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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--

But Hollywood itself isn't necessarily as enthusiastic about 4K as Microsoft is — for one thing, all those additional pixels cost money to store.  According to a panel of studio executives who were polled during a session at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas on April 14, studios are equally interested in movies authored in high dynamic range (HDR) with a wider color gamut.

"At some point it is going to be overwhelming for people, for the consumer as well as the studios," said Hanno Basse, the chief technology officer for 20th Century Fox Film Corp., of the efforts to keep track of what the next big thing in movie technology will be.

Content companies don't even need PlayReady 3.0, either. In fact, Aaron Taylor, the executive vice president of sales and marketing for 4K streaming service Ultraflix, said that his services began recently making available the Paramount sci-fi hit Interstellar —  without PlayReady 3.0. Each frame of Interstellar has been forensically watermarked by a company called Civolution, Taylor said, so that if the movie is pirated, investigators can quickly discover where the leak occurred.

A version of UltraFlix with PlayReady 3.0 is being developed, Taylor said. Otherwise, however, "Microsoft may be embellishing the truth a little bit," Taylor said.

Richard Doherty, an analyst for Envisioneering, summed up the investments in hardware-based DRM on the PC as a "dry hole." "People have decided that the dynamic DRM that is assigned to a movie on a PC or a Mac player is good enough," he said.

Watching 4K video could be a real pain

But while Microsoft, chip vendors, and Hollywood seek to stop piracy once and for all, it's unclear whether consumers will buy in.

In 2008, when the first version of PlayReady was introduced, users took up torches and pitchforks to protest Hollywood's treatment of "their" content. Microsoft's own Games for Windows Live initiative, for example, used SecuROM technology to authenticate games bought through the service — and gamers hated it so much that it was killed in 2013, three years after its launch. Securing 4K video on a television also requires you to buy an all-new monitor and cables that support both HDMI 2.0 and the new HDCP 2.2 copy-protection standard — which, chances are, none of your existing hardware does.

For all of the paranoia the industry has about securing content, some argue that Hollywood is trying to close the barn door after the horse left long ago. 

"There are thousands of people in this world, technologists right through the spectrum to lawyers, me included, who lost probably a man-year of their life to these [content] meetings over the last twenty years," Doherty said. "All these things seem to have been constructed for some Jurassic Park that closed its doors some years ago."

 

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