Content providers mandate the presence of protection schemes at all times when the consumers want to access their wares. For the consumer, this entails:

1. Conditional access
2. Protected transmission
3. Protected distribution
4. Protected storage

Conditional access is applicable to cases where media travels over insecure channels (such as satellite or cable). This is implemented in STBs. Protected transmission is the path to the display device, and it is usually protected by HDCP (over HDMI) or Macrovision in legacy systems. Protected storage is encountered in broadcast content, with its copy flags to allow DVR archiving. Protected distribution is enabled by the DRM mechanism in Blu-rays / DVDs. In Blu-rays, this DRM scheme is called as AACS (Advanced Access Content System). AACS also provides for protected storage through the Managed Copy feature.

A Popular Webcomic's Take on DRM (c) xkcd

AACS uses 128-bit AES for encryption. Each Blu-ray player / device has a Device Key, while discs come with a Media Key Block (MKB). The shared key generated by using these two (Media Key) is used to decrypt the Title Key, which is then used to decrypt the audio/video data in the disc. AACS also has a revocation mechanism. The MKB in each disc has a Host Revocation List for software players and a Device Revocation List for hardware drives. For PC-based playback to be successful, both the player and the drive must not be on the revocation list.

In practice, key revocation is quite rare because device keys could be shared across an entire lineup, making it hard to pinpoint which particular device was compromised. AACS does provide some sequence keys to identify a particular device as compromised if one has access to multiple pirated copies of different discs from the same drive. In addition to the MKB-Media Key-Title Key combination, PC-based players also have support to generate a Shared Bus Key to encrypt the data inbetween the drive and the software player. This ensures that any snooped data can't be used to get to the original content on the disc. AACS also has a renewal process to prevent attacks similar to those carried out on CSS (with DVDs). The net result is that we are currently at AACS v30.

In addition to AACS, the BDA mandates a BD-ROM mark, which is a physical irregularity on the disc with a 128-bit VolumeID. Blu-ray players will not play back protected content without the VolumeID, as it is essential to the decryption process. Also, the VolumeID can't be generated by consumers (BD-Recorders don't have the capability to burn a VolumeID). The process is tied to the manufacturing facility (which can obtain a license only under strict security considerations). With a counterfeit Blu-ray, it is a simple matter of using the VolumeID to trace the place where the piracy took place.

Note that AACS is based solely on cryptography and, after having been compromised, has the possibility of revoking cryptographic keys as the only means of regaining its effectiveness. So far, this method has failed. This has tempted studios to move over to other forms of DRM such as BD+ and Sony Screen Pass.

It is mandatory for players to implement support for BD+, but not all Blu-rays need to be BD+ enabled. From a player's perspective, a Security Virtual Machine (SVM) needs to be implemented. Blu-rays with BD+ have special content code which are loaded by the SVM and executed during the playback process. The content code has full control over all the components involved in playback. It can alter menus and show on-screen messages if some security breach is detected in the player.

One of the most common BD+ implementations involves storing garbled video on the disc (i.e, after AACS decryption, certain segments of the video are distorted). The content code can implement a fix for the distorted video so that licensed playback is still problem free. For example, in the recently released Contagion Blu-ray, watching the disc with an old version of AnyDVD HD (which performs only AACS decryption, say) would result in heavily distorted video in various scenes. This is because the BD+ code to fix the video wasn't being executed by AnyDVD HD. Unlike AACS, technologies such as BD+ from Irdeto (responsible for the BD+ in the Contagion Blu-ray) and Sony Screen Pass continue to evolve with each new disc.

BD+ needs a SVM to be implemented, but note that the Blu-ray specifications already include a VM requirement for the BD-Java feature. This BD-J feature can also be used to implement structural protection schemes such as Sony DADC's Screen Pass. In this scheme, BD-J code on the disc actively looks for signs of protection being in place during playback. When the BD-J code finds that the protection features are missing (say, due to playing an unprotected copy, or when ripping tools are active in the background), playback is immediately stopped along with an on-screen message. DVDFab's blog has some more details on Screen Pass.

In addition to DRMs aimed at directly protecting content by encryption, the Blu-ray developers also considered some watermarking schemes. Watermarking doesn't actually encrypt the content, but places some non-discernible (to the naked eyes/ears) information in the audio / video tracks of the stream. By serving as a digital signature, it helps the player / analyzer identify the content status. In the next section, we will be talking in detail about Cinavia, the audio watermarking scheme from Verance. Thomson's NexGuard is a type of video watermarking scheme which works with the help of the BD+ SVM. The BD+ content code embeds some invisible information in the video track which contains details of the player / drive used to decrypt the stream. If the video gets out and becomes a 'pirated copy', the watermark can be analyzed to determine the player / drive responsible for the 'piracy'. BD+ code in subsequent Blu-rays can be used to blacklist the player / add it to a revocation list.

If you are interested in learning more about content protection in Blu-rays, I strongly suggest perusing Chapter 4 of Blu-ray Disc Demystified.

Introduction Cinavia: The Lowdown
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  • cmdrdredd - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Exactly. You cannot stream dual 1080p video for 3D and get Lossless audio. Almost nobody has enough bandwidth to handle that kind of traffic.
  • joshv - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    I tried BD-Live, once. An hour later (had to update the player ROM and sit through random crashes) I was treated to the crappiest, slowest interactive experience I'd ever seen. It was like a flash website from 1999 running on a 100MHz Pentium, with tiny text that wasn't legible on my TV. I was like "damn, these people just don't get it".

    What they don't get is that we just want to watch the whole damned thing - that's it, that's all. About 10% of us might watch a "making of" short, and about 0.5% of us are geeky enough to watch the whole movie with an annoying director voice over. We don't want to play a game, or have a click through adventure - we want to WATCH THE FEATURE.

    Same with TV shows. Either put up full episodes on the web (even laden with crap ads), or don't. I don't want to watch "clips", I don't want to see character interviews. I want to WATCH THE SHOW.
  • colonelciller - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    lol... agree 100%
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    I still have yet to purchase a blu-ray player. They are dipping below $50, finally, 3 years after that milestone should have occured. This is of course because blu-ray was the inferior format compared to HD-DVD. If HD-DVD had "won" the format war there would be 5-10 times as many HD discs sold by now. Burners would be $20 and there would be 100 times more burning going on.

    Of course "they" dont want that, even though "they" would have actually made a whole lot more money if "they" had simply taken their heads of of their butts. I will never buy anything blu-ray, until it is cracked open and all that DRM crap is stripped. If that never happens, then the market will simply move around blu-ray, to online or even usb flash based. (A 4GB drive only costs about $5 in bulk, and 4GB is enough for a 1080p film with more than good enough quality.)
  • noeldillabough - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    When Avatar came out my Dad went out and got the blu-ray, totally stoked that he'd get to see it in HD. Sure enough however the disc didn't play! He calls up his programmer son and asks WTF?

    I look into and and he needs to upgrade his firmware....he will never buy a blu-ray again.

    I did upgrade his player later on that year but I know for sure he'll never buy another, and any person who he talks to might not either (he's quite convincing lol)
  • Golgatha - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Probably one of the best to get a PS3. Easy firmware updates.
  • colonelciller - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    or don't buy movies /fixed
  • spwatkins - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    > Probably one of the best to get a PS3. Easy firmware updates.

    Probably one of the best to get a PS3. Constant, time-consuming, daily firmware updates.

    Fixed that for you.
  • bigboxes - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Sanctusx2 doesn't know what he's talking about. MKV is a container. H.264/X624 is a codec. Together they can produce something beautiful.
  • p05esto - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    True, a container like AVI. But you still usually see H.264 inside of MKV files which is the way to go (IMO).

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