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Fast Growth in 4K Televisions and UHD Content Requires Premium Content Protection

Ultra HD televisions are one of the fastest-growing segments in the history of consumer electronics. Within the first three years of shipments, 4K/UHD overshadowed HDTVs by nearly 4x with 16 million units shipped compared to 4.2 million units1. Since then, rapid penetration is occurring globally with 35 percent of all U.S. households forecast to have a UHD television by 2019, followed by the United Kingdom with 31 percent, 25 percent in the European Union, and 24 percent in China. Global units shipped reached 82 million in 2017 up from 53 million in 2016. .

The global 4K TV market is expected to reach 380.9 billion by 2025 due to enhanced graphics, the pressure for manufacturers to reduce prices and the popularity of ultra-high definition (UHD) content2.

Household Penetration by major country chart

The rate of growth of 4k shipments is at 70% growing from 83 million 4K devices in 2016 to 1.2 billion in 20213. While flat panel TVs are the largest segment of devices in 4K format, streaming media adapters, set-top-boxes, mobile devices, Blu-ray players, and game consoles follow closely behind. Following the popularity of 4K devices, there has been a growth of 4K content. Initially, 4K UHD content was available for live sports and some video on demand. Today, 4K content is seen as a premium offering albeit an expensive one with a digital copy of a 4K movie costing US $30.

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Revenue from the display market will grow from $18 billion in 2015 to $52 billion in 20204.

BT Sport was a pioneer of 4K broadcasts, and Netflix and Amazon were also early to the market to deliver 4K/Ultra HD content with hits such as Stranger Things and House of Cards. Today, most major broadcasting companies and content providers have joined to provide 4K/UHD content. AT&T has a DirecTV dedicated 4K channel including the MLB network with 4K baseball broadcasts, PGA tournaments, and UFC fights. The Olympics, Warner Brothers, BBC’s Planet Earth, Hulu and YouTube also offer UHD and HDR content.

Movies and TV shows display four times the resolution with UHD as compared to HD content5, and therefore, it has become the studios’ most valuable content requiring robust content protection.

Set-top-box makers provide 4K UHD set-top-boxes (although OTT content does not require a set-top-box to stream 4K content). While better hardware continues to be made available, the 4K UHD content is a major driver. For streaming media adapters, 4K video quality as an added feature is becoming the differentiator among streaming media adapter vendors. Most major vendors across both streaming media device adapters and players have launched 4K products.


How to Secure Premium UHD Content

Today, there are two choices for content protection: (1) legacy satellite and cable TV content protection systems based on conditional access or (2) digital rights management, which serves the internet-based over-the-top (OTT) market. Due to the valuable nature of UHD content, very high security requirements must be met. This is one area where digital rights management protection has an advantage over conditional access. There is a premium placed on 4K/UHD content, and therefore, having the security mechanisms moved from the hardware to the network level to be protected through secret keys and the return path of the IP channel is essential.

The high resolution and image quality of 4K/UHD television content is on par with high quality digital cinema. This means that 4K/UHD television files are very valuable property and have to be protected accordingly. MovieLabs, a research and development organization focusing on movie and television technologies, has published Enhanced Content Protection specification ( to provide a guideline for 4K/UHD content protection requirements.

The MovieLabs 4K/UHD content protection specifications require video playback device makers to support:

  • A TEE (trusted execution environment) that must take care of content decryption, and handling of any cryptographic material e.g., device keys, content keys etc. as well as other security processes.
  • A SVP (secure video path) where the decrypted buffer is securely transmitted to the rendering element of the device e.g. display
  • Hardware descrambler
  • HDCP 2.2 or higher
  • Watermarking

The SoC (System on Chip) platforms that power modern digital devices are advancing their security features to support these requirements. Intertrust’s DRM solution, ExpressPlayTM, takes advantage of SoC implemented security features such as TEE and SVP. ExpressPlay also supports watermarking to offer the highest level of content protection for premium content distribution.

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Beth KindigI’m an industry insider who writes free in-depth analysis on public tech companies. This year, I predicted Facebook’s Q2 crash, Roku’s meteoric rise, Oracle’s slow decline, and more. Be industry-specific. Know more than the broader markets. Sign Up Now. I look forward to staying connected.

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