Has Microsoft just killed HD?

Has Microsoft just killed HD?

Summary: Today, Microsoft has announced something that I've been expecting for a long time - that 32-bit versions of Windows Vista won't be able to play back next generation high definition protected content. What does this mean? It means that Microsoft might have just killed off HD.

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TOPICS: Windows
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Today, Microsoft has announced something that I've been expecting for a long time - that 32-bit versions of Windows Vista won't be able to play back next generation high definition protected content.  What does this It won't stop determined hackers from copying protected HD content, but it'll be a pain in the rear for everyone elsemean?  Well, it means that if you buy a nice (and expensive) Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive, you won't be able to play studio released movies unless you are running on Windows Vista 64-bit.

Has this one move just killed off high definition altogether?

The bombshell was dropped by Steve Riley, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, during a Windows Vista security presentation at Tech.Ed 2006.

The key issue behind this decision is signed drivers.  Under 32-bit Vista, it would be trivial to write kernel mode code to kill the content protection schemes used on Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs.  Under Vista 64-bit, this is going to be a lot trickier.  The studios weren't happy about the idea of this, so Microsoft pulled the plug on all HD protected content playback under 32-bit.  It won't stop determined hackers from copying protected HD content, but it'll be a pain in the rear for everyone else.

OK, so what does this mean?

First, if you have a PC that's running with a 32-bit CPU, you're out of the HD game.  You need new hardware.

If you have a 64-bit capable CPU but you are going to run 32-bit Windows, you're out of the game too unless you upgrade to 64-bit Vista.

If you run Linux, you're out of the game too, because it lacks the DRM infrastructure that's going to be required to play Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs.

Mac users .. well, I'm assuming that 10.5 will add the necessary support for HD.

OK then, why don't we all just upgrade our hardware and run 64-bit Vista?  Well, because it's not that easy.  Even if your PC supports 64-bit, you might not have signed drivers for all your hardware, which becomes mandatory under Vista 64-bit.  Even if you're lucky and all your drivers work, you still might come unstuck when it comes to applications - there are a raft of applications that just plain don't work under 64-bit, and even more that half work.

This is why I believe that Microsoft (or, more accurately, the movie studios) might have just killed off HD.  Riley tried to brush this off by saying that "by the time that stuff becomes popular, it’ll no longer be an issue because everyone will be running 64-bit Windows".  This statement can be read a number of ways, and I'm reading it as saying that HD isn't going to become popular within the Vista lifecycle. 

HD is a long way off becoming popular, and one thing it needed to gain traction was to get people playing Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs on their PCs.  While it was almost certain that we'd start seeing Blu-ray and HD-DVD drives reaching sane prices over the next year or so, I can't see 64-bit taking over the lead from 32-bit for a few more years (after all, we've had signed drivers and 64-bit for a few years now and there are still plenty of unsigned drivers being used and loads of software that isn't 64-bit compatible).  Given that 64-bit is still a minefield, I can't see many of the big PC names shipping them in high quantities.  This is going to mean that 32-bit is going to dominate for the foreseeable future.  If users can't play HD on their PC, it's going to be a major sticking point, one big enough to put some serious nails in it's coffin.  There are already very few good reasons to go down the HD road, and this announcement just makes things worse.

[Updated: August 25, 2006 @ 05:05 am]

OK, things are now getting messy.  The Windows Vista Team blog as posted an article saying that the original story was incorrect:

The real deal is that no version of Windows Vista will make a determination as to whether any given piece of content should play back or not.  The individual ISV (Independent Software Vendor) providing the playback solutions will choose whether the playback environment, including environments that use 32-bit processors, meet the performance requirements for playback of protected High Definition content.

It's fair to say that this makes things a lot messier.  Under this kind of scheme, it's going to be hard to know what will play where.  It's also unclear what is means by ISVs - do this refer to vendors who will make the software players (CyberLink or InterVideo say) or those who control the DRM?  I still think that Riley offered an honest view of the landscape - that most ISVs won't be happy allowing HD content to be used under 32-bit Vista simply because it will be trivial to copy it.  The fact that Vista 32-bit CAN play back HD content doesn't mean that it WILL.  Given the headlong rush into DRM over the past few years, I just don't see the studios passing up on the chance to lock down their content even more.

The thing to bear in mind going forward is that Vista contains a mechanism that allows applications to know that unsigned drivers are present on the system.  This mechanism can be used to prevent playback.  Will it be used or won't it?  I don't know, but the uncertainty is enough for me to keep my wallet in my pocket when it comes to HD.

Topic: Windows

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171 comments
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  • The studios that prevented 32bit Vista, not MS

    It seems to me 32bit Vista is the BEST version of Vista to install. The studios acknowledged that 64bit Vista is LESS forward SW compatible than 32bits which would allow a MOUNTAIN of rippers and drivers closer to the kernal.
    All this implies that 32bit Vista will be MORE capable than 64bit Vista from the get go.
    Prognosticator
    • Absolutely ...

      64-bit Vista controls what software you run a lot more.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Great news!

    I think this is great news. It will give the advantage to independent content providers to supply HD content without DRM encumbrances. If Hollywood types arrogantly insist that consumers must play with their ball under terms reviled by their customers, they should keep their ball, and consumers will find other content to play with.
    P. Douglas
  • ! Another feather in the cap for Apple's Leopard !

    So many people freak out when MSFT farts or spits up. They don't
    own you, unless you let them.
    systemx
    • Totalitarian Control

      Let's not turn this into an apple versus microsoft war of words. The real issue is the terms of usage of HD movie content that the studios implement that violates the fair use rights of the consumer.

      Until the movie studios give a little and provide users the ability to make backup copies for personal use or provide replacement copies should the HD-DVD get ruined then I will not support them buy purchasing any of this new technology. Hopefully others will do the same.
      rkennel
      • I've already boycotted MS for their business practices.

        nt
        Hrothgar - PCLinuxOS User
    • Apple loves DRM

      A couple days ago, I had to download a third party program to recover a kids music from his ipod after his pc died. Apparently they don't support taking music off an ipod and putting it back into your itunes. Then the kid had to put in his email address and password just to play the songs that he already owned.
      zmud
      • re: Apple loves DRM

        >A couple days ago, I had to download a third party program to recover a kids music from his ipod after his pc died. Apparently they don't support taking music off an ipod and putting it back into your itunes. Then the kid had to put in his email address and password just to play the songs that he already owned.

        what program was it? is it the program that required the email address/pw?

        while i am sure apple enjoys the lokc-in provided by fairplay drm, it was not apple's desire to put drm in itunes tracks. it was the recording studios'

        beyond all that, this wouldn't have been an issue if the kid's music had been backed up. simply bruning the .aac files to a cd or dvd, or copying them to another hard drive or even a usb thumb drive would have done the job.

        i'm not saying apple doesn't like the drm scheme, but there are too many ways to avoid losing purchased music for this to be considered apple's fault.
        JakAttak
        • Why don't they make it simple to sync an ipod and itunes

          The music is already there on the ipod. The kid should be able to load up itunes, hit sync and get all of his music back into itunes. Whats all this nonsense about threatening people who find away to do this like Ipod Download http://www.wildbits.com/ipoddownload/
          zmud
    • Do you really think ...

      ... That things are going to be looser (DRM wise) under Leopard?
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • DRM is pointless to those who want to circumvent it...

        DRM is pointless to those who want to circumvent it. It's just annoying enough to
        keep your average consumer from copying the movie and putting it on the
        intartubes; but for people who want to future-proof their investment in movies,
        they will get the utilities they need regardless of the OS.

        I don't think OS X has any advantage over Windows in this area. Actually, Windows
        probably has the advantage because it can at last use HDCP if/when someone
        doesn't want to bother backing up their movies.

        The poster may be commenting on QuickTime versus Windows Media, and Apple
        (some) DRM-less tunes versus Zune DRM-only tunes.
        olePigeon
  • Title of Article Shows Your Bias

    Microsoft did not kill HD, the studios and competing technologies are doing the job just fine. MS is just saying that it is not going to get involved, because they can't please everybody.

    By the way, who watches movies on their computer anyway? I'd rather put a DVD in my home theater player, sit back on the couch, and watch it on a big screen TV. Watching movies on a laptop is nothing short of frustrating.
    Zuel
    • From the article ...

      "This is why I believe that Microsoft (or, more accurately, the movie studios) might have just killed off HD."
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Bait and Switch...

        So, rile up everyone with a title that implies something other than what the story itself parenthetically qualifies. I mean, if it doesn't dis MS, who will read your stuff, right? Blech.
        jcg_z
        • Ultimately, it is Microsoft ...

          ... that could well kill HD by caving in to the big studios. Microsoft is embedding the DRM and the features that the studios want into Vista, so, yeah, they are a big part of the problem because they are being lead rather than leading.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Home Theater?????

      Just because you can afford a home theater system & big screen TV doesn't mean everyone else can. And there are just some places you just can't take your home theater (like a car, well, you could possibly, but it would be a tight squeeze.) I realize a portable DVD player would work, but those cost money, something that can be in short supply (especially for college students like me.)
      Rbust0
      • Cost money?

        So, for "students like you" are laptops free? You can get some portable DVD players now for about the same price as a decent home unit. Bottom line...nobody wants to watch movies on their laptop. People only do it when there's no other option...like watching black and white television.
        jasonp@...
        • Nonsense - it's about buying one gadget instead of two.

          For instance, I never bought a dedicated DVD player; it was more cost effective to put play them on my existing PC instead.
          Zogg
          • is it?

            Seeing as I just bought a DVD player for a second TV at home for $19.99. Made more sense than parking my TV next to my PC so I could watch movies. Lugging a 27" TV is problematic at best.

            Still when DVDs first came I did what you described. I bought DVD player for the PC as stand alone units where selling for $400 or more. I didn't like that set up and found the PS2 was the answer to that problem. It was great, movies and games for about $100 less than a stand alone DVD player. I wonder if the PS3 will offer that same sweet deal.
            voska
          • Yup...

            PS3 comes with a Blu-Ray drive so you can play both games (all PS games from 1 thru 3) and HD movies. Kewl! Can't wait for PS3!
            nomorems