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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.

In order to watch copy-protected Ultra HD content — be it on a disc, a download, or via an over-the-top stream — you'll need HDCP 2.2 compatible devices at every link in the signal chain. Because this isn't just about media players and TVs; it applies to any component with an HDMI connection. Having a non-HDCP 2.2 sound bar or AV receiver in your home theater system will be enough to terminate the handshake and your afternoon plans for watching The Godfather in glorious 4K resolution.

What it means for you

But don't go dismantling your home theater setup just yet. As we said, HDCP 2.2 is all about protecting 4K Ultra HD content, so if you're planning on standing pat with 1080p, you don't need to read any further. Even the average consumer who plans to eventually upgrade to 4K has little to worry about until Hollywood, pay-TV providers, broadcasters, and other video suppliers begin phasing in 4K content in the next few years. Right now Ultra HD content is far outpaced by hardware, and most of that is pricey, high-end TVs. And even as more devices roll out, it could be years before they hit mass-market pricing.

Hardcore home theater buffs and other early adopters stand a greater risk of getting burned. The Consumer Electronics Association decree that "at least one of the 3840x2160 HDMI inputs [on a display] shall support HDCP revision 2.2 or equivalent content protection" was effective only from September 2014 on.

If you jumped on the Ultra HD bandwagon when 4K TVs and media devices first hit stores in 2013, don't assume your purchases support HDCP 2.2 and will work with future 4K devices and content — most of those early models don't and won't. To further muddy the picture as it were, HDMI 2.0 support, which is also required for TVs and devices to play 4K video, does not guarantee HDCP 2.2 compatibility. In fact, though there are many HDMI 2.0 compliant A/V receivers in stores right now, most do not support the new copy protection.

So where does that leave you? If the promise of bragging rights compels you to throw down thousands of dollars for one of the newer 2.2 compatible 4K TVs from Sony, Panasonic, or Samsung, your old Blu-ray player will work just fine with it; it will just display content in 1080p. Similarly, your current satellite receiver, cable box or streaming media player will play on that TV without issue in their source formats. But if you want to futureproof your home theater with additional 4K components, stick with the big-name manufacturers and look for devices that support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2.


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