Content Protection for 4k Video

As Hollywood adepts know, the next phase in picture quality beyond HD is something called 4k.  Although the name suggests 4k (perhaps 4096) pixels in the vertical or horizontal direction, its resolution is actually 3840 × 2160, i.e., twice the pixels of HD in both horizontal and vertical directions.

4k is the highest quality of image actually captured by digital cinematography right now.  The question is, how will it be delivered to consumers, in what timeframe, and how will it be protected?

Those of us who attended the Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit in LA last week learned that the answer to the latter question is unknown as yet.  Spencer Stephens, CTO of Sony Pictures, gave a brief presentation explaining what 4k is and outlining his studio’s wish list for 4k content protection.  He said that it was an opportunity to start fresh with a new design, compared to the AACS content protection technology for Blu-ray discs, which is 10 years old.

This is interesting on a couple of levels.  First, it implies that the studios have not predetermined a standard for 4k content protection; in contrast, Blu-ray discs were introduced in the market about three years after AACS was designed.  Second, Stephens’s remarks had the flavor of a semi-public appeal to the community of content protection vendors — some of which were in the audience at this conference — for help in designing DRM schemes for 4k that met his requirements.

Stephens’s wish list included such elements as:

  • Title-by-title diversity, so that  a technique used to hack one movie title doesn’t necessarily apply to another
  • Requiring players to authenticate themselves online before playback, which enables hacked players to be denied but makes it impossible to play 4k content without an Internet connection
  • The use of HDCP 2.2 to protect digital outputs, since older versions of HDCP have been hacked
  • Session-based watermarking, so that each 4k file is marked with the identity of the device or user that downloaded it (a technique used today with early-window HD content)
  • The use of trusted execution environments (TEE) for playback, which combine the security of hardware with the renewability of software

From time to time I hear from startup companies that claim to have designed better technologies for video content protection.  I tell them that getting studio approval for new content protection schemes is a tricky business.  You can get studio technology executives excited about your technology, but they don’t actually “approve” it such that they guarantee they’ll accept it if it’s used in a content service.  Instead, they expect service providers to propose the technology in the context of the overall service, and the studios will consider providing licenses to their content in that broader context.  And of course the studios don’t actually pay for the technology; the service providers or consumer device makers do.

In other words, studios “bless” new content protection technologies, but otherwise the entire sales process takes place at arms’ length from the studios.  In that sense, the studios act somewhat like a regulatory agency does when setting guidelines for compliance with a regulation such as HIPAA and GLB (for information privacy in healthcare and financial services respectively).  The resulting technology often meets the letter but not the spirit of the regulations.

In this respect, Stephens’s remarks were a bit of fresh air.  They are an invitation to more open dialog among vendors, studios, and service providers about the types of content protection that they may be willing to implement when it comes time to distribute 4k content to consumers.

In the past, such discussions often happened behind closed doors, took the form of unilateral “unfunded mandates,” and/or resulted in implementations that plainly did not work.  As technology gets more sophisticated and the world gets more complex, Hollywood is going to have to work more closely with downstream entities in the content distribution chain if it wants its content protected.  Spencer Stephens’s presentation was a good start in that direction.

17 comments

  1. […] via Content Protection for 4k Video | Copyright and Technology. […]

  2. […] Rosenblatt, who spoke at the summit for his company GiantSteps Media, notes that Stephens described the introduction of 4K as an opportunity to start with a fresh anti-piracy […]

  3. […] Rosenblatt, who spoke at the summit for his company GiantSteps Media, notes that Stephens described the introduction of 4K as an opportunity to start with a fresh anti-piracy […]

  4. […] wish-list for 4K DRM. Bill Rosenblatt, who spoke at the summit for his company GiantSteps Media, notes that Stephens described the introduction of 4K as an opportunity to start with a fresh anti-piracy […]

  5. […] Rosenblatt, who spoke at the summit for his company GiantSteps Media, notes that Stephens described the introduction of 4K as an opportunity to start with a fresh anti-piracy […]

  6. […] Rosenblatt, who spoke at the summit for his company GiantSteps Media, notes that Stephens described the introduction of 4K as an opportunity to start with a fresh anti-piracy […]

  7. […] Sony really wowed everyone at E3 by demonstrating that they won’t be adding “Always on DRM” garbage to the PS4. Then their CTO (Chief Tech Officer) went and did this. […]

  8. They will never learn……. Protection just makes clients go far, far away. I won’t buy their stuff, that’s for sure. Internet connection so that they can have a look at my tastes? Hell no!
    More over, having to pay DRM licence while buying content – what a waste of money for people, isn’t it.

    Go to hell, with all your DRMs.

  9. This is a great example of the misinformation about DRM that floats around the net.

    There is no indication that the required Internet connection would be for any other purpose than to ensure that the device or software hasn’t been hacked – which has nothing to do with looking at a user’s playback info. More importantly, every online content service already collects this information anyway: iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Spotify, etc., etc., etc.

    As for “having to pay DRM license while buying content” – I don’t know where this came from. No one ever said this. The player device/software maker pays for DRM; the consumer doesn’t.

  10. We do pay license for the players (hardware AND software), as the maker will not offer us the license – what the maker is billed impacts the selling price… Basic economy rule, probably first year.
    And license paid by editor also impacts the final price (slightly you’ll say – probably true regarding a current movie (over-)price).

    Regarding the Internet connection : what happens if Sony (or any guy having the power to validate or not your player) servers are down? Don’t tell me “this won’t happen”, please.
    I know of some cinema which couldn’t play any movie for a day or so because of some connection problem… THIS is a real loss for anybody (no watcher in dark room = no ticket sold = no entry for authors… and so on).

    Regarding the services you list: funnily, I don’t use them. Most probably because they aren’t available in my country, in fact. You know, “regions” and all this “exclusivity” crap. Internet is worldwide, so should the contents be. (Honestly: iTunes is almost empty in here, spotify is more or less available but I don’t use it, Netflix is absent, so is Amazon IV, Hulu… – after that industry comes telling “you’re pirate” – hell, you let us no other way guys!)

    And sorry to be absolutely NOT confident regarding the usage of unavoidably collected information while reading some 4k (or other drm-ized stuff).
    For to much time industry is doing anything it wants with its customers – time to change a bit.

    Seriously, industry should maybe stop using such sh** in order to open culture accesses to anyone wanting to see (and pay… yes, we want to pay, you know).
    Selling limitations is far, far away from what clients are needing and wanting. Don’t come and cry because stuff isn’t sold and is found on the Net.

    Should Audi or GMC sell limited cars, able to drive only on some US roads and not in all countries? This would be nice for their incomes, don’t you think? DRM are the cause of major loss in the industry – only winners are the one creating the DRM.
    DRM aren’t efficient at all, and will make people think like “do I really want to buy this, knowing I won’t be able to play it in my car dvd, while I can get it somewhere else being sure it plays anywhere?”…

    But one day, Industry will understand that. But it will most probably be to late for it. Don’t come and say “we didn’t know”.

  11. Just to be clear about “basic economy rule”: Yes, it’s true that consumer device makers and service providers factor DRM into their costs. But it’s not as simple as you think. They factor their cost of DRM into negotiations over licensing terms with the studios. They don’t just pass them on to consumers.

    Furthermore, if they aren’t paying for DRM technology, then they may well be paying some other copyright related fees, such as levies on blank media and consumer devices in many countries, including yours (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_copying_levy#Switzerland). Whether the fees are reasonable or not is of course another question, but in general I’d rather pay according to actual usage of content rather than according to some collecting society’s preconceived notion of an “average consumer’s” usage (which is the alleged basis for levies).

  12. Taxe on blank media has nothing to do with DRM. Oh, wait, YES : DRM prevent me to copy content on other media I own – so I pay this tax for… hmmm.. nothing ? Great – Love that. Thanks for the recall on private copy fees.

    Just stop with those annoyances – DRM are completely useless. Proof? Look at the content on Internet.

    DRM are (sorry for the coming words) a pain in the ass for customers and end-users, as they prevent them to *use* what they buy.
    I cannot buy bluray, because they won’t play on my Linux mediacenter (which does have a bluray player).
    I tried a lot of ways in order to play the “demonstration bluray” I received – only result was something like “your bluray player is blacklisted” or some sh* lit that.
    And I don’t see why I should buy another device. The bluray should work, that’s all.

    Why should we, end-users, support such lame methods?
    Why should we, customers, buy things which will most probably NOT work as expected, at least restrain our uses?

    That’s the question, the right one. Other aspects may be ignored (I know the license is not fully passed on customers – hopefully I’d say).

    Why can’t the industry understand they are killing them-selves applying DRM on contents they want to sell?

    Music industry understood it, at last (thanks to Apple who removed DRM on iTunes music). When will the cinema understand that, and stop annoying its own customers with restrictions?

    Just a last remark: because of DRM on bluray being such bad, I don’t buy any. I rather buy a cheap dvd version, and go on the Net in order to get the quality I want.
    In this case, I’m not the one losing something…. Sorry for the industry.

    Hope one day I’ll be able to read contents I buy whithout problem.

  13. […] consommateur directement dans les vidéos qu'il lit, sous la forme de watermarking. Enfin, comme le rapporte Copyright & Technology, la protection de chaque film sera différente afin qu'une méthode de piratage pour l'un ne soit […]

  14. […] That isn’t the end of it, though. Spencer Stephens, CTO of Sony Pictures has some ideas for new 4K copy protection, which he shared last month at the the Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit in Los Angeles: […]

  15. […] – Title-by-title diversity, so that a technique used to hack one movie title doesn’t necessarily apply to another – Requiring players to authenticate themselves online before playback, which enables hacked players to be denied but makes it impossible to play 4k content without an Internet connection – The use of HDCP 2.2 to protect digital outputs, since older versions of HDCP have been hacked – Session-based watermarking, so that each 4k file is marked with the identity of the device or user that downloaded it (a technique used today with early-window HD content) – The use of trusted execution environments (TEE) for playback, which combine the security of hardware with the renewability of software (copyrightandtechnology.com) […]

  16. Now I hear of HDCP 2.2 that IS going to be implemented on 4K content protection. Oh, and if you buy a 4K TV today, it WILL NOT be HDCP 2.2 compatible. That’s right, you have to wait. I see no point on this lame protection on the wire technology. There will be a limit to cable length permitted. If the cable installer uses a connection that is too long, the signal will be blocked. This protection does nothing to deal with the actual way that the content is being taken, which is off the disc thru AACS/DEAACS.

  17. I was laughing when I was thinking of a working anti piracy measure. I was also wondering why all Blu-ray drives were not blocked from being invented. Of course, your laptop does not come with a Blu-ray drive unless you order online and have a lot of $. Hollywood also seems to know that the end users have a limit to how much they will tolerate before not buying, dooming the format. I was thinking of a proprietary 15 inch screen with a proprietary portable player, needing to see a watermark on all discs before it will play, with no connection allowed to your hi-def TV, no PC playback allowed with the player having a 5 or 10 pound lead acid battery pack, LOL! Something tells me that the moment they require an internet connection to play even 4K, the content would be doomed, then it would take a slew of 4K burners and ripping software to save the format, so it would be back to square 1. Even then, it is no guarantee. Divx from Circuit City could not be saved, despite the ability to hook the Divx player to their VCR and make a copy that way. People just could not be bothered with needing a phone home scheme to play a movie, so the format died.

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