Many media streaming services, like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and others, use various types of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to protect their content from being copied and redistributed. Most DRM doesn’t actually prevent this behavior, and instead mostly serves to annoy people paying for content, but that’s a discussion for another time. Widevine is a widely-used DRM technology, often found in web and Android applications, but not all Android devices fully support Widevine DRM.
Widevine DRM is used by streaming services like Netflix, HBO, Disney+, Prime Video, Hulu, Sling, DirectTV, and many others. There are three security levels in Widevine: L3, L2, and L1. Here’s a breakdown of each:
- Widevine L3: This is the lowest-supported option, where the DRM is entirely software-based. A device that only has Widevine L3 has no Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) for DRM encryption to run in. In most cases, Widevine-protected content will only play in 480p.
- Widevine L2: Devices with L2 support have a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE), but video processing happens in software or separate video hardware. Most of the time, Widevine-protected content will play at a maximum resolution of 540p.
- Widevine L1: This is the highest level of protection, where media is decrypted and processed entirely in the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). Devices with L3 support can play Widevine-protected content at the highest possible resolution.
Most Android devices that are certified by Google support Widevine L1, sometimes in combination with other DRM methods. However, modified devices (like rooted phones) or uncertified phones may only support L3 or L2. In some cases, broken software updates have caused Widevine DRM to revert to L2 or L3.
How to check Widevine support
Thankfully, it’s easy to check if your Android phone or tablet can use Widevine DRM, including which levels are supported. All you have to do is download the DRM Info app from the Play Store and open it.
Each supported DRM technology is displayed as a card. The Widevine card should tell you if the DRM is supported, and if so, the level. Easy peasy.
If you see an L2 or L3 security level, it’s likely your device doesn’t support high-resolution protected media, and some apps may refuse to start streaming at all. Many applications also check the SafetyNet status of the current device to determine if media can be played.
Netflix in particular has its own sets of checks to determine what kind of content it’ll stream to you. In addition to supporting Widevine L1, your device will need to pass another round of certification checks in order to play HD or HDR content from Netflix. If you want to find out what formats Netflix can stream to your device, you can check out Netflix’s list here. Alternatively, you can open up the Netflix app, go to “Settings” and then scroll down to “Playback Specifications” to see what formats are available. This page also tells you the Widevine DRM level on your device in case you don’t want to download the DRM Info app.
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