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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Windows Vista - why you shouldn't buy it.

Vista has new DRM technology built into it’s core. This is no surprise, but a few experts think Microsoft have effectively written their own suicide note with this new implementation. I would tend to agree were it not for market dominance. The future looks horrible.

For example, if you want to play a HD-DVD, or ‘protected’ music, but Vista isn’t sure where you got it from or how legitimate it is, Vista will degrade the picture and sound and cripple your system. And it is Microsoft who decide if you got it from somewhere they like - if not, tough cookie. You’re gonna watch fuzzy crap on your HD monitor. Think that’s crazy talk? They’re doing it now.

So if you’re using an expensive new LCD display fed from a high-quality DVI signal on your video card and there’s protected content present, the picture you’re going to see will be, as the spec puts it, “slightly fuzzy”, a bit like a 10-year-old CRT monitor that you picked up for $2 at a yard sale.

Peter Gutmann - ”A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

Even worse - if you want to view any of that ‘premium content’ (by which Microsoft mean your own ‘bought it from the shops’ HD-DVD and CDs too) at the original intended quality you’re also going to need to cough up for new hardware with built in restrictions (badged ‘Vista Compatible’). Microsoft won’t allow ‘premium’ content to play on old hardware, even if it is physically capable of playing at top quality, Vista won’t let it. Think that brand new Radeon or Geforce will be OK? Nada, you just wasted £400 good sir. Vista won’t allow them to play HD content.

What if you’re lucky enough to have bought a video card that supports HDMI digital video with HDCP content-protection? There’s a good chance that you’ll have to go out and buy another video card that really *does* support HDCP, because until earlier this year no video card on the market actually supported it even if the vendor’s advertising claimed that it did. As the site that first broke the story put it in their article “The Great HDCP Fiasco” (http://www.firingsquad.com/hardware/ati_nvidia_hdcp_support/) puts it:

“None of the AGP or PCI-E graphics cards that you can buy today support HDCP […] If you.ve just spent $1000 on a pair of Radeon X1900 XT graphics cards expecting to be able to playback HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies at 1920x1080 resolution in the future, you’ve just wasted your money […] If you just spent $1500 on a pair of 7800GTX 512MB GPUs expecting to be able to play 1920x1080 HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies in the future, you’ve just wasted your money”.

(The two devices mentioned above are the premium supposedly-HDCP-enabled cards made by the two major graphics chipset manufacturers ATI and nVidia). ATI was later subject to a class-action lawsuit by its customers over this deception. As late as August of this year, when Sony announced it’s Blu-Ray drive for PCs, it had to face the embarassing fact that its Blu-Ray drive couldn’t actually play Blu-Ray disks in HD format ("First Blu-ray disc drive won.t play Blu-ray movies”, http://www.cnet.com.au/desktops/dvdburners/0,239029405,240091720,00.htm):

“Since there are currently no PCs for sale offering graphics chips that support HDCP, this isn’t yet possible”.

Peter Gutmann - ”A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

Oh, and while Vista is busy stuffing your PC’s proverbial ears with cotton wool and taping jam-smeared glasses to its head, it’s also using much more system resources to do it. Much more. Your shiny new PC not only won’t play content as it was intended, it’ll also run slower because it’s busy presuming you’re a low down thieving pirate that needs nannying and all his content crippling. The system makes it really hard to steal a frame of ‘protected’ video because it’s encrypted at every stage, but Microsoft still quite happily store stuff like your PIN and Credit numbers, or medical history, or anything else you ever put on the PC, as un-encrypted plain text. That video frame is worth more, apparently.

…device drivers are required to poll the underlying hardware every 30ms to ensure that everything appears kosher. This means that even with nothing else happening in the system, a mass of assorted drivers has to wake up thirty times a second just to ensure that… nothing continues to happen.

Peter Gutmann - ”A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

When are these companies going to learn that treating customers as ‘guilty until proven innocent’ is only going to piss us off?

I shall not be downgrading to Vista any time soon. If you feel the need to change from WinXP I can heartily recommend ubuntu, and for the moment, a mac.

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