Weekly News Roundup (2 November 2008)

Only two more months to go before the year’s out. I just remembered that it’s now more than a year since I started the WNR. I really didn’t think I would keep this going for so long, since my attention span when it comes to these sort of things is pretty short. It’s been far longer than that since my last new computer though, so I’ve decided to get a new one this month, maybe even as soon as this week. I posted my buying specs in the “If I were to buy a new computer today” feature I wrote this week. Yet another refurbished PS3 should be arriving tomorrow, fingers, toes, arms and legs crossed that it’s finally okay this time.

CopyrightLet’s start with copyright news. The Viacom vs Google legal battle continues with Google claiming that Viacom’s copyright cops are more than capable of controlling content on YouTube, so there’s no need for Google to intervene. It certainly does seem that media companies are surprising apt at providing and controlling content online, mainly for promotional purposes. You can’t really have it both ways though, to use the Net and it’s viral characteristics to promote your stuff, while clamping down on sharing and free expression.

21 months for doing this - fair sentence or too harsh?

21 months for doing this - fair sentence or too harsh?

Ever wonder what kind of punishment you get for camcording and bootlegging films in theatres? 21 months is the sentence for a guy who did just that and got caught. Was it worth it? Depends on how much money he’s made already and how much of it has been stashed from the sight of the police, I suppose. I don’t mind the authorities going after the providers/source of pirated content, it’s when they go after the users of it that doesn’t sit well with me. Those stupid “you wouldn’t steal a car” PSAs at the start of DVDs also don’t sit well with me, and apparently, it’s not just me. The latest movie length episode of Futurama features a spoof of the well known anti-piracy clips, which is ironic because I suspect these Futurama episodes are one of the most pirated shows around.

Can’t believe that the DMCA is now 10 years old. It seems it was only yesterday that it took its first steps to trample on consumer rights. The EFF has been keeping a document of all the unintended consequences of the DMCA is an updated document, and you can read it here. Lots of stories about how the DMCA has hurt not pirates but consumers, scientists, and legitimate competitors. At best, the DMCA has been ineffective. At worst, it’s one of the worst pieces of legislation to ever come out of Washington D.C, and knowing all the crap that comes out of there, that’s saying something. Digital copyright is an important issue, but surely there must be some common ground between content owners and consumers, because neither group can exist without the other. Will the “Change We Need” feature changes to the DMCA? Doubt it, not as long as Hollywood’s deep pockets are helping those in Washington D.C stay in Washington D.C. But we can always hope …

Further proof of the DMCA’s reach, as Hollywood this week successfully sued Chinese DVD player manufacturers for not complying with CSS copy protection. Now I don’t actually know what was behind all of this, just how a DVD player can help to break CSS. Was it because it upscaled DVDs to 1080i through DVI (against the CSS license)? Was it because it could play copied CSS encrypted discs across a network (also against the CSS license)? Or did it have a hidden menu setting that could allow CSS to be turned off (does nothing really)?

A Digital Copy standard for DVDs on the way?

A Digital Copy standard for DVDs on the way?

But even Hollywood seems to be trying to find a way around CSS, by providing digital copies of movies along with the DVD. The DVD Forum is currently discussing this, and I think it’s a good idea. To try and stop people making digital copies is just plain silly and pointless. Might as well cash in and provide them with it in the first place. The problem now is that every studio have their own standard in regards to digital copies (Sony’s one plays on the PS3/PSP, Fox’s one is iPod compatible …). If the DVD Forum can sit down and add digital copy support to the official DVD specs, then that’s a move in the right direction. I just hope they don’t stuff the specs with DRM. At the very least have no more than tagging type DRMs, because anything more, and the digital copies are useless. The next logical step would be to have establish a similar standard for Blu-rays as well.

High DefinitionSpeaking of Blu-rays, the format is apparently dead, according one slightly pessimistic blogger on ZDNet. The last few week’s worth of Blu-ray sales data has been very positive for the format, so I don’t really understand where all these “Blu-ray is doomed” stories are coming from.

Bringing back the free movies promotion may help Blu-ray this holiday season

Bringing back the free movies promotion may help Blu-ray this holiday season

But I can understand the frustration seeing Sony apparently trying very hard to ruin a perfectly good format, with lousy hardware pricing (only now becoming more sensible), marketing, licensing and many other things which helps to fuel Hollywood’s greed at the expense of actually getting Blu-ray into people’s homes. But I think things have changed a bit recently, and I think the fear that Blu-ray may be doomed has actually forced Sony’s hand somewhat. There are new hardware promotions (free movies are back), pricing deals that bring together studios and online retailers such as Amazon (see some of them here – lots of new hardware deals recently, like the Amazon/Warner $100 off deal). The range of good releases have been very helpful for the format as well. In fact, all of this reminds me of last year, except it was HD DVD doing all of this, which may or may not be a good sign. With the exchange rate problems here in Australia, and local high pricing, I haven’t purchased a Blu-ray movie in ages. The last one I got was the Godfather Trilogy Blu-ray, which I only purchased because the online store I got it from made a pricing error, so I got it for $USD 30 express delivered. Now that’s value for money.

Speaking of value for money, some Netflixsubscribers are not seeing it in the $1 extra per month that Netflix charges for Blu-ray rentals. I don’t rent that many movies, so I can’t comment, but $1 doesn’t seem too much for me.

Also some good news on the H.264 front, as Windows 7 Media Center will natively support the format that is now widely used on everything from cell phone video to HD broadcasts. I’m sure Microsoft originally intended their VC-1 codec to have taken over the industry in the same was as H.264, but it didn’t work out and so supporting H.264 is the only logical step left. It’s not the first time Microsoft tried to get people to use one of their proprietary formats, failing, and then go back to doing what they should have done in the first place which is to support the industry approved format.

GamingAnd finally in gaming, Sony’s recent huge losses on the market means that the PS3 will not get a price cut, as Sony says they have a business to run. To be fair, the PS3 is selling well enough given the high price, and prices can always come down when desperation calls for it. Sony will just have to hope that by that time, the cost of manufacturing a PS3 will have dropped enough so they won’t have to lose their shirt to provide discounts, to prevent the PS3 falling further behind. In other PS3 news, a new hotfix firmware has been released to fix several problems with the 2.50 firmware. The forced 60 Hz output is what caused people to report the black & white display problem, for TVs that don’t support PAL 60 I guess.

Microsoft’s new Xbox Experience comes out this month, and there are several previews up for it already. One of the new features takes something from the PS3 playbook by offering HDD installs for games, and testing shows that it only shaves a few seconds off the loading time after the several minute long install process (plus all that HDD space used up). I would be more interested to see what effects it has on performance, as streaming from the HDD should be faster than from a DVD right?

So that’s another week over and done with. The US elections this week, so don’t forget to vote, even if you’re not actually a US citizen. Just write who you want to vote for on a piece of paper and send it to “Election Counting Place, Washington D.C., USA” – remember, every vote counts (except ones of this type, possibly). Also, this is the 58th WNR I think, which is just amazing to me because it only feels like the 55th one what with all the fun I’ve had writing it. I’m going computer shopping this week as well, so I may not have as much time to find and post news. At least that’s the excuse I’m going with this week … see you in 168 hours time.


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