Weekly News Roundup (10 August 2008)

The Olympics have started. I hope you’re watching it in HD, as this is the first Olympics to be presented with the superior resolution of High Definition. Events such as the Olympics are catalysts for huge surge in sales of TVs, and this one seems to have come just at the right time (when HD uptake is reaching a critical point).

CopyrightLet’s not waste any time and get right into the copyright news. There is pressure in Australia on ISPs to become copyright cops and to spy on user downloads to check for pirated material. Not only is this a serious breach of privacy, and many ISP’s terms of usage, it has much larger implications as well. Plus, it adds additional monetary burden on an industry whose profit margins are dropping all the time due to increased usage (and yes, some of this extra usage is related to piracy, but most are due to legal uses, such as viewing YouTube or free online streaming that most major media outlets offer these days). The good news is that Australian ISPs, unlike those in the UK, are still rejecting this idea that they should become copyright cops. How long can they hold out though, is another question.

Will movie studios end up here?

Will movie studios end up here?

With exaggerated claims of piracy, and absurd statements such as “Piracy could put film industry out of business”, there’s definitely a global push to protect the income streams of big media. Even though profits are going through the roof at the moment, with movies like The Dark Knight breaking all records left and right. Greed, as always, is a very dangerous thing. The whole situation is actually quite depressing, and I’m glad I’m not the only one. William Patry, a copyright expert who has hosted a blog on copyright issues, has shut down his blog citing the current depressing copy control climate as a reason.

High DefinitionOnto HD news now, nothing much this week other than the usual “nobody wants Blu-ray, new study finds” stories, which are just recycled stories from a couple of weeks ago. I don’t buy the stories that say Blu-ray will die as a format, but I also don’t buy the stories that say Blu-ray will take over DVDs in a matter of months. Expect DVDs and Blu-rays to exist side by side well into the 2010’s, and then for both to be further supplemented by Internet based video services of one kind or another. I’m still buying DVDs, just bought 13 movies yesterday. And I will buy Blu-ray for movies that I think deserve to be shown in their full HD glory (The Dark Knight, The Godfather Trilogy, for example). And I think this is the way to go for many people, until Blu-ray prices tumble down to DVD levels, that is.

Panasonic wins one of these for their work on MPEG-4 AVC

Panasonic wins one of these for their work on MPEG-4 AVC

Panasonic is set to win a technical Emmy award for its work on the MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) codec, which as I predicted last year, has really established itself as the codec of choice across a wide range of applications. YouTube, Blu-ray, HDTV, mobile streaming … they all use one of the MPEG-4 AVC profiles. Which is why if you’re buying a new computer, you really do need to make sure it can decode H.264 @ 1080p. A fast CPU should do it, but these days, GPUs do a lot of decoding work too and you no longer need to spend hundreds on a dedicated video card … even integrated GPUs, such as Intel’s new GMA X4500HD chip, can do most of the decoding without having to rely on the CPU. It’s worth noting that VC-1 and H.264 are two different formats entirely and you should make sure your GPU supports acceleration for both (ATi is better in this regard than Nvidia). VC-1 is the other major codec used by Blu-ray, by studios such as Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount and Universal.

GamingAnd in gaming, PC gaming is not dead, but its doctor is recommending a strict diet, exercise regiment and monthly check-ups, just to be sure. GTA IV is coming to the PC after all. There was also this rumour that Sony’s long awaited PS3 exclusive, Little Big Planet, will be coming to the PC as well. Most likely just a photoshopped image of the game box. But what was funny, at least to me, was the reaction of certain PS3 sites, who greeted the news with anger and sadness. I never understand the need for games to be exclusive to a certain platform … does it make the game better? No, of course not. Does it improve the game by making it gain more fans across the platforms. I think it does. Does it hurt fanboy pride that a game they thought was going to win some kind of imaginary war for them? Yes it does.

PS Home is finally coming ... erm ... home

PS Home is finally coming ... erm ... home

Another favourite line from PS3 fans is that the full PS3 power is not being utilized yet. PS3 publisher Naughty Dog says only 30% of the PS3’s power is being used at the moment. That may be true on paper, but as with any multi-core/cell technology, it all depends on the software and more importantly, the type of software that can benefit from a multi-threaded environment. For calculations and statistical analysis, multi-threading can’t be beat, but for interactive content like games, the positives are less so and requires a lot more work to get just a little bit more. Basically what John Carmack of ID said last week about PS3 versus Xbox 360. Speaking of software on the PS3, want to run Windows Vista on it? Someone has tried it, and the results, as expected, were pretty nasty. Another software that will run a bit better is PlayStation Home, currently in closed beta, but you might be able to sign up and preview it for yourself.

Over in Xbox 360 land, there was a software update but it didn’t seem to add anything. Just another step towards to the new dashboard update, probably. The new 60 GB Xbox 360 seems to be the same as the old 40 GB version, but there has been some changes under the hood which should improve heat dissipation. It’s August now, so the rumoured Jasper 65nm GPU update should have arrived or be arriving soon, but who knows. I think I’ll wait for that one before exchanging my original HDMI-less 360.

It’s been somewhat quiet in Wii news, which probably means something big is on the horizon. Capcom talks about the new Wii MotionPlus controller add-on and how it plans to use it, but that’s about it.

And that does it for this week I think. I’ll be back next week with more news. If there’s more news. There should be more news, unless the world has ended by next Sunday afternoon (Australian time). I plan on watching all 6 Star Wars movies this week. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, or how it relates to the next WNR. I do get paid by the number of words I write, so that’s probably why. Except it’s not true, as I don’t get paid to write anything. So why am I still writing. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because …


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