There's a lot of nonsense spreading across the internet over the DRM support in Windows Vista, I won't link to the article itself as most of it is inaccurate and those posting it everywhere are in even less accurate in how they interpret it. I've seen it posted several time on Microsoft's newgroups and of course it's all over Slashdot and the like.

The article basically claims that your media playback will be crippled in Windows Vista because of the new protected content pathways. This is false.

Say you've just bought Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon", released as a Super Audio CD (SACD) in its 30th anniversary edition in 2003, and you want to play it under Vista. Since the S/PDIF link to your amplifier/speakers is regarded as insecure, Vista disables it, and you end up hearing a performance by Marcel Marceau instead of Pink Floyd.

This is an example of how the article is not only factually wrong on many issues but deliberately tries to be misleading.

He is perfectly true in saying that the SACD version won't play under Windows Vista, but that's not because of Microsoft. It won't play on any PC, Windows, Macintosh, Linux or any other PC operating system because Sony won't licence the drive for use in a PC.

We'll assume he means the CD Audio version... Well he's wrong. The protected media pipelines in Windows Vista, don't apply for any content on the market today, which includes HD DVD and Blu-ray discs on sale at the moment.

The protected media pipelines will only be activated on content that requests it. HD DVD and Blu-ray both have this in the specification and the general feeling going around is the film studios won't start using this until at least 2011.

When you actually place one of these discs into a Windows Vista machine, the disc, or more accurately whatever application you use to play the disc, can ask the system what level of protection it supports. The system can return things like, all drivers are signed or video is going over HDMI, and so on. The application then can decide if it wants to; play the full quality content, downgrade the quality or refuse playback completely.

One of the things the trolls on the Microsoft newsgroups keep going on about is they'll just use Linux, or stick with Windows XP. They both fail to grasp and the article in question deliberately misleads them into thinking that full quality content will work on Windows XP or the Macintosh, or on Linux. Guess what? It won't.

The disc and playback application will ask the system how secure it is, and won't get a reply; it'll then play it in low quality mode or can refuse to play it back at all.

If you want to blame someone for all this, go talk to the MPAA. They're the people who said they didn't want full quality playback on PCs to try and reduce piracy. Microsoft offered a solution; they'll provide a way for the disc and application to know how secure the platform is so it can decide if it wants to playback in high quality.

So if you want your future HD DVD or Blu-ray films, when they start using the higher level copy protection, to playback at full quality, you'll need to use Windows Vista, or a future operating system with a similar technology. That goes for Mac OS, if they don't already have such a system and Linux too.

I'll stress again:

Windows Vista won't degrade or refuse to play your existing media, CDs, DVDs etc.

It won't decide to shutdown outputs to try and prevent copying with your existing media, it'll behave exactly like Windows XP.

The protected media pathways are only activated when protected content requests them.

HD DVD and Blu-ray films on the market today don't use this level of protection, and aren't expected to for several years yet.

The operating system doesn't decide what can play and what cannot play; it just reports the level of protection the system supports.

Full quality playback of protected content will only work on operating systems that support it. That means Apple will have to build a similar system for Mac OS, and something will have to be done with Linux, otherwise you just get low quality, or none at all.

If you read something that sounds nuts, it probably is nuts.

So what we need to do is pressure the film industry, not Microsoft, and make sure they don't roll out this level of copy protection and in my opinion give up the whole DRM effort entirely.

Thanks to Larry Osterman and Paolo Marcucci for information they shared on this topic on the Channel 9 forums.

Update 20th January 2007: Microsoft have addressed this issue on the Windows Vista team blog essentially re-enforcing what I've already written and covering some areas of the paper I didn't have the information I needed to address.