Addressing the challenges of single-frame forensic watermarking

We often talk about the benefits of our innovative single-frame forensic watermarking solution and its numerous useful use-cases. But through talking to stakeholders and interested parties, we’ve received feedback consistently highlighting two concerns with the solution: per-user encoding and perceptibility. With this in mind, we aim to openly address these challenges, delving deeper into the technology to clarify when and where our solution excels.

Understanding the solution

If you’re unfamiliar, we’ve pioneered a proprietary forensic watermarking method that can pinpoint a content leak source from just one frame, a significant departure from traditional methods that require at least multiple seconds (even up to minutes) of high quality footage to extract a watermark.

Given its rapid extraction capabilities, our solution safeguards ultra-sensitive digital assets, including videos and images. A mere leaked screenshot of such assets could jeopardize revenue streams, corporate valuations, or even national security. Hence, this tool is indispensable for entities like movie studios safeguarding unreleased films, corporations with stock-sensitive data, or government agencies securing classified intel.

Yet, while its advantages are clear, the single-frame forensic watermarking solution isn’t a universal fit.

Encoding considerations

Adopting any solution comes with operational considerations. In our case, as we embed a watermark into every frame of a video, and hence modify every single frame, the solution requires a unique encode for each individual watermark for the most secure server side deployment scenario.

This typically translates to an individual encode per user which results in heightened computational usage as well as storage that limits the scaling options for larger services. This is why we want to make clear that our solution is targeted towards smaller scale operations where security and speed of extraction are most important.

This means that large-scale OTT services would be limited in their ability to use our solution and would be much better suited to our A/B watermarking solution which offers slower extraction times (typically around 30-60 seconds) but does scale in a more efficient way.

However, while discussing a per-user encoding workflow, it’s crucial to note that our solution is certainly scalable to a degree. Leveraging our deep-rooted expertise in video encoding, we’ve designed workflows that are not only time efficient but also economical. These workflows can swiftly encode and integrate watermarks (even on the fly), effectively serving tens of thousands of users with watermarked content.

Complementing this, our innovative pricing strategy, which is based on the amount of embeddable unique watermark IDs, opens up a competitive total cost of ownership when compared to traditional watermarking technology.

Watermark perceptibility

Crafting a watermark within single frames to be detectable by specialized software even in most challenging conditions like a snapshot taken with a smartphone camera inevitably demands trade-offs, one being its visibility.

While the single-frame mark remains largely imperceptible to the untrained eye at most of its settings, it must be stated that it cannot be not as imperceptible as other solutions which embed less information in many more frames – especially those using an A/B setup.

A/B watermarking

A/B watermarking involves creating two distinctly watermarked versions of segmented video as it is used in adaptive streaming, basically embedding one bit per segment, dubbed the ‘A’ and ‘B’ copies.

During playback, these versions interleave in a precise order, crafting a unique stream for each viewer. Instead of embedding the watermark in every frame, it’s dispersed over a sequence, which can extend to more than 30 seconds depending on the size of the embedded payload. This method offers the advantage of near-invisibility, but it can’t be used as a single-frame solution.

However, this approach has its vulnerabilities. The integrity of the A/B watermark hinges on the entire sequence. A mere distortion, substitution or omission of a single segment within this span can render the watermark undetectable. Most importantly, A/B watermarking can by nature not be tailored for scenarios where safeguarding against the unauthorized distribution of individual still images, as opposed to entire videos, is a priority.

This is where the heightened visibility of the castLabs single frame solution comes into play – by ensuring that the mark is somewhat noticeable (yet still imperceptible under casual observation) and within every frame, we equip our single-frame forensic watermarking solution with strong robustness that’s truly unparalleled in the market allowing it to withstand an impressive array of attacks. These range from:

  • geometric transformations
  • compression artifacts
  • collusion attacks
  • advanced digital threats like filtering, scaling, and frame rate alterations
  • moderate screen glare
  • cropping
Examples of watermarked content at different strengths
Examples of watermarked content at different strengths

By providing stakeholders the flexibility to adjust the watermark’s characteristics and tune it to specific requirements in an unparalleled way, we empower them to determine the optimal balance between the desired scope of swift leak detection and maintaining an impeccable viewer experience. This makes our solution not just a protective measure, but a testament to the harmonization of security and user-centric design.


Our single-frame forensic watermarking solution is a revolutionary step in digital content protection, skillfully designed for safeguarding high-risk content. While it’s not a universal fit, its value in specific scenarios is unmatched. As with any advanced technology, discerning its optimal application is pivotal.


If the potential of our innovative watermarking piques your interest or if you’re curious about its alignment with your content needs, we’re here to guide you. Reach out to us or delve deeper with a free trial. Let’s redefine content protection together!


Posted by

James Hynard

James Hynard
Sales Manager

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