Weekly News Roundup (9 December 2007)

Welcome to another weekly news roundup. I’ve been thinking about changing the name of this weekly feature, as “Weekly News Roundup” lacks a certain something. Perhaps “Digital Digest’s DVDGuy’s Digital Digest”, or “DVDGuy’s Dazzling Digital Diary”. Umm … I think I will stick with “Weekly News Roundup” for now.

Now for something completely different. Starting with copyright news, Steve Biddle from New Zealand wrote in his blog about trying to do something very simply in Vista that Vista’s DRM system would not allow. All he wanted to do was to simultaneously output 5.1 audio through SPDIF and stereo audio output to his TV, but Vista won’t let him and would only allow SPDIF output at the same time if it carries a 2.0 channel signal. How does having this restriction prevent piracy, I’ll never know. Meanwhile, the troubled Bush administration has launched a new war on terror front, this time a war on copyright infringement. All those terrorists sitting in their caves downloading the latest episodes of Heroes must be quaking in their boots (if they do indeed wear boots). Seriously, does the White House have nothing better to do? They should just get back to what they do best, and that’s to make up intelligence to support yet another war in the Middle East. The MPAA is joining in the fight and says it’s in the best interest of ISPs to filter out “inappropriate” content. Last week (or the week before, I can’t remember), I also reported a story about the MPAA asking Universities to install software toolkits to monitor student’s Internet usages, in a bid to stop campus piracy. It has now been revealed that the “toolkit” may have violated copyright terms since it uses many pieces of open source software, and has modified them without providing the modified source code. The ISP hosting the toolkit has been sent a DMCA notice (haha). Perhaps this ISP should have filtered out the obviously “inappropriate” content. In other words, while the MPAA is forcing people to respect their interpretation of the copyright laws, they themselves might have been breaking the same laws to achieve their aim. Oh the irony.

In HD news, LG has finally launched their dual format drive here in Australia. Their recommended retail price is more than double the store pricing of the same drive in the US, but some have found luck in getting the drive at a more reasonable $AUD 450. It’s still a bit too expensive to mark it as a must-have item for your next computer, but it’s a 50% price drop away from becoming just that. I will probably write another “If I were to buy a new computer today” blog entry this week, like the one I did back in September, and I must just include this drive in my recommended specs. Staying in Australia, retailers are saying the HD DVD people are not doing all they can for the Australian market. There is no point in denying this claim, because HD DVD has had a late and fairly quiet start, while Blu-ray has been going all guns blazing in the promotional stakes. Both sides are still doing poorly on pricing and releases though. The HD DVD side has been relying mostly on the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive here in Australia, which was the only HD DVD player until about 3 months ago. But we still end up paying more and getting less for the add-on drive, as compared to the US in any case, where the pricing of the drive has dropped to less than $130 (although the price has gone back to $180 on Amazon.com at least), and includes 6 movies (we only get 1 free movie in the box). So much for the high Australian dollar. Another problem that people have been having here in Australia is trouble accessing the web content on titles such as Transformers. People with the US version of the movie (thank goodness for region-free HD DVDs) have not had the same problem, and according to the HD DVD group, the web features are very popular indeed. If you really had to compare Blu-ray to HD DVD, then on paper, HD DVD wins in everything but studio support. Early HD DVD release have better picture and sound quality than Blu-ray (most used VC-1, while older Blu-ray movies used the less efficient MPEG-2), most HD DVD releases are 30 GB compared to 25 GB for Blu-ray (BD-50 discs are still a small minority of releases, and HD-51 is coming soon), all HD DVD players and movies support advanced interactive features that not even the newest and most expensive Blu-ray player support and HD DVD hardware is cheaper too. But it doesn’t stop the myth that Blu-ray is superior to HD DVD, a myth that has been propogated by people such as Transformers director Michael Bay. Transformers on HD DVD is probably the best selling movie on either HD format so far, and of course it might sell more if it was a Blu-ray release too, but then I’m sure all his older movies would sell more if they were on HD DVD too. His claim that Microsoft deliberately supports HD DVD to get HD to fail, is tinfoil hat madness. Microsoft has lots of things invested in the success of HD (their VC-1 codec, used by the majority of Blu-ray and HD DVD releases, for one), and their digital distribution plans (of which is doing quite well in the US through Xbox Marketplace) is a completely separate issue. Sony also has digital downloads coming soon for the PS3, so do they wish HD to fail too? As for his claim that Blu-ray is superior …

There’s a lot of HD news this week, so let’s start a new paragraph. Analysts have predicted that there will be parity between the two competing HD formats for the foreseeable future. I can’t see either format just fading away unless the studios all become exclusive for one side, so protect yourself by becoming format neutral. There are always rumours floating around the Warner Brothers, the only studio to be format neutral, is going to go format exclusive and supports Blu-ray only. You can read about what I think of this rumour in the link, but suffice to say, I don’t think it will happen (if anything, it might go the other way). HD DVD is certainly the weaker of the two sides when it comes to sales figures (although beware that the often quoted Nielsen HD sales figures do not include Wal-Mart, which came into the HD game quite late, but is now having an influence on things by being HD DVD exclusive, the Sony PS3 apart), but I can’t help but feel that it has a more mature strategy, rather than the “let’s sell as many PS3s as possible at a loss so we have lots of Blu-ray players in people’s homes, even if they don’t know what Blu-ray is” approach. There is a nice article that summarises the state of HD DVD, and its well worth a read. Speaking of the PS3, more and more rumours suggest that it will become Blu-ray profile 1.1 or 2.0 sometime soon. Unless there is some technical problem that prevents 1.1 or 2.0 certification (eg. if the cell processor can’t handle simultaneous multi-track video and audio decoding), then it’s a “when” not “if” in my opinion (that’s why I purchased a PS3 as my Blu-ray player). Still, it might take a while since there are hardly any 1.1, let alone 2.0, movies on sale. And we’re still waiting for DivX support, which was announced weeks before, but in that time, the Xbox 360 went ahead and added support for it already. YouTube HD coming soon via H.264? Not so far fetched with the power H.264 can offer.

On that note, it’s on to gaming. Is it me or is the line between gaming and HD getting blurrier by the minute? Of course, here on Digital Digest we primarily cover the video aspect of gaming, so we’ve already intentionally blurred the lines. The holiday sales period is an important period to see which console will dominate in the year ahead. Analysts predict that the Xbox 360 and Wii will be side by side, followed by the PS3 by some distance (although not as distant as it used to be). Meanwhile, Nintendo has pulled ads for the Wii because demand is so high. Putting on Michael Bay’s tinfoil hat for a minute – does anybody else think that Nintendo might be deliberately not producing enough Wii’s to keep the demand up? It’s had a whole year to get the production up (Wii was last Christmas’ most wanted gift too), and it doesn’t seemed to have helped (if anything, this year’s stock is even less sufficient). And if you look at the low number of games being released in the same period, which would have crippled any other console, you do wonder why demand is still so high. Of course, that’s just conspiracy talk – the most likely explanation is that Wii is attracting non-gamers, and that’s a huge group of people who suddenly want a Wii for Christmas. Or that some people are hoarding stock to sell at a premium on eBay or something.

So that’s it for another week. While you are all busy going from store to store to try and find a Wii, I will be here as usual gathering the news and writing page fulls of nonsense ready for next week’s Dazzling Digital Diary. See you then.


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