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Windows 10 may force PlayReady 3.0 DRM on users for 4K streaming

Microsoft is reportedly working on a new iteration of its hardware digital rights management (DRM) technology for playing 4K content on Windows 10.

Thus far, the availability of 4K content is limited on PCs. Window’s proposed PlayReady 3.0 DRM could support 4K content but use much more restrictive digital rights management technology to curb illegitimate streams at the same time.

If true, Windows would be able to convince studios to use PlayReady 3.0 and as a result bring 4K streaming to desktops, according to Extreme Tech.

However, just how PlayReady 3.0 will work is unclear as a number of silicon vendors slated to be involved have not discussed if their next range of products will be compatible with PlayReady 3.0.

At the recent WinHEC conference China, Microsoft’s Nishanth Lingamneni discussed hardware DRM but the video of his talk cuts off before he goes into more detail. Although, slides that are now online claim relationships are ongoing with a couple of manufacturers: “Roadmap(s) already in place with AMD, Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia.”

Just how far along these relationships with AMD, Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia are is unknown at this time. AMD chips, for example, do support protected streaming but makes no mention of anything specific like PlayReady 3.0.

The big issue that may emerge is how certain Windows users could end up being locked out of streaming high-quality content. Users that don’t use this latest version of PlayReady could be stuck streaming video at 1080p or worse. There is also no information on what kind of effect PlayReady 3.0 could have on laptop battery life.

Related: Preparing for HEVC, the next great video codec

The promise of 4K compatibility could be used as a selling point for Windows 10 while also trying to combat piracy.

Previously, your computer may have used software-based digital right management solutions, which were used in the last two versions of Windows, but hardware-based DRMs, on the other hand, are more intuitive in blocking people ripping content for example.

During his WinHEC talk, Lingamneni made the case for 4K content and the protection that PlayReady 3.0 would provide.

“If a movie is playing in a movie theater right now, and you would like to have access to it on your Windows PC,” said Lingamneni, “they might make it available on some Windows PCs that have the higher bar for content protection.”

PlayReady 3.0 would make the promise of being this higher bar of protection.

Interest in online video in general is greater than ever and continues to rise, according to figures from Nielsen.

There is now an overwhelming demand for greater video quality, specifically 4K content. Netflix for example was one of the first major streaming services to commit to 4K. This puts even greater pressure on bandwidth and video coding but the technology is gradually becoming more efficient.

Windows 10’s PlayReady 3.0 DRM could very well usher in a new phase in which accessing and streaming 4K video is a great deal easier and more fluid, but could have unintended consequences at the same time.