Microsoft clarifies Windows Vista content protection measures

Microsoft clarifies Windows Vista content protection measures

Summary: In a post on the Windows Vista Team blog, Microsoft has clarified a number of points about the content protection measures present in Windows Vista.

TOPICS: Windows

In a post on the Windows Vista Team blog, Microsoft has clarified a number of points about the content protection measures present in Windows Vista.

The post by Dave Marsh, Lead Program Manager for Video, provides some background to the issues surrounding content protection in Vista and also includes a very interesting FAQ.  The FAQ provides answers to some questions that many people are asking about how Windows Vista will protect premium digital content and how this will affect users and programmers alike.

Here are some of the questions and answers that caught my eye and I think warranted further discussion. 

Do these content protection requirements apply equally to the Consumer Electronics industry supplied player devices such as an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player?

Generally the requirements are equivalent for all devices.

This means that it's a level playing field and Vista isn't imposing any additional content protection burden on users.  The same issues will be present on Windows and Mac and any consumer electronic devices you have in your home.

When are Windows Vista's content protection features actually used?

Windows Vista's content protection mechanisms are only used when required by the policy associated with the content being played.

So it's not Microsoft or Windows that decides whether content is protected or not, it's the publisher.

Will the playback quality be reduced on some video output types?

Image quality constraints are only active when required by the policy associated with the content being played, and then only apply to that specific content -- not to any other content on the user's desktop.  As a practical matter, image constraint will typically result in content being played at no worse than standard definition television resolution.  In the case of HD optical media formats such as HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, the constraint requirement is 520K pixels per frame (i.e., roughly 960x540), which is still higher than the native resolution of content distributed in the DVD-Video format.

So the downgrade will take HD content down to about 960x540 if you don't have appropriate hardware.  That's quite a drop in quality but still not too bad.  I hope Microsoft and other publishers will offer test content so that users will be able to test their system for compatibility.

Do things such as HFS (Hardware Functionality Scan) affect the ability of the open-source community to write a driver?

No.  HFS uses additional chip characteristics other than those needed to write a driver.  HFS requirements should not prevent the disclosure of all the information needed to write drivers.

So the open source community isn't being affected here (although playing protected content will remain a no-no.

Will the Windows Vista content protection board robustness recommendations increase the cost of graphics cards and reduce the number of build options?

Everything was moving to be integrated on the one chip anyway and this is independent of content protection recommendations.

Content protection doesn't make hardware more expensive.

Will Windows Vista content protection features increase CPU resource consumption?

Yes.  However, the use of additional CPU cycles is inevitable, as the PC provides consumers with additional functionality.  Windows Vista's content protection features were developed to carefully balance the need to provide robust protection from commercial content while still enabling great new experiences such as HD-DVD or Blu-Ray playback.

Ahhh, an interesting sticking point.  The answer here is a little vague and doesn't really address the question as to how much more computing power users are going to need to play protected content compared to unprotected content.  My guess would be that protected content and minimum spec for Windows won't go well together.  However, given the power of modern PCs, I don't think this will be a big issue.

What about S/PDIF audio connections?

Windows Vista does not require S/PDIF to be turned off, but Windows Vista continues to support the ability to turn it off for certain content -- a capability that has been present on the Windows platform for many years.  Additionally, in order to support the requirements of some types of content, Windows Vista supports the ability to constrain the quality of the audio component of that content. 

Will Component (YPbPr) video outputs be disabled by Windows Vista's content protection?

Similar to S/PDIF, Windows Vista does not require component video outputs to be disabled, but rather enables the enforcement of the usage policy set by content owners or service providers, including with respect to output restrictions and image constraint.

Again, this is down to the publishers, not Microsoft.

What is revocation and where is it used?

Renewal and revocation mechanisms are an important part of providing robust protection for commercial audiovisual content.  In the rare event that a revocation is required, Microsoft will work with the affected IHV to ensure that a new driver is made available, ideally in advance of the actual revocation.  Revocation only impacts a graphics driver's ability to receive certain commercial audiovisual content; otherwise, the revoked driver will continue to function normally.

This is interesting indeed.  What this means is that if a driver is found to be lacking in some way relating to content protection (for example, it's been compromised by hackers), Microsoft will try to have a new driver present before the old driver is revoked.  This makes sense as it will stall the number of support calls Microsoft would receive and hassle that users will face.  However, it gives hackers extra time to work - and as we've seen with HD-DVD, it doesn't take long for content to make it onto torrent sites.

Will the 'tilt bit' mechanism cause problems even when the driver is not under attack from a hacker, e.g., when there are voltage spikes?

It is pure speculation to say that things like voltage fluctuations might cause a driver to think it is under attack from a hacker.  It is up to a graphics IHV to determine what they regard as an attack.  Even if such an event did cause playback to stop, the user could just press 'play' again and carry on watching the movie (after the driver has re-initialized, which takes about a second).  Again, it is important to note that this could only occur in the case of watching the highest-grade premium content, such as HD-DVD or Blu-Ray.  In practice I doubt it would ever actually happen.

I was always skeptical about this all along.  Yes, while a voltage spike could theoretically cause a driver to look like it's under attack from a hacker, it's not really all that likely.

Will the video and audio content protection mechanisms affect gaming on the PC?

The Windows Vista content protection features were design for commercial audiovisual content and are typically not used in game applications.  A game author would have to specifically request these features for them to impact game performance.

I really can't see content protection making its way into games any time soon.  The added performance overhead would be too much of an issue, not to mention the fact that content protection would add a whole new layer of system requirements to games.

Read the entire Q&A here.

Thoughts?  Do these measures seem fair to you?  Do you think that they will be effective or will the pirates find a way around the system?

Topic: Windows

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    Having read the above I note a number of discrepancies when compared with other reviewers of Vista, notably Leo LaPorte and friends in their excellent podcasts. What I feel Vista really is, is a piece of typical Microsoft crap bloatware (nothing new there of course) which is insanely paranoid, processor greedy to the point of system failure and capable of bringing ordinary audio and video enjoyment to an end. Why for instance, if I am talking to a friend on Skype and I or they decide to play a favourite audio track, should the sound card shut it off. and for that matter why should i have to press play again when the system grinds to a halt due to processor or tilt bit overload. I will put off ever using Vista as long as is humanly possible and take every step I can to further develop a Linux platform to accomodate ever more programs, especially open source. I have been using XP for more than three years now and they still havent fixed it so forgive me if I act with more discretion this time. My PC has always been an open piece of Tech and I see no reason why Hollywood and its consistently dreadful output together with their timorous lapdog Bill Gates should be allowed to close it down to suit their greedy and unsustainable purposes, Rot the lot of em I say and the sooner the better.
    • I guess you can't read

      Vista doesn't employ any more 'bloated' DRM features then you'll find in a Mac, or any player. And MS doesn't even decide when to use it. Stop the FUD, learn to look beyond your bigotry, and realize the true enemy is the RIAA and content holders.
      Also, Leo keeps pointing out (wrongly) that the Zune adds DRM to transferred files; while I like Leo, his 'facts' are based on what makes Apple look good and MS look bad.

        Not all users can afford the inflated prices or usage limitations of Apple so we are forced to rely on PCs, Microsofts latest Bloat will only increase further the price of Hard and Software and only help the usual suspects rather than the normal user. I spend quite a lot of time actively attacking the RIAA and Hollywood but i see no reason why i should hold back whilst the Vista lap dog and its apologists get clean away. Soft reviews like the one i posted to just sit on the fence and muddy the water. Leo Laporte is of course not a perfect being but i have found his advice and help of great service to many and he has certainly never given me bad avice. Alas, i cannot say this for Microsoft, I will probably, in a couple of years when Microsoft Vista is finally or rather hopefully, bug free (Service Packs already in preparation of course ) give Vista a try. In the meantime we can manage without each other. In the meantime, I stand by what I say.
        • What?

          4 years ago I bought a nice system for $2000. Yesterday, I bought a $900 system that would kick its butt. And it runs Vista (I just need to wait to redeem the coupon...). A baseline box running Vista will cost you less then a baseline box running XP did at its release.
          Every year, you get more for less. So where are these increases your talking about?
          Companies like MS and Apple have little choice but to dance to the drum beat of content holders. There are no 'lapdogs', just companies trying to stay in business.
      • Re: I guess you can't read

        [i]Leo keeps pointing out (wrongly) that the Zune adds DRM to transferred files...[/i]

        Are you saying that Zune does not delete the file after it's been played three times or after three days, or are you saying that it does, but that's not DRM?

        none none
        • it does remove the file

          but it in no way alters the file.
          While it may, to some, sound like a technicality, it is far from it. When I loan you one of my grill, then demand it back next week, is that DRM?
          Applying 'physical' concepts to 'non-physical' or copyable entities is a mess for all, but there has yet to be a better solution put forward.
    • Microsoft doesn't dictate what I put in my machine

      If I don't want to install a DRM chip in my machine, Windows is perfectly okay with that. OSX, however, [b]forces[/b] me to use DRM.
      • Re: Microsoft doesn't dictate what I put in my machine

        Is this your answer to every post the past few days? Goodness, youv'e been banging this drum so hard someone might think you're a zealot or something.

        none none
      • Aren't you the one that said....

        [b]" It isn't hard to see that if you care at all about what is good in this world,
        you will pay for Windows"[/b]

        Sounds quite like a [b]WinZealot[/b] to me...
      • copy and paste

        let me do the same. ;-)

        gnu/ choice to the neX(11)t generation.
        Arm A. Geddon
  • Isn't the "content protection system" moot now?

    You published an article earlier claiming that Blu-Ray and HD-DVD's protection system is "in tatters".

    In which case, couldn't you just rip the HD contents to your hard drive and then ignore any "policy"? Or is HD-capable equipment only capable of doing what you bought it for when somebody else's policy is being enforced?

    As for the statement about Vista only doing what other appliances are doing, I am not impressed. There are plenty of multi-region DVD players on the market, for example. Those manufacturers didn't cravenly surrender to the media companies.
    • It's only moot to those who backup their discs

      It's moot if you want to rip the HD content to your hard drive, now that the DRM has been cracked. For those who just want to buy a HD movie and watch it, they're still going to have to jump through all those insane content restriction loops and live with either reduced security or reduced quality, depending on if your equipment passes muster. Either way it now shows the media industries' blatant distrust of it's own consumers. The "we need this to stop piracy" excuse is a joke when honest consumers are the ones really taking the hit.
      Tony Agudo
  • Nice blog Adrian

    I would give you 2 thumbs up but ZDNet seems to believe I only have 1. ;)

    The anti-MS FUD lobby is very popular on the Internet and they've been extremely successful in their campaign against Vista. Do a search for "vista drm" and you will get thousands of hits and nearly every single hit links back to one, easily refutable article written by Gutmann. Others have posted Gutmann's article in every MS (and non MS) article they can find and it's gone through a point by point crushing already but I'm glad to see at least 1 blogger take on the same task. Be prepared for the wrath of ABMers! Oh, sorry, it's already started.

    Anyway, nice blog. I'm curious, did you write this in Windows or in OSX? ;)
    • Both!

      "I'm curious, did you write this in Windows or in OSX?"

      Drafted on OSX but I published it with Vista!
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • msft drm?

      back to the one by gutmann? not likely.

      as for msft's tpm...

      there's some more good reads.

      oh and btw, I wrote this in msft windows. :-)

      gnu/ choice to the neX(11)t generation.
      Arm A. Geddon
    • speaking of Gutmann...

      have a nice day. :-)

      gnu/ choice to the neX(11)t generation.
      Arm A. Geddon
  • I hope that was sarcasm

    [B]Content protection doesn't make hardware more expensive.[/B]

    Please tell us that you were being sarcastic in repeating or summarizing the MS response.

    I defy you to name one, ONE single application or program that has ever existed in this world, make it more complicated and then state that it won't cost more and be more reliable. It can't be done, you can't do it.

    How anyone can believe MS that ATI or NVidia (video cards as examples) is required to rewrite their entire existing driver base, wrap it 100% into protection mechanism leads to the same price and higher reliability is beyond me.

    What is ATI talking about here?

    "Drivers must be extra-robust. Requires additional driver development to isolate and protect sensitive code paths" -- ATI.

    "Cannot go to market until it works to specification... potentially more respins of hardware" -- ATI.

    "This increases motherboard design costs, increases lead times, and reduces OEM configuration flexibility. This cost is passed on to purchasers of multimedia PCs and may delay availability of high-performance platforms" -- ATI.

    I'd read this article for some real back and forth and discussion on the clarification by MS.

    Finally, I think one of your own is seeing first hand how currently reliable, robust and I am sure cost free the process of MONITORING for premium content is causing problems with playback.

    On all the other MS talking points, I tend to believe the discussion linked above, but in reality, time will tell.

    • No sarcasm ...

      I have been told that only "a handful" of users are afected by this issue on several occasions.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Misdirected resources

    It is a shame that M$FT spent so much time and energy building the DRM into Vista instead of advanced features like a new file system or better system security or even more efficient code. The DRM will be hacked, it is only a matter of time. Perhaps a major outage caused by such an event will wake the world to the dangers of this new "closed" approach to system software. Time will tell.

    It is a shame that Vista got bigger not better. I wonder how other countries will see Vista and if this will mark the beginning of the end for M$FT.
  • Microsoft Vista Lunch and Learn

    I am going to a "lunch and learn" next week on Microsoft Vista and will post a vodcast on their presentation the link of which I can forward to you if you would like. Just let me know. In the mean time I wanted to show you a video I made at the Microsoft Alumni Network's "After the holidays party". I think Microsoft makes an interesting anthropological subject: