Sony: New Video Players Should Be Internet Connected to Beat Pirates

The Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit in Los Angeles last week had a number of interesting speakers, not least Sony Pictures CTO Spencer Stephens. With Sony just confirming that its new 4K player will debut in weeks, Stephens has revealed his wish-list for future 4K content protection. In addition to watermarking files with the identity of the user, the Sony CTO says that 4K players should have an Internet connection in order authenticate each video playback.

sony4KEarlier this year, Sony announced its new FMP-X1 4K Ultra HD Media Player in preparation for bringing the highest quality video available into homes around the world. 4K video will bring a resolution of 3840 × 2160 to the market, with the 4K referencing the almost-4000 pixel horizontal resolution.

Just this week Sony confirmed that its new device, which is only compatible with Sony’s own 4K TVs, will be arriving in homes from July 15th . Priced at $699, the player will require activation via the 4KActivation.com website.

Sony also named its new online 4K content distribution service which is due to launch later in the year. Video Unlimited 4K will offer movies and TV shows for direct download to its 4K player.

How the studios intend to protect their 4K content from piracy going forward has not been publicly outlined. However, during last week’s Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit in Los Angeles, Sony Pictures CTO Spencer Stephens gave a presentation which included his company’s 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 design. This, along with Sony’s “wish-list”, suggests that the final approach is yet to be agreed.

Nevertheless, at this stage Sony appears to be clear on its DRM requirements. Although fairly predictable, they aren’t going to win them many fans.

After the infamous cracking of HDCP, Sony is backing HDCP 2.2 (spec here, pdf) to protect the digital outputs of its devices from unauthorized video capture. HDCP 2.2 also has a ‘localization‘ feature, which limits the distance over which an HDCP player will feed content to a receiver such as a TV. This should stop people playing HDCP-protected content over the Internet.

Next, Sony wants each video title to be unique, meaning that the cracking of one piece of content doesn’t open up the floodgates to everything else. The company also wants video playback to take place in a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE), ensuring that sensitive data is processed and protected in a secure manner while allowing software upgrades.

And now the intrusive stuff.

Sony says it wants 4K content to be watermarked with the identity of the device or user who downloaded it, meaning that should the above countermeasures become cracked at some point, it will be possible to trace content back to its original owner. It won’t necessarily follow that those individuals are responsible for any ‘leak’ but they could forever associated with that content if it should.

Of particular interest given all the fuss over Xbox One’s former requirement to be connected to the Internet on a daily basis (and Sony’s response of needing no such thing for PS4), is Sony’s final wish-list item for 4K.

If the company has its way, all 4K players will need to authenticate themselves online before each and every playback. This will enable content providers to identify both unauthorized content and hacked players. However, if you are a legitimate customer with no Internet connection – permanently or temporarily – content will not play on your 4K device.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that content providers are viewing the Internet as a means to remain in constant contact with ‘their’ hardware and content wherever it may be. Going forward that will provide an unprecedented level of control. At least, that’s the plan.

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