Weekly News Roundup (15 March 2009)

Yesterday was my birthday, and I enjoyed it very much. So much so that I didn’t even want to write a WNR today, but as they say, we’ve all got to work harder for less money in these economic times, so I can’t afford to take a day of. I finished the PowerDVD 9 review  during the week as well. To sum up, the new version is very nice and features some useful new features in particular DVD upscaling and the media center mode. Is it worth the upgrade from version 8? That really depends on your needs, and if you need DVD upscaling to your 50″ HDTV, or if you want better Windows Media Center integration, then version 9 is for you. And despite Windows 7 offering lots of video support, it won’t support Blu-ray, so you will have to come back to one of PowerDVD, WinDVD or ArcSoft TotalMedia.


Starting with copyright news, a new MPAA study says that America needs a Patriot Act like bill for dealing with piracy

Once again, the MPAA is comparing movie piracy to terrorism, and to refer to such a controversial bill as a model is just plain bad taste and shows how out of sync the MPAA is with the general public. If most people in the world believes that the Patriot Act is inappropriate even for dealing with something serious as terrorism, why should they think that it would appropriate for dealing with kids downloads movies at home? And do we need a “Gitmo” type insitution for dealing with pirates, although instead of physical imprisonment and torture, perhaps ban them from signing up to ISPs and using the Internet which for some people, is considered a form of torture.

IsoHunt’s P2P trial will continue after IsoHunt’s lawyers failed to get a summary ruling that it did not infringe copyright. it was always going to trial anyway, so this is not a huge surprise. There are certainly lots of important trials going on at the moment or awaiting judgement, IsoHunt’s trial in Canada, iiNet’s trial in Australia and of course The Pirate Bay trial in Sweden. But the more the industry fight against piracy, it seems the public is less and less enthusiastic about the crusade to rid the Internet of it. A new study shows that more than half of Internet users in Canada and Spain pirate music, films and software, while only 5% believe that piracy is criminal behaviour. Either people are becoming more and more unethical, or that they are so used to how the Internet works, where many things are free or at least made available for low cost, that they see P2P as just another way to get what you want when you want it. If the success of digital game delivery services such as Steam tells us anything, is that people are willing to pay for content as long as it’s delivered in the way they want it. The low prices do help, of course.  

Steam shows that better delivery and pricing, not more DRM and lawsuits, is the way to go towards fighting piracy

Steam shows that better delivery and pricing, not more DRM and lawsuits, is the way to go towards fighting piracy

So instead of fighting piracy with lawsuits and DRM, perhaps they should take a look at Steam and see how it became a successful delivery platform (even if it has DRM), and why people are willing to pay for games this way, but not the boxed version at stores. Of course, some people will never learn. Steam and Valve’s Gabe Newell recently delivered a verbal attack on DRM, but Aladdin’s John Gunn disagrees and has published a rebuttal. Aladdin provides DRM services (of course they do). The main points of attacks seems to be that there are stats showing DRM helps drive sales, which I find hard to believe not because these stats do not exist, but because they are incredibly hard to obtain (how much growth is related directly to having DRM, and how much is it related to other things like better products and services, or just natural growth). Mr. Gunn also goes to say that “good DRM is proven to reduce piracy”, which again depends on what the definition of “good DRM”. Theoretically, a DRM that cannot be broken should help sales as if you can’t pirate it, and you really want it, then you’ll have to buy it. Mr. Gunn points this out in his article as well. But the problem is that such DRM does not exists, because I have yet to see a popular commercial game or application with DRM that hasn’t been cracked, usually within hours of release. Note that I used the term “popular”, as there are apps that don’t get cracked simply because nobody cares enough to do it, and most likely, nobody cares enough to even pirate it anyway. The fact is that the majority of DRM schemes do nothing except annoy legitimate customers. They are about as effective as those unskippable copyright warnings at the start DVDs (funnily enough, only present on legal versions, and removed for the consumer’s convenience on pirated ones). Piracy rates have not dropped since the introduction of tougher and tougher DRM, this is a fact that cannot be disputed. So what exactly does DRM do anyway, other than to provide revenue streams to companies like Aladdin?

In the end, it’s all about convenience to consumers, and reasonable pricing. Both of these will fight piracy much more effectively than the world’s best DRM scheme. When The Pirate Bay is providing downloads that are faster, less intrusive, less restrictive, then you know you’re going in the wrong direction.

High Definition

Onto HD news. Toshiba has launched another attack on Blu-ray, which suggests that the rumours of them accepting cash from Sony to quit the HD game and to shut up about it, might not be entirely accurate.

TiVo Australia - no download quotas for Internode customers

TiVo Australia - no download quotas for Internode customers

This time, Toshiba says that downloads will replace Blu-ray. Sounds like sour grapes of course, but this statement is true in the long run. Music downloads have already replaced CDs, and with increasing and cheaper bandwidth, it’s only a matter of time before downloads replace movie discs too. If there is a trend in 2009, it’s the ever increasing move towards media-less distribution. Here in Australia, TiVo has launched a download service that operates through their set top boxes and with an active Internet connection. Internode, one of the largest ISPs here in Australia and my current ISP, has now teamed up with TiVo to offer unlimited downloads through TiVo’s download service – downloads that won’t eat up your monthly quota. While this does not solve the speed problem, it solves the bandwidth cost problem and we’ll most likely see more and more of these types of ISP/content provider deals in the short term. Then there’s the story of a Lionsgate executive predicting streaming movies on the Wii will be available soon. Again, this isn’t some wild prediction, because the PS3 and Xbox 360 already have it and so the Wii, or the next Nintendo console, will certainly offer some kind of movie service. With HDTVs, TiVo, game consoles, Blu-ray players, smart phones, portable media players and almost every other device (including in-car devices) offering movie streaming and downloads, that’s a lot of devices offering movie downloads, a lot more than say the number of standalone Blu-ray players. So maybe Toshiba does have a point, and what are the odds that all Toshiba’s HDTVs will start offering movie streaming capabilities in the near future?

Blu-ray sales are doing alright, although definitely down compared to the highs of the holiday period. Blu-ray sales stats show that Blu-ray sales have dropped to levels of around the middle of last year, the market share is down a third (5%) compared to the holiday period. Both Blu-ray and DVD sales have slowed down, but if anything, DVD is holding up a bit better than Blu-ray. With many people still undecided over whether to get 720p or 1080p, it just shows that extra resolution isn’t really the most important factor when it comes to movie buying, not when upscaling quality is improving all the time. However, as a rule of thumb, 1080p is the way to go from now on (and has been for a while).

Another story about expensive HDMI cables being a rip-off, this time with actual studies providing the fact. Still, it’s hard to get over the feeling that the salesman may be right when he says that your brand new $1000+ purchase “demands” that you pay a proportionate amount for cabling as well. But have you ever asked a computer salesman for a high quality professional grade USB cable, if there’s even such a thing. Both USB and HDMI are digital cables, so if you’re happy to use the one that came free with your printer, than you should be happy with paying the least amount of money for the other. I would still go with a recognized brand though, to avoid buying a dud or one that breaks because of poor workmanship. But if build quality is not a problem, then the only criteria should be pricing. 

GamingAnd in gaming, Sony has shut down the rumours of a Blu-ray-less PS3. Not much of a surprise really, because it was never going to happen as long as PS3 games used Blu-ray media. Nothing much happening here, although I find it increasingly hard to listen to PS3 fans talk about how the “PS3 experience” is better than anything out there at the moment. It’s a freaking game console, not a journey to the center of your soul for crying out loud. It reeks of marketing speak that’s been eaten up by PS3 fans seeking to prove their consoles is the best when nobody even cares, and this is coming from someone who makes money from telling people which console is the best. You know how you can tell nobody cares? Because if a barely working, badly designed console like the Xbox 360 can sell so many boxes, you know people just don’t really care about the “experience”, only games and how many and how cheap they are. And Microsoft aren’t immune from this either, what with their “New Xbox Experience” – PowerDVD 9’s “FancyView” is a much more appropriate term to describe the new Xbox 360 UI, in my opinion. And all the Nintendo Wii stories about how it’s helping injured people, blah blah blah … who cares? 

Boil down to it,  all the consoles have their good and bad points, and if you have the money, you should buy them all, if not, then buy the ones that have the games you want on it. It’s really that simple.

The February NPD figures should be out next week, and we’ll then see what kind of impact Killzone 2 has made. My predictions is probably not a lot, because I haven’t heard Sony scream about it from the top of every roof. We’ll find out soon enough.

That’s that for this week. Have a good one.


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