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What is HDCP?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 16, 2024
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High-Bandwidth Digital-Content Protection (HDCP) is a form of digital rights management (DRM) that was created by Intel. It was designed to protect the transfer of high quality, digital content from a video source, such as a computer, satellite television receiver, or DVD player to a receiver such as a television screen or computer monitor. Specifically, the technology sought to achieve some degree of copyright protection in audio and video content, such as movies, videos, and television.

Many video and audio playing devices have the HDCP specification in them. While not all computers are HDCP compatible, some computer manufacturers have turned to HDCP to ensure additional protective measures are in place. Computers fitted with Windows® Vista®, for example, typically have the HDCP specification. The HDCP spec can be found in some digital video interfaces (DVIs) — a video interface standard found in display devices such as flat panel LCDs. HDCP can also be found in many monitors, game consoles, blue-ray players that have high-definition multimedia interfaces (HDMIs) as well as monitors and home theater systems that have DisplayPort interfaces.

HDCP works basically like this. When a DVD or blue-ray disc is placed in a computer or DVD player, or when a satellite receiver is turned on, the transmitter immediately checks to ensure that the receiver is licensed with HDCP key controls. If the machine does not have the proper license in place, it will not be allowed to receive and display the HDCP-protected material. If the proper HDCP controls are in place, the DVD or audio and video content will be displayed on that computer monitor or television screen.

The HDCP license is checked for throughout the viewing session — not just the beginning of the transmission. In general, HDCP controls allow for friendly interchanges between the transmitter and the receiver, while blocking other receivers from intercepting, stealing, or otherwise viewing the content.

Violations of the HDCP license can result in fines and your ability to view HDCP-protected content may be revoked. In 2001, a group of researchers claim to have been able to create a hack for HDCP and get around the encryption protections. Still, the Federal Communications Commission approved of the protective technology in 2004.

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