Weekly News Roundup (4 November 2007)

So another Sunday, and another news roundup. There really ought to be some rule to forbid working on a Sunday, but then it would just mean more work on Mondays. There really ought to be some rule to forbid working on a Monday …

In copyright news, in a Slysoft newsletter, a claim was made that BD+ copy protection, the additional layer of copy protection that Blu-ray owners enjoy, will be defeated soon. Everybody probably still remembers the statement that Richard Doherty, (ex?) analyst at Envisioneering Group made in regards to BD+:

BD+, unlike AACS, which suffered a partial hack last year, won’t likely be breached for 10 years

Not exactly 10 years, but 0.5 years is not bad. Surprisingly, this was the only bit of important copyright related news for the week … the RIAA/MPAA must be on holidays. Although with so many OiNK replacement sites popping up, there will have a lot of work to do when they come back.

In HD news, Fox is set to release the very first BD 1.1 disc for the sci-fi movie Sunshine. This is the first Blu-ray disc to feature picture-in-picture technology, which has been present on HD DVD almost from day one. To access the feature, people will need to have a BD 1.1 player, of which there is only one on the market (in standalone form anyway), the newly released Panasonic DMP-BD30. PS3 owners should expect a firmware update to get themselves up to at least 1.1 standard (although the PS3 is good enough for 2.0 in any case). Will the disc play properly on 1.0 players? We will find out soon enough. The news this week has all been about HD DVD’s price drops. Several special Black Friday sales have ensured that not only did HD DVD standalones break the $200 barrier, it broke the $100 barrier too. $98 for a standalone HD DVD player from Toshiba (the superceded HD-A2) that has built in DVD upscaling and comes with 5 free HD DVD movies – that’s really just too good to be true. It sure beats spending $500+ here in Australia to buy a similar player that only comes with 3 movies. K-Mart has saw the trend, and will now offer the HD-A2 as their only HD DVD or Blu-ray standalone for sale this Christmas. They will still sell the PS3 (as well as the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on) so talk of them going exclusive is not factual. The HD-A2 is not a bad player. It lacks 1080p output, but as this DigiWiki entry explains, it’s not a problem at all for people with 1080p displays while playing back film content. To continue with the HD DVD news, Toshiba has showed off their new HD DVD recorder, now supporting HD Rec, a format that uses H.264 to record to standard DVD discs, allowing 2 hours of HD content to be stored. Remember that Toshiba’s initial idea for HD was to use existing DVD/red laser technology and combine that with a new more efficient codec (H.264 of VC-1). It’s just as well then that Ritek will soon launch HD DVD recordable discs. Asus is also launching their quietest HD DVD-ROM drive yet, designed for home theatre PCs.

On that note, let’s move to gaming. Sort of. I’m very impressed with Nvidia’s new 8800 GT card as I noted in an earlier blog post. It combines the 3D performance of the 8800 GTS, with the HD acceleration of the 8600 GTS, and then makes the whole thing even more efficient as to even allow a passive cooled version for building an ultra quiet home theatre PC. Nvidia will be releasing a new GTS card too based on similar changes, so that might even more more attractive. And while ATI’s Radeon HD 2xxx series has been somewhat of a disappointment, you should never rule them out because you are only as good as your last GPU.

Now moving onto gaming properly, there was rumours that IPTV was coming to the Xbox 360 in the Fall update, but Microsoft has quashed the rumours by saying that it’s not in the Fall update, but will be here soon enough anyway. Another week and another developer, this time Midway Chicago’s studio head Mike Bilder, saying the PS3 is a pain in the ass to work with. But he does offer a solution – develop for the PS3 first to work around the problems, and then port over to the other systems. Specifically, he says:

Just, to be honest, the hardware differences in memory and processor on the PS3 vs. traditional PC and 360, it makes it a challenge, and it’s representative. Everybody’s having a challenge in the industry right now.

[And about using the PS3 as the lead development platform]

The difficulty you run into there, at least in the last generation, was that the Xbox was considerably more powerful than the PS2, and you found that people didn’t always take advantage of the hardware. Whereas with the PS3 and the 360, it’s certainly more of a level playing field, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative to put the PS3 first [as the lead development platform]. But it does help mitigate some of that risk in framerate, memory, technology, just the hardware differences.

That’s definitely a solution to a problem, find out what you can and cannot do on the PS3 first, and once the code is done, you can be sure that it will probably work on the other consoles too because they are a bit more flexible to work with than the PS3.  The quality will be the same too, according to Bilder, because there’s not much difference between the two main consoles (and the Xbox 360 development is flexible enough to allow ports to it to run quite well). Of course, smaller developers who don’t have the resources of Midway might simply skip the PS3 to work on platforms that have the biggest install base and with less development problems.

So that’s it then for a week that has been dominated by HD DVD news, with relatively very little news in other areas. If I didn’t know better, I would say that the HD DVD promotion machine has finally started rolling, and just in time for the holidays too. Blu-ray will come back next week with more news to counter, no doubt. See you then.


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