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All about PlayReady 3.0, Microsoft's secret plan to lock down 4K movies to your PC

Mark Hachman | April 27, 2015
It's movie night, 2016. A crop of teens streams through the kitchen, snagging chips and drinks as they head downstairs to watch the latest blockbuster on the new 4K monitor. There's excited chatter as the movie begins to play, then--

Other use benefits lie even deeper within PlayReady. The above slide from Microsoft's DRM presentation is aimed at hardware developers, but there are a few key takeways: First, Microsoft thinks your laptop's battery life will be unaffected by hardware DRM. Second, content protection will flow through the GPU. And third, PlayReady 3.0 will support "throwing" movies from your laptop to a Miracast dongle connected to your TV.

PCWorld reached out to executives at AMD, Intel, and Nvidia, and received either no response, no comment, or a referral to Microsoft. It's also not clear whether hardware makers will launch a new wave of PlayReady 3.0-compatible PCs at the time Windows 10 launches, or if the rollout is sometime in the future.

Bad news for older PCs

Unfortunately, it looks like the advent of PlayReady 3.0 could leave older PCs in the lurch. Previous PlayReady technology secured content up to 1080p resolution using software DRM — and that could be the maximum resolution for older PCs without PlayReady 3.0.

PlayReady 3.0 was specifically authored to allow both Windows and non-Windows devices to play back movies, according to the Microsoft spokeswoman. But it also introduces a new security level to differentiate devices that have hardware protections, and those that don't — like older PCs.

People with older Windows 7 or Windows 8 hardware who upgrade to Windows 10 will still be able to rent, purchase, and stream movies, the Microsoft spokeswoman said. Microsoft is also working with the chip vendors to enable hardware content protection on "the widest range of devices possible," she added. But while video services may work on older PCs, "there may be certain content (i.e. SD vs HD content) that the services will offer to devices that only support software content protection," the Microsoft spokeswoman said.

PlayReady may have missed the boat

So far, Microsoft has painted a very idealized picture of PlayReady 3.0 as the PC's answer to piracy. But as anyone who watches streamed video knows, it's not so simple. Consumers still watch many, many movies on their PCs — especially kids.  

According to Parks Associates, 68 percent of all American households watch streaming video on PCs, with about 53 percent of all streaming video consumed on computers. But many, many more have given up the PC to watch movies on connected TVs: 89 percent, Parks says.

In a sense, PlayReady is Microsoft's attempt to convince Hollywood of the viability of the PC as a media streamer. "Microsoft appears to be future-proofing, evidenced by their proposed support for 8K video," Glenn Hower,  a research analyst for Parks, said in an email. "As long as the burden is not terribly substantial beyond supporting 4K, and as long as their technology can adapt to handle high dynamic range and upgrades in color gamut support for ultra HD, I think they are playing smart."


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