Microsoft Clarifies Vista HD Movie Stance

Microsoft is endeavoring to put out fires caused by what it says was a misstatement by a senior program manager who claimed 32-bit versions of Windows Vista would not support high-definition protected content, including HD DVD and Blu-ray. Nothing has changed, the company says.

At a session during TechEd 2006 in Sydney Thursday, Microsoft's Steve Riley asserted that because 32-bit versions of Windows must support unsigned drivers being loaded into the kernel, the company could not ensure that HD movies would be copy protected. In turn, only x64 versions of Vista would support commercial movies, he said.

x64 editions of Windows require drivers that are signed by Microsoft, which means they have undergone extensive testing. The process is costly for manufacturers, and even common hardware devices such as wireless network cards still lack proper drivers. Thus, few manufacturers ship PCs running the 64-bit operating system.

"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," explained Vista product manager Nick White. "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."

The confusion apparently arose because Riley was specifically talking about Windows Media Player 11. Microsoft ostensibly opted not to include HD DVD and Blu-ray support out of the box in Vista due to pressure from media companies who are wary about piracy.

But as Microsoft now says, this will not stop independent software vendors such as CyberLink and InterVideo from building playback solutions for high-definition protected content like HD DVD and Blu-ray. It will be up to them to negotiate licensing deals with the movie studios.

"It is up to a particular ISV to determine which environments are suitable for their playback solutions," added White. "To help ISVs make the playback determination, the OS will expose a list of any unsigned drivers on the system; nevertheless, it remains up to the ISV to determine whether playback will be enabled."

"In other words, nothing has changed with respect to Microsoft’s policies or development plans for protected HD playback," he said.

Standard DVD support, however, will be included in the Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista, which means consumers will not need to purchase third party software to play movies as they do with Windows XP. Apple also includes native DVD movie support in its Mac OS X operating system.

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