Most Monitors Won't Play New HD Video

Illustration by Harry Campbell
Illustration: Harry Campbell
If you dropped a bundle on a high-end computer display or HDTV, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise when you slip your new high-definition DVD of Star Wars: Episode III into your Windows Vista PC. Vista, the next version of Windows that's slated to appear in about a year, will feature a new systemwide content protection scheme called PVP-OPM (see box below). If your monitor doesn't work with PVP-OPM, all you'll likely see is either a fuzzy rendition of your high-def flick or Hollywood's version of the Blue Screen of Death--a message warning you that the display has been 'revoked'.

High-Def Hard-Liners

Forthcoming Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs promise higher resolution than a standard DVD's 480-line maximum. But to protect its high-quality content from pirating, the film industry, along with disc and hardware makers, has created an umbrella content protection scheme known as AACS. If Windows is to play the new discs, Microsoft has little choice but to support AACS, which is where PVP-OPM comes in. According to Microsoft, PVP-OPM will prevent pirates from attaching recording devices directly to the PC graphics card's DVI or HDMI video outputs in order to capture a pristine digital copy of the disc's otherwise encrypted content. A related component, PVP-UAB, will prevent savvy computer owners from installing data capture cards in order to grab high-def movies straight off the PCI Express bus.

Unfortunately, PVP-OPM will also shut out plenty of law-abiding video watchers whose current displays aren't future-proof. To comply with the film industry's protection scheme, PVP-OPM employs HDCP technology to determine whether graphics boards and displays are allowed to output and display high-def video. If HDCP sees a blocked display (such as a video capture device) or one that does not support HDCP (including any HDTV with only analog connectors), it prevents output or reduces the video resolution until the offending display or protected content is removed from the system.

Costly Upgrades

If that scenario sounds disturbing, it gets worse: Few existing wide-screen desktop displays support HDCP. If you're one of the hundreds of thousands of current wide-screen desktop display owners, you can probably forget about viewing Blu-ray or HD-DVD discs on your nearly new (and far from cheap) monitor. To watch high-def content, you'll likely have to upgrade your monitor. A handful of HDCP-compliant displays from NEC, Samsung, Sony, and ViewSonic are just starting to appear, according to market research firm iSuppli. And manufacturers such as Dell have plans to incorporate HDCP support into future wide-screen displays, though details are scarce.

Think you could avoid this expense by sticking with XP? No such luck. To see HD, you'll have to upgrade to Windows Vista as well; Windows XP's security and driver models lack the ability to support HDCP. Consumers intent on viewing HD discs via their PCs will have little choice but to spring for the new operating system in addition to an HDCP-compliant monitor.

Decode the Jargon

AACS: Advanced Access Control System. A specification for guarding next-generation optical-media content created by the film, electronics, and software industries.

HDCP: High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection. Intel's content protection scheme for digital displays, not supported by most currently available PC monitors.

PVP-OPM: Protected Video Path Output Protection Management. Downgrades video resolution or blocks the picture entirely if the connected display doesn't support content protection.

PVP-UAB: Protected Video Path User-Accessible Bus. Encrypts video content as it passes over the PCI Express bus from the high-def disc to prevent other PCI Express devices from intercepting the video stream.

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