Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Cinavia: Annoying? Yes. What is it?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on February 23, 2014

If you’re into playing back movies on your PS3, you might have run into an annoying problem where your movie plays for about 20 minutes, then the audio suddenly drops out entirely with a warning message on the screen. This is Cinavia. Let’s explore.

What is Cinavia and how does it work?

Cinavia is an audio watermarking technology created by the company Verance where an audio subcode is embedded within digital audio soundtracks at humanly imperceptible levels, but at a level where a DSP or other included hardware chip can read and decode its presence. Don’t be fooled by the ad with smiling children on the Verance site, this has nothing to do with helping make audio better for the consumer. No, it is solely created for industry media protection.

This Cinavia watermark audio subcode seems to be embedded at a phase and frequency that can be easily isolated and extracted from an audio soundtrack, then processed and determined if it’s valid for the movie title being played back. Likely, it’s also an analog audio-based digital carrier subcode (like a modem tone) that contains data about the title being played.

How is Cinavia used in the film industry?

There are two types of known uses of Cinavia watermarking. The first use is to protect theatrical releases from being pirated. Because the audio watermarking is audible, but imperceptible, it will be picked up by microphones (strictly because of the Hz range where the subcode is embedded). Keep in mind that just because the subcode cannot be heard by human ears, it doesn’t mean it can’t be heard and decoded by a specialty hardware chip. So, if a theatrical release is CAMed (i.e. recorded from the screen), the Cinavia watermarking will also be recorded in the audio. After all, what is a movie without audio?

The second use is to protect Blu-ray copies of films from being pirated. For the same reason as theatrical releases, Blu-ray films are also embedded with a subcode. But, that subcode is different from theatrical films. For this reason, films destined for theatrical releases will never play in a consumer Blu-ray player ever (including players such as the PS3, PS4 or Xbox One). Commercial Blu-ray disks play because the audio track uses AACS with a key likely embedded within the subcode watermark. If the AACS key matches the value from the watermark, the check passes and the audio continues to play.

I have also read there is a third use emerging… to protect DVD releases. But, I have yet to confirm any DVDs currently using this technology. If you have run into any such releases, please leave a comment.

How would I be affected by this?

All consumer Blu-ray players manufactured after 2012-2013 are required to support Cinavia. If the Cinavia subcode is present, the player will blank the audio track if the AACS key is mismatched. This means hardware Blu-ray players from pretty much any manufacturer will be affected by Cinavia protection if the title supports it. CAM copies of theatrical releases will never play because the audio subcode is entirely different for theatrical films and the Blu-ray player will recognize that theatrical subcode and stop audio playback.

Not all movie titles use Cinavia to protect their content. Not all players support the Cinavia protections from all media types. For example, some Blu-ray players can play media from a variety of sources beside BD disks (e.g., USB drives, Network servers, etc). These alternative sources are not always under Cinavia protection even if the specific movie has an embedded subcode.

Since Sony is the biggest proponent and user of this technology, all Sony players, including the PS3 and PS4 along with their standalone Blu-ray players will not play back Cinavia protected material if it doesn’t continue to pass the subcode tests. For example, if you rip a Blu-ray disk protected by Cinavia and then burn it to a BD-rom disk, the movie will stop playing audio at around the 20 minute mark and display a warning. If you attempt to stop and start the movie, it will play audio again for a few seconds and then stop playing with a warning.

How can you remove Cinavia protection?

In short, it’s not as easy as that may sound. Once the Cinavia protection is detected on the media, the hardware activates and continues to look for the information it needs to make sure the content is ‘legitimate’.

With that said, there are ways of getting around this on certain devices. As I explained, some players don’t check for Cinavia for certain types of media (i.e., USB or Network streaming). Sony, however, does check for all media types. The PS3, though, doesn’t seem to check for Cinavia if the playback is through the optical output port (i.e., when playing back through an optical receiver). That would make sense, though, as it would be left up to the receiver to blank the audio based on Cinavia. Since most receivers probably don’t support Cinavia, there should be no issue with playback.

Other technical methods include garbling the audio somewhat or using variable speed on the audio. Neither of these two methods are really acceptable to the ears when watching a movie. We all want our movies to both look and sound correct.

How can I avoid this problem?

You can easily avoid this issue by using a a player that doesn’t support Cinavia protection. For example, Windows Media Player, VLC, etc. Most PC media players do not support Cinavia. Though, if you get a PC from Sony, expect the media player on any Sony product to support Cinavia (yes, even Windows Media Player might as Sony may have loaded a system-wide Cinavia plugin). If you buy a PC from any manufacturer other than Sony, you likely won’t be affected by Cinavia.

This problem almost solely exists on Blu-ray standalone players. So, if you avoid playing movies on such consumer hardware players, you can usually avoid the Cinavia issue entirely. Though, there are some commercial PC media players that do support Cinavia.

A possible real solution?

Another method which I have not seen explored, I have decided to propose here. With a film protected by Cinavia, the Cinavia subcode should exist both within silence as well as noisy portions likely at the same volume. First, extract a length of silence (that contains Cinavia subcode). Now, garble, stretch, warp and generally distort this subcode so that it cannot be recognized by a Cinavia decoder. Then duplicate the garbled ‘silence’ subcode to fill the length of the entire film. Extract the film’s audio soundtrack, mix in the new garbled full length subcode throughout the entire film. Note that remixing 7.1 or 5.1 track is a bit tricky, but it can be done. I would suggest inserting it on the subwoofer track or the center track, though it may be present on all of the tracks by design. After the audio track is remixed and remuxed into a resulting MP4 (or other format), the new garbled subcode should hopefully interfere just enough with the existing already-embedded subcode to prevent the Cinavia protection from getting a lock on the film’s original subcode.

The outcome of the garbled subcode could cause one of two things to happen. 1) The Cinavia detection is rendered useless and the Cinavia hardware ignores the subcode entirely or 2) The Cinavia detection realizes such tampering and shuts down the audio track immediately. While erroring on the side of fail is really a bad move in an industry already fraught with bad press around failed past media protection schemes, I would more likely suspect scenario number 1. But, it’s probably worth a test. No, I have not yet had time to test my theory.

While this doesn’t exactly remove Cinavia, it should hopefully render it useless. But, it won’t recover the lost audio portions being used by the Cinavia subcode.

How would I go about doing this?

I wouldn’t attempt doing the above suggestion manually on films as it takes a fair amount of time demuxing audio, creating the garbled audio subcode, remixing the new track and remuxing it into the video. But an application capable of ripping could easily handle this task during the rip and conversion process if provided with a length of garbled subcode.

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10 Responses

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  1. Jeff said, on March 12, 2017 at 9:09 am

    The Hacksaw Ridge DVD movie has cinavia encoding, so this is on DVDs too. I suspect that the soundtrack is the same as on a bluray didsk, so it’s there by default.

  2. Bernie Orbust said, on February 18, 2017 at 6:08 am

    “You can’t always avoid buying Sony films, but you can definitely avoid buying Sony hardware”

    Got burned on a Sony surround sound audio receiver. Kills audio from a media box without even a message. Took me a while to figure out what was wrong with the bloody thing.

    A good rule of thumb: if it’s got “Sony” on it, don’t buy it. Their equipment is junk quality, in any case, with or without the Orwellian electronics.

  3. Debbie said, on December 2, 2016 at 7:05 am

    My DVD player has suddenly started recognizing the cinavia code on DVD’s that I have owned and played many times in the past. I have a Samsung DVD player. Any suggestions? It is very annoying.

    • commorancy said, on December 2, 2016 at 6:14 pm

      Hi Debbie,

      Is this a DVD player or a Blu-Ray player? I’ve not heard of many DVD players that support Cinavia. I’d be surprised to hear that any Samsung player supports it. How old and what model number is your player? Note that if it is ‘starting’ to deny playback due to Cinavia, it could be (as I discussed in the article) that your DVD player is failing bad. This likely means that the chip inside your player that recognizes Cinavia has failed and can no longer recognize the Cinavia subcode. There is likely no easy remedy for this problem other than submitting your player to Samsung for manufacturer warranty repair/replacement (if applicable) or replacing it with a new one.

      Good luck.

  4. Kat said, on July 17, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    I just want to know how to bypass this error code 3 from Cinavia on my Xbox One. Thats it!!!

    • commorancy said, on July 17, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      Hi Kat,

      The bottom line is, you can’t easily… at least, not without spending a lot of effort to re-encode the movie to hopefully break the Cinavia protection. So long as the Xbox continues to recognize the Cinavia subcode in the audio track, it will continue to throw errors and/or block the audio. The easier method is buy a device or use a player that does not support Cinavia. Unfortunately, the only media player on Xbox One is limited to what Microsoft provides and apparently does support Cinavia. That means you’ll need to move to a PC or some other type of media player to play your movie and avoid the Cinavia problem entirely.

  5. Chase said, on August 20, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Actually, an even better idea instead of garbling the sound is to run the full audio of a movie, that definitively has Cinavia, through a DAW (like Ableton) w/ a plugin like Izotope Insight or some type of full spectrum analyzer and spectrogram to analyze audio and search for the sound identifier they use. Judging by how the company preaches Cinavia doesn’t affect the audio and isn’t noticeable, I’d have to imagine they almost certainly use some super low or high frequency that humans aren’t capable of hearing, and which doesn’t interfere with normal audio frequencies (otherwise similar sounds might accidentally set it off). Then once you identify the sound they use all you have to do is duplicate it and run it as its polar negative within the DAW, so that it cancels out the sound (in the same way that you isolate just the vocal track using an instrumental track as they cancel each other out). If you did that, you should be able to completely remove the Cinavia protection entirely as well as leave the audio completely intact and unaltered (in the sense that you can hear it). From their it wouldn’t even be too hard to design a program that people could run that does all this, but I’m sure Cinavia or Sony would try and sue you for whatever. But honestly, Cinavia shouldn’t even be legal and someone should sue Sony the same way someone sued the Music industry when they said you couldn’t copy music CD’s that you own, which is just absolutely absurd.

    • commorancy said, on August 20, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      Hi Chase,

      I’m glad you commented on this because I had been wanting to expand on some of your points. Actually, what I propose will only garble the Cinavia subcode and not the audio of the movie. Because you’re extracting a length of silence (which isn’t actually silence, it’s silence + the Cinavia audio watermark), expanding, garbling and generally messing up the ‘silence’ won’t affect the film soundtrack at all. Though, mixing and muxing this extra audio information will double the volume of the Cinavia track. However, this is kind of a brute force fix and is subject to additional constraints which I didn’t originally touch on.

      Let’s start with your discussion of dropping out vocals from an audio track. The reason the vocal track can be dropped from a stereo audio source is because, by convention, the vocal track is always placed mono in the center of the audio. Stereo track information is isolated to left and right, but the mono center is part of both the left and right tracks. With vocal eraser tools, the center portion of the track can be isolated leaving out the stereo information, producing an acapella, or the vocal portion can be stripped leaving only left and right stereo information as mostly an instrumental. However, in this process some audio is lost leaving the track less than what it was as a whole. It’s a reductive technology that doesn’t always sound natural in the end. We want the actual movie audio to remain unaffected after we disable Cinavia.

      Let’s apply this to the Cinavia watermark. While the watermark technology could utilize stereo placement information, I don’t think that it does. I’m almost certain that it’s using mono information. The reason is that were it to utilize stereo placement, you might at times be able to hear it. The problem with that, especially on a movie, is that it requires stereo information to remove the main audio center. In other words, this technique of dropping vocals works best on muxed stereo audio. That is, that the left and right are isolated, and as I said above, the center is mixed equally in both left and right tracks. On a movie, audio isn’t mixed like this. With a 7.1 or 5.1 movie, you have true isolated audio tracks including left front, right front, left rear surround, right rear surround, center and subwoofer making up 5.1 audio. In 7.1 placement, you get two extra channels in addition to those in 5.1 which include left surround and right surround. However, all of these channels are isolated. This makes it somewhat complicated to use the subtraction method against these isolated channels. If you were to convert the 7.1 or 5.1 audio down to stereo, you might be able to accomplish this. But, of course, you’ve lost the 7.1/5.1 capabilities of the film.

      On top of what you suggest, modifying the track in Ableton or ProTools or Cubase, while possible, might not guarantee you that Cinavia is disabled. In fact, even my suggestion might not guarantee that. As I suggested in the first paragraph above, there is one issue with my overlapping method. If the volume of the Cinavia water mark dynamically raises in volume in relation to the audio soundtrack, my negation idea may not work. If silence is considered at volume .1 and cinavia volume raises in relation to the soundtrack audio, it might go up to .3 or so. Still not enough to be heard, but enough to not be masked by a counteracting Cinavia water mark still at volume .1. As you can see, the volume of the real watermark is now .2 higher than my counteracting track. That would mean that the counteracting track would also need to vary in volume at the same rate and level as the actual cinavia watermark. In the article, I had assumed the volume to remain constant throughout. In fact, I still assume this is probably true as raising the watermark volume risks it being heard and consumers would definitely not approve of that. For this reason, that’s why I assumed it to be of the same volume throughout. The other issue is that the safest track for this watermark to live on is the center because it is in the range of human voice which is likely similar frequencies used in the watermark (at a very low volume).

      There could be one other way to handle counteracting Cinavia and that would be by using a DSP. But using a DSP to isolate that audio information would require experience programming DSPs in addition to reverse engineering the watermark. After that, you would need to be able to write the necessary DSP code to isolate and remove this audio information from the track while it’s running. A DSP could do this with the right information. Unfortunately, a single DSP probably couldn’t handle this for 8 audio streams simultaneously. That’s where you would need something like Ableton. And note, you’d still need Ableton to copy, paste, garble and run the silence the length of the film. And, you might even need to do this with each track in the 5.1/7.1 audio (except maybe the subwoofer).

      Thanks for your comment.

      • loudoghendrix said, on April 11, 2016 at 3:36 pm

        I know this is an old post, but if the watermark exists at inaudible frequencies, couldn’t you theoretically just filter out anything outside of the human spectrum?

        • commorancy said, on April 12, 2016 at 5:31 am

          Even though it’s an old post, Cinavia hasn’t changed its technology. The watermark exists at a very low volume in an audible frequency. Unfortunately, anything you do to filter that frequency would also filter some frequencies from the actual film and more-or-less destroy portions of the soundtrack. The only real way to stop Cinavia from working is to mangle the carrier tone to make it unreadable by the processing technology. At the volumes to which it has been applied, you wouldn’t hear the mangle, but it should effectively disable the carrier tone. There may be other ways to get rid of the carrier, but that would require a DSP, some knowledge of the carrier tone frequencies and some clever DSP code. I’m not a big advocate of removing any audio frequencies to thwart Cinavia. Removing any frequencies to try to disable the Cinavia watermark would likely destroy portions of the soundtrack.

          Better, I suggest not buying devices that support Cinavia. There are plenty of them out there that don’t support it. Sony is pretty much the main proponent left using Cinavia both in their films and on their hardware. If you avoid Sony hardware, you can pretty much avoid the problem of Cinavia. Clearly, Apple, Microsoft, VLC and even tablets and phones (other than those made by Sony or its subsidiaries) are not susceptible to the Cinavia watermark problem. You can’t always avoid buying Sony films, but you can definitely avoid buying Sony hardware (other than maybe the PS4).


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