It recently came to light that a number of Android phones are unable to stream HD video through services like Netflix, Google Play Movies, and Amazon Prime Video. If you're worried that your phone may be affected, there's a simple tool you can use to find out for sure if you can actually stream video in 720p or higher.
In early-December, a few OnePlus 5T users discovered the device lacks the ability to stream HD video through the aforementioned popular services. Unfortunately, there are a couple other Android phones affected by this issue, including models by ZTE.
Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and the like require certification to protect the copyright holders (i.e., movie studios) and their content, so it's no surprise that this issue stems from the DRM (digital rights management) implemented by the streaming services. All of these services that are leaving its users with 480p videos on Android use Widevine, Google's own product and one of the most-used DRM solutions available for Android and other platforms.
There are several different tiers of DRM protection provided by Widevine, and most flagship devices on Android have the highest level of protection, Widevine L1. This level of protection allows streaming of high-definition content (HD, FHD, QHD, 4K), but several mid-tier Android phones from OnePlus and ZTE are not certified for L1 and instead have Widevine L3 certification.
Level 1 requires hardware-backed DRM measures to process protected content. In order for a device to display HD video from a Widevine-backed service, said device must support L1: L3 will only display SD video regardless of your subscription or device capabilities.
So, there we have it. With L3 certification, users can stream standard definition content but nothing in HD. Not even 720p. All of the current OnePlus handsets lack L1 certification, including the newly released OnePlus 5T, though it is worth noting that OnePlus claims an update is coming soon to bring L1 support.
If all OnePlus phones and some ZTE models are affected by this, you're probably wondering whether your phone supports L1 or L3. To do that, you only need a single app!
DRM Info, a free, ad-supported app in the Google Play Store, designed by Android Fung in Hong Kong, is designed to check for the level of Widevine DRM certification on your Android device. Hit up the link below to get it installed on your device.
Overall, DRM Info is a very basic app — it only has one page to look at. When you open the app, you'll be greeted with a plethora of information about your device. Just below this is a sequence of DRM standards.
Have a quick look under the heading Google Widevine Modular DRM, and check the rating next to Security Level. If you see L1 listed, you're good to go with streaming all high-definition content. On the other hand, you're stuck streaming SD movies if your device is certified at the L3 level.
If your phone is in the budget or lower mid-range category, you might not be particularly surprised to see an L3 certification. It is, however, quite strange to see devices like the OnePlus 5T and ZTE Axon M not certified for L1 streaming. With price tags at $500 and more, users should expect high-definition streaming through the most popular services, with a 720p an absolute minimum.
We will keep you posted on OnePlus 5T updates to see if the next one includes L1 support. In the meantime, let us know the make/model of your phone and which Widevine DRM certification it supports!