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Copy Protection Worries Plague Vista Along With HD DVD and Blu-ray  Print E-mail
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Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Thursday, 01 February 2007

It’s been a while since Microsoft has launched a new operating system and just a few days since the latest and greatest OS from the folks at Microsoft, home theater integrators are fearful of rumors about copy protection problems and the internal solutions found inside the code of Vista. Copy protection issues are nothing new to AV industry “integrators” who struggle to make the highly unstable HDCP copy protection work for their clients when using the HDMI output of HD DVD and Blu-ray players to their HDTV sets. HDMI is the only connection that outputs 1080p video along with audio from either format currently and the HDCP copy protection that is used on both HD disc formats has significant troubles “making a handshake” between a player and a video display device.

“A $79 DVD player is the standard for which all HD disc players as well as media center PCs will be judged” says Joel Silver of the Imaging Science Foundation. Silver hints at long load times and the need to reboot HD disc players mid-movie or after switching sources which results in “losing the handshake.” It is this kind of reliability issue that consumers won’t deal with. Silver says “consumers love the image quality of the formats but hate the reliability at this early point in the game.”

A number of media center PC companies have taken the Windows platform to build an integrated AV source component based around Vista that is much more than a traditional personal computer. Media Center PCs are able to host music collections and store HD video from sources like HD DVD as well as standard definition video from DVD. Media Center PCs can organize photo albums, synch with PDAs and phones as well as act like one of the best DVRs thanks to the processor speed and hard drive storage space on a Media Center PC versus say a comparable DirecTV HD TiVo. Media Center PCs are also full function computers.

One of the biggest fears installers and video annalists are having around Vista is based around how the new OS will handle copy protection for HD sources in a world where copy protection outside the world of an Apple iPod is far from perfect. Talk has been that if Vista detects a copy protection violation that it will “down-res” the video quality to standard definition. On a recent post on a developer blog from Microsoft this issue was clarified to say that if a copy protection problem was found with HD content that it would be down-resed to a level that would still provide a satisfactory Vista experience even through an HDTV. Anybody who has watched standard definition TV through an HDTV knows they want their HD in HDTV resolutions like 720p, 1080i or best yet 1080p. The Microsoft developer blog posting did clarify that Vista would not down-res other HD material stored on the hard drive if one title was found to be compromised. This should alleviate one of the fears of installers and integrators who have historically been slow to get in bed with Microsoft operating systems and PCs in the home theater and home automation environment because of reliability issues. Nothing eats up profitability for a custom installer faster than having to make 10 visits to a client’s house to solve the same problem. Right now HDCP copy protection is an equal opportunity problem for HD DVD, Blu-ray and Media Center PCs alike.

Right now Media Center PCs are at the cutting edge of home theater technology and pose new and thought provoking challenges. If the HDCP copy protection can be fixed in ways that make it plug and play – the Media Center PC market could boom. In the event that segment booms – the challenge still remains as how to best protect HD content from Hollywood studios and beyond but the game will be more complicated. Dedicated video servers and DVRs like TiVo are close-ended devices that have one purpose. A Media Center PC has far more flexibility for the end user to partake in illicit actives like swiping music from Limewire or swiping movies in HD from say Netflix discs. The question is – should Microsoft be held liable for the actions of the tiny number of users that chose to do wrong with their software? Is copy protection worth going to war over when for every DRM (digital rights management) system that is created, there is a pimply-faced hacker somewhere in the world waiting to crack it. In the end could it be better for the likes of Microsoft as well as consumers to ditch the glitchy copy protection schemes and just create some consumer demand? Logically, you might argue yes but Hollywood studios will never go along with it and without movies – you lose the most compelling content you can put on your Media Center PC.








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