But as with any new technology upgrade, it’s perhaps not going to be quite as straightforward to implement as we’d all want.

One major challenge is HDCP 2.2, the latest evolution of the HDCP copy protection designed to create a secure connection between a source and a display.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) in its revised Ultra High-Definition Display Characteristics V2 guidelines, effective from September 2014, has defined that at least one of the 3840x2160 HDMI digital inputs on a display “shall support HDCP revision 2.2 or equivalent content protection” for it to be an Ultra HD installation.

For Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CEA, “these updated attributes will help ensure consumers get the most out of this exciting new technology and will provide additional certainty in the marketplace.” However, HDCP2.2 gives rise to some concern regarding the future of Ultra HD content through HDMI.

Here’s what David Meyer, Managing Director at Kordz has to say on the subject:

“The HDCP handshake occurs in HDMI with a key exchange from source to sink through the DDC (Display Data Channel), which runs parallel to the actual HDCP encrypted high speed data lanes. This has always been the case with HDMI since inception (and DisplayPort, I might add). The exchange protocols and HDCP version is embedded within the HDMI transmit and receive chipsets in hardware, and typically cannot be upgraded.”

So, HDCP 2.2 is not “backward compatible”. If the source device is using an older version of HDCP then it can be connected to an HDCP 2.2 enabled display. So, a Blu-ray player can send 1080p to a 2.2-enabled receiver, or to a 4K TV, with no issues. Many new 4K devices don’t even support HDCP 2.2. A 4K screen that may have been bought in the last 18 months will not necessarily be able to display 4K resolution studio content in the future.

“Whether to use encryption at all, and to what degree, is actually in the hands of the content owners, namely the movie studios,” adds David Meyer. “What we don’t know yet is whether a decision will come down to enforce encryption of future content using HDCP 2.2. For example, they may determine that any content at 2160p resolution (4K/ UHD) at a frame rate of 60fps or higher, regardless of colour space or bit depth be encrypted with HDCP 2.2.”

“It’s even possible that they capture all 2160p content regardless of frame rate, meaning even formats defined under HDMI 1.4 back in 2009, being as low as 24fps, could even become subject to this. We simply don’t know yet. So what would it mean? Well, any hardware which is not HDCP 2.2 compatible – and that’s a lot – could NOT be used in any transmission of HDCP 2.2 encrypted content from source to sink. For example, AV receivers, splitters and matrix switchers, etc. Some AVRs are already available with at least one HDCP 2.2 input, and many (but not all) UHD displays also have at least one compatible input, but it’s early days.”

Hamish Neale, EMEA Sales & Marketing Director at Leaf agrees:

“If, for example, a matrix Switch or an AV receiver is incorporated into the system and it is not HDCP 2.2 compliant, then regardless of the HDCP2.2 compatibility of the source device and screen there will be problems playing encrypted content. No image, an error message or some other low value content will be displayed instead.”

“Unfortunately non-HDCP 2.2-compliant devices cannot simply be upgraded via firmware to become 2.2,” adds Chris Pinder, from HD Connectivity. “HDCP 2.2 is implemented within a new physical chip as part of device hardware. The biggest repercussion of this is that for our client’s most popular video source (settop-boxes) to deliver what the CEA would regard as ‘proper’ Ultra HD 4K content via HDMI, service providers will have the upheaval of providing and upgrading subscribers with a shiny new box.”

“From this, integrators can deduce that until shiny new set-top-boxes become available, premium 4K content with HDCP 2.2 encryption will be delivered
either directly to the display via a download/app service, or via high-end media servers such as the Sony X10 or Kaleidescape.”

Chris continues, “Eventually, 4K Blu-ray players will arrive also, but they are a good few months, maybe more than a year away from appearing. Either way, most HD video distribution manufacturers will likely already have HDCP 2.2-compliant systems already available or launching within just a few months to head-off and handle this new HDMI challenge!”

“There’s one more element to the HDCP 2.2 mystery that’s worth keeping an eye on,” adds David Meyer. That’s cable length. DCP have introduced a mechanism to limit cable length, so that any transmission longer than 20m will be blocked. At least, that’s what it says in the spec – enforcement may be another matter. How this translates to connectivity lengths and/or formats, or even how the dynamic of interacting with other formats such as HDBaseT modulation, remains to be seen.”

“It is important to note however that HDBaseT only modulates the raw data, and is therefore agnostic in regards to HDCP version, so theoretically no problem there. If an HDBaseT extender is decoding HDMI for reasons such as audio de-embed or various other possibilities, then it may be rendered incompatible with HDCP 2.2. The key is to look out for specific reference to HDCP 2.2 compatibility in product specifications or support documents. Ask the vendors.”

A lack of 4K content is another problem holding back potential growth in Ultra HD. This issue is also inextricably linked to HDCP2.2 compliance. Here’s what Steve Venuti, President of standards body HDMI Licensing has to say on the subject.

“As with HDCP 1.X, the Hollywood studios look for adoption of the technology before releasing content that requires encryption. The studios are hesitant to release 4K content utilising the 1.X HDCP technology, and are looking for enough adoption of HDCP 2.2 before releasing 4K content. We are now seeing many of the new devices that offer 4K/60 functionality adopting HDCP 2.2 in their products. We anticipate that once there are enough devices in the market with HDP 2.2, the market will begin to see a widespread release of 4K premium content.”

Until more CE vendors have implemented HDCP 2.2, then film studios will clearly not be overly keen to popularise 4k content. Ultra HD has great potential for CI, but the technology upgrade may not be as seamless or as easy as we would all hope.