LCD monitors have continued to drop in price and nowadays, you can find a 20” 1680x1050 LCD for under $400. It turns out that these low-priced monitor aren’t as good of a bargain as you may expect. You see, although Windows Vista will be released later this year, most of the monitors on the market today lack the HDCP support needed for high-resolution playback of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs on your PC. In fact, there are only 12 monitors that we know of that support HDCP. In short, not only will you need to buy a new graphics card for Windows Vista, if you’d like full-resolution HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, you’ll also need a brand-new monitor. Because of this, at this point in time, we do not recommend purchasing a non-HDCP monitor unless you are planning to use it as a secondary display for text, photos, and games only.
So what is HDCP?
HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection and it’s an Intel-initiated program that was developed with Silicon Image. Manufacturers participating in the program must pay an annual fee of $15,000 and a device fee of $0.005. This is a content protection system as opposed to a copy protection system. Essentially, this protocol ensures that high-definition content such as HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, and copy protected MPEG-2 is encrypted at every stage of the transmission. All HDCP does is guarantee that premium high-definition content can be output over a digital display interface such as HDMI or DVI. A lot of information can be found from Microsoft’s own documents on the Protected Video Pathway - Output Protection Management (PVP-OPM).
Although DRM clearly has implementation issues, we all must recognize that it is a “necessary evil” of the industry. Regardless of your personal stance on DRM, the content industry (i.e. Hollywood) refuses to offer unprotected high-definition video content. That’s the end of the story. They own the rights to their movies, and they can do what they choose. They set the rules. If you want to “fight” the adoption of HDCP, the only solution you’ll have is to fight with your wallet, and not buy any HDCP-products (which would include practically every HDTV on the market with an HDMI connector) or run your own movie studio. Otherwise, you’re going to be limited to DVD quality.
One of the problems that Hollywood has with PCs is that while it’s technically challenging to hack a HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player, it’s much easier to hack a PC running HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. At one point, the content industry would have liked to have prohibited playback of these devices on the PC. From Hollywood’s perspective, there’s little incentive to support high-definition video on the PC.
Microsoft on the other hand believes that there’s a clear role for the PC in multimedia. With software like Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, and Apple’s own Front Row, it’s clear that a desktop computer can work as a media hub. It’s much easier to time-shift television when you can take advantage of the CPU, GPU, and HDD you already have in your PC. When you buy a dedicated HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player, you have to buy a H.264 decoder. On the other hand, when you go with HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, your gaming GPU and CPU prevent the need for extra H.264 hardware.