Sat. Oct 1st, 2022
A retouched screenshot of Picard shows Jean-Luc Picard petting a penguin.
enlarge No CBS All Access on Linux makes older Picard cry.
Update, January 31: After this story went live earlier this week, an Ars reader got in touch to speculate that the problem was most likely due to enabling VMP (Verified Media Path) on CBSi’s Widevine server. Verified Media Path, similar to UEFI Secure Boot, ensures that content is delivered only to browsers with a sanctioned, verifiable “authentic” framework; this is a configurable behavior and by default unauthenticated platforms are allowed to receive licenses.

This morning we asked CBSi executives to talk to their engineers about whether this was the problem. Although we never received a response, CBS All Access played successfully on Google Chrome on multiple Linux distributions two hours later. (Firefox still crashes.) For now, we’ve verified that the fix — which, again, may or may not actually include VMP — includes all of CBS’s content and not just the first episode of Picard, which CBS released on YouTube yesterday for a limited time. If we hear an official release from CBS about what happened behind the scenes, we’ll update this message accordingly. The original story appears unaltered below.

Starting this month, the CBS All Access streaming video platform is home to popular shows, including: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and now Star Trek: Picard-stopped working on Linux PCs regardless of browser choice. Ten years ago, this would have just been another day in the life of a Linux user, but it’s a little surprising in 2020. We were originally tipped off about the issue by a few irate readers, but soon discovered it was in multiple threads on Reddit, Stack Exchange and everywhere else you would expect to see Linux users congregate.

I am both a Linux user and a CBS All Access subscriber, but I was not aware of the problem since I watch everything myself on a Roku. Technically, the Roku is a standalone Linux PC, but CBS has its own app on the Roku store, which works perfectly.

Going back to one of my own PCs, I was able to quickly confirm the problem: trailers automatically play correctly and even the ads work, but the actual content won’t play on a Linux desktop PC in any browser, including Google Chrome. Diving into the Chrome Web Console, we can see HTTP 400 (Bad Request) errors when the browser tries to license CBS’s Widevine backend.

Historically, some sites and services have intentionally blocked access to Linux User-Agent strings, under the mistaken belief that this would reduce their support load if the service itself was working properly. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the CBS All Access issue: changing User-Agent in Chrome or Firefox has no effect on the string of content playback errors.

CBSi uses Widevine, a completely cross-platform DRM protocol, made by Google.  Somehow it's broken anyway.
enlarge CBSi uses Widevine, a completely cross-platform DRM protocol, made by Google. Somehow it’s broken anyway.

Jim Salter

The curious thing about these DRM errors is that Widevine – the DRM system CBS All Access uses – is a creation of Google. It normally works fine on just about any platform you can think of. Disney+, Netflix, Google Play Movies, and Hulu all use Widevine – and they all work fine in Google Chrome on Linux. So we’re a little surprised at what exactly happened at the end of CBS All Access to break things, even though the service explicitly states that it doesn’t support Linux.

On further testing, we can confirm that CBS All Access does not work in Google Chrome on Android or Safari on iOS devices, although there are specific apps available on both platforms that do. We also found that the service doesn’t work under Microsoft’s new Chromium-based version of Edge – which, it’s worth noting, will soon be the default browser for almost every new Windows PC sold.

In the meantime, Linux users have one functional solution: CBS All Access is available as an add-on subscription to Amazon Prime streaming video. So if you need All Access on your Linux PC, you can unsubscribe from your existing subscription, log in to Prime and start a new one there – where the content plays perfectly, using Amazon’s system instead of that from CBS Interactive.

Ars contacted CBS Interactive for comment; an executive responded, but no answers were available at the time of the press.

By akfire1

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