Weekly News Roundup (22 November 2015)

November 22nd, 2015

Gonna be a short one this week, as news just wasn’t that forthcoming. While I was scouring the web for news, I did manage to do a bit of informal research on PCs, specifically gaming PCs. To my surprise, a decent rig these days is still quiet expensive, if not even more expensive than a few years ago when I last did my research. Lower volume sales of PCs and component equals higher prices? Perhaps, but I was also surprised that the range of products available hasn’t really reduced as a result, in fact, it seems to have increased. It all seems fairly unsustainable, but I still have a soft spot for PC gaming that I can’t quite get rid of, even if the value proposition (compared to say buying a decent game console like the PS4 or Xbox One) is probably at its lowest ever.

On with the news …


Netflix Remote

Netflix – more disruptive than movie studios had wanted

A new study from Sweden once again confirms that pirates are the best customers. Or more precisely, those that love music and movies will buy more than the more casual listener/viewer, but they will also illegally download more content as well.

Also not particularly surprising was the finding that legal services, like Netflix and Spotify, have really shaken up the piracy market place, and that almost a majority of users now readily pay for content compared to when these legal services weren’t available. So it’s clearly a case of people willing to pay for content, but only if the “right” service (right in terms of pricing, usability) is there to deliver it. And as for the argument of users only migrating from being leechers on piracy networks to being leechers on Spotify’s free plan, this doesn’t seem to be true as 54% of online music listeners are happily paying for content in Sweden (40% for video, up from only 14% just a year ago).

Of course, the money these users are paying might not all end up in the hands of the major labels and studios, but it’s hardly the fault of Spotify and Netflix that not only do they exist, but also exist outside of the control and ownership of these very same labels and studios. In other words, had the MPAA and RIAA members spent less time suing single mothers and students, and instead invented their version of Netflix and Spotify, they would be the ones making most of the money right now.

But it’s always easier to go after pirates than to actually come up with a good idea, even if one ends up being a futile game of whack-a-mole. Case in point, for all of the MPAA’s efforts in closing down Popcorn Time and YIFY, alternatives to both have already sprung up, and not before long, it will be business as usual for Popcorn Time users. The MPAA can close down these new alternatives too, but new ones will spring up. And eventually, the game shifts to the next level when someone invents a new further decentralised variation of Popcorn Time that will be much harder to shut down, just in time for the next Netflix or whatever to be launched by a tech company that completely disrupts the market.

Looking forward to it!

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Hancock poster

Was Hancock really Sony’s best choice for a Ultra HD Blu-ray launch title?

I guess it’s unfair to say the MPAA studios haven’t tried to innovate when the official launch of Ultra HD Blu-ray is nigh. It may not be the best kind of innovation, or the kind of innovation that actually meets user demand (for all things digital and not on disc), but at least it’s something. Not so impressive is the launch titles for the new disc format from Sony, which includes The Amazing Spiderman 2′, ‘Chappie’, ‘Hancock’, ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Salt’ and ‘The Smurfs 2’. Hardly screams “must-have”.

But it’s not easy for Sony though, it’s not as if they have franchises like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Jurassic Park’ to exploit – these were the best they could do in 2015, and it’s too soon for ‘Spectre’ to be released on disc.

Still, I think the best way to view Ultra HD Blu-ray is to view it as a niche format for home theater enthusiasts and collectors. Market it like this, complete with disc packages that reflect what the typical UHD BD user wants (so more collector’s box sets), and they will be much more successful than trying to market it as a mass media format for the Average ‘Walmart’ Joe. Joe will most likely watch the same movie via streaming and download, or on DVD/Blu-ray.


And that’s that for the week. I’ll continue to do my research on the latest PC hardware (more out of interest than anything else), and see how much my potential gaming rig will cost me (right now it stands at $1500 just for the CPU, motherboard, RAM and GPU, and I could have easily doubled the amount if I wanted to). See you next week.


Weekly News Roundup (15 November 2015)

November 15th, 2015

First things first. Our hearts and thoughts are with all of those affected by the tragic events in Paris. It’s times like this that makes you truly reflect what’s important in your life, and makes you appreciated all the little things that make life a simple joy. As for what happens now, I really don’t know, but I do hope that we start discussing the tough questions, the ones about why it has become too easy for young people to want to be, and to actually be radicalized, and also to seriously examine what the best course of action is when you’re fighting an enemy that’s mostly just an idea. An insidious, evil idea, that somehow has become far too attractive for far too many.

It’s hard to still consider anything that I usually write here important after the events in Paris, but we all have to continue doing what we have to do, what we want to do, to continue to love, to show compassion, to be kind and understanding – that’s how we show those that want to divide us that they will never win.



There’s no room for privacy concerns according to the MPAA

Now, I’ve written a lot over the years about the piracy issue. From time to time, when I’m especially tired or drunk or both, I accidentally write ‘privacy’ instead of piracy. So instead of writing “The MPAA hates piracy”, I might write “The MPAA hates privacy”. Fortunately, this is now much less of a problem because the MPAA now also hates privacy (not a typo).

Those pesky Europeans and their privacy laws that protect their citizen’s rights, are giving the MPAA a headache when it comes to going after the pirates. The MPAA made the complaint to the USTR, something they do every year to let the US Trade Representative know all the things that annoy Hollywood around the world. But the EU’s new directives that adds extra privacy protection to IP addresses and the removal of mandatory data retention, means that the MPAA now has to work a lot harder to get what they want. Just exactly what that is, I’m not sure, because it sounds like the MPAA is mad they’re no longer able to go after individual downloaders, but that has never worked to stop piracy, and to be fair, the MPAA has never engaged in this kind of legal activity. If they wanted to go after the piracy site operators, then they already have the tools to do that (see the Popcorn Time/YIFY story last week).

So basically, it’s just the MPAA trying to blame someone or something else for their woes. Something they’ll do again this time next year.

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DVD vs Blu-ray vs 4K

4K is gaining momentum, but discs are on the slide

Moving on to digital video stuff, it appears that sales of Ultra HD TVs have gotten off to a good start, despite the relatively small amount of available Ultra HD/4K content.

(While I’m here, I would just like to further clarify the differences between the term “Ultra HD”, which is more of a marketing term, and 4K. 4K refers to 4000 horizontal pixels of resolution, most commonly available in the resolution 4096 x 2160. Ultra HD is actually just shy of 4K, in the more accessible 16:9 resolution of 3840 x 2160 – basically double both the horizontal and vertical resolution of 1080p. The more you know!)

There definitely doesn’t seem to be the kind of price premium you usually associated with new tech that’s with 4K TV (I managed to pick up one, albeit a budget crappy one, for less than $300 just recently), and while the much needed content hasn’t yet arrived in disc form, it’s already available via streaming.

And that’s exactly the problem facing discs at the moment, with the latest Q3 home entertainment earnings report showing that, for the first time ever, revenue from streaming has risen above that for packaged media. In fact, almost everything related to digital was on the up, while almost everything related to packaged media was on the slide.

When everything was added up together, total revenue was little changed, which just goes to show that the transition seems to be going smoothly.


Xbox One Halo 5 Edition

Halo 5 has helped the Xbox One beat the PS4 in October

The October NPD results are in and once again the PS4 was the best .. wait a second, that’s not what actually happened. The Xbox One has finally managed to break the PS4’s winning streak by becoming October’s best selling console in the US market. The win was largely due to the release of Halo 5, a Xbox exclusive that always helps to drive console sales. With Forza Motorsport 6, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, and with backwards compatibility and a major dashboard update all coming, there’s definitely some momentum building for the Xbox One. Microsoft will be hoping that these new additions in these established franchises, and the BC, will help convince the huge number of Xbox 360 owners who haven’t upgraded to upgrade.

While I’m here, I guess I also have to mention Fallout 4, considering my preoccupation/obsession with the previous game in the series. I haven’t played the game yet, haven’t even purchased it (other than the Xbox One Pip-Boy edition in order to get the Pip-Boy – the PS4 and PC editions were sold out when I found out about it, so I had to make do with the Xbox One edition even though I don’t own a Xbox One) – I will do both when I get some free time, and if I managed to get more free time, I might even play it on my brand new dream gaming PC that I plan to build from scratch (a side project that I’ve been eyeing for some time now).


That’s it for the week. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (8 November 2015)

November 8th, 2015

Is this what it has come to? Have we become that desperate to find out all we can about the new movie, that we’re analysing whether the hair shown near the edge of a still from the Star Wars VII trailer is Han Solo’s or Chewbacca’s? For me, matters not the story does – it’s the journey (“Here we go again!”) that I’m most looking for, as it’s a real comfort to be back in the Star Wars universe again (and for all the problems with the prequel trilogy, and there were many many problems, you have to admit it was nice, back at the time, for the whole world, not just geeks like us, to be so Star Wars crazed. Just like now!). So no more analysing, no more second guessing, let’s all just take a step back, wait patiently and go watch the movie in December. We’ll all enjoy it a lot better this way!

Here’s the news for the week …


I posted this two weeks ago about the demise of YTS/YIFY and Popcorn Time:

It’s all very confusing, and it’s hard to believe this sustained and multi-pronged attack on anything Popcorn Time related isn’t coordinated at some level (although it really could be just a coincidence, who knows).

The MPAA Is Watching You

The MPAA has been busy of late …

Both the take-down of YTS/YIFY, and the closure of the most popular branch of Popcorn Time, as we found out this week, was indeed part of a larger concerted effort by the MPAA. While both take-downs may have occurred independently, and that the timing was just a coincidence, there is no doubt that the MPAA had been working long and hard behind the scenes to put the pressure on these two related entities (Popcorn Time relied on YTS/YIFY provided content).

So while the MPAA appears to have had a great victory, the moment of triumph may be short lived if history is any guide, and something newer, probably better, will come along and replace these now defunct piracy outlets. As usual, makes for good headlines – but very little actual practical effect in the long term.

Speaking of ineffective, DVD and Blu-ray ripping remains illegal for yet another day as the US Copyright Office rejected calls for a legal exemption for disc ripping to protect fair use rights. So while you are within your full right to rip your own Blu-ray and DVD movies for fair use purposes (such as transferring media between your digital devices), it remains illegal for you to actually exercise your rights. The Office rejected the exemption because they feel that the act of ripping your own discs still has too much of a relation to piracy, which is also the same reason why they rejected an exemption for jailbreaking of game consoles.

What is now allowed is the cracking of DRM for games that have been abandoned, but only for “local play” portions of the games, not the multiplayer. So if Blizzard one day abandons the authentication servers for StarCraft II, for example, you’re within your legal rights to crack the crap out of the game – but only for the single player campaign, not the multiplayer component. Why the distinction? I’m not sure, since an abandoned game is an abandoned game, and I can’t see why gamers are allowed to play the single player missions, but are barred from doing anything to salvage the multiplayer component (assuming there are no intellectual property issues related to replicating the multiplayer/authentication servers).

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Amazon, Netflix and Hulu Plus

Amazon, Netflix and Hulu may have less Warner Bros. and HBO stuff in the future

Don’t be surprised to see HBO and Warner Bros. content gradually disappearing from SVOD outlets like Netflix and Hulu. Time Warner, which owns these properties, feels they’re just not making enough money from licensing SVOD content and is seriously considering delaying the release of content on these platforms, or forgoing releases entirely.

This stance may seem at odds with recent moves by Time Warner, which includes giving Netflix the first season of “Gotham”, and opening up HBO’s catalog to Amazon. These, however, were most likely done to promote these Time Warner assets, and getting Netflix/Amazon involved was just the best way to achieve this. This could also point to the further fragmentation of the SVOD market, with Time Warner likely to funnel more content to its own SVOD and digital platforms at the expense of Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. Not too dissimilar to what CBS is doing with its All Access platform, which has led to missing or disappearing content on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.


And that’s that for the week. As usual, there’s some more streaming related stuff on my other site Streambly, including a look at what’s new on Netflix/Hulu in November. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (1 November 2015)

November 1st, 2015

In case you missed my addendum to last week’s WNR, here are the H.264 and HEVC versions of the Star Wars 7 trailer. I am kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve watched the trailer about 15 times this week. And yet I still have this horrible feeling that the movie will really disappoint. I call this the Jar Jar conundrum.

On to the news!



YIFY/YTS is no more. But piracy will continue on …

One of the world’s most prolific piracy release groups, YIFY, has decided to call it a day. The reason for the group’s end, as well as the closure of the group’s torrent website YTS, has not yet been made public though, but will be made public in the coming weeks. The end of YIFY/YTS marks the end of an era for Internet piracy, as the group’s 6000 releases will contest to just how important it has been for the piracy scene since the group first surfaced in 2010.

But despite the short term upheaval the loss of YIFY might cause, with many fake YIFY branded torrents already flooding the scene, the long term prospects for piracy remains bright, for want of a better word. Another existing group will take over the duties left by YIFY, or maybe a new group will simply emerge, just like how YIFY emerged in 2010.

While the torrent downloading of pirated works is still a big thing, the recent trend has seen a move towards streaming piracy. And filmmaker groups, the Directors Guild of America, Inc. (DGA) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), say that the way the law treats download and streaming piracy is creating a legal loophole that’s allowing pirates to profit. The loophole exists because uploading a file for downloading is considered distribution, while streaming is considered a public performance. The former is felony offense, while the latter is only a misdemeanor.

Rights groups say that should the government change the law to please these groups, the consequences could mean felony charges and even prison time for YouTube uploaders, even those unaware of copyrighted content existing in their video uploads. It’s also worth noting that even without streaming piracy being a felony, authorities already have plenty of firepower in their arsenal, including domain seizures, to stop streaming piracy sites. And I doubt streaming site operators care whether they’re only committing a misdemeanor, or if it’s a full blown felony – just like torrent and download site operators don’t care.


Metal Gear Solid V PS4

Would you buy a Super PS4?

Is there are market for a “Super PS4”, that has upgraded performance to allow for better visuals, maybe even 4K gaming, as well as a new Ultra HD Blu-ray disc drive to play the latest 4K movies? Amazingly, this “Super PS4” may become a real thing, according to Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) Vice President Masayasu Ito. Of course, this all depends on whether people are willing to pay for this premium version of the PS4, and whether game developers need to do work to take full advantage of the enhanced PS4.

As for the Ultra HD Blu-ray support, it would give the new format a nice boost, just like how the PS3 helped Blu-ray at the beginning. With 4K currently being limited to movies, it would give 4K TV manufacturers a nice boost if the enhanced PS4 came with 4K gaming support.


Alright, that’s it for this week’s news stories. Time to watch the Star Wars trailer again … see you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (25 October 2015)

October 25th, 2015

How can I start this intro without mentioning the release of the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. Wow! Wow! Wow! I feel like crying!!

Now it has to be said that the Phantom Menace trailer was also awe-inspiring, so there’s still plenty of room for disappointment when the movie hits cinemas screens on the 17th of next month. But if they’ve even learned half of the lessons from the prequel disasters (lesson one: write better dialog), then this new Star Wars movie, one that I’ve been personally awaiting since my teenage days, will be a huge hit.

But there’s still plenty of time to hype up the new movie, because right now, we have to look at this week’s news stories.



It came, it saw, and it was shut down. BrowserPopcorn just wasn’t meant for this world …

Popcorn Time is the one headache for rights-holders that refuses to go away, and this week, the headache appears to have gotten just a little bit worse. Introducing BrowserPopcorn, a web app that gives you the full functionality of Popcorn Time (ie. Netflix for pirates) without having to install a damn thing. Well at least that was supposed to be the case before the MPAA got wind of it and took swift action, threatening the developer with lawsuits unless the site was pulled down. And it was.

Not that BrowserPopcorn, based on how it actually works, would have been a serious threat anyway – the way it worked by proxying torrent download via its own dedicated servers, meant that it could only support a few hundred users at a time without borking under the pressure.

A further confusing week for Popcorn Time continued when one of the main variant of the popular app (there are many variants due to the open source nature of the application) was permanently taken offline due to developers, fearing lawsuits themselves, left the project and when the app’s domain name was lost (perhaps only temporarily). It appears that someone (I think we can all guess who) was messing with the site’s domain name services as well.

And to make matters even more complicated, the website of torrent site and release group YTS/YIFY has been down for most of the week (possibly due to a DDoS attack). And because it was the main torrent source for most Popcorn Time variants, this meant that many apps simply refused to work.

It’s all very confusing, and it’s hard to believe this sustained and multi-pronged attack on anything Popcorn Time related isn’t coordinated at some level (although it really could be just a coincidence, who knows).

For others seeking a little bit more morally acceptable way to watch content for free, there was bad news too this week in the wake of the BBC blocking VPN access to its iPlayer catchup service. The BBC seems unconcerned that the blanket ban will block access to UK users using VPNs for reasons other than geo-unblocking. The BBC makes money by licensing content to overseas providers such as Netflix, and with the Beeb announcing plans to launch their own subscription streaming service in the US, I guess the time was right to crackdown on overseas iPlayer usage.


White Xbox One

The Xbox One might have to get used to playing second fiddle to the PS4

The September NPD results has the PS4 winning yet again, and with the PS4 price cut, it doesn’t look like this will change anytime soon. Microsoft is still holding onto their “solid year-over-year growth in console sales and strong engagement on Xbox Live”, which I guess is better than nothing. The Redmond based firm needs to start getting used to coming second in this generation, maintaining a solid platform so they can try again next-gen, hopefully this time without any DRM snafus.


That’s it for the week. Look out for my re-upload of the new Star Wars trailer on Digital Digest. Not that it’s really needed, since I believe it’s available to watch, stream or download on literally every single website on the web right now, but how can I call myself a Star Wars fan if I don’t make the trailer available right here?

Update: The trailer has been uploaded. As a bonus, I also have the HEVC version of the trailer here.

See you next week!

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