Weekly News Roundup (7 October 2007)

Once again, I’ll go through all the news items that have gone through the Digital Digest website and forum for the week.

Starting with copyright related news, Sony is once again in the headlines with Sony’s chief lawyer person saying that copying songs that you have already purchased, such as from the CD to your computer, is considered stealing. This betrays the intention of content owners such as Sony, who want you to buy a copy of the movie for every single device that you want to use it on. So if you have a PS3, a PSP, a Walkman video player and a Sony Vaio laptop, then you’re screwed. And just in case you are wondering what could happen to you if content owners find you guilty of copyright infringement, a woman found guilty of sharing 24 songs has been ordered to pay $US 220,000 to the RIAA. Although I’m still not sure whether it’s a copy protection related problem or not, but Fox’s new Blu-ray movies featuring BD+ copy protection has been found to cause problems in certain players, and requiring firmware updates to fix the problem (and if you’re lucky, the required firmware might just be available). Later reports suggested that it was the BD-J usage in these discs causing the problem, rather than BD+, since a disc without BD+ from Fox also suffers from similar problems. I don’t know what’s worse, playback failure due to BD+ or playback failure due to a basic standard feature like BD-J when all the DRM layers appear to be working. It seem the priority of the Blu-ray engineers might have been to get the DRM working first, and then worry about the other small features like playback.

Onto gaming news. The Halo 3 version of the Xbox 360 hardware appear to be using a new 65 nm CPU, which is probably Microsoft’s solution to the overheating problem the console suffers, which is indicated by red rings showing up on the 360’s power switch indicator. While Microsoft has been generous in extending the warranty from the initial 90 days, to a year and now 3 years, perhaps they can learn something from Nintendo when it comes to dealing with design faults. The Wiimote strap was notorious for breaking and usually smashing into people (if you’re lucky) or expensive electronics (not so lucky). A better strap was introduced, and Nintendo offered to replace all older straps with the new ones without cost, and this seem to solve most problems. Now, Nintendo has gone a step further by giving all existing Wii owners up to four non-slip jackets for Wiimotes free of charge – all you need to do is to give them a call with your details, and they will send them out to you. All new Wiimotes will ship with the jacket from now on. Now this is what I call commitment to service. They admitted the problem, found a solution and offered to fix everything for free even though it will cost them more than 17 million dollars – if only all companies were like this (but I guess the 360’s problem was more serious, and they have already committed a billion dollars to fix the problem). The big PS3 news of the week has been the announcement of a €400 40 GB PS3 for the EU market, set to sell for €400. The catch is that it has no backwards compatibility with PS2 titles at all, limited to only 2 USB ports and no Compact Flash/Memory Stick and SD slots. I think the console will have a matte finish too, as opposed to the glossy finish of the other versions. The bad news is that once the fully featured models sell out, this cut down version will be the only one available in Europe (and I assume, in Australia too). This is the 5th version of the console to have been released as Sony tries to make the package more attractive price wise.

In HD news, Acer is to launch what it claims to be the first PC with a combo drive, capable of playing both Blu-ray and HD DVD movies. As a supporter for format neutrality, I hope it turns out to be the first of many. Back to the Fox Blu-ray playback problems mentioned earlier – it turns out that the problem was related to the BD-Java usage of these discs, rather than a BD+ issue, at least with the “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” disc. This once again highlights how Blu-ray is playing the catch up game when it comes to interactivity, with HD DVD’s equivalent HDi being used from day one to great effect (albeit not without it’s own compatibility problems at the start). When HD DVD are already starting to toy around with interactive online shopping via HD DVD movies, Blu-ray is still struggling with basic interactive content like Picture-in-Picture. And when Blu-ray profile 1.1, 2.0 are rolled out, expect more problems as discs requiring 1.1 or 2.0 players might simply fail on 1.0 players (most of which lack the secondary video/audio decode and persistent storage required to upgrade to 1.1). But the good news for Blu-ray is that the new layer of DRM, BD+, appears to be working. Meanwhile, a Japanese HD DVD presentation appear to show several Spielberg directed or produced films that will be released on HD DVD, at least in Japan. Films like Jaws, E.T, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park were shown. Spielberg has been quoted to be a Blu-ray supporter (I suspect he has been fed some non truths by Blu-ray supporter friends of his, such as how Blu-ray has better quality or how HD DVD is doomed). His movies were left out of Paramount’s HD DVD exclusive deal, for example, so it suggests that at the very least, he doesn’t want HD DVD exclusivity for his movies. The only one of his films scheduled to be released on HD has been Close Encounters on Blu-ray. But with many of his films “belonging” to HD DVD friendly studios, namely Paramount and Universal, it all depends on who has control over the release of his movies. Spielberg has always been slow to get on the next-gen video train, if you can recall how long it took his movies to come out on DVD.

See you next week.


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