Weekly News Roundup (September 1, 2019)

September 1st, 2019

And we’re back! Quite a few things have happened since the last WNR, and I know I promised to keep this thing regular, but sometimes everything else seems to just get in the way. No more promises though, but I will try my best in the future.

High Definition

If you’re an Aussie and you like the sort of things I like, then you would have been ecstatic about the news of Disney+ coming down under, and for the really good price of $8.99 (that translates to less than the US pricing of $6.99).

What’s more, with Disney’s fan event, the D23 Expo, happening just a short while after the pricing announcement, Disney used the event to give fans even more information about the service.

We got trailers for the new Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian (and the trailer looked fantastic – if the show if half as good, it will be epic), original films Lady and the Tramp and Noelle. There was also a bunch of announcement for new Marvel shows, and a big one, Ewan McGregor coming back as Obi-Wan in a new TV series.

From a technical standpoint, there was also some exciting news that all Disney+ accounts will have access to 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. This makes Disney+ by far the cheapest streaming plan to included these advanced features, $9 per month cheaper than the Netflix plan with the equivalent feature.

Those in the U.S. can also bundle Disney+ with Hulu and ESPN+ for only $12.99 per month, saving almost $5.

A screenshot showing the Disney+ Interface
Disney+ will be worth having

With so much enticing content, a great price and unexpected feature-set, it looks like Disney is very very serious about going head to head with Netflix. All the talk about Disney+ not being a competitor for Netflix (and most of that talk is coming from Disney, which is telling) is technically correct, but with Hulu under its wings, there’s no reason, from a content point of view, that Disney can’t take on Netflix.

It will be good news for us consumers, not so much Netflix shareholders, I think.


And in the near future, when you’re watching a 4K Disney+ stream on your new TV, you might notice that there might be a new mode on your TV called ‘Filmmaker Mode’. If you see it, you should enable it.

Announced this week by the UHD Alliance, along with CE partners Panasonic, LG and VIZIO and along with the Directors Guild of America and The Film Foundation, Filmmaker Mode will be a shortcut that turns off all the post-processing features on the TV that distracts from the film-watching experience. You know the ones – motion smoothing, the over-sharpening and unnatural colour corrections, and when combined, makes movies look more like daytime soap operas.

The logo for Filmmaker Mode
Filmmaker Mode will make it easy to see films the way they are supposed to be seen

But now, with just one setting, you can watch the film as the filmmakers intended, with the right colour reproduction, and more importantly, the right framerate.

The new mode seems to be made for UHD Blu-ray discs, but there’s no reason why it can’t be used for streaming as well. So there won’t be any more excuses for films to be played back with the soap opera effect turned on. No excuses!!


That’s it for the week. Back to making trailers for me. Until next time!

Weekly News Roundup (August 11, 2019)

August 11th, 2019

Welcome back to the WNR. Sorry for the long break, but we finally have some worthy news stories to talk about, and so here we are.

High Definition

Regular readers will know how we big up streaming here, and not just because we also run an Australian news site that’s dedicated to the topic of streaming.

But you have to be living under a rock to not notice that streaming is taking over everything, but sometimes some solid stats go a long way to paint a full picture of what’s happening.

That data has been recently provided by analytics firm Conviva, and it shows that streaming media consumption has double over the last year in the United States.

The consumption was led by Roku users, who helped to drive up the adoption of Internet-connected TVs by 143% and accounted for 43% of all connected TV viewing measured by Conviva. Roku themselves are seeing a period of strong growth, with the service now having more than 30 million subscribers.

Photo of Roku Streaming Stick
Roku is the most popular streaming device, according to new data

Adoption of Amazon Fire TV devices also growing strongly over the last year, up 145% and now accounting for 18% of connected viewing.

Here in Australia, our one and only cable TV operator has finally embraced streaming and have started to bundle Netflix with their subscriptions (despite the fact that it tried to launch its own streaming platform). And with broadband speeds increasing and bandwidth costs decreasing all the time, streaming just make more and more sense.

With that said, and this is from my first-hand experience with uploading 4K trailers, we are still dealing with huge files and that it’s going to take a while before we reach mainstream adoption. For one, YouTube’s bitrate of choice for 4K content is only around 13 Mbps (and that’s using the not so efficient VP9 codec, instead of HEVC), and that’s not really enough. But any higher, the number of people able to watch 4K quickly drops from an already small pool of users actively looking for 4K content. So until people can comfortably stream a 30+ Mbps stream and still be able to use their connections for other things, 4K adoption (despite the huge number of 4K or at least 1440p capable devices, including most phones and tablets and TVs sold these days) will be bottlenecked. Let’s not even think about 8K for now.


Disney’s acquisition of Fox is a bold and potentially profitable move for the Mickey Mouse company. But not right now though, because Disney has been surprised at just how much Fox Studios is underperforming right now, with projected profits turning into losses for the last quarter.

Screenshot from Ford v Ferrari
Disney/Fox has high hopes for Ford v Ferrari

The box office for Dark Phoenix was much less than expected, and none of Fox’s other movies also did well enough. The rest of 2019 looks a bit brighter with Ford v Ferrari and Ad Astra, but these are hardly locked in winners.

So if anything, the sale of Fox to Disney came at the right time for the former News Corp studio. Maybe at the right time for Disney as well. Not so much for Fox’s release slate, since Disney is already doing pretty well this year with over $8 billion in box office takings, but as a way to acquire a great back catalogue of titles to fill their Disney+ and Hulu content libraries.


That’s all I have for you this week. Until next time!

Weekly News Roundup (July 21, 2019)

July 21st, 2019

Welcome back to another edition of the WNR. Hope you’ve been keeping busy? I’ve been busying myself with this and that, include a few more trailers since we last talked (Spies in Disguise, Mulan, Onward, Playing with Fire, the hugely popular Top Gun: Maverick, and the stuff nightmares are made of in the form of the new trailer for Cats).

Please, Hollywood, stop making human-animal CGI hybrids. Learn the lessons from the Sonic trailer, I beg of you!

Oh yes, the news.

Copyright

Google’s DMCA take-down regime is in the news again, this time it has been co-opted by pirates and scammers to their own advantage. Apparently, people are pretending to be rights-holders and submitting fake take-down notices, to remove the URLs of competitor sites. One person recently pretended to be the MPAA to take down links from a Turkish piracy site.

A screenshot of Google's Copyright Transparency Report website
Google’s DMCA take-down regime under question over fake notices

It’s possible that it’s other piracy sites that are doing this, in order to knock off competitors and increase their own rankings. It could also be scammers trying to do the same thing.

And all of this is possible because Google often does not verify the identities of those submitting DMCA notices, and so anyone could pretend to be a rights-holder and get their submissions approved, as long as the sites they’re removing are genuine piracy sites.

High Definition

Things are getting more difficult for Netflix. Not only is Disney+ on the way Warner Media has now also decided to launch their own streaming platform, combining HBO’s premium content with Warner’s vast library to form HBO Max.

HBO Max logo
HBO Max may cost as much as Netflix and Disney+ combined, but will have all of HBO’s premium offerings along with everything Warner has to offer

Unlike the much cheaper Disney+, HBO Max goes for the other end of the market and will be priced higher than Netflix (and Disney+ combined). The premium-ness of HBO is the main reason for the higher price, although one could argue that shows like ‘Stranger Things’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘When They See Us’ has the budget and quality to out-HBO HBO. It’s an interesting pricing strategy, but one that I’m not sure would work.

It’s also not great news for us consumers. HBO Max will increase fragmentation in a market that’s already becoming far too fragmented. With Disney (and Fox) pulling their stuff from Netflix, and now Warner possibly doing the same, it means you now have to subscribe to yet another service if you don’t want to miss out on some of the best content.

But it’s undoubtedly worse news for Netflix, and the most recent results for the company showed it actually went backward when it came to domestic (U.S.) subscriber numbers (our sister site Streambly will have more on this soon). This, coupled with ballooning content acquisition and production costs, means Netflix has some important decisions to make on what kind of service it wants to be.

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And that’s it for the week. Excuse me while I go and meditate to try and get the disturbing pictures of human-cat hybrids out of my mind. Until next time …

Weekly News Roundup (July 7, 2019)

July 7th, 2019

So Digital Digest turned 20 this week. Being a major milestone, I made extra effort to ensure that I won’t forget the anniversary like how I’ve forgotten virtually every single one before. And I didn’t forget it, having remembered two whole days before the auspicious date.

Which means that I didn’t really have enough time to plan anything, despite the fact that I had been thinking about doing something ever since I realised, last July 4th, that this year was going to be the 20th (I did have time to design a new logo though). And this is also why I’ve decided to celebrate our 20th not just on one day, but throughout the year. That should give me more time to get my sh*t together!

So we’ll have special articles, some prize giveaways, and whatever I can think of in between.

Oh yes, the news (as in the singular version of the word).

Copyright

Over the years, especially the last decade or so, we’ve reported on a lot of copyright-related lawsuits, and so on the 20th anniversary, it seems appropriate to report on yet another one, this time against streaming operator SET TV.

A photo promoting SET TV
SET TV is no more, but it won’t stop the lawsuits from coming

Florida based SET TV offered for sale devices pre-loaded with apps that potentially allowed users to access pirated content, including via their own subscription service that promised hundreds of channels of content for a small fee. While SET TV marketed their device and service as legal, the fact that the fee was so small for so much content, meant that something wasn’t quite right.

And that something, according to Amazon, Netflix and several Hollywood studios, is piracy.

While SET TV was prepared to fight the case early on, it appears that money ran out, especially after the 90 million dollar judgement against them from a lawsuit brought forward by cable operator Dish, and now a new default judgement has been handed down against SET TV, despite the fact that the outfit no longer operating.

So it’s more money awarded to rights-holders and against SET TV that SET TV probably has no means to pay. But that was never the point – it was always about putting on a show of force, to scare others into line. It’s also to set an example so that their lobbying efforts in D.C. will have more teeth to it. Will it work? Well, the fact that I’ve probably written several dozen of these stories about “won lawsuits” over the last couple of years, and the amount of help the likes of the MPAA gets from the government, combined that with the fact that there have never been more piracy sites out there suggests that this strategy has some flaws.

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And on that rant, that’s the end of this pretty quiet week. Bound to be more next week, starting with a story that Netflix’s 4K encryption might have also have some flaws. Until then …

Weekly News Roundup (June 16, 2019)

June 16th, 2019

And we’re back, and this time, it hasn’t taken more than a month since the last WNR.

And that’s largely thanks to the fact that we have news, and that was at least partially thanks to the gaming expo, E3.

Copyright

But before we get to that, we have a piracy blunder to talk about, this time committed by the Swiss arm of broadcaster Sky.

In releasing the final episode of the hit show Chernobyl, Sky Switzerland used not the official subtitles provided by HBO, but the fan-made version released by a subtitle download site often used by pirates. This error was revealed because whoever decided to use the inappropriate subtitle file forgot to reveal the credits that were added to the subtitles by its creator, which also referenced subtitle download site Addic7ed.

Screenshot of Sky Switzerland's incorrect use of subtitles
Good of Sky Switzerland to keep the credits for the fan-made subtitles

The closing credits were removed, and the subtitle was re-synced with the official Sky stream, suggesting the person or persons responsible for this blunder had intended to use the downloaded subtitles, and it wasn’t just a simple case of uploading the wrong file to the server.

As expected, the folks at Addic7ed were a bit bemused by the whole situation, giving Sky a thumbs up for keeping the credits intact. Sky themselves weren’t laughing though, having described this whole affair as “totally unacceptable”.

Just out of interest, the Addic7ed site is blocked here in Australia by several ISPs due to its association with piracy.

Gaming

There were lots of things being unveiled at E3, but the piece of news that probably has the greatest impact on the next few years of gaming would be Microsoft’s reveal of their next game console, currently only known as Project Scarlett.

I once read an article that suggested Sony and Microsoft should join forces and just release a single game console. The reasoning was that as consoles advance, the so-called “competing” hardware will become more and more similar, that there really isn’t much of a point to having separate consoles.

That prediction seems to have come true. No, not the part about a joint Sony/Microsoft console (the “Xbox Station 720”?), but the part about the two consoles become more and more similar is spot on.

Sony’s PS5 announcement pointed to an AMD powered console with GDDR6 RAM, backed by an SSD drive with support for advanced graphical features like ray tracing, 120 FPS gaming and 8K output (most likely for video only).

And Project Scarlett will be an AMD powered console with GDDR6 RAM, backed by an SSD drive with support for advanced graphical features like ray tracing, 120 FPS gaming and 8K output (most likely for video only).

Screenshot from Microsoft's Project Scarlett launch video
Project Scarlett and Sony’s PS5 – virtually identical in announced specs

Oh, and both console launches stressed the inclusion of backwards compatibility. Microsoft does have an advantage here due to its head start in this department – it has run a backwards compatibility program for the Xbox One since 2015, and so it has promised backwards compatibility with all Xbox generations for Project Scarlett, not just for Xbox One games.

And if I have to guess, the pricing for both consoles will be similar, if not the same. Microsoft does have a solid-ish launch date of holidays 2020, as Sony has not yet confirmed a release date (but probably holidays 2020).

As for the prediction about a joint console – I don’t think that will ever happen. As similar as the next consoles will be from both companies, and as unprofitable the hardware will be (at least initially), there is still a “need” for separate consoles in order for both companies to have a chance to earn that lucrative licensing money. Puff Daddy was right.

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So we come to the end of this roundup. Have a great one until the next one!


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