Vista’s DRM and You

With the latest news about Microsoft deciding to allow unlimited(?) reactivations in Vista, there is still alot of moaning about the new DRM technologies in the new OS. Much of it is based on F.U.D. spread by hardcore anti-DRM people and is blatantly incorrect. Today I will take everyone on a walkthrough of what the new technologies are and how they apply to us in real life.

HDCP – The show stopper(well, almost)

When the consortiums behind HDVDV and BluRay started to define their new systems, they wanted to include a built in way to prevent piracy. Since they believed that if you can see it you can pirate it, they came up with HDCP. In a nutshell HDCP is a system whereby the monitor and the video source can communicate with each other, saying “yes I’m secure”. In Vista there is a new part of this scheme that comes into play called the Protected Video Path(PVP). It is the mechanism by which Vista will enforce the HDCP standard.

So what does this all mean? In everyday use….not a damn thing. Playing games? Unless there is a very stupid gamemaker out there that requires HDCP to play your game on…nothing. Watching regular DVD’s…again nothing. The only time this technology kicks in is when attempting to watch a high definition source that requires it, namely HDDVD, BluRay, and possibly WMV-HD.

When you attempt to play back one of these sources, the following occurs. First the content tells Vista that it needs the HDCP hardware. If you have the hardware all is fine and playback occurs. If not, then the content can tell Vista one of two things. Either it can say “do not play this content” or “play this content, but in reduced resolution”. Note that this decision is not up to Vista, but rather to the content provider. In otherwords, it depends on who produced the disc as to whether or not it will play back on non HDCP hardware. In most cases, it will play, but only in reduced quality (the wording most often used is near DVD 480i or p).

How about when you go to play your DivX files? Well, since there is no DRM restriction on the file it plays just like normal. This is the way that DRM has always worked. Not by restricting the playback of any file that you have, but by restricting the playback of DRM embedded files that you have.

So who will be affected by this HDCP DRM? Any user who wishes to play back HDDVD or BluRay content that is DRM embedded on their system. In most cases playback will occur but not at full resolution, unless all the parts are in place(HDCP compliant monitor, videocard and OS). In reality, this is no more restrictive than making you have to buy a new hardware player and HDCP ready TV. And you have to do that to see HDDVD or BluRay in full resolution anyway.

To sum it up….

  • You DO NOT have to buy new hardware just to run the OS.
  • You DO NOT have to buy new hardware to play back regular DVD’s.
  • You DO have to buy an HDCP compatible monitor and Video card to playback HDDVD, Bluray and possibly other future High Def sources in full resolution.
  • You DO NOT have to buy them if you can live with lower resolution and some of that content not playing at all.
  • This DOES NOT cause your existing monitor to be fuzzy all the time. Many websites have spread this belief and it is baloney.

    PAP and PUMA the audio equivalents of HDCP

    With all the new video protections going on, the content providers didn’t forget the audio side. The new OS will include Protected Audio Path and Protected User Mode Audio as well. These will work in a similar manner to HDCP, in that they will check to see if certain hardware is in place during the attempted playback of premium content. As with HDCP, it only affects files that are explicity DRM embedded. Playback of MP3 and other non DRM files will not be affected. It may lead to a lockdown on the creation of mp3 files from CD’s, but I think this will be a long time coming and is sure to be fought tooth and nail. As it stands this will be working the exact same way as any other DRM scheme. It will only kick in when playback of a DRM’ed source begins. Then certain parts of the audio path can be disabled(such as the SPDIF port), according to the restrictions in place on each file. According to the white papers available on this subject, it is being aimed at High def sources as well, such as DVD audio, and the newer versions of WMA.

    To sum this one up….

  • You DO NOT have to buy new hardware for this at all(I don’t think there is any available).
  • You WILL NOT lose the ability to playback MP3, OGG, or any other format.
  • You MAY have to buy new hardware in the future, according to your needs and the needs of future audio sources.

    There may be other restrictions that I am not aware of with this new system. I am reading whitepapers and such trying to get a clearer picture. If you have any more info and wish to send it on, all I ask is that you include the source of the information so it can be verified.

    Also I ask that in any discussion of this you remember that Microsoft is not the one that you should blame for any of this. They are only doing what the content providers(MPAA and RIAA) are forcing down everyones throats.

    As always, I’m open for discussion of this on the forums.

    Jason Taylor (aka Deadbot1_1973 on the forums)

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