Microsoft might just force a highly restrictive PlayReady 3.0 DRM on 4K content in Windows 10 PCs

by on April 30, 2015

Stephan Jukic – April 30, 2015

4K content viewing in Microsoft’s Windows 10 might just get a bit more complicated. It seems that the Redmond tech giant will be unleashing a new version of its hardware digital rights management (DRM) system on users who want to play 4K content on their Windows 10 machines.

While this isn’t exactly a pressing problem right now, given that 4K content is quite limited on any PC ecosystem out there, however, the proposed PlayReady 3.0 DRM system could become problematic down the road as the options for PC-based 4K entertainment and content expand as they’re widely expected to.

The problem is that while PlayReady 3.0 DRM is designed to support 4K media, it’s going to also blanket that content with a much more restrictive digital rights management technology that a lot of users might find deeply annoying despite its aim at curbing illegitimate digital streams from being played or copied.

This is of course a two-sided coin we’re talking about here. On the one hand, it’s well known that studios and 4K content creators are extremely protective of the integrity of their media creations and at least in part have thus far avoided letting their media hit PCs. Thus, Microsoft’s promise to ensure protection of this content could open the doors to a much larger selection of ultra HD media for PCs instead of just UHD TVs as is currently the case.

On the other hand, since we’re not yet clear on how exactly PlayReady will work, there is a risk that Microsoft will impose restrictions that reach the point of just being cumbersome and tedious.

We’ve already seen this sort of situation in another arena of 4K content delivery, which is the use of HDCP 2.2 content protection on all 4K media devices. This other protection system for ultra HD TVs has created a situation in which every device in a chain of machines that brink 4K to the home has to also be HDCP 2.2 capable in order for content to be visible at all. The end result is that HDCP 2.2 is already cumbersome in some circumstances and users should hope the Microsoft’s PlayReady can do things more smoothly when it comes to 4K content for the PC.

In any case, the range of silicon sellers who are supposed to be involved in the new PlayReady protection system have been quite quiet about the details behind it or whether or not their upcoming ranges of products will include PlayReady.

There are online rumors, based on supposedly leaked slides about Microsoft’s relationships with companies like AMD, Qualcomm and Nvidia, which discuss the relationship Microsoft has with these companies in the content protection market. However, none of these slides make any mention of any specific details like PlayReady 3.0 or how exactly it works.

The promise of broad selections of high-end streamed 4K content hitting PCs makes even the possibly heavy-handed copy protection of PlayReady 3.0 worthwhile

The promise of broad selections of high-end streamed 4K content hitting PCs makes even the possibly heavy-handed copy protection of PlayReady 3.0 worthwhile

Fundamentally, the biggest issue around PlayReady might involve how certain users of Windows could possibly be blocked out of the high-end ultra HD content streams they’d want access to. Basically, users without this upcoming version of PlayReady could possibly be stuck with streams in Full HD or below and there are also no details on the overall effect that PlayReady 3.0 would have on laptop battery life or PC performance.

On the other hand, 4K for PCs is one very promising and alluring feature of computer entertainment and the promise of even annoying, restrictive media access could provoke a lot of interest among consumers.

At the very least, PlayReady 3.0 indicates further still just how much Windows 10 should integrate with 4K graphics and content on the next generation of PCs with the operating system installed.

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