Learn About HDCP and Potential Compatibility Issues

HDCP licensing protects high-value movies, TV shows and audio

Cable TV concept
John Lamb / Getty Images

Did you recently purchase a Blu-ray Disc player and wonder why it won't play? Do you use HDMI, DVI or DP cables and get an occasional error when trying to display video content? In the process of shopping for a new TV, did you wonder what HDCP meant? 

If one of these scenarios describes your situation, you likely have an HDCP compatibility issue.

What Is HDCP?

High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is a security feature developed by Intel Corporation that requires the use of HDCP-certified products to receive an HDCP-encrypted digital signal.

It works by encrypting a digital signal with a key that requires authentication from both the transmitting and receiving products. If authentication fails, the signal fails.

Purpose of HDCP

The Digital Content Protection LLC, the Intel subsidiary organization that licenses HDCP, describes its purpose as to license technologies to protect high-value digital movies, TV shows and audio from unauthorized access or copying.

The most current HDCP version is 2.3, which was released in February 2018. Most products on the market have a previous HDCP version, which is fine because HDCP is compatible across versions.

Digital Content With HDCP

Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. were early adopters of HDCP encryption technology.

It is difficult to pinpoint which content has HDCP protection, but it certainly could be encrypted in any form of Blu-ray disc, DVD rental, cable or satellite service, or pay-per-view programming.

The DCP has licensed hundreds of manufacturers as adopters of HDCP.

Connecting HDCP

HDCP is relevant when you use a digital HDMI or DVI cable. If every product using these cables has HDCP, then you shouldn't notice anything. HDCP is designed to prevent theft of digital content, which is another way of saying recording. As a result, there are limitations to how many components you can connect.

How HDCP Affects the Consumer

The issue at hand is the delivery of a digital signal through a digital cable to a digital viewing device, like a Blu-ray disc player sending a 1080p image to a 1080p HDTV via an HDMI cable.

If all the products used are HDCP-certified, the consumer won’t notice anything. The problem occurs when one of the products isn’t HDCP-certified. A key aspect of HDCP is that it isn't required by law to be compatible with every interface. It’s a voluntary licensing relationship between the DCP and various companies.

Still, it’s an unanticipated shock to the consumer who connects a Blu-ray disc player to an HDTV with an HDMI cable only to see no signal. The solution to this situation is to either use component cables instead of HDMI or to replace the TV. That’s not the agreement most consumers thought they agreed to when they bought an HDTV that is not HDCP licensed.

HDCP Products

Products with HDCP are sorted into three buckets—sources, sinks, and repeaters:

  • Sources are products where the HDCP signal originates. They are the A point in an A-to-B-to-C order of events. Products in this category include DVRs, set-top boxes, digital tuners, Blu-ray players, and DVD recorders.
  • Sinks are products that receive the HDCP signal and display it somewhere. They are the C point in an A-to-B-to-C order of events. Products in this category include TVs and digital projectors.
  • Repeaters are products that receive the HDCP signal from a source and send it to the sink. They are the B point in an A-to-B-to-C order of events. Products in this category include repeaters, splitters, switchers, AV receivers, and wireless transmitters.

For the curious consumer who wants to verify whether a product has HDCP, the DCP publishes a list of approved products on its website.