updated 02:50 pm EST, Fri January 4, 2008
Vista DRM and Netflix
Windows Vista's increased anti-copying protection is already leading some customers of movie services to find themselves locked out of content they have legal rights to watch, users are reporting today. Netflix subscriber Davis Freeberg notes that his access to the movie rental service's Watch Instantly online feature was cut when he upgraded to a newer display that could play HD-level content but did not support HDCP encryption; to regain access, he would have to grant Microsoft's DRM system free reign to scan his system for videos regardless of their source, according to Netflix support staff contacted regarding the problem.
In addition to its invasive nature, it could also potentially affect other content legitimately bought or rented content. Should it detect videos using the same Windows Media format that lack the expected keys, the Microsoft system may bar access to third-party videos. A collection of videos from Amazon's Unbox service could be disabled in attempting to get the Netflix collection to work properly, Freeberg notes. Netflix has reportedly asked the author to downgrade to a lower-resolution display to ensure he can view movies from multiple services.
Though Microsoft has not commented on the issue, the incident underscores limitations imposed by movie studios and agreed to by the Windows creator in Vista, none of which are currently in effect for earlier versions of the OS or for alternatives such as Linux or Mac OS X. HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Copyright Protection) is a feature included in Vista and many more recent displays and video cards meant to automatically block or lower the resolution of protected movies when compatible hardware is undetected, preventing image-perfect movie copies by pirates and others hoping to capture the raw video output.
Formats such as Blu-ray and HD DVD can optionally use the technology to prevent disc rips but have not yet implemented the technology on a significant scale. However, the technology is considered necessary for full support and may be added to operating systems such as Mac OS X Leopard to accommodate playing back certain HD videos.