Weekly News Roundup (17 May 2009)

It was a long time coming, but I finally managed to write the latest edition in the “If I were to buy a new computer today” series. With Windows 7 around the corner, Intel’s Core i7 and AMD’s Phenom II processors being released, it was a good time to update the series. The poor economic conditions have been factored in as well, so I’ve managed to “assemble” a system that’s cheaper than the last one, while still offering excellent all around performance and features. In my opinion, anyway. People say PC’s are dead, especially when it comes to PC gaming, but I hold the view that there are certain games that are best played on PCs, and until consoles actually become PCs by allowing gamers to use keyboard/mouse controls, there will always be a place for PC gaming.


Lots to go through this week so let’s start with the copyright news. In Australia, the copyright case against the ISP iiNet continues. There is sort of good news for iiNet, in that part of the lawsuit against them have been dropped. They are no longer being accused of being the main copyright infringer, rather, they are now only being accused of providing copyrighted material. This was most likely because the Judge in the case asked for evidence of this, and the AFACT (Australia’s very own MPAA , the group suing iiNet) could not provide it.

Meanwhile, the more well known case against The Pirate Bay gets closer to a retrial. There was also evidence that the Judge in that case was not only guilty of a conflict of interest, because he was part of a pro-copyright panel, that he is also biased because he was involved in a scandal relating to the police search of an ISP that wasn’t entirely based on solid evidence. Looks like the other side got a very very friendly Judge in this case. The other big case at the moment is of course the MPAA vs RealNetworks trial. RealNetworks has hit back by filing anti-trust charges against the MPAA, calling it a “price-fixing cartel”. Whatever you feel about RealNetworks’ products (and I’m a huge anti-fan of them), and even what you feel about the software on trial (RealDVD creates more DRM than it removes), you do want the MPAA to lose this one, because it will then open up DVD and even Blu-ray to so many other uses, such as being able to store copies of the movies on NAS to stream to your media device without having to insert the disc all the time.

Good news and bad news in Europe/UK this week. UK ISPs have refused to become copyright cops to police their users’ usage. This is all good, except if the government passes laws to force them to do it, then they have no other choice. Which is what is happening across the Channel in France. The French has passed their “Net Piracy” bill which will people having their Internet connections disconnected if they are “caught” download illegal content three times. It’s a shame to see such a draconian measure being passed in what has traditionally been a very liberal country. I don’t know the details, but I can’t see there being a fair way for people to appeal this decision, since I doubt the court system has the capacity to absorb the hundreds of thousands of cases that will spring up each year. And if the court system is not involved, then are users simply guilty because two corporations (the ISP and content owners) say they are? And having an Internet connection these days is just as important as any other utility such as water or gas for many people, and do you really want your supply to be controlled by multi-national corporations with no chance of appeals?

Better movie, more hype, but less ticket sales because it wasn't pirated

Better movie, more hype, but less ticket sales because it wasn't pirated?

The industry will talk about the threat of piracy, how in the current economic climate it is even more important to crack down (it’s funny how they take advantage of serious issues to cram in their own agendas, such as using an anti child pornography bill to get their anti-piracy stuff through). But does Internet piracy really affect sales, or can the extra (and free) promotion actually help? Last week I mentioned the movie Wolverine, how it was leaked online months before the premier, but still managed to do very well at the box office. This week, we have that other summer sci-fi blockbuster that’s received way more (traditional) hype, Star Trek, and appears to be the better movie. And it was also not leaked online. This makes for an interesting comparison between the two movies – a better and more hyped up one that’s not leaked, and another that was leaked. And guess which movie sold more tickets? Yep, you guessed right, Wolvering beat Star Trek at the box office based on opening weekend numbers, despite (or is that because of) the online leak. So does piracy actually help to promote a movie? The Internet certainly helps to promote movies, and the more piracy, the more Internet hype, and who knows.

Nintendo has also recently released their updated DS handheld, the DSi. Part of the new set of “features” is a firmware update service that has been specifically designed to root out piracy. Unfortunately, it won’t work. The companies that make flashcarts that allows copied games to be played are one step ahead (or technically just one small step behind) by releasing their own “fixed” firmware – one for each new firmware released by Nintendo. This way, users can have the latest Nintendo firmware, but still (within a short period of time) play their copied games. So that’s another DRM problem solved. Which is no wonder that game developers are finally rallying against DRM, because they simply do not work. If they work, then perhaps you can argue for their necessity. But they don’t work, so they cost money, make things more difficult for legitimate users, and maybe even encourage anti DMCA behaviour for those sick and tired of having to insert their game disc or carts every time they want to play something, even just for a few minutes.

High Definition

That was a long copyright section. Next up is high definition news. One needs to be careful when digesting the stories about Blu-ray sales skyrocketing. As Betanews says, Blu-ray sales *are* skyrocketing, but only if you lower the sky. This article talks about hardware, and the stats make interesting reading because the 72% increase in the number of players sold has only resulted in a 14% increase in dollar sales. This suggest that the average Blu-ray player sold today is 34% cheaper than what it was a year ago. This makes perfect sense because hardware prices have dropped as expected, and cheaper products equals more sales. But is a 72% increase enough? Especially considering the low starting point in the first place.

Now, I’ve been keeping track of Blu-ray movie sales figures through Nielsen VideoScan stats, and have been posting analysis of them for over a year now in this forum thread. This means, for the first time, we can actually compare this year and last year’s stats for the same week. This isn’t actually a good way to compare figures, since movie sales are largely related to the titles being released, rather than what week it was. However, if you do an average, then you will be able to get a fair picture of what’s going on with movies as well. It is pretty clear that Blu-ray movies sales have nearly doubled (possibly close to a 72% increase as well), although again the low starting point makes this sound better than it is (if I sold one Blu-ray movie last year, and I sold 5 of them this year, then the 400% increase isn’t as impressive as it sounds). It’s not good enough to replace the lost sales of DVDs, that’s for sure, but again the question is whether it is good enough for the Blu-ray format? I really don’t know the answer. I think if we fast forward another year and we see the same level of increase, then you will probably be able to say that Blu-ray has made it. Right now, it’s too soon I think to declare a winner.

Zulu on Blu-ray: Amazing restoration effort

Zulu on Blu-ray: Amazing restoration effort

But assuming you are one of the additional 72% that purchased a Blu-ray player this year, what movies do you get to show off your system? Engadget HD asks this question of its readers. Personally, I think sections of Planet Earth are absolutely amazing and exactly the type of stuff I picture when I dreamt about going HD some years ago. Other people will have their own list, some concentrating on sound rather than picture, or on interactivity. But I also prefer older movies that have been properly restored on Blu-ray, and you get to see them at the best they’ve ever been shown. Zulu is one such example, where the transfer is simply amazing for a movie of this age. These can often surprise and amaze people more so than say Iron Man, because people expect Iron Man to look great on HD, not so much an older movie that they’ve gotten used to on TV or even DVD with their poor transfers. Certainly, Blu-ray has given studios an excuse to spend a lot of money restoring old movies. Whether the money was worth it commercially or not, remains to be seen.


And finally in gaming, the April NDP figures are out and I will analyse them early next week. The numbers look bad across the borad, except for the Nintendo DSi. All the other consoles have dropped in sales, both compared to the last month and also compared to a year ago, with only the cheapest console, the Xbox 360, dropping the least. The PS3 was outsold by the PS2, which has recently received a price drop (hint to Sony?).

There are rumours of a new PS3 build being released, and could Sony be perhaps lowering prices through this new SKU by cutting some corners here and there in the new build? The current models apparently costs 10% more than what the retail price. This is not that surprising, although I thought it would have been much higher than 10% to explain Sony’s stubbornness on price cutting. Another way for them to cut prices without cutting prices would be to put more Sony produced games in game bundles with the console, if you include 5 free games by redemption or something but with the pack remaining at the same price point, then it works out to be good value, especially if there’s a list of games you can choose to redeem. Blu-ray did this at the beginning, and it helped to make the expensive players more attractive, but only at a small cost to the manufacturer.

That’s the news that was for the week. Have a nice weekend, or whatever is left of it depending on your time zone. See you next week.


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