Weekly News Roundup (14 September 2008)

I haven’t had the best of luck in the last few months with technology. The main server’s hard-disk broke in March, then the entire data-center exploded in June. Both of my computers started acting up in August (managed to fix them both though), and now my PS3 is broken. And as covered on the blog, my Xbox 360 broke in January (well, that one was expected). Out of all the electronic equipment I’ve bought, including computers, only 2 devices have ever broken and required warranty service. Both were now-gen game consoles. Coincidence? Or perhaps just a side effect of the game console wars.

CopyrightCopyright news first. There’s a lot about the hit game Spore this week. Unfortunately, most of the coverage was not about how great the game is (and it is pretty good), but about the draconian DRM that EA felt the game needed. Not only is the game limited to 3 installs, it also limits each copy of the game to only one account, meaning you cannot install multiple copies of the game and play them at the same time on different computers. If you have two computers, you need to buy two copies. 

EA spokesman speaks about Spore DRM

EA spokesman speaks about Spore DRM

And about only being able to re-install the game 3 times – imagine if the game stuffs up and you need to re-install it, or if you’re running out of disk space and you uninstall the game only later you find that you want to play it again, or that you need to do an OS re-install and then re-install the game – is 3 times really enough? As expected, there was a backlash, most prominently on Amazon where Spore’s product rating had been reduced to a single star, the worst possible rating. Almost makes you want to get the pirated version just to avoid these stupid restrictions? That’s exactly what a lot of people are doing, including people who have purchased already, making Spore the most pirated game in history. Nice one EA.

Not content with ruining one hit game, EA wants to do it to Red Alert 3 as well. Red Alert 3’s DRM is limited to only 5 re-installs, needs online authentication, but at least it doesn’t require the CD to be present. If you need more re-installs, you’ll have to call EA tech support. Or you can just apply the no DRM hack, which I’m sure will pop up around the Net in no time. I like the public backlash in response to what EA is trying to do to PC gaming. It’s one thing to prevent piracy, but to inconvenience legitimate users in such a way is just stupid. Hopefully the no DRM movement, led by Stardock’s Sins of a Solar Empire, will gather pace and gaming DRM will be as unpopular as music DRM is right now. Speaking of Sins of a Solar Empire, it’s doing rather well, having sold over half a million copies despite having no DRM. The game also has low system requirements, which has also helped sales. Not bad for a game that doesn’t even have a storyline mode.

RealDVD: Legal DVD copying? But at what cost?

RealDVD: Legal DVD copying? But at what cost?

Back to digital video DRM. Real Networks is set to release a new software called RealDVD, which is the first commercial and legal DVD ripper on the market. What it does is rip DVDs to your hard-drive (well, duh), but it also adds a further layer of DRM on top to ensure the ripped DVD cannot be copied to another computer or distributed online. Obviously, it’s only playable on RealDVD’s software as well. Not sure how useful it will be, having these constraints. The limitation goes so far that even in a RAID mirror array where you swap one drive for another, the ripped files stop being playable as the hardware has changed. This makes backup impossible, so if your drive fails, you need to re-rip everything. External storage drives is the solution to allowing the same ripped DVDs to play on multiple computers, but each computer requires it’s own paid copy of RealDVD as well. RealDVD has noble intentions, but the way it has gone about things is totally wrong. And it may not even be that legal anyway.

What I would like to see is the DVD Forum get in on the act and produce a set of standards from which disc-less DVD playback can occur, even if it has to have some DRM to prevent copying. I would love to have a disc-less DVD library, where the first time you play it, you insert the disc into the player and you will get an option to make a copy of it to that certified central storage device for later disc-less playback on your standalone or HTPC running some licensed decryption software. Perhaps the central storage device can be encrypted to prevent copying and sharing *but not backup, and you would expect the storage device to employ some kind of RAID array anyway), and perhaps a requirement to have the original disc to be inserted after every 5 plays or something, to re-authenticate the copy. I think that’s a fair compromise.

Speaking of disc-less, there is talk that the good old CD is on the way out, to be replaced with downloads. CDs have been around for so long now, so it was always a matter of time before it gets replaced. And notice how CDs don’t have DRM, how quick ripping CDs became possible, and how long it has lasted as a format.

The MPAA is at it again

The MPAA is at it again

The RIAA/MPAA has been busy this week too. They seek to expand copyright laws to allow the Department of Justice to file civil suits against people who violate copyright, getting the government to use tax payer money to sue, well, the tax payers. There was another act that they tried to introduce which wants the US government to pressure country which they perceive to be weak on copyright protection. The MPAA also don’t want you to have cheap and flexible cable TV because they want to prevent a la carte pricing. Don’t know how this even relates to copyright, but it’s all part of the pursuit of greed the MPAA is really all about. A couple of week ago, I talked about Sony’s multi-DRM initiative, which the RIAA and MPAA are eager to be part of. All parties involved want to avoid the fate that befell music DRM, and they think they can do it by providing user-friendly DRM (an oxymoron if there ever was one), DRM that is “better than free”, as Sony Pictures CTO Mitch Singer described it. Excuse me while I throw up.

High DefinitionIn HD news, not much happening at all. The latest Nielsen VideoScan numbers for last week gave Blu-ray it’s best week since inception I think, with DVD sales down, but Blu-ray’s going up. Total sales, the figure which studios are interested in, is down though (as DVD’s sales drop was much larger than Blu-ray sales increase). The rise in Blu-ray sales was almost directly related to the Transformers Blu-ray edition. And as there was no equivalent DVD re-release, it explains the figures somewhat.

Microsoft’s Silverlight platform is set to ditch Microsoft’s own VC-1 codec and support H.264 (and AAC) audio. Not so much ditch, but to start supporting the major rival to VC-1 is significant I think. H.264 + AAC is really becoming the standard much like how MPEG-4 (A)SP/MP3 has been up until now.

GamingAnd in gaming, the NPD figures for August came out, but I haven’t had time to do a write up yet. The surprise was that Wii sales dropped by 20%, while the Xbox 360 beat the PS3, albeit narrowly. And Madden ’09 sales was through the roof, with a million copies being sold on the 360, easily making it the best seller of the month. I will have the full analysis up on Monday or Tuesday.

I know you’re expecting more, but that’s it for this week. Overall, a quiet week that was dominated by DRM news. It’s a shame though because DRM is evil and boring, and I would much rather be posting about a new piece of Blu-ray technology or a new killer Wii device that’s a must have. Perhaps next week then …


One Response to “Weekly News Roundup (14 September 2008)”

  1. Mr.Spore Says:

    When will these big companies learn that DRM does not work. It only frustrates honest consumers who purchase the product. It’s such old school thinking, I hope the backlash will make EA think twice next time.

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