Microsoft Buffeted By Criticism Over Vista DRM - InformationWeek
Software // Enterprise Applications
05:17 PM
Connect Directly

Microsoft Buffeted By Criticism Over Vista DRM

Microsoft is taking a few hits over a digital-rights management feature in its upcoming Vista operating system.

Microsoft is taking some heat over a digital-rights management (DRM) feature it's folding into its upcoming Vista (formerly Longhorn) operating system.

The feature, called Output Content Protection Management, encompasses several DRM-related schemes. The one that's raised hackles in several articles and blogs is a DRM-related check that's performed when playing back video on Vista-equipped PCs. According to Microsoft's description, the feature "makes sure that the PC's video outputs have the required protection or that they are turned off if such protection is not available."

In plain English, this means that Vista machines won't be able to play next-generation, high-definition DVDs in their full, high-resolution glory unless they're equipped with monitors that support a new DRM scheme called High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection, or HDCP.

That'll mean that PC owners wanting to upgrade to Vista will also have to spend hundreds of dollars to buy HDCP-compliant monitors, according to the flak being fired at Microsoft in the recent online postings. That thinking is reflected in stories like "Windows Offers New Vistas Of Spending," in the online edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and "Microsoft Vista Creates DRM Insanity," on the U.K. Web site The Inquirer. On the Techdirt blog, posters have weighed in with criticisms such as "leave it to Microsoft to actually embrace some Orwellian technology like this," and "who does this DRM technology benefit, apart from monitor manufacturers, who should be in for a nice windfall?"

From Microsoft's perspective, its attempt to comply with a DRM scheme developed by the consumer electronics industry is getting unfairly blown up into a nefarious plan that's far from reality. "Articles saying that you will need new monitors with Windows Vista to play any DRMed content are not correct," said Ken Birge, a spokesman for Microsoft. "Any DRM content that's out there today, you'll be able to play with any existing monitor using Vista."

However, Birge confirms that new monitors will be required to support full playback of high-definition DVDs. "Next-generation DVDs will require HDCP for playback," Birge said. "So that requires HDCP protection all the way out to monitor. As PCs become more of a home entertainment device, consumers are going to expect to play back next-generation DVDs. In order to do that, Microsoft has to require this HDCP support all the way out to the monitor. It's very much following suit to what the consumer electronics industry has already done."

Indeed, Birge pointed out that many high-definition monitors made for the consumer electronics market already comply with HDCP, though most computer monitors have yet to do so. The next-generation DVDs will play on old-style monitors, he said, but in a degraded performance mode. "If you have a Windows Vista machine, and you have your legacy monitor, and you were to pop [in] one of these next-generation DVDs and try to play it back, it wouldn't not play," Birge said. "What it will do is down-sample to something around [standard] DVD quality; you won't get the high-definition experience."

At least one Microsoft watcher sees the company as caught between a rock and a hard place on the DRM issue. "Microsoft is trying to serve two masters, and that's not always an easy task," said Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research, "Master one is Hollywood and the content providers, who want their stuff protected. Master two is the consumer, who wants to be able to get at everything easily. And Microsoft's kind of caught in the middle. There are a lot of [DRM] mechanisms being proposed and implemented and Microsoft is just hedging its bets here. If [HDCP] really reaches a mass market, then Windows Vista will be able to support it."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of the Cloud Report
As the use of public cloud becomes a given, IT leaders must navigate the transition and advocate for management tools or architectures that allow them to realize the benefits they seek. Download this report to explore the issues and how to best leverage the cloud moving forward.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of November 6, 2016. We'll be talking with the editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll