Copy protection threatens viewing of next-gen DVDs

The bitter fight for the next-generation DVD market is having ever wider consequences. Even if you don’t know your Blu-ray from your HD DVD, you can appreciate the fact that copy-protection safeguards and top-quality video viewing are potentially not compatible. One worst-case scenario has consumers buying new PCs in order to view the new DVDs.

Why is this happening? For two reasons: Hollywood studios want to stamp out piracy, and electronics manufacturers are scrambling to catch up.

First of all, the digital piracy is a huge drain on profits for the major movie studios. With the propensity of broadband and other high-speed Internet connections, potential digital pirates have found it all the easier to “borrow” movies, TV, and other forms of digital video for their own purposes. As a result, more and more pirated videos are flooding the market and less and less money is making its way into the coffers of Hollywood studios.

One result of all this is a stringent approach toward digital ownership. The next generation of DVDs will include specifically narrow digital rights management controls. Unfortunately for a great many viewers, these “protective” procedures won’t play nice with much of today’s PC protocols, resulting in not-so-high quality viewing. (It should be noted here that standalone DVD players and HDTVs will have preinstalled plugs and protocols that will work with these new DRM controls. Your average PC user, however, might be in trouble.

Most computer-to-monitor plugs are analog, which doesn’t support copy protection. So, that shiny new DVD that you buy later this year will appear as not-so-shiny if you hook up your PC to a TV.

Some computers include a digital visual interface (DVI) plug, which allows digital transfer of images from PC to monitor. But Hollywood studios, aware of this, have lashed out against the DVI, leveraging its influence into making Microsoft to include in the upcoming Vista OS a shutdown feature that prevents DVI connections altogether (unless, of course, you have preinstalled High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, which isn’t at all standard in the garden-variety PC or OS).

But even HDCP depends on chipmakers and OS manufacturers like Microsoft, which have varying degrees of “catchup” in their release strategies.

If this all sounds confusing, it certainly is. We’ve descended into anagram mania here. The bottom line is that you should know what kind of video hookup capability your PC has before you go out and spend lavish amounts of money on next-gen DVDs, be they Blu-ray or HD DVD.


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