Content Protection madness on Vista

How using the wrong monitor for DVD playback on Vista can transform a DVD movie into a hellstew small Tetris blocks.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

[UPDATE: For more on this issue, check out this post.]

I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you pay for hardware, you should be able to make full use of it. However, DRM and content protection mechanisms are increasingly making this difficult for people.

Here's a perfect example of what I mean. My wife, Kathie, has three screens fitted to her PC - two 22-inch widescreen panels and a Wacom Cintiq 12WX graphics tablet/screen (and here I am slumming it in front of two 22-inch widescreen panels). This configuration works well for her given the types of work she undertakes and she makes very good use of the three screens.

The other day she decided to use the Cintiq screen as a screen for DVD playback. So she popped a DVD into the drive (I'm not sure what the title was, but I am certain that it didn't feature any helicopter explosions, zombies, Aliens, Predators, or Crow T. Robot), fired up Windows Media Player on Vista Ultimate, moved WMP 11 to the Cintiq screen, and started the DVD.

And that's when the problems started. The output resembled a full screen of jumbled up mosaic of small Tetris blocks that shifted every second or so. Uh-oh. Move the WMP 11 screen to a different screen and Sleepless in Seattle or whatever it was came back into focus, move it to the Cintiq window and back came the Tetris blocks (and where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are concerned, personally I preferred the Tetris blocks, but Kathie didn't share - or appreciate - my input on this matter). Sure, she could play the DVD on one of the other screens, but that's hardly the point.

OK, so what the hell's going on here? I started thinking that it was something up with the Cintiq, but the screen had no problems displaying WMV, MPG and MP4 movie files, so it wasn't anything to do with the screen.

This left content protection. Hmmm. She does have an LG GGW-H20L Super Multi combo Blu-ray writer/Blu-ray/HD-DVD/DVD/CD reader fitted, and Meg and Tom were being piped to the PC from this drive. However, the disc was a DVD and not a Blu-ray or HD-DVD, but that doesn't stop HDCP from kicking in and trying to validate the display device.

There was one way to check if this issue was related to content protection/copy protection - and that was to install SlySoft's AnyDVD HD which silently and effectively makes HDCP (as well as a lot of other hassles) disappear. So, after a quick one minute install it was time once again to see if Tom and Meg would grace us with their presence on the Cintiq - which they did. As I imagined, AnyDVD made the problem just go away. Ahh. I'm guessing that the issue here is that the Cintiq isn't HDCP compatible and that this is what's causing the content to be degraded.

Do I chalk up the cost of AnyDVD as part of the cost of upgrading to Vista? Hmm.

Now, I don't have a problem with the concept of content protection and copy protection, but I do object to these schemes preventing users from making legal use of legitimately purchased content. It also bugs me that rather than display an error or warning, the content output was instead scrambled beyond comprehension, giving the impression of a fault rather than a deliberate action taken by the system.

DRM sucks.


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