The High Costs of Vista DRM

by on January 4, 2007 · 2 comments

David Levine links to this fantastic summary of the new copy protection standards in Windows Vista, and the many problems those standards are likely to cause. Here’s the upshot:

In order to work, Vista’s content protection must be able to violate the laws of physics, something that’s unlikely to happen no matter how much the content industry wishes it were possible. This conundrum is displayed over and over again in the Windows content-protection requirements, with manufacturers being given no hard-and-fast guidelines but instead being instructed that they need to display as much dedication as possible to the party line. The documentation is peppered with sentences like:

“It is recommended that a graphics manufacturer go beyond the strict letter of the specification and provide additional content-protection features, because this demonstrates their strong intent to protect premium content”.

This is an exceedingly strange way to write technical specifications, but is dictated by the fact that what the spec is trying to achieve is fundamentally impossible. Readers should keep this requirement to display appropriate levels of dedication in mind when reading the following analysis.

What we see throughout the document, is the kind of thrashing that inevitably occurs when an industry’s management orders its engineers to do something that’s technically impossible. They’re forced to go to ever-more-heroic lengths to accomplish the impossible goal, leading to more and more bad design decisions. The result, in this case, is that the quality of all the A/V across the entire operating system is degraded any time there’s any “premium” content being displayed and a single “non-secure” device is installed on the computer. All this effort still isn’t going to stop copyright infringement, but it’s going to be a major pain in the ass for consumers.

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