Weekly News Roundup (9 January 2011)

How has the first full week of 2011 been treating you? Good I hope. Lots of news this week, but I’ve found an easy solution against having to write a lot of news articles this week: ignore the CES!! The plans is to cover some of the more interesting news out of the CES here, in a very brief fashion, but to be honest, I haven’t been keeping track of the developments as closely as I should because the dozen or so games I picked up during Steam’s Holiday Sale aren’t going to play themselves! Right?

CopyrightLet’s star with copyright news. I attempted to destroy the optimism gained from the new year by writing about what could have been, had the powers that be not made the the financial aspect of copyright more important than the social aspect, in my piece titled A Sad New Year For Copyright.

Sadly, this is one aspect of copyright that’s not been discussed a lot recently, with the focus more on the details (DRM, court cases …). There’s a very important reason why copyrights expire, and a lot of people have forgotten about it. The US Library of Congress has already warned of the risks of copyright and copyright technology getting out of control and hurting cultural preservation, this was in reference to audio recordings, but the same warning applies to every other type of media. I mean can you imagine, due to the use of DRM and lawsuits, that in 95 year’s time, when the copyright for Transformers 2 or something expires, that nobody actually has a copy of the movie preserved without DRM that can be played at that time. On second thought, this may not be such a bad thing …

But seriously, it’s only the blatant disregard for copyright law, and the ever faster pace of technological progress and the increasing ease of information sharing (which has long since made current copyright laws outdated, even the recent changes), that is ensuring cultural preservation is not at severe risk. But how many early 20th century, but still copyrighted content, has been lost forever (something the Library of Congress says has already happened), and think of the copy protected games from the early 90’s that would not be playable today (even with legacy emulators) had pirates not cracked the DRM back then? Piracy making a contribution to cultural preservation? Why not!

Intel Insider

Intel Insider is not DRM according to Intel, it is "content protection"

You may notice that I used the term ‘DRM’ to refer to copy protection from decade old games, when people weren’t using the term DRM at all. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and in my mind, it refers to any kind of technology in which our ability to manipulate digital media is restricted. Perhaps I’m wrong. I mention this because of the controversy surrounding Intel’s announcement of a new technology called Intel Insider, designed to secure online HD video streaming. It’s built into the hardware of Sandy Bridge processors, and so everyone has been referring to it as hardware DRM. Fearing the consumer backlash, Intel’s Nick Knupffer took the time to post an entire blog explaining why Intel Insider is not a DRM. Nick says DRM is about things like preventing people copying the movies and distributing it online, or setting a limit on how long someone can watch a rented piece of content. Intel Insider, Knupffer says, is “an extra layer of content protection” (direct quote from his blog entry), and that Intel Insider will be even more important when things like Intel’s wireless display technology, WiDi, takes off to “prevent pirates from stealing movies remotely just by snooping the airwaves”. So basically, in Nick’s own words, Intel Insider is designed to stop piracy, and offer hardware content protection. And that’s not DRM? And in Nick’s update of the blog, which came after “strong feelings in the comments” (haha), he refers to the fact that HDCP (which Intel also owns, and was cracked last year BTW) is everywhere already anyway. And that makes it better? HDCP, the DRM (sorry, “content protection”) for HDMI is one of the worst things ever, and if Intel Insider is a new take on HDCP (to protect Intel’s “content protection” related licensing revenue stream that must have taken a hit when HDCP was hacked), one that is built into every new CPU, then that’s even worse than I had first imagined. Bring on AMD’s Bulldozer then (unless it also sucks up to the entertainment industry with its own version of hardware DRM, sorry, “content protection”). But what pleased me most about this whole incident was that Intel and other companies now realises that DRM is a bad thing that they must use PR and spin to soften the negative impact it has on consumer sentiment. That’s progress, I suppose.

An update on the Ubisoft DRM, sorry “content .. wait, no, this one really is DRM, I think. Anyway, Ubisoft says they have not given up completely on UbiDRM, and they may still use it for future games on a case by cases basis, that it is still effective, and that it cannot be defeated, and that its enemies are committing suicide under the walls of Ubisoft HQ.

The Expendables

The USCG is now planning to sue those that download The Expendables

Everyone’s favourite copyright law firm is starting the new year with a bang, and now planning to sue people for downloading The Expendables. The recent setbacks suffered by the US Copyright Group, and the bad publicity they’ve received, seems to not have had a huge effect, as Nu Image Films, the production company behind The Expendables, sought out USCG’s services. Just like how the anti-piracy lobby is now going after the revenue sources of online piracy, going after the revenue source of firms like the USCG seems to me like the best way to stop these mass lawsuits. Tie them up in paperwork, make them actually do the lawyer-y stuff that costs a lot of time and money (like proving actual damages, or even actual infringement), seems to me the best way to stop mass lawsuit law firms.

But by far the biggest copy protection related news this week was the hacking of the PS3. The fascinating story (well for a computer geek anyway) behind the hack is well worth watching the video here (especially the slide where Sony’s random number generator algorithm is explained), but the implications of this hack are rather big. The leak of the master key basically destroys the PS3’s ability to tell what’s an authorised piece of code, and what is not, and so in other words, pirated games can now be made to appear as if it was a legally, store bought version. This is stuff Sony have nightmares about, and makes the PS3 the least protected console currently on the market, completely reversing the position in just a few months time. And not coincidentally, it all started when Sony announced they would remove the Other OS feature from old PS3 (new “Slim” PS3 never had this feature), and this is when hackers around the world decided that hacking the PS3’s copy protection system would be the right thing to do. And the funniest thing is that Sony removed Other OS because they feared it would *eventually* be used for piracy, and this pre-emptive actions seems to have been the cause of opening up the console to massive piracy. Whatever limited piracy that could have been achieved with Other OS (which was all theoretical), can now be achieved without Other OS, all thanks to hackers wanting to bring back Other OS to the PS3. Awesome. And since the leak of the master key, progress on opening up the PS3 has moved along at a brisk pace, with tools for creating custom firmware already available, and at least one video demo of homebrew running on the latest, now jailbroken, firmware for the PS3. Sony issued the expected overly-optimistic evaluation of the situation (“committing suicide under the walls of Sony HQ”, etc …), but they know they’re beat. Solving the problem would probably require Sony to release new version of the hardware with a new key system (not just a new key), and there’s always the risk they will make *all* existing games unplayable due to the need for a new key system (a risk, I’m sure, Sony wouldn’t mind taking, given their track record on creating DRM related problems). Detecting modified consoles and banning them from PSN could also be on the cards.

But I actually think this will be good for the PS3. It makes the console even more versatile, and let’s be honest, piracy is one of the key drivers behind hardware sales. But of course, a strong selling PS3, and mass game piracy, won’t make Sony’s financial situation any better (it will be worse, actually). But at least the PS3 will be popular!

High Definition

In HD/3D news, Blu-ray broke through the $100m weekly sales barrier according to stats released this week. Of course, this is more an estimate, than actual sales figures, but it is still a sort of milestone for the format.

Blu-ray’s growth this year has been significant, but a lot of it is really just making for DVD’s losses, and not always capable of replacing all the lost sales. In fact, DVD sales are down 16% for 2010 compared to 2009, and despite Blu-ray’s revenue growth of 53%, total home video revenue is down 3%. But 3% is better than the 7.6% decline in 2009 (compared to 2008), and following the trend in everything last year, “not as bad” is the new “good”. Growth in digital media continues, with digital movie sales up 17%, and vide0-on-demand up 21%. And with Blu-ray, digital, and rentals, all taking away sales from DVD, it’s not surprising then that DVD sales are down. The problem for the industry is whether it can create more revenue, not just make up for lost ones, but in the current economic climate, and with some many other rivals in the entertainment space (games and gadgets of all kinds), maybe a 3% decline really is good news.

Star Wars on Blu-ray

Star Wars is coming to Blu-ray in September

And to the big news, from the CES I’ve been ignoring no less, is that Star Wars is coming to Blu-ray. Wait, hang on, didn’t we already know this? Yes, but we now have a release date, or rather, the month in which the release will happen: September 2011! Unfortunately, if you want all the new extra features and all that, you’ll have to buy the pack with the prequels in it too. They make you buy it, but you can’t force you to watch it (they haven’t invented the DRM to do this yet), so I guess it’s alright. At $90 at Amazon at the moment (purchase links, which will help out this poor blogger financially, plus videos of the launch/launch trailer are available here), it’s not the worst value in the world (not the best either).

Some of the other interesting things I’ve picked up from the CES news include the world’s first Wireless HDMI Blu-ray player, from Philips. Now all that’s needed are TVs that actually support Wireless HDMI. But if the wire-free future doesn’t interest you, how about a super wide future? 21:9 TVs, using the resolution 2560×1080, seems to be one of the highlights of the CES, with both Philips and Vizio announcing new models. Why is 21:9 good I hear you ask? Well, most movies are made using the aspect ratio 2.35/2.39/2.40 to 1, which roughly equals 21:9. You’ll then be able to watch these movies, like Star Wars, without those pesky black borders on the top and bottom of the screen. So what’s bad about 21:9? Well, you know how you have to watch old TV shows with the black border on the left and right? Well, with 21:9 TVs, you’ll have to watch all HDTV broadcasts this way as well, since these broadcasts, and many other movies, employ the 16:9 ratio, which wouldn’t fit into 21:9 TVs without black borders on the sides (unless you prefer seeing a very squashed picture). So these TVs are obviously aimed at home theatre fanatics, who probably have a automatic flip system installed so they can switch between 16:9 and 21:9 TVs depending on what they watch (and it’s only these people that can afford these TVs at the moment anyway).


And finally in gaming, while Sony is busy doing damage control over the PS3 hack, Microsoft have had a happier time at the CES, announcing a couple of Kinect related news of interest.

First up is Microsoft’s bold claim of 8 million Kinects “sold”, but it was “sold” in the same way Sony says that 4.1 million Move was “sold” – it was 8 million Kinects shipped, not sold, but probably more than 5 million sold for Microsoft in the first 60 days of sales, beating the previous target which was already revised up (from the original target of 3 million). It’s an impressive set of results. Microsoft also launched Avatar Kinect, which nothing to do with blue people tails, but rather, it’s a way to do video chat without video. Instead of having a video of my ugly face, I can use my much prettier avatar and do a virtual chat with groups of people at a selectable virtual environment. And the Kinect camera is able to pick up not only my body motions, it can also pick up some basic facial expressions too.

And so when gamers make that angry face because their new Xbox 360’s are scratching their Kinect Adventures disc, it will all be picked up by the camera. All that Kinect related jumping is probably what’s causing the disc scratching, which is why it’s a must to install games to the HDD, and those with 4GB Kinects … do yourself (and your console) a favour and buy the 250GB accessory (or if you’re braver than me, buy the cheaper unofficial variety).

And here are some leaked pics of the upcoming Nintendo 3DS, which looks exactly like the official pics release earlier in the year, except with a lot poorer photography.

That’s all for now. Must rest for epic gaming session. Haven’t been outside in 4 days. Oh noes, soft drink and junk food supplies almost running out. And other hardcore gamer stereotypes.

See you next week.


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