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People wanting to upgrade to Windows Vista are likely to need not only a new computer with more robust hardware, but a new monitor as well.
A US tech consultant says technology in the new version will fuzz protected digital content unless it is viewed on a monitor which has High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).
Stephen Speicher, who writes a weekly column for the tech blog engadget, said: "If you're one of those rare people whose display is equipped with HDCP, you're fine. However, in the world of computers, such users are few and far between."
The technology is known as PVP-OPM, or Protected Video Path - Output Protection Management.
Speicher said while HDCP had become a de facto standard for display copy-protection in televisions, its penetration in the computer display market was very low.
"Whether you're plunking down money for one of the new ultra-fast LCD displays with 4ms response times or you're becoming the envy of the neighbourhood with Dell's UltraSharp 2405FPW widescreen display, you're buying a monitor that won't play nice with premium content in Longhorn (the code name for Windows Vista)," he said.
"The bottom line is that Microsoft is beginning to incorporate some of the same standards that commercial entertainment devices are using. In the case of PVP, this means that HDCP will be used."
Speicher said this was not surprising as the specifications for HD-DVD, one of the next-generation DVD standards being pushed by the US-based DVD Forum, called for HDCP. "Blu-ray (the opposing next-gen DVD standard) will probably follow suit," he said.
A Microsoft official confirmed this, saying: "Current computer monitors will work even with high-value content, although the resolution of displayed images might be lower than what you might get with a protected monitor link."
Marcus Matthias, Windows Digital Media product manager in Redmond, said this was nothing new as some existing DVD players required HDCP protection to "upsample" their source to higher resolution.
"Digital outputs of any system need some form of copy protection, as without it, digital protection upstream has much less value," he said. "The consumer electronics world has adopted content protection very broadly, with the bulk of high-definition TVs today supporting monitor copy protection."