Microsoft revealed today that no 32-bit versions of Windows Vista will be able to play back “next generation high definition protected content” (translation – studio-released BluRay and HD-DVD movies).
The surprising disclosure was made by Senior Program Manager Steve Riley during a presentation on Windows Vista security at Tech.Ed 2006 Sydney today.
“Any next-generation high definition content will not play in x32 at all,” said Riley.
“This is a decision that the Media Player folks made because there are just too many ways right now for unsigned kernel mode code [to compromise content protection]. The media companies asked us to do this and said they don’t want any of their high definition content to play in x32 at all, because of all of the unsigned malware that runs in kernel mode can get around content protection, so we had to do this,” he said.
In case this is somewhat obscure, it means that the studios are worried that determined copiers could get around copy protection by loading kernel mode drivers in 32-bit Vista. They feel safer about 64-bit Vista because Microsoft will only permit “signed” drivers there – i.e. signed with a digital certificate issued to a valid commercial organization.
Riley then attempted to pre-empt audience concerns over the newly imposed limitation by asking how many of the Tech.Ed attendees currently played high-definition movies at home.
“How many of you have a DVD player that you know can output a proper 1080 line non-interlaced?”
No-one raised their hands.
“OK… look around. By the time that stuff becomes popular, it’ll no longer be an issue because everyone will be running 64-bit Windows,” he said.
An interesting dream. More likely, they’ll all be watching the high definition content on standalone players or their game consoles.
Update: At the Windows Vista Team Blog, Nick White tries to turn the herd before it stampedes through town:
The community is buzzing with reactions to APC Magazine’s article regarding playback of protected High Definition content in 32-bit versions of Windows Vista. However, the information shared was incorrect and the reactions pervading the community are thus (understandably) ill-informed.
The real deal is that no version of Windows Vista will make a determination as to whether any given piece of content should play back or not. The individual ISV providing the playback solutions will choose whether the playback environment, including environments that use 32-bit processors, meet the performance requirements for playback of protected High Definition content.
That was my original understanding too – much the way regular DVDs are played on Windows XP. But it begs the question of whether the studios are allowing any ISVs to provide 32-bit playback. It’s not directly Microsoft’s problem, but indirectly it sure is.