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Is HDCP Only for 4K?


While HDCP 2.2 is the standard for copy protection in today’s Ultra-High Definition era, HDCP is also suitable for protecting digital videos that aren’t in 4K. 

If you are wondering whether the technology was devised solely for 4K, we can answer that right now – HDCP is not only for 4K. It is for all copyright-protected digital videos. 

Intel devised the technology in order to protect digital content against illegal acquisition known as “illegal piracy.” HDCP has eleven different versions which can accommodate various resolutions.

HDCP services aren’t exclusive to 4K content, but its 2.2 version features the necessary configurations better-suited for the resolution’s more demanding requirements. 

Below, we will expand more on HDCP and its relation to 4K. We will also talk about why HDCP 2.2 is best-suited for digital copies in 4K resolution.  

HDCP 2.2 Was Designed to Protect 4K Content

A couple streaming 4K TV shows

For better understanding, we’ve included a brief history below.

Intel Corporation developed High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). Intel devised the technology to protect audiovisual content from illegal piracy during its transmission across networks. 

HDCP connections are available for DisplayPort (DP), High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), even Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connections. It is used in protecting the multimedia of numerous resolutions.

There are other HDCP variations that better suit HD resolutions. The two flagship HDCP versions are HDCP 1.4 and HDCP 2.2. 

The HDCP 1.4 is designed for 1080p or Full High-Definition content, whereas the HDCP 2.2 is better-suited for Ultra High-Definition (4K) content. 

Watching content from an external source on any display requires a connection. The transmission of audiovisual data from its origin storage to a screen will create a “digital handshake” between them. 

The link is created via cable and only applies when connecting your display to a data source outside of it. Confusing? Let’s break it down. 

Externally-Sourced Content 

Contents on laptop

Devices require HDCP protection when connecting a cable from a TV (or other display) to receive content from a streaming box, console, Blu-Ray player, PC, HDMI splitter, and other adaptors. 

HDCP is unnecessary for internal sources, like when your TV already has built-in Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube. 

Let’s use a game console in this example. 

HDCP secures the connection through audiovisual transmission from the PS4 to the TV. 

If you are trying to access Netflix from your PS4 to watch on your 4K TV, you will be incapable of internally recording Netflix’s content using any screen recording software on your TV.  

HDCP 2.2 is encoded into gaming consoles’ HDMI output. 

Thus, its content protection applies when connecting your HDMI cable from your PS4 to the display screen. Automatically, the 4K content on your PS4’s Netflix that is delivered onto your display cannot be recorded using any video-capturing programs.

This ensures the streaming platform’s content is protected against illegal piracy. 

Why You Don’t Need HDCP Security for Built-In Sources

A Laptop next to a monitor

Using an HDMI cable to link the source to the display only transmits audiovisual data. It does not ship the layers of security encoded into the data.

The data protection streaming platforms and other sources encode into their content are configurations that multi-media cables cannot transmit. The security features will remain within the source. 

That is why it’s imperative HDCP is encoded into HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and other ports that are built into multi-media sources.

Try this on your mobile device where you have the Netflix app installed:

  • Launch the Netflix app
  • Start watching any program
  • Start screen recording or screenshotting (print screen for PC)
  • Stop recording
  • Open your phone’s gallery where media is saved
  • Take a look at the recording/screenshot/print screen you took of the program that was playing
  • All you see is black

Black screen by HDCP

This is an example of the built-in protection applied against the illegal recording of copyrighted content.

Streaming content on a device without HDCP configurations allows internal recording. When you cannot record content from its source, others illegally link the content’s source onto another display. 

In other words, this is how people possibly rip content in its original quality for the purpose of illegal piracy. The possibility comes because transmitting data from the source to the display only transmits audiovisual data. These transmissions do not include security functions in the transfer. 

HDCP is a third-party feature that adds its proprietary layer of security into the transfer. 

Does HDCP 2.2 Affect 4K Quality?

A man editing and watching 4K video

The short answer is no. HDCP security does not affect the quality of the data’s resolution.

What does affect its quality is when devices that claim to feature full 4K compatibility actually do not. If your TV claims to be fully compatible with 4K resolution, it needs its integrations to be up to par. 

HDCP isn’t backward compatible. Should it feature an HDCP 1.4 instead of the 2.2, your 4K content will be downgraded to Full HD instead. 

In other instances, if you link an unreliable, cheap display (TV, screen, projector) to a certified 4K streaming source (PS4, streaming box, PC) due to its lack of qualified HDMI ports that feature HDCP technology, the content will not play.

If you see an error message about the content’s inability to play on your display, chances are your display does not feature HDCP technology. All leading streaming platforms only allow integration on accredited sources and will not allow the transmission to uncertified devices. 

You should get displays from reliable manufacturers so you are assured their claims regarding its design and built-in configurations are more legitimate than others.

Sony was a catalyst in leading the progression of 4K technology. Sony even has a proprietary configuration of the resolution known as CinemaWide 4K.

Sony Xperia 1 - 21:9 CinemaWide 4K HDR OLED Display Smartphone

This variation of 4K is only available to Sony products including but not limited to the Xperia 1 Xperia 1 ii , and Xperia 1 iii .

The 50-inch Sony X80J  comes from the brand’s innovation of the UHD LED series. It features full 4K compatibility and a variety of built-in 4K sources such as Netflix, HBO Go, and YouTube.

Final Words

HDCP in red

We hope this article helped you understand more about HDCP technology and its relation to 4K. Remember that the technology only offers data protection by securing connections during transmission. 

HDCP and all its various versions aren’t designed to enhance or diminish quality. If your content’s resolution is diminished, it is because of incompatibility.

The resolution or the version of the HDCP may be what’s causing the issue and not the technology itself. 

In fact, if your content doesn’t play on the device, it is because your display lacks the technology. 

Remember, you can’t go wrong with buying your devices from reputable sources when in doubt.

If you don’t have enough time to read through everything, here are your key takeaways for a quicker read. 

Key Takeaways

  • HDCP isn’t only for 4K.
  • HDCP 2.2 is designed for 4K content.
  • HDCP technology is encoded onto HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and other ports used for multimedia cables transporting audiovisual data.
  • HDCP doesn’t affect resolution quality.
  • Buy your devices from reputable brands.

Last update on 2022-07-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.


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