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4K content protection will frustrate consumers more than pirates: Meet HDCP 2.2

Michael Ansaldo | Feb. 11, 2015
4K content streams are still little more than a trickle, but that's not stopping the industry from launching a proactive defense to protect them. The crackdown comes in the form of HDCP 2.2, an overhaul of the decade-old HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) specification.

4K content streams are still little more than a trickle, but that's not stopping the industry from launching a proactive defense to protect them. The crackdown comes in the form of HDCP 2.2, an overhaul of the decade-old HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) specification.

While HDCP 2.2 was developed to defeat media pirates, it has far more potential to thwart ordinary folks who just want to enjoy a movie in the privacy of their home. Before you plunge into the full immersion of Ultra HD, you should know a few things about this new security feature.

Untangling HDCP

HDCP was developed by Intel to secure the transmission of high-definition digital content as it travels across cables from Blu-ray players, satellite receivers, cable boxes, AV receivers, and other home-entertainment components to a display. The aim is to prevent someone from plugging a Blu-ray player into a digital recorder to make a copy of a movie.

While DRM (digital rights management) encrypts the content itself, HCDP secures the cable between the source and the "sink" — the TV, monitor, or the video projector that display the content. The source exchanges encryption keys with the sink in a handshake, and if the keys aren't in agreement, you don't get a picture. While HDCP is most often associated with HDMI, it's also supported through DVI, DisplayPort, and USB connections.

Unfortunately for Hollywood, the technology never really lived up to its promise. Cryptanalysts demonstrated HDCP to be breakable three years before the FCC approved it as a "Digital Output Protection Technology" in 2004. By 2010, a master key that effectively neutralized HDCP v1 was leaked. Versions 2.0 and 2.1 were summarily cracked as well.

That brings us to the new-and-improved HDCP 2.2. With current versions of HDCP rendered ineffective and all manner of 4K content on the horizon, Hollywood decided it needed stronger security. The main difference with 2.2 is the encryption systems used in the handshake are more complex than in prior versions. HDCP 2.2 also includes a "locality check:" If the source signal is not received by the sink within 20ms, the source kills the connection. (Unless you're running miles of cable through your living room, that's not likely to be an issue.) 

The compatibility conundrum

While that's bad news for bad guys, it's a potential headache for the rest of us, too. HDCP 2.2 is not backward compatible with the previous versions of HDCP that are currently used by most of the HD devices in all our homes. Thanks to its ignominious track record of exploitations, the protocol required a clean refresh, and since it's implemented at the hardware level, manufacturers can't simply release new firmware to bring old gear up to speed.

 

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