Firestick & HD Copyright Protection

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Firestick & HD Copyright Protection: a reader asks…

I’ve been trying to get my Firestick to work with my home theater system. First I connected it directly to the TV and it worked fine, but the audio only came out through the TV speakers. I then connected it to my Onkyo receiver, but then the video didn’t work there. What am I doing wrong?

I’m guessing that the issue is HD Copyright Protection (HDCP). Since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in 1998 (and even before that), virtually all digital video and audio consumer equipment has been outfitted with circuitry that verifies with other connected equipment. This supposedly works across different brands and models of equipment, but therein lies the issue. Each manufacturer of home theater and other digital video/audio equipment implements this circuitry in the way that best fits their brand. It is supposed to be interoperable, and for the most part, is interoperable. But not without some effort. And all this in the name of preventing piracy of ‘protected content’ – movies, music and other creative works we all watch and listen to.

While all this equipment is supposed to be “plug and play”, there are some gotchas. The Firestick is quite finicky when it comes to enforcing HDCP. Like all the other equipment, HDCP verification (sometimes called “handshaking”) occurs when you first connect the equipment to another piece of equipment. However, the Firestick does this handshaking when it is first powered on and connected to another piece of equipment. It doesn’t always re-do the handshaking if you unplug the Firestick’s HDMI from your TV and plug it into your receiver. The Firestick must first “see” all the pieces of equipment that will play the Firestick’s ‘protected content’ so it can verify the equipment has the necessary circuitry to verify during the handshaking. If the receiver isn’t already set to use the right source input, the Firestick won’t ‘see’ the TV, and won’t verify that it can play video from the Firestick.

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Your best bet is to start with everything turned off and unplugged. Then connect power and devices, but follow an order of doing this so that each piece of equipment is connected when there is already a connection to other pieces of equipment. In your situation:

  1. Connect the TV to the receiver. Power them both on, and make sure the TV is using the HDMI port coming from the receiver.
  2. Now set the receiver to use the first HDMI IN connection. That way the TV will also be connected to that HDMI port. Now plug in your first HDMI video/audio source (cable box, satellite TV, Firestick, etc.) and power on that source. You should be seeing video and hearing audio from that HDMI source.
  3. Reset the receiver to use the second HDMI IN connection, and then connect and power your second HDMI video/audio source. You should be seeing video and hearing audio from that HDMI source.

You can repeat #3 above for as many HDMI sources as you have. Once the Firestick is connected (with the receiver set to use the HDMI IN port where you plug in the Firestick) and the Firestick has the microUSB cable connected to it and the wall plug, it will initiate handshaking with both the receiver and the TV. From that point forward it will remember that connection and allow the video to play out on the TV and the audio to play out on the receiver’s speakers. The same is true for all your digital video/audio sources, they should remember that the other equipment is HDCP verified.

If your home or system suffers a power outage, you may need to repeat the above steps for one or more sources. It depends on whether they store their connection information in (non-volatile) memory that persists even without electrical power.


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