra HD content is still in its early growth phase with a long way to go before it replaces HD in any significant way, that’s not stopping the content industry from embarking on a highly active effort to protect what 4K UHD media it has created and distributed to viewers so far.

The main part of this content protection comes in the form of the HDCP 2.2 protocol, which is an update to the now 10 years out-of-date HDCP specification for HD content protection. HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection.

HDCP 2.2 may have been built by the media creators to fight against content theft by digital pirates but as it now seems, the specification actually also has a lot of potential to inconvenience the normal consumers of content who just want to enjoy 4K movies and TV shows.

Let’s cover the details.

How HDCP 2.2 works

The HDCP 2.2 specification, like its predecessor, was created by Intel to ensure the secure transmission of UHD content that moves from media players, cable boxes, satellite receivers and assorted other home entertainment components that include TVs themselves.

The point of the protocol is to keep someone from plugging into the transmission chain anywhere along the line and “stealing” illegal copies of a piece of content like a movie.

Now, while DRM covers content itself in encryption, HDCP actually secures the links between media sources and the devices that play media, such as TVs, PC monitors or projectors. It does this through a somewhat complex process of encrypted “handshakes” between mutually compatible encryption keys.

While most people who know about HDCP 2.2 associate it with HDMI cables, the specification is also used in DVI, USB and DisplayPort connections.

The original HDCP was built like this too but later turned out to be highly ineffective at actually protecting content since researchers discovered that it was easily breakable only 3 years after first being unveiled. The same applied to its 2.0 and 2.1 versions.

This is why the creators of HDCP 2.2 decided to take things even further and make the latest version of the protocol even more complex and loaded with conditions that must be met before content is displayed. As a result, HDCP 2.2, while protecting content as rigorously as promised, also is highly subject to problems with content display even when the conditions are legitimate.

The potential consumer headache of HDCP 2.2

The above conditions of HDCP 2.2 may be a great deterrent to content pirates but they’re also a possible problem for regular content subscribers for a number of reasons.

For starters, the latest version of HDCP isn’t compatible with older versions of the system. This means that users who get a new 4K entertainment rig can’t use it with older media devices and players, at least not whenever they want to watch any 4K content, because their entire chain of home devices has to include HDCP 2.2 for that to happen. This means that all HDMI cables, media players, TVs, sound systems or AV receivers have to suddenly be new enough for HDCP 2.2 or no ultra HD content will appear on your screen.

So unless you plan on using your ultra HD TV/home entertainment system exclusively for HD and sub-HD content, updating everything for HDCP 2.2 will be crucial.

Furthermore, even many 4K compatible devices don’t even include the HDCP 2.2 protocol. Why? Because the ruling by the Consumer Electronics Association which stipulated that all such devices must have at least one port for supporting HDCP 2.2 didn’t come into effect until September of 2014. For a lot of UHD TVs and media players built before that date, HDCP’s 2.2 version wasn’t included!

The CEA stipulation that all 4K devices need at least one HDCP 2.2 compatible HDMI connection only recently went into effect.

The CEA stipulation that all 4K devices need at least one HDCP 2.2 compatible HDMI connection only recently went into effect.

In simple terms, while HDCP 2.2 will soon be available across the board for all media devices in this new 4K UHD world of entertainment, it isn’t yet and if you want that 4K entertainment in your home now, either keep your chain of devices as simple and affordable as possible or be ready to spend quite a bit more money than that which you’d spend on just the 4K TV alone.

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