August 30, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Hollywood, Microsoft align on new Windows
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linked to the computer, and through what kind of connection, and decide whether the content can be encrypted or otherwise protected over that link.
If the answer is "no," in the case of high-resolution Video Graphics Array (VGA) connections, or some early Digital Video Interface connections, the computer could shut down output of video altogether through those plugs, if the content owners require that.
Alternately, Vista will include a "constriction" feature that can decrease the resolution of high-definition video on the fly, outputting a version that is slightly fuzzier (about the same as today's DVDs) than the pristine original. This can be used as an alternative to blocking a connection altogether, if a content company won't let high-definition video play over the lower-security outputs.
This feature won't affect most HD televisions, which typically are already shipped with secure connection technologies. PC monitors have been slower to adopt tools such as Intel's HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) that support secure connections, however.
Most of these advanced copy-protection features in Vista are designed to apply to high-definition content and are unlikely to change the way today's DVDs or broadcast-quality content is played, Microsoft says.
Labels lack copy-protected CD support
A similar process will happen for copy-protected audio files, potentially encrypting the audio until it leaves the computer, and offering the ability to turn off specific outputs if content owners deem them insecure.
For the last year, record labels have sought additional features in the operating system that would make playing copy-protected CDs a more streamlined experience. But so far, Microsoft has not added any features specifically supporting these new CDs, saying that the technology isn't yet mature, and that other companies--Apple Computer and other music software companies included--also need to be involved.
"We're seeing digital distribution move at a rapid enough pace that the rules for which people access content today across the music services are very consistent," said John Paddleford, lead program manager for the Microsoft team that works directly with content companies. "This is what we're driving the labels to reach on the CD itself, so there's a consistent consumer experience. I think it is going to take time for the labels and the application vendors--not just Microsoft--to find a middle ground."
A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America, which has engaged in discussions with Microsoft on this issue, declined to comment.
Microsoft is aware that the high level of protection--which could result in some monitors and TVs not playing high-definition content at full resolution--could spark criticism and confusion.
The company is quick to say that this has not been a case of studios dictating policy to programmers.
"The studios are very good about not trying to design software," Paddleford said. "I've never had a studio say, 'We need an API (application programming interface) that does this.' But they do talk about, 'Well, we want to make sure that our theatrical content doesn't get played in any place but a theater.'"
For their part, studio executives say they haven't been involved in the intimate details, but are happy to see what Microsoft has done.
"The greatest problem in existing operating systems is that content is in the clear across certain interfaces," said Chris Cookson, chief technology officer for Warner Bros. "They've undertaken to improve that, which everyone was glad to see."
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