Microsoft Bolsters Video Content Security in Vista

Microsoft plans to include new ways to protect video content in the next version of its Windows desktop operating system, signaling its intention to to position the OS as a platform for home digital entertainment systems.

Microsoft will provide technology in the core architecture of Windows Vista to secure "premium content flow," according to John Paddleford, a lead program manager in the Windows Digital Media Division of Microsoft, speaking in an interview today. This type of content comes from sources such as cable and high-definition DVD (HDVD).

This secure technology will reside in the Protected Media Path (PMP), enabling high-definition media to flow securely from its origination point through the operating system to whatever an end point, such as a high-definition TV screen or other media output device, Paddleford said.

The platform will provide both user-mode and kernel-mode protection to digital media content, such as Protected Video Path (PVP) and Protected User Mode Audio (PUMA), thereby ensuring that content cannot be stolen, Microsoft's Web site reports.

"As you bring content into the system and as it leaves the system, it's protected," Paddleford said. PMP will protect digital content, too, if it's transcoded from one format to another--such as from an MPEG2 file to a Windows Media Video file--he said.

"The whole idea is that with Protected Media Path, when you're transcoding, that's a pirate point where someone could siphon the content out," Paddleford said. To protect content at this juncture, Microsoft has created a secure memory space that would-be pirates can't easily access while files are being transformed from one format to another, he said.

Coming Christmas 2006

Already, Microsoft is previewing some of its new digital video content protection technology in the now-available Beta 1 version of Windows Vista. The company expects the OS to be released for sale in the United States by the end of 2006.

Several factors are motivating Microsoft to provide this kind of protection, Paddleford said. One is Microsoft's desire to position a PC as more of an entertainment device. The company's Windows Media Center Edition--which is optimized to run a variety of digital content and television programming on PCs--has already made some inroads in this area.

Another factor prompting these new protections is the influence of major movie studios and media content providers, Paddleford said. Microsoft is working closely with companies such as Walt Disney, Sony, and Twentieth Century Fox Film, all of which are hungry for reassurance that their content will be protected when it runs on Windows.

One problem with trying to protect digital video on a PC is that the machine itself was not designed to function as a secure platform for this kind of content, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

"Microsoft has to do its best and provide a good-faith effort to make the PC secure for antipiracy," he said. "[But companies] are worried about piracy, and it's a legitimate concern [because] the PC architecture was not created with copy protection in mind."

May Not Be Used?

Moreover, Microsoft's investment in providing new technologies for protecting content doesn't ensure that content providers will adopt them, Rosoff said.

He cited as an example the Secure Audio Path (SAP) technology for protecting audio content, which Microsoft included in the Me and XP versions of the Windows OS. Though Microsoft claims that 95 percent of sound code manufacturers support SAP, "no content owners have chosen to take advantage of it," Rosoff said.

This same fate could befall forthcoming digital media protection technologies in Windows Vista, he said. "Content owners may not take advantage of what Microsoft is doing," Rosoff said. Their alternatives? "They could bypass the PC altogether, or come up with some other type of system," he said.

Microsoft's proactive effort to work with major content providers gives the company a fighting chance to make the PC a mainstream entertainment device, Rosoff said.

"Microsoft is trying to forge relationships with content providers--they talk all the time," he said. "Microsoft certainly is not working in a vacuum here."

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