Weekly News Roundup (7 August 2011)

A pretty light week in term of news, and since I’m running a bit behind, let’s see if I can wrap this one up quickly.

CopyrightStarting as usual with the copyright news, we start with the MPAA’s win against Zediva, as the judge in the case handed down a preliminary injunction against the “innovative” video rental service.

Zediva Promo

Zediva is a great deal for consumers, but it can only do it by using loop holes that Hollywood is trying to close

A little background info. Zediva’s service works by allowing you to rent physical discs, but instead of sending the disc to you like what Netflix would do, they do what Netflix’s other service does, by offering you a streaming version of the same movie. Zediva then reserves the disc you “rented”, and removes it from circulation. Or basically as Zediva puts it, you rent the disc, and they play it for you over the Internet (imagine a DVD player with a really really long cable). Why did Zediva do this? They did this – and this is where I think Zediva’s downfall will be – to avoid having to pay licensing fees for streaming content.

You see, the problem is that Zediva’s motivations, it seems to me, are born out of trying to avoid paying these licensing fees and release restrictions, and make more money than they would otherwise. If this is Zediva’s real motivation, then good luck to them, but I don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell with their case. And in the judge’s summary of the ruling, it’s made quite clear that the judge sees real problems with Zediva’s argument, and that if Zediva was allowed to continue operating, it could harm the existing video-on-demand industry, Netflix included.

Now, it could be debated that what Zediva is doing actually does not hurt Hollywood if you compare it to traditional disc rental, but that it does hurt Hollywood studios when compared to what they can make from streaming deals, and even Zediva won’t deny this, as after all, their business model is to save on licencing costs. This then leads to the debate as to why streaming should cost more than traditional rentals, why Hollywood should choose to not only “tax” new innovative distribution methods, but to place artificial limits (like a 30-day embargo to help increase disc rental income), when these help to fight piracy. But that’s their business decision, and they may be right or wrong, but that’s not for Zediva to decide. So people get pissed off with Redbox waiting times for new releases, or the somewhat hysterical reaction to the Netflix price increases (best encapsulated in this video), and it might hurt Hollywood more to be too greedy when it comes to streaming licensing fees and release schedules, if people do decide to “screw it” and use BitTorrent.

Pron magazine/website Perfect 10 is making legal headlines again this week, twice actually, as they launch yet another lawsuit against yet another online company, this time Megaupload. As you may or may not know, Perfect 10 has in the past sued Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the middle of these three recorded a win against Perfect 10 this week in which the Ninth Circuit court rejected Perfect 10’s appeal over an earlier decision favouring the search giant. But while courts are reluctant to rule about top tech companies that have been Perfect 10’s target before, they may be more favourable to ruling in Perfect 10’s favour against Megaupload, especially since the MPAA’s case against similar file hosting provider, Hotfile, seems to be going okay. So I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be Perfect 10’s first victory, but it all depends on how frequently their content has been uploaded by users of Megaupload, and if it’s not frequent at all, why Perfect 10 didn’t file DMCA notices to get those content removed, instead of launching a lawsuit (“to make more money” is not an excuse the court would accept, I think).

Diablo III

Diablo III will use 'always-on' DRM, but not for anti-piracy, says Blizzard

Good will amongst gamers is something every game developer needs, and up until this week, Blizzard, the makers of the addictive World of Warcraft and Starcraft series,  probably thought that the had enough good will stored in the bank to pull a nasty surprise. But, as Blizzard will admit, they might have miscalculated. What happened was that Blizzard announced the next episode in another one of their addictive franchises, Diablo III, would have “always-on” DRM, meaning gamers won’t be able to play the game offline, even for a couple of seconds. So Blizzard decided to do a Ubi, and as I talked about last week, nobody likes Ubi DRM. The funny thing was that Blizzard probably never intended to do this as a form of anti-piracy, but only as an anti-cheating feature. This may very well be true, but Blizzard could have avoided this whole controversy (and still used “always-on” DRM) by including an offline mode, much like how Test Drive Unlimited 2 does it (offline and online progress are recoded separately). The statements made by Blizzard immediately after the backlash began didn’t help either – executive vice president of game design Rob Pardo’s statement about there being other games to play when people are offline, for example on long plane trips, was the most ill-conceived of them all (yes, “other games” that people will buy instead of your games).

So it’s a lesson for Blizzard and any other company that chooses to use draconian DRM, for whatever reason – beware of the backlash, which might ultimately hurt revenue more than a couple of extra pirated copies would have (or the cost of adding an offline play mode).

High Definition

In Blu-ray/3D news, exciting news, sort of, although it’s technically neither HD nor 3D (not yet anyway).

I’ve been talking up UltraViolet for a while now, and it’s not like me really to voice my support for anything Hollywood comes up with, especially if it’s wrapped up in all sorts of DRM, which UltraViolet will no doubt be. But for me, UV is a huge shift in the way we “buy” movies, and it comes just at the right time when cloud storage is all the rage.

UV, simply puts, turns buying a movie into really buying a movie. The idea is that, instead of buying a movie on each platform, on disc, then on iTunes,  then another version for your Android device … instead of doing this, you buy the license to watch the movie, and then you get access to all the versions via the cloud, for all of your popular devices. It’s like Digital Copy, except it’s all done in the cloud. So when you buy a Blu-ray movie at Walmart, you can instantly get the movie to play on your Android phone, as long as you have a good Internet connection. And at home, instead of finding and popping the disc in or pre-ripping it to your media player, you can just fire up your TV’s UV app, and watch all your purchased movies from the cloud.

Flixster for iOS

Flixster is already available on a variety of mobile devices, and so, it's the natural fit for delivering and managing UltraViolet

The big news this week in regards to UV is the first announcement of UV compatible movies, as Warner Bros. announced both Bad Bosses and Green Lantern will feature UV support. I’m not surprised at all WB is one of the first companies to announced UV support, as they’ve always been quite open to new formats, having supported VCD in Asia, and HD DVD before they decided not to. And WB’s recent acquisition of Flixster is starting to make sense as well, as it seems Flixster is the app that WB plans to use to allow users to manage and watch UV content. As Flixster is already available on a wide variety of mobile devices, it’s an easy decision for WB to use it for UV.

What was more interesting was that WB also announced that it would even be possible for users to bring in their old DVDs to retailers, and have them “enable” access to the UV version of the movie. I don’t know how this will work, or whether there might be a way to do it without having to go to the store, but it does sound interesting. And as mentioned earlier, I really hope TV and console manufacturers embrace UV as well, as this would allow me to digitally stream my movie collection without ripping (also need studios and ISPs to work out some kind of deal to offer free bandwidth for watching UV movies).

In related news, Time Warner owned HBO plans to make available console versions of the HBO Go app, which is great news for those that are actually in the regions that can access HBO Go, which sadly does not seem to include Australia (we miss out on Hulu as well … boo!). The announcement also mentioned other “connected devices”, which sounds a bit vague, but hopefully will include things like Blu-ray players and TVs, for easy peasy catch-up viewing.


And finally in gaming, Sony has, as expected really, announced a strong degree of integration between their upcoming portable console, the PlayStation Vita, and the PS3.

This will include the ability to use the Vita as a controller for the PS3 (so allowing the touch surface, gyroscope, microphone, camera … all to be used to control PS3 games), plus the PS3 can also send graphics data to the Vita to display. Sounds familiar? It should, because this is exactly how the Wii U controller would work.

PlayStation Vita

PS Vita will offer Wii U like features, much earlier than Nintendo's console

With the Vita coming to the US probably early next year, and the Wii U much later than that, it’s a shot across the bow for Nintendo, if not directly at them. The only issue is the price. At the expected price of $249, and add the $299 cost of the PS3, yes, you might have a system that rivals some of the innovative parts of the Wii U, but might be more expensive, and not have as good  graphics as the Wii U (which must surely be an ironic situation for both Sony and Nintendo). But then again, the Vita can be used as a standalone gaming console far far away from the Wii U (the Wii U controller also allows independent play, but only within close proximity to the main Wii U console). So a Vita + PS3 combination could in fact replace the Wii U + DS combination, and if that’s true (and if graphics quality is discounted as a factor), then Sony becomes the better value proposition. And a PS3 price drop, or a PS3 + Vita bundle, may help.  Of course, Nintendo knows how to make fun games, and Sony struggles at times, and this could be the deciding factor.

For the Xbox 360, they’re going in a totally different direction, which could work for and against them. But Microsoft has demonstrated Windows Phone integration with Kinect and the Xbox 360, so they’re planning something similar too – and it will be even better value for those already with Windows Phones.

So we come to the end of another WNR. Hope you enjoyed this issue, and see you next week.


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