Microsoft Settles Question of Vista’s HD DVD, Blu-ray Support

The confusion around Microsoft’s plans to support high-definition protected content in its Windows Vista operating system continued on Friday as conflicting reports flood the news media.

Australian tech publicationAPC Magazine first reported in its coverage of Tech2006 in Sydney that Microsoft would never support high-definition protected content, such as HD DVD and Blu-ray movies, in its 32-bit version. The magazine said the new formats would require 64-bit systems running the x64 edition of Vista.

Microsoft issued a statement clarifying comments its Senior Program Manager Steve Riley made at the conference on Thursday, which other publications have reported, but commotion over the issue has not yet abated.

Riley’s Faux Paus

Riley told his TechEd 2006 audience that “any next-generation high definition content will not play in x32 at all. 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].”

Media companies asked Microsoft not to support high definition content in x32-bit versions of Vista, Riley explained, because unsigned malware running in kernel mode can get around content protection.

“We had to do this,” he concluded.

Setting the Record Straight

If Riley’s comments were correct, then Microsoft Windows users wanting to play Blu-ray or HD DVD content on their PCs would need a 64-bit processor and a 64-bit version of Vista to do so. The 64-bit version of Vista requires all drivers to be signed to keep content protections in place and stop pirates.

However, Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle spoke with Microsoft product managers personally on Friday to clear up the matter. Microsoft told Enderle that Riley’s comments were off the mark.

“There are DVD capabilities built into the system, but there was never a plan to put HD DVD or Blu-ray capability into either the 32-bit or the 64-bit version, and there still is no plan to put it into either version. That will be supplied by third parties,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld.

Half-Baked Software

That means Vista will allow users to play high-definition DVDs, but they will have to plug in a player from Cybermedia, Innervideo or some other manufacturer to do it. That scenario reflects the same approach Microsoft took with Windows XP, the most current available version of the operating system.

“Part of the reason Microsoft isn’t supporting high definition in Vista is that HD DVD and Blu-ray software isn’t fully cooked yet,” Enderle said. “Even if they wanted to drop it in, it’s not stable enough to throw into the operating system right now. If those platforms are still around when the follow-on to Vista shows up — which some of us have doubts about — then it might be in the follow-on product.”

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