Weekly News Roundup (September 25, 2016)

September 25th, 2016

Finally getting back into the swing of things, and also the right time zone. Luckily for me, it wasn’t one of those hectic news weeks where news stories just oozes out of every crevice. Nope, it was one of those nice and quiet ones where just the right amount of ooze is present, and I can write this WNR without feeling like I’m writing a novel.

So on to the news!

Copyright

DRM Doesn't Work T-Shirt

Coffee pods, light bulbs, and now printers – all with DRM that won’t work

Who doesn’t love a DRM news story? It’s always interesting to see which industry, and which company has come up with a new way to screw their own customers, and then wait and see how long it takes before the DRM is inevitably broken anyway (broken in the sense that it no longer protects the content or product, and also broken in the sense that it doesn’t work and causes legitimate users to suffer). This time, it’s the printer industry, HP, and not very long before their latest attempt to curb competition will fail. HP has sneakily added in a new DRM to their printers that prevents them from using third-party ink, giving users an misleading “damaged ink cartridge” message.

I say sneaky because the new protection scheme was added in via a firmware update more than half a year ago, but was set to activate only this week. I guess HP wanted to give their customer service department more time to prepare for the barrage of complaint calls.

And as with most DRM implementations, it was buggy. Some users have reported that their HP branded cartridges are being labeled as “damaged” as well, and one user reported the printer refused to let him exchange the cartridge at all.

Worst of all, but totally expected, this new anti-competitive measure may end up being broken sooner rather than later. Third party ink manufacturers are already promising new updated cartridges that will be able to bypass the new DRM scheme.

So lots of bad publicity, user complaints, lost customers and in the end, all probably for nothing. Yep, that’s DRM for ya! Why won’t they ever learn?

Dr. Downloadlove or: How I Learned To Love Piracy. Having finally realised that constantly complaining about piracy is not a cool things to do anymore, more and more industry peeps are now learning to embrace it. Or rather, they’re finally admitting that piracy isn’t always the Big Bad Wolf that they’ve been telling us all this time.

The latest declaration of adoration occurred at the All That Matters content conference in Singapore, when former Sony India exec Samir Bangara declared his unending love for piracy in front of unimpressed movie studio execs. So okay, it wasn’t as controversial as I’ve made it sound, but Bangara did state that piracy may be the solution to one of the biggest problems facing media companies at the moment: discoverability. Bangara also pointed to the value of piracy data in determining what users wanted to watch, data that companies like Netflix and Warner Bros. have also admitted to using in the past.

Or to sum up, piracy rocks!

Gaming

PS4 Pro

PS4 Pro can do 4K gaming, kind of

More fallout from the PS4 Pro launch, and the subsequent rubbing-it-in-ness that Microsoft have been engaged in ever since. It’s not helped by the fact that Sony promoted the PS4 Pro as a 4K console, but possibly due to legal reasons and more prodding by tech journalists, they’ve had to clarify their statement quite a bit. Most people who had a detailed look at the PS4 Pro specs realised that this thing was not going to do native 4K. Sony has also said that the majority of of PS4 Pro enabled games will be upscaled to 4K.

So instead of being pedantic about this many pixels or whatever, Sony says it’s all about whether gamers are able to see a difference and how close to a real 4K gaming experience it will be. To be fair, it would take an enormously powerful machine to do native 4K without compromises (think PCs with $1000+ GPUs), and not even Microsoft’s Xbox One Scorpio, coming a year later, will be able to do 4K without taking a few shortcuts.

Microsoft has been keen to point out they their effort, with 6 teraflops of power, will get gamers much closer to true native 4K than the Pro’s 4.2 teraflops (which was never really going to be good enough for 4K). But even Microsoft has admitted that there will be “asterisks” when it comes to the Scorpio claiming to do 4K gaming, but just fewer of them than Sony’s effort.

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So that’s another week done and dusted. Hoping for more and more interesting stories to update you on next week. Until then, have a great week!

Weekly News Roundup (September 18, 2016)

September 18th, 2016

And I’m back! Sorry for the long hiatus, but I’m now back from vacation, refreshed and ready to give you another few hundred words every week that you probably won’t want to read. It’s good to be back!

Gonna keep it short though, still coming back from jet lag so the mind’s not so sharp.

Copyright

The Hateful Eight

Want to watch The Hateful Eight in 4K? Piracy is your answer!

This is what happens when you don’t serve market demand. With no legal way to watch Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ in 4K, pirates have stepped up to the plate and delivered. Just how exactly they did it, is a bit of a mystery. It may have been sourced from a legal Russian site, but how the encryption was broken, if it was broken, is the subject of much speculation.

In any case, fans of the film can now watch it in 4K, the way it was intended to be watched, and the powers that be that made the decision not to make it available to buy or rent in 4K have nobody to blame but themselves.

The wider implication from this release is that a widely used copy protection scheme could have been broken for the very first time, which may signal a new flood of top tier content, in top tier quality, flooding the piracy scene in the short term.

Gaming

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

Two new PS4s, but no Ultra HD Blu-ray for either …

So a lot has happened in gaming while I was gone. Sony has finally let the cat out of the bag, the same cat they kept hidden at E3 for (what now appears to be) no reason at all. The PS4 Slim and Pro have been officially unveiled, the former is already available, while the latter comes in November, a full year before Microsoft’s own upgraded Xbox One arrives.

Thanks to an active rumour mill, there weren’t any real surprises except for a biggie – the PS4 Pro, which has been upgraded with 4K in mind, won’t play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. This is because the upgraded PS4 won’t have an upgraded Blu-ray drive capable of reading these higher capacity discs, even though every other part of the hardware is more than good enough for UHD playback.

The decision to leave out UHD Blu-ray playback is compounded by the fact that the Slim’s main rival, that’s already on the market for the same price, already has UHD Blu-ray playback. Microsoft has pulled off a masterstroke in deciding to go down the UHD route with the Xbox One S, something nobody expected, not when the S is marketed at a price that’s cheaper than most standalone players on the market.

Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray

The Xbox One S can, but the PS4 Pro can’t – Ultra HD Blu-ray movies like Deadpool won’t work on the PS4

It’s definitely a surprising omission from a company that once risked too much to include playback of a new disc format with their brand new console. Perhaps the mistake of including Blu-ray playback with PS3 (which delayed the console’s release and led to the console’s notoriously high launch pricing) is what prevented Sony from including UHD Blu-ray playback with the PS4 Slim or Pro. Also surprisingly, Sony has shown little interest in UHD Blu-ray, with their first standalone player not even coming until next year (and it’s a premium, high-end model to boot) – the slow ramp up to UHD may also explain why Sony was just not ready to include UHD Blu-ray in the upgraded PS4s.

Also disappointing fans slightly is the fact that the PS4 Pro’s hardware upgrade, while significant, won’t be able to compete with the Xbox One “Scorpio” when it’s available in 2017. Bragging rights still count for a lot in 2016 (and 2017), and it could be the case that for the rest of this console generation, the Xbox One will bcome the more powerful console (and the one more capable of handling games in 4K).

And to make things worse for Sony fanboys, the Xbox One beat the PS4 in sales again in August – that’s two months in a row. Of course, Sony will probably reclaim the throne in September when the Slim goes sale

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That’s all we have for the week. It’s good to get back into the swing of things, even if it means swapping the nice warm Mediterranean for wet and freezing Melbourne.

Weekly News Roundup (August 7, 2016)

August 7th, 2016

You might be hearing a lot less from me during the next month. I’m taking a much needed vacation, and while I may still enjoy complimentary hotel Wi-Fi from time to time, these things are hardly reliable at the best of times. And who wants to do work on their vacation?

So this will most likely be the last WNR until sometime in September. See, it’s not all bad – I get a vacation, and you get a vacation from reading my inane drivel. A win, win!

Before then, here’s the news for the week.

Copyright

Torrentz

Torrentz’s “farewell” message leaves no clues as to what happened

Another week, another major torrent site shuts down. This time, it appears to be on the site’s operator’s own volition, or at least that’s what it looks like based on the limited information we have right now. Torrentz has decided to shut its doors, but has provided information, or even a proper farewell message. Instead, visitors are met with pretty much the same homepage as before, but when they try to use any of the site’s functions, a new message reads: “Torrentz will always love you. Farewell.”

A closer inspection of the homepage also yields one important change – an updated statement which reads “Torrentz was a free, fast and powerful meta-search engine combining results from dozens of search engines” – note the use of the past tense!

So the question remains why was Torrentz shut down. Legal pressure from rights-holders have always existed for the site, despite Torrentz not actually hosting any torrent files. But as was the case with KickassTorrents and other high profile take-downs, rights-holders and law enforcement usually like to make a big deal of it, and this doesn’t seem to have happened here. It could be that the operators of the site were made aware of pending legal action, or were worried about a KickassTorrents style investigation into their operators, and decided to take the proactive step of shutting the site down. Or it could just be because those running the site decided they no longer wanted to do it, and considering the number of fake torrents, impostor sites that have sprung up lately, who could blame them?

Speaking of impostors, the demise of KickassTorrents has led to a surge of them, each claiming to the new official home of the torrent site. The most popular of these “new” KAT sites claims to have obtained a copy of the site prior to its demise, and are now running it with new content. But upon closer inspection, this does not appear to hold true. Instead of being a mirror, the new KAT is actually using data from The Pirate Bay, with a KAT looking skin over the top. Multiple users, and news site TorrentFreak, have confirmed that the search results on this new KAT site are identical to the results on TPB.

While a KAT mirror with TPB content is hardly the worst thing in the world, it’s unclear if this will always be the case. Many may remember when popular TV torrent site EZTV was “taken over” – the site at first seemed to serve the same content, but reports of injected malicious content and ads soon surfaced. The same could happen with the “new” KAT. Or the present situation could settle to become something akin to the isoHunt clone situation, where the site continues, legitimately (well, for a torrent site), but with all new people running it – in a “the site died, but the spirit lived on” kind of thing.

For the record, there are sites that do seem to run a (no longer updated) copy of the KAT database, but users should also be weary of these too.

Windows 10

Microsoft won’t be in a hurry to add piracy “kill switch” to Windows 10

Whether a new king of torrenting arrives or not, it may all be moot if the latest plan by rights-holders comes to fruition. There are new calls for operating system makers, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, to put in a “kill switch” for pirated downloads, or to block them from being downloaded in the first place. This kind of OS level block would be the holy grail of technology based anti-piracy, and if it worked as promised, it could make domain seizures, ISP warnings and the whole she-bang unnecessary (of course, the issue of streaming sites will remain unsolved, but not everything can be streamed).

But it’s unlikely any one of Apple, Google or Microsoft, let alone all three of them, would be willing to do something like this. It would be fraught with false positives, and could lead to legitimate files from being downloaded, or worse, irreplaceable files being deleted.

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That’s it for me until September. I hope you enjoy your break from me, even though I will definitely miss all of you (sniff, sniff). Talk to you again when I’m back!

Weekly News Roundup (July 31, 2016)

July 31st, 2016

Slightly more news this week. Nothing like the earth shattering demise of KickassTorrents, but still some really interesting stuff. Something that may also pique your interest is my new site Meowware (meowware, malware, geddit?), which now mostly lives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you’re interested in funny cat pictures, videos, but with a technology (and malware/security) focus, then Meowware may just be a site that you’ll occasionally visit when you can’t be bothered to do any real work. And even if you’re not particularly interested, please like, share, follow, retweet, forward, twist, turn, fax, churn or bake our pages!

Speaking of real work, here’s the news roundup …

Copyright

IsoHunt Logo

isoHunt’s legal troubles have only just ended, despite the site being shut down nearly three years ago

While KickassTorrents’ troubles are just starting (have a look at last week’s WNR if you’ve missed the big news), the legal worries for another once great torrent site, isoHunt, has just ended (not the clone that’s now in its place, but the original one that was run by one Gary Fung).

Fung announced that the last of the lawsuits against the now defunct isoHunt has been settled, and Fung can now move on with his life (to be fair, he’s already done that) with another $66 million in damages awarded against him. So that’s a combined total of $176 million “owed” by Fung, or rather, the now bankrupt isoHunt – money that the MPAA and Music Canada, the two respective plaintiffs in the lawsuits, will most likely never see.

It took 8 years from the very first take-down notice to this final judgement, and who knows how much money spent on lawyers, and while rights-holders rejoiced when the original isoHunt was shut down, the fact that a clone of the site is still operating and doing well, means that it could all be for nothing. And in terms of the isoHunt shut down and legal victories being a deterrent, that doesn’t seem to have been the case either.

The seizure of KickassTorrents, and the arrest the prosecution of its owner, might be a short term deterrent though, but all it will do is to make others who run similar sites be more cautions in the future, and to protect their identities better. The solution to piracy, I think, lies elsewhere.

Dolby Vision HDR

Technology for the home, like Dolby Vision, putting pressure on cinema chains

One potential solution, when it comes to movie piracy, has been suggested by none other than James Cameron this week. The director of Avatar has urged cinema chains to step up and give movie-goers a more “premium” movie experience, or they might face destruction at the hands of industry disruptors, including piracy. As a director, Cameron is especially sensitive to the fact that he often has to shoot to fit the lagging standards of cinemas, rather than to be true to his own vision, this, he says, is key to winning the war against piracy.

For the price we’re paying, I definitely feel that we’re not always getting what we’re owed in terms of the cinema experience. Whether it’s dim screens, or lackluster sound, it has become the norm that you can often get a better cinematic experience at home if you invest in the right equipment. And with new home theater technology such as OLED screens, 4K, HDR, wide color gamut, and Dolby Atmos becoming more common, and cheaper to access, the threat that Cameron mentions is very much real and getting realer by the day.

Gaming

With Nintendo stock rising tanks to Pokemon GO, and then falling when investors realised the hit AR game has very little to do with the company, Nintendo’s real profit results were a real disappointment. With hardware sales down 50%, the company’s next console can’t come soon enough. But that console, dubbed the NX, might be a very different console to what we’re used to seeing, if Eurogamer’s report is to be believed.

Wii U

Wii U’s Gamepad, underused, or overhyped?

The NX may in fact just be a gaming tablet. A very advanced one that plugs into your TV via a dock, and has two detachable controllers that allows for two player gaming instantly regardless of where you are, but still a tablet. It will be powered by a powerful Nvidia Tegra chip, but don’t expect graphics that will kick the PS4/Xbox One’s butt (let alone the Neo/Scorpio). And oh, game cartridges are back, at least for a gaming company’s flagship console.

I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest. When I imagine a gaming tablet with two detachable controllers, I’m thinking either a huge-ass tablet that’s not particularly portable, or two super tiny controllers that are hardly worth the bother. And as good as mobile technology has gotten, there’s only so much tech you can fit into a tablet before it becomes too hot or too heavy – will it be good enough to deliver graphics that people might be looking at on 4K TVs (by the time the NX is near its mid-life, 4K might be more common than you think)?

Of course, all of this could be nonsense and Nintendo will give us just another run of the mill home console, but doing the same thing may not be a bad idea, as long as you do it right (like the PS4 has done). Getting innovative can have its rewards, like the Wii has proven, but it could also have its risk, like the Wii U has sadly proven.

Meanwhile, you can now get a Xbox One for $249, after Microsoft dropped the price of the 500GB version ahead of the arrival of the “S”.

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That’s it for the week. Don’t forget the visit Meowware – you can never have enough meowware in your computer!

Weekly News Roundup (24 July 2016)

July 24th, 2016

Also just like London buses. After the super busy week last week, this one is super quiet but for one, earth-shattering story (more on that later). But I’ve used the news lull to good effect, playing a bit of Pokemon Go, and deciding to launch my new Pokemon Go website, Help Me Poké (that’s Poké as in Pokey, not poke as in coke). Yes, I’m enthusiastically jumping on that particular bandwagon.

But more than just trying to latch on to the latest hype, Pokemon Go is actually confusingly complex for a game that doesn’t have a tutorial, or even a proper in-game how-to-play guide. I’m constantly figuring new things out, things that should have been made obvious via a tutorial, which is why I thought it would be a good idea to get a help site up and running. You can have a quick read of my Quick Start Guide, and that will get you playing Pokemon Go like a real master in no time (disclaimer: not intended to be a factual statement).

Oh yes, the news.

Copyright

KickassTorrents Logo

KAT is gone!

KickassTorrents is no more. Seizures, arrests and upcoming extraditions all lead to the simple conclusion, KAT is not coming back again. While mirrors, clones and fake sites will appear, the actual KickassTorrents, along with all of its prized data, is now in the hands of authorities. It’s Ukrainian owner, Artem Vaulin, has been arrested in Poland and now face extradition to the U.S. where he will be charged with massive copyright infringement, to the tune of more than one billion US dollars.

Worst yet, with authorities in possession of user data, downloaders, uploaders and moderators on the site could find themselves in deep trouble.

So how did the world’s biggest piracy site end up like this? The site’s downfall, it appears, was largely down to the site not learning the lessons of previous take-downs, including the Megaupload take-down. Out of all the places the site could have hosted its servers, some of the site’s servers were hosted in the U.S., allowing investigators there a way in to the operation. Worse yet, the servers that were in the U.S. were KAT’s email servers, and investigators from the Department of Homeland Security managed to clone the server’s drives without alerting the operators of KAT. This along with secret seizures of Canadian servers from web host Netelligent, provided them with information about who was running the site.

The killer blow was dealt by domain registrar GoDaddy of all people. The owner of KAT, Artem Vaulin, apparently registered domain names in his own name, before the site became a hit and before Vaulin would become a target of law enforcement. He also previously used Gmail accounts to communicate site related matters.

In short, it appears that the operators of KAT, including its owner, failed to take proper precautions in order to protect their identity and data. Too much of their data was stored in U.S. servers, or used U.S. services that investigators could have easy access to, and even when they tried to remain anonymous, via BitCoins, the company that handled Vaulin’s BitCoin exchanges gladly handed over user data to investigators. And you guessed it, Vaulin’s choice of BitCoin exchange was a company located in the U.S.

As a result of these careless actions, Vaulin now faces the possibility of spending the next few decades in a U.S. prison.

As for the future of piracy, as in who will step in for KAT, it’s worth noting that The Pirate Bay is still up and running (they appear to be wise to the fact that one shouldn’t rely on U.S. services), and who knows what other site will step up to fill the void. Whether they are willing to take the risk, now that KAT, and previously YIFY, have all been taken down in massive global law enforcement efforts, is anyone’s guess.

High Definition

Is Netflix in trouble? Probably not. Subscriber growth is slowing, maybe down to the recent price hike (due to the ending of grandfathered plans), or maybe because both Hulu and Amazon are stepping up their game (the former with more content, especially movies, and the latter with its standalone offering). And while the company continues to deny that saturation has been reached in the U.S, one cannot help but feel that anyone who wants Netflix, already has Netflix (even if they’re just leeching it off someone else).

That’s it for this slow week. Be sure to check out Help Me Poké if you have the time and interest. See you next week.


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