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Hollywood demands 64-bit PCs for HD DVD, Blu-ray playback?

If you want to use Windows Media Player, certainly

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Windows Vista will not play HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc media out of the box on 32-bit systems, Microsoft has admitted, but third-party software developers may support next-generation optical disc playback on such machines - if Hollywood lets them.

Speaking in Australia this week, Microsoft Senior Program Manager Steve Riley effectively revealed Windows Media Player 11 will not play HD content from HD DVD or BD sources unless it's running under a 64-bit version of Vista. According to Riley, 32-bit mode is too open to hacks designed to bypass the optical discs' copy-protection mechanisms.

Riley's words - and follow-up comment from Microsoft spin teams - suggest that while WMP 11 won't play HD media in 32-bit Vista, third-party apps may well do. The question is, will the content providers allow the likes of Cyberlink to support the new disc formats?

Possibly not. According to Riley, the decision to drop 32-bit HD DVD and BD playback from WMP 11 was made because "the media companies asked us to do this". What's more, he added, "they don't want any of their HD content to play in [32-bit] at all, because of all of the unsigned malware that runs in kernel mode can get around content protection".

With Sony and Toshiba supporting BD and HD DVD playback, respectively, on select PCs running 32-bit Windows XP, playing content from pre-recorded discs may not seem to be much of a problem. But it will become more of an issue once content companies begin enforcing region coding and HDCP compliance for full-resolution output. That may require new software for playback, and the updated code could well meet Hollywood's demand for 64-bit computing.

All of which means many users will be forced to upgrade their hardware. AMD's mainstream CPUs are already 64-bit, and by the time Vista ships Intel's main processor lines, both mobile and desktop, will be 64-bit, but that still leaves plenty of folk out there with older system, particularly notebooks, that aren't. ®

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