HomeSecurity and Quality Requirements For Maximizing UHD Service ROI

Security and Quality Requirements For Maximizing UHD Service ROI

Next-Generation Security Platform Is Key to Licensing Highest Value Content.

The emergence of Ultra HD represents a new revenue opportunity for pay TV distributors who can meet the quality and content protection requirements essential to licensing the highest value content.

While the 4K version of UHD, which offers as a baseline four times the resolution of 1080p HD, is widely understood to be the next step in TV display evolution, the specific technical contours of the UHD service provided by MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) will be dictated by the business models they pursue. For operators who intend to maximize the revenue potential of UHD content as the basis of a new premium tier offering, technical preparations will be guided by two key principles:

The higher screen resolution offered by 4K UHD is just the starting point for delivering a must-have viewing experience that subscribers will pay extra for.

UHD comprises a broad set of specifications supporting wide variations in the new threshold for quality of experience (QoE), which currently means it’s up to each MVPD to determine what their consumer promise will be when applying the UHD label to their content. Beyond the prescribed 3840 x 2160 resolution parameters, the appeal of MVPDs’ UHD services will depend on specifications they set for color gamut and depth, contrast depth, frame rates, encoding profiles, bitrates and much else.

Content protection as well as the quality of the service must be sufficient to meet the UHD licensing requirements set by suppliers of content most desired by consumers, including new movie releases and first-run TV programming.

At first, movies offered on demand will comprise most of the UHD content available for network distribution, which means the standards set by the motion picture studios for licensing of new releases will be decisive in determining MVPDs’ ability to offer customers the most attractive viewing options, in contrast to movies re-mastered to UHD from older release windows by OTT providers. Such standards may also be imposed by suppliers of high-value sports coverage and first-run TV programming once programmers determine 4K TV penetration has reached a level that merits their investment in UHD production.

While studio response to UHD has been positive, the studios still need to be convinced that the added cost of producing UHD will bring in more revenue. This is likely why they are insisting not only on 4K but also the UHD improvements ­– the user will likely pay more for the latter. As a result, the stage is set for MVPDs to begin their migration to UHD in tandem with strong marketing and supply-chain support for creating a premium UHD service tier.

MVPDs now have guidance from Motion Picture Laboratories, Inc. (MovieLabs), the tech consortium backed by several major studios, as to what the requisite protection mechanisms and quality parameters are likely to be as each studio releases new movies into the UHD service stream. Building support for a premium UHD service that follows these prescriptions will allow MVPDs to offer subscribers a unique viewing experience with a portfolio of current movies whenever they decide the time has come to launch a premium UHD tier.

Timing, of course, is an important consideration in MVPDs’ preparations for UHD service launches. On the one hand, they shouldn’t allow themselves to be rushed into premature action that leaves fundamental requirements unaddressed. Notwithstanding much hype surrounding Netflix’s offering of original programming and movies in UHD – and the additional hype that’s sure to follow as Amazon Prime and other OTT providers follow suit – the impact of these early forays into UHD is limited to the very small subset of 4K TV buyers who purchase sets equipped with software players that will allow them to view the OTT services.

On the other hand, MVPDs are well advised to push ahead with UHD planning initiatives and budget allocations as soon as possible to ensure they aren’t left on the sidelines as more aggressive pay TV service competitors push ahead with UHD services that outperform the OTT offerings. Such services will deliver superior QoE with consumer access to new movie releases that OTT providers are unlikely to offer by virtue of not meeting the quality and content protection standards set by the studios.

For MVPDs of every description, getting the timing right requires a careful reading of what’s going on in the market at large and a willingness to make adjustments as conditions change. They must be sure that when the time comes to launch UHD they have in place the means to deliver a superior service that’s in sync with the capabilities of the types of 4K TV sets that are driving consumer adoption.

It’s also important to note that the onset of premium UHD service dovetails with ongoing expansions of multiscreen pay TV services, where investments in video processing, content protection and distribution are focused on maximizing efficiency through use of IP-centric software solutions running on commodity datacenter hardware. By utilizing and enhancing the emerging multiscreen architecture to support UHD services, operators will be able to exploit the cost and scaling advantages of advanced software-based content protection and video processing solutions, avoiding the costs of adding proprietary hardware systems dedicated solely to UHD.

In the discussion that follows we examine the market trends, prospects for content availability and technology developments that must be weighed as MVPDs set technology requirements and timelines in the ramp-up to UHD service. Most important, we’ll explore the changes in approaches to content protection that must be implemented as MVPDs map infrastructure strategies sufficient both to optimizing the near-term opportunity and to sustaining ongoing cost-efficient migration as UHD moves into the mainstream.

Gauging the Pace of 4K UHD TV Penetration

With the prices of 4K TV sets falling rapidly, consumer adoption is accelerating faster than most observers expected. At the end of 2013, prices for 55” 4K sets from brand names like Sony, Samsung and LG were in the $3,500-$4,000 range while 65” sets were going for $5,000 and up. By summer of 2014 55” sets were selling at around $2,500 and 65” sets at under $4,000, and LG had introduced a 49” set priced at $1,499.

Going into the fall, other leading manufacturers were expected to keep pace with their own sub-$1,500 offerings of sets in the 50” range. Going even farther, Vizio was on record with a promise to soon offer a 50” set at under $1,000. At these prices 4K sets were rapidly reaching a level of price differentiation with HD sets that would make a move to 4K virtually painless for buyers of 50” or larger TVs.

Adding to the sales momentum is the fact that CE manufacturers are driving a message to consumers that 4K TV sets will result in immediate improvements in their viewing experience even without access to true UHD content. Most sets by major manufacturers now come with upscaling capabilities, which, for Blu-ray owners, means they perform processes on 1080p HD signals to deliver a much better picture than could be seen on HD sets, especially at large screen sizes. Thus, UHD content availability is not as much a gating factor to adoption as the lack of HD content was in market conversion from SD to HD TV sets.

Researchers projecting sales for this year and the years immediately ahead are in general agreement that these price trends are having a big impact on sales even though there is very little UHD content available. For example, researcher IHS projects that global shipments of 4K LCD (liquid crystal display) TV sets will hit 10 million in 2014, up from 1.5 million in 2013, and will rise to 38.5 million in 2018.i Similarly, NPD DisplaySearch predicts 4K UHD TV shipments (all display technologies) will rise from 1.9 million units in 2013 to 12.7 million in 2014.ii

Taking a longer view, Strategy Analytics in a recent report predicts that UHD TV shipments will account for 41 percent of global flat panel TV units in 2020 compared to 4 percent in 2014.iii While China, where set prices are much lower, has dominated the UHD TV sales picture so far, accounting for 78 percent of global shipments in 2014, according to NPD, Strategy Analytics says that by 2020 the U.S. will overtake China in UHD TV household penetration with a 33 percent penetration rate. Projected penetration rates for Western Europe and Asia-Pacific at that time are 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

In light of such projections, MVPDs appear to be on safe ground waiting until sometime in 2015 to launch initial UHD services. But waiting longer could be a mistake.

In the case of cable industry preparations for UHD, CableLabs has been performing tests on cable plant and with streaming technologies to help its members assess requirements for delivering a quality service. The organization has also been conducting random consumer tests by asking people at shopping malls to rate side-by-side comparisons of UHD and HD on similarly sized displays. Speaking at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, CableLabs CEO Phil McKinney reported that by a margin of 65 to 35 percent consumers chose the UHD picture as the superior option.iv

The combination of falling prices and better picture quality through upscaling of HD has led cable executives to anticipate a viable market for UHD service is not far off. McKinney told his CES audience he anticipates the “hockey stick” when UHD penetration “really starts to take off” will come at the end of 2015.

UHD Content Availability

The trickle of UHD content available for network access so far has largely come from Netflix, which has converted a handful of old movies to 4K and is delivering two TV series in 4K to subscribers who have access to a 20 Mbps or higher broadband connection. One of those series, the second season of Netflix’s own House of Cards, was shot in 4K; the other, the AMC series Breaking Bad, was re-mastered from HD. The aggregator says it will be continually adding movie titles to the UHD menu and intends to soon offer more of its own original productions in UHD.v

Netflix is relying on the emergence of H.265 codecs in smart TVs to provide the decoding base for the H.265/HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) compression that enables 4K streaming at 20 Mbps. With its player now embedded in two Samsung 4K TV models, Netflix says its 4K player-enabled base of TV sets would soon include some models supplied by Sony, LG and Vizio as well as more from Samsung.

There are also some videos on YouTube and another video site, Vimeo, available in 4K, and Amazon’s web TV service, Amazon Prime, has promised to begin offering some original content along with movies in 4K before the end of Sony, too, is contributing to the early pool of content with the sale of a 4K media streaming player that allows buyers of its UltraHD TV sets to access about 50 movies.

In the TV space there is a growing but still very limited body of TV shows being captured with 4K cameras, including, according to various press reports, NBC’s Saturday Night Live, The Michael J. Fox Show, Blacklist and everything produced by 3Net Studios, the production house backed by Discovery, Sony and IMAX.But these efforts are targeting anticipated opportunities in on-demand OTT scenarios such as Netflix with no immediate plans to offer the content live.

There have also been some preliminary UHD production and streaming experiments with live sports programming in conjunction with making the Sochi Winter Olympics and the World Cup soccer finals available for viewing at special venues on closed circuit distribution outlets. Fox Sports has been shooting NFL games in UHD, not for general distribution as standalone UHD content but as a means to add close-up coverage as part of its HD broadcasts.

But live sports for general access in UHD will be a while in coming to market, owing in part to the costs of having to shoot live in both 4K and HD. Camera placements for 4K capture are different requiring different crews in the field as well as at the production consoles.

Developments on the motion picture front, however, offer an entirely different perspective on the UHD opportunity for MVPDs. A growing number of new films are being shot in 4K, and major post production houses are now equipped to re-master other films for distribution in 4K.

Technology Benchmarks for Premium UHD

Two documents released late last year by MovieLabs, whose members include Disney, 20th Century Fox,  Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers, make clear the levels of quality and content protection MVPDs will need to provide if they want to be licensed to deliver recently released films as part of a premium UHD service.vii While these benchmarks are positioned as recommendations, leaving it up to each studio to set its own requirements, MovieLabs members and others are expected to set guidelines closely aligned with the recommendations.

Quality of Service Requirements

From a quality perspective, MovieLabs’ recommendations begin with the stipulation that the goal of the specifications is to “provide consumers with entertainment content at the highest quality technology allows.” Several nuances are noteworthy:

  • Even though display devices must “minimally support a resolution of at least 3840 x 2160 pixels,” in cases where the content is formatted in the full 4K cinema array of 4096 x 2160 pixels, “the display shall display such content in the native resolution of the content regardless of the display’s native resolution.” In other words, “rescaling the image slightly to match the native resolution of the display is strongly discouraged.”
  • MovieLabs’ proposed color space, CIE XYX with a bit depth of at least 12 bits, goes well beyond the 4K display profiles of today’s UHD TV sets. The recommendations leave wiggle room for displaying UHD content formatted to these specs on devices with a lower color gamut, saying “it is expected that display manufacturers will either develop devices that can fully encompass the creative range and/or bring innovative transformations that can display the data as closely as intended on the limited gamut device.”
  • The bar on brightness, too, is set higher than seen so far in mainstream 4K TV sets. Whereas these sets top out at several hundred Nits (a unit of brightness roughly equivalent to one candle per square meter) with contrast ratios in the range of 40,000:1, MovieLabs is calling for peak brightness of 10,000 Nits and a target contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1. But, again, the organization makes allowances for displays that can’t achieve these parameters by stipulating that players connected to legacy displays that can’t process the video in its original format transform the input signal into an output that’s appropriate to the display’s capabilities.
  • Specifications for frame rates don’t present any major challenges insofar as they are pegged to progressive scan (p) rates commonly supported in today’s devices. The required frame rates for 2D are from 24p up to 60p with 96p, 100p and 120p listed as options.

While it’s largely up to display manufacturers to deliver devices that enable rendering of UHD content in accord with MovieLabs’ specifications, MVPDs will need to have in place a support infrastructure, including storage facilities, encoders, networks and set-tops, that can provide quality assurance commensurate with these requirements. Among other things, this means selection of distribution bitrates that avoid compromising quality.

HEVC, like all encoding standards in their early iterations, is a moving target with likely improvements ahead that will lower the bitrate thresholds for any given level of display quality. But MVPDs will need to make sure their HEVC settings don’t stint on the extra throughput required for studio-licensed premium UHD content.

Content Security Requirements

MVPDs, of course, have a direct role to play in implementing the additional security measures MovieLabs has spelled out with its Specification for Enhanced Content Protection – Version 1.0. Here, too, the recommended UHD requirements go well beyond today’s norms, and for good reason, as outlined by MovieLabs in a listing of the types of threats high-value content will encounter.

The organization says its goal is “to mitigate certain piracy problems that are not adequately addressed by current practices and to prevent piracy problems that might occur in situations when there are multiple formats and means of distribution….”  Some of the recommended specifications are focused on preventing what MovieLabs calls the most challenging type of piracy – the kind of disc ripping that easily broke DVD security and, more recently, has compromised the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) security introduced by Blu-ray.

MovieLabs prescribes new security measures meant to ensure that one successful use of a ripping application to capture a particular title can’t be applied on discs storing other titles. For example, DRMs must bind the ability to decrypt a license key to a particular host or storage device. “License keys shall be encrypted such that they cannot be decrypted without the keys of the individual device for which the license was issued,” MovieLabs says.

End-to-End Security

Other measures apply more broadly to establishing a secure media pipeline through all stages of end-to-end network distribution. Here the concern is multiple ways in which hardware devices compromising hardware protection in the supply chain or software applications compromising software-protected pipelines can be used to “capture digital, baseband video imagery.”

Generally speaking, measures directed at network distribution represent a greater emphasis on server-side security management, requiring systems that can authenticate devices at the moment of consumption and that can immediately revoke, fix and reinstate security when breaches occur. Such capabilities also require a new level of active monitoring to detect security breaches.

Another principle applying to all security processes is the need to establish a secure computation environment “isolated by hardware mechanisms running only authenticated code for performing critical operations.” Such measures need to be in place to protect security functions in memory and OS; the handling of sensitive cryptography; the selection of content outputs, and processes used in configuring the secure media pipeline. All outputs that can be protected through application of HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) must be secured through use of HDCP release 2.2 or succeeding versions.

Forensic Watermarking & Roots of Trust

The most widely discussed and arguably the most challenging new security component for MVPDs entails implementing forensic watermarking. While MovieLabs acknowledges camcording of impeccably displayed UHD content from big TV screens can’t be prevented, it believes the practice can be discouraged by ensuring that every viewing of a UHD-formatted movie is marked with imperceptible code that can be used to trace any copies of a purloined title back to the original viewing location. Whether the watermark is inserted at the server or at the client device, the process must continue to work “even if the device and its secrets are compromised.”

MovieLabs also addresses a longstanding area of security enforcement used by MVPDs in the traditional conditional access system (CAS) environment, namely, hardware root of trust. In contrast to the old approaches to root of trust, where keys embedded in set-top chipsets at the factory were tied to the CAS supplied by a specific set-top OEM, operators today are looking for solutions that enable greater flexibility in the selection of OEM suppliers by implementing root-of-trust security in SoCs (systems-on-a-chip) that can work with powerful software-based security systems in a variety of OEM environments.

Now, with MovieLabs’ call for hardware roots of trust supporting a “secure chain of trust” across all devices, there’s a need to extend roots of trust to SoCs embedded in heretofore uncontrolled mobile and other IP-connected devices. In this new environment, MVPDs will be able to use softwar-based security to supply the content protection required for access to premium services without limiting users to access via set-top boxes.

Among device and chip manufacturers there is growing support for embedded security environments that will allow MVPDs to take advantage of solutions that orchestrate hardware and software components to enable multiscreen distribution of high-value content. For example, the MovieLabs specifications come in tandem with the emergence of the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE), an embedded security initiative with broad support in the connected-device arena.

Developed under the auspices of GlobalPlatform, a standards-setting body, TEE utilizes technology supplied by Trustonic, a company created by three key players in the device security arena – ARM Holdings, Gemalto and Giesecke & Devrient. TEE builds on the widely used mobile TrustZone system originally developed by ARM, the U.K.-based supplier of microprocessors and related technology, to create an embedded application- and service-independent security platform that protects sensitive assets such as passcodes, fingerprints and certificates. In essence, the TEE open business model allows device manufacturers to incorporate the TEE security technology into their own products while enabling service providers to activate these capabilities in accord with their own timelines.

The Benefits of Exploiting UHD-Multiscreen Technology Synergies

As MVPDs contemplate their UHD service strategies, the good news is the timing dovetails with efforts to streamline their video processing and distribution infrastructures to enable efficient expansion of TV Everywhere services and eventual migration to all-IP services. Consequently, by embracing an IP- and software-centric approach to bringing premium UHD service into play, operators will be able to budget UHD in conjunction with funding the costs of the security, compression and other technologies they need for a next-generation multiscreen service.

One area of investment where such cost-sharing efficiencies come into play is the move to HEVC. By implementing UHD in an architectural environment that supports multiscreen pay TV, operators will also be able to exploit HEVC, a prerequisite for bandwidth-efficient delivery of UHD, to open network capacity for all multiscreen services.

Similarly, when it comes to security, many of the requirements set by MovieLabs have already been implemented for advanced multiscreen services. Notably, the Verimatrix VCAS™ (Video Content Authority System) platform is in wide use as a means of enabling integrated service strategies where unified workflows can be employed to support grooming, packaging, encryption and other processes across the IP and legacy pay-TV programming domains.

VCAS makes this possible by managing both CA and DRM processes at the software layer in tight coordination with the hardware-based security implementations on legacy service set-tops and targeted IP devices. The server-side security management and secure computation environment required for fulfilling the MovieLabs UHD security mandate is intrinsic to the VCAS architecture, as are specified functions such as security monitoring, revocation and renewal.

Verimatrix also has introduced VideoMark, which embeds watermarks in client devices. The user-specific watermarking solution securely, robustly and imperceptibly hides detailed serialization information within high value media content at the point of display. VideoMark data can help establish a virtual “chain of custody” for content that accurately identifies the source of unauthorized copies, and provides a valuable deterrent in the fight against piracy.


MVPDs have an opportunity to take a leading role in bringing revenue-generating UHD services to market that are far superior to what can be offered by OTT providers. By adhering to the quality and content protection prescriptions of the motion picture studios, operators will be able to deliver recently released movies to a growing base of 4K UHD TV set owners who want a viewing experience that meets their expectations.

Fortunately, the video processing, distribution and security infrastructure suited to the requirements of multiscreen services can also be used to support premium UHD service, allowing operators to avoid the costs of setting up separate silos for these next-generation services. With holistic integration of UHD into the multiscreen domain MVPDs will be able to cost effectively scale UHD services as ever more content becomes available while extending service reach beyond the confines of the living room.

In this converged service environment operators will be able to deploy a single server-managed security platform suited to coordinating CA and DRM applications across all devices in conjunction with new hybrid approaches to maximizing the benefits of software- and hardware-based security. The capabilities embodied in the Verimatrix VCAS and StreamMark solutions provide operators all the protection they need to create an expanding portfolio of high-value UHD content as they move ever more live and on-demand HD content to multiscreen delivery.

Anish Koirala
Anish Koirala
Meet Anish, a talented author in the gaming industry. With a passion for storytelling and a deep understanding of game mechanics, Anish weaves captivating narratives that immerse players in unforgettable worlds.


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