The one bright spot in the upgrade process has always been the monitor. Like the North Star, the monitor is always there to ease the transition. I look to it for comfort, and it stares back at me as if to say, “It’s OK, Buddy; I’m here for you. You’ll always have me.” Sure, monitors can get a bit dated (think dirty beige 14-inch CRT), but when have you had to upgrade your monitor to avoid functional problems in the new OS?
That all changes with Longhorn.
Why? With Longhorn, Microsoft will begin pushing opium. Well, technically it’s OPM. However, opium might be a good option for those livid that the video content being sent to their pristine 24-inch Dell LCD monitors is purposefully being “fuzzied” (more on that later).
So what is OPM? The successor to Microsoft’s rarely-mentioned COPP (Certified Output Protection Protocol), PVP-OPM (Protected Video Path – Output Protection Management) is the first play in Microsoft’s game plan to ensure that protected content stays protected. PVP-OPM performs two main functions. First, it detects the capabilities of the display devices attached to the computer. For instance, does the DVI LCD monitor that you’re using have HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection)? Second, it manages what, if anything, gets sent to those devices.
If you’re one of those rare people whose display is equipped with HDCP, you’re fine. However, in the world of computers, those users are few and far between. While HDCP has become the de facto standard for display copy-protection in televisions, its penetration in the computer display market would be pleased to merely be called anemic. 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 neighborhood with Dell’s UltraSharp 2405FPW widescreen display, you’re buying a monitor that won’t play nice with premium content in Longhorn.
So what will happen when you try to play premium content on your incompatible monitor? If you’re “lucky”, the content will go through a resolution constrictor. The purpose of this constrictor is to down-sample high-resolution content to below a certain number of pixels. The newly down-sampled content is then blown back up to match the resolution of your monitor. This is much like when you shrink a JPEG and then zoom into it. Much of the clarity is lost. The result is a picture far fuzzier than it need be.
It sure is — when the alternative is a black screen. If OPM determines that your monitor falls below the security restrictions (i.e. isn’t DVI or HDMI w/HDCP), you could be greeted with a “polite message explaining that [your monitor] doesn’t meet security requirements.”
Who determines when you get the restrictor and when you get the black screen? You guessed it: the content owner does.
“But I use VGA with my monitor,” you say. Too bad. Unless you upgrade your monitor, you too will be hoping your content provider opted for the blurry-but-visible protection mechanism.
Microsoft is quick to point out that many content providers have agreed to not totally block all analog displays. Instead they have agreed to compromise and allow the constricted (down-sampled) versions to pass through. Still — this is a far cry from enjoying the unmolested goodness of hi-def content.
To be fair – it’s not just Microsoft. The next generation of digital content will, by and large, be protected to the display. Recently Toshiba released their HD-DVD specifications and have dictated HDMI/HDCP as a display requirement for playing back high-definition content. Most expect Blu-ray to have similar restrictions.
What makes the PC situation so insidious is that nearly every monitor being sold today will fall victim to this gotcha. Blame whomever you like (the monitor manufacturers should shoulder their portion of the blame too), just be careful when buying a monitor these days. Or at least know that you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.