Copy Protection Makes Dozens of Blu-ray Titles Unplayable

Got a new copy of The Hangover on Blu-ray? Then let’s hope you’re not trying to watch it with a Samsung Blu-ray player, or you might be in for a headache of your own. Samsung recently updated the firmware of its devices, and now users are reporting that a large number of Blu-ray titles from Warner Bros. (S TWX) and Universal (s GE) don’t play anymore. (Hat tip to Engadget)

Other movies and TV shows affected by these issues include The Book of Eli, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, The Incredible Hulk (2008), Battlestar Galactica Season 3, Sherlock Holmes, Invictus and others, according to various user reports. Some users complain that they haven’t been able to play Warner Blu-rays for three months and counting.

The culprit is apparently a botched firmware update, and some users report success with reverting to older firmware still available on Samsung’s website. Others, however, seem to have issues with the older firmware as well. One customer reports that he called Samsung’s customer support, only to be told that it would take the company up to a year to provide a fix.

This isn’t the first time Blu-ray players have struggled with playing back certain movies. Earlier this year, customers reported issues with playing the Avatar Blu-ray disc on some Samsung players. The issue was apparently so widespread that Amazon (S AMZN) was forced to alert customers of potential issues with a warning message on the movie’s product page. Similar warnings haven’t been put in place yet for the titles affected by the latest firmware issues.

So why does this keep happening to Blu-ray discs? You might have guessed by now: it’s all about copy protection. Regular DVDs used to have a copy protection technology that was easily circumvented because it was based on a single encryption key. Once that key was extracted, all DVDs were free for the taking, and tools to copy DVDs are now easily available, even though it’s still illegal to use them in most cases.

Blu-ray’s copy protection, on the other hand, is based on regularly updated encryption keys. Companies like Slysoft, which provides a Blu-ray copying tool, have to put significantly more effort into cracking these keys. Once a key is compromised, an update is released, which then also requires updates to Blu-ray players — and that’s where things have been going wrong left and right.

Luckily, more and more studios have started to provide some sort of immediate remedy for issues like these. Customers of the upcoming Karate Kid Blu-ray, for example, will also find a regular DVD of the same movie in the box. So if you have to wait a year for a working Blu-ray firmware update, you’ll at least have something to keep you busy.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: The Return of DRM (subscription required)