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High-end PCs Can’t Support 4K UHD Streaming

  • 03 min read
  • 31 Aug, 2016
High-end PCs Can't Support 4K UHD Streaming

You may be surprised that your high-end gaming PC isn’t going to support streaming 4K video sources such as Netflix.  While many of these services – Netflix, Hulu, Vudu and Amazon – have offered 4K streaming, it’s not offered on PCs, which means home theater PC owners must use lower quality movie and TV shows instead of cheaper streaming boxes like Roku 4 and Amazon Fire TV.

The reasons streaming services have yet to offer 4K on PC is not well-understood by the general public, but it’s most likely due to copy protection and the desire Hollywood has to keep 4K locked down from pirates. However, premium 4K material is coming soon to the PC, but it is unlikely that users will be able to leverage of existing hardware to see it.

Hollywood studios have been concerned about digital piracy, which is why they’re a bit skittish about 4K. They’re worried pirates could hook up a playback source to a video capture device and produce a DRM-free copy of Hi-Res content.

According to Avni Rambhia, a Frost and Sullivan analyst, if people could record 4K content, they could produce high-quality HD material. Today, the Internet bandwidth is so high that people could stream the stuff profusely.

In order to maintain security for 4K content, studios want an array of security measures in place that were not applied to material in lower-resolution formats. For 4K content to play on TV or an external monitor, both the display and playback device must handle HDCP 2.2., which is a type of copy protection for HDMI video output.

General computing devices like Windows PCs have strict requirements such as hardware-based decryption for protected content. The hardware will need to produce a protected environment for the whole video pipeline – from the decryption to the decoding – to keep the content from being ripped by software.

Gabe Frost, Alliance for Open Media executive director, said basic purpose computing devices have an array of software installed, and these devices can’t run them easily. Therefore, the security expectations for the devices are different.

Does that mean PC is less secure than these other devices? Not at all! It just means that a plethora of pieces must come together to create a secure environment. And, even with the right hardware, the operating system will have to know how to deal with the resources and ensure the environment is safe to the streaming service – done through a DRM license that the device or operating software will need to offer. Microsoft has PlayReady 3.0, which meets the guidelines studios have demanded for 4K UHD playback. The system will review hardware to ensure the necessary measures are ready for streaming apps.

Rambhia said streaming services such as Netflix wouldn’t bother offering 4K content if they don’t get the go-ahead. That’s because Netflix is the one that will be held accountable if they don’t uphold the studio’s requirements. It can lead to large fines and penalties. He also believed that if a service provider has no protected hardware path or can’t ensure something won’t happen, they can send the material in HD (720P) or SD (576P) format rather than UHD (4K) or FHD (1080P).

But here in Australia, that’s the least of our worries. No thanks to our current Federal government, we have moved away from the previous FTTP NBN rollout to a dog’s breakfast called the MTM NBN which includes FTTN and HFC in the technology mix. Given the current volume of complaints around peak time congestion and flakey copper connections on popular technology forum Whirlpool, we could only dream of having an internet connection capable of streaming 4K and beyond.

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