Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (April 23, 2017)

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Welcome to a brand new week on the WNR, where we bring you all* the latest news and happenings in the world of digital video, Blu-ray, gaming and everything else. It looks like I survived my wisdom teeth surgery after all, sorry about the lack of updates the week before (too busy barfing from postoperative nausea).

I’m writing this WNR a little bit later than I usually do on Saturday because I just picked up my new Samsung Galaxy S8+ and have been playing too much with it. It’s a really nice, I can’t say little but it definitely doesn’t feel too big, phone, with a gorgeous screen that doesn’t seem to end (gaming and watching movies, particularly those in the wider aspect ratio of 2.35:1, is a fantastic experience).

But no time to play time, it’s time for work, and there’s quite a bit to go through this week too, so let’s get started)

(* “All” is defined as the news stories I found interesting and/or had time to write up)

Copyright

2Dark

2Dark’s updated Denuvo protection cracked already

The cat and mouse game between anti-tampering system Denuvo (ie. DRM) and game crackers continues afoot with Denuvo releasing an updated version, dubbed v4, of their system. Unfortunately for Denuvo, it only took a month for the first game to be protected by v4, 2Dark, to be completely cracked – something that others had thought would take a lot longer.

While this does not mean all games with Denuvo v4 will be easily cracked from this point onwards – each game needs to be cracked individually – it does mean that crackers possibly have found an entry point into the system and it will make it easier to crack other games that are scheduled to use v4, including Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, Dead Rising 4, Nier: Automata, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition, and Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Of course, being protected for a month is still better than nothing and one could argue that a month is actually all that’s needed for a game, as that’s why most of the sales happen. However, it seems with each cracked game, crackers improve their technique and reduce the time needed to crack the next one. So if Denuvo v4 only manages to protect Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 for a couple of days, then perhaps publishers won’t be so keen to use Denuvo unless they can get some kind of money back provision in their contract.

High Definition

PowerDVD 17

PowerDVD 17 has UHD, VR and other cool stuff … but you’ll need the hardware to match

It’s been a long time coming, but there’s finally a way to play Ultra HD Blu-ray movies on your PC. And if you have one of those fancy PC based VR system, then you can watch your favourite movies in a VR environment too (or watch immersive 360 degrees movies).

I am talking about the latest and greatest version of PowerDVD, now in version 17 (I remember talking about it here on Digital Digest way back when the software was still in 0.x version). If you get the Ultra version, which is still at the $99 that it has almost always been, then you’ll have access to all these fancy new features.

Of course, you’ll still need the hardware, and that’s when the problem starts. The latest Kaby Lake CPU, the latest integrated Intel GPU or a GTX 970, and an Ultra HD Blu-ray reader drive are your *minimum* requirements, so it’s by no means accessible for everyone. And that’s just for Ultra HD Blu-ray – you’ll need more hardware for VR.

But if you’re rich and you already have all of these, than PowerDVD 17 Ultra is a must-buy. A must-buy mainly because it is the only thing you can buy that will play UHD discs.

While Disney is still saying away from UHD, unfortunately, Rogue One’s Blu-ray release was still a big one. Just not as big as The Force Awakens, which is not surprising. The 3D edition of the movie also sold really well despite it being a Best Buy and Target only exclusive. If it had been available on UHD, I think the UHD results would have been amazing. Not as amazing as Planet Earth II from the previous week, but still amazing. Come on Disney, pull it out!

Gaming

Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch outsold the PS4 and Xbox One in March

If you’re also rich, you’re probably one of the million or so people that already have Nintendo Switch. Not to say that the Switch is expensive, it’s quite good value for what you’re getting, but you’ve either already spent a load on a Wii U and games or you’re coming from the PS4/Xbox One camp, which means the Switch is another thing you have to buy, and given what has happened with the Wii U, you might be a little bit cautious.

But there doesn’t seem to be a need, since all reviews point to the Switch as an excellent, fun system that gives you something the others can’t. And it seems a lot of you agree, as it was the best selling console in March, at least in North America, easily beating the PS4 and the Xbox One.

This may not hold up for the coming months, since the Switch’s game library is still quite small (although I found the fact that more Zelda games have been sold than the total number of consoles to be quite interesting – are people buying games before they buy the Switch?).

But poor Xbox One, relegated to third place. Scorpio can’t come soon enough for Microsoft, and even then, success is not guaranteed. It might be the most powerful console in history when it’s released, but if it’s also twice as expensive as the PS4 Slim, then you can forget about it.

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You can also forget about me getting a lot of work done in the next few days, as I’ll be playing with my S8+ and the Gear VR. Actually, I will most likely be doing the vacuuming and house work, but that doesn’t sound very cool does it?

Weekly News Roundup (March 12, 2017)

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

So autumn is finally here in Melbourne, and the weather seems to be getting hotter, after our relatively mild summer. It’s getting harder and harder to make sense of the weather, I don’t know if it’s climate change or something else, but the weather here is almost a complete reverse of what it was like here fifteen years ago.

There’s finally some more news to go through this week, which means that the next week will probably be very quiet. Which is just as well, as weddings and other events means next week’s WNR might be delayed or cancelled entirely depending on how much news there is and how much time I have left. But I have time this week, and there are news this week, so let’s get at it.

Copyright

Microsoft Bing

Google and Bing now committed to jump through many hoops for rights-holders … Bing probably just happy to be included, to be honest

So this week, we know a bit more about the somewhat secret agreement between Google, Bing and rights-holders, thanks to freedom of information requests by digital rights groups EFF and Digital Rights Ireland. And the more we know, the more we don’t like about the so called “voluntarily” agreement.

So from sharing user data, to manipulating search results even for “neutral” search phrases, to domain registrant data spying, it’s got a bit of everything. Except everything is all about Google and Bing appeasing rights-holders so they won’t demand them implement some kind of “take down and stay down” regime. Good luck with that!

Meanwhile in crazy old Germany, it seems the job of educating today’s youngsters about the dangers of piracy still lies with parents, who if they don’t give their kids the old “piracy is bad, mmmkay” speech, they may find themselves liable for their kid’s downloads.

I mean, I just don’t see how this is enforceable in any way. How are parents supposed to prove that they’ve had “the talk” (well, the other talk) with their kids, in order to prevent liability? Should they record it, along with a time stamp, maybe with a live broadcast being shown in the background, but all of this is easy to fake anyway. And what’s to prevent parents from making the speech (and they having proof of it), and then when the camera is turned off, to tell their kids to download at their heart’s content now that liability has been removed as a threat.

Maybe the safest thing to do, from a copyright law perspective (and from the perspective of a rights-holder), is not have kids at all, or to give them up for adoption at your earliest convenience. It’s the (copy)right thing to do!

High Definition

VLC for the iOS

I never thought I would be writing about the CIA and VLC in the same news story

I don’t get the chance to write about the CIA a lot in this roundup, but when I get the chance, I plan to make the best of it. So a real opportunity came this week when it was revealed that VLC, the video player that everyone should have a copy of on their computer, has been used by the spy agency for other uses other than to play pirated Homeland episodes.

To be fair, the VideoLan Team was quick to explain that, while the software did contain a vulnerability that allowed malware to piggypack on to its code, to allow the execution of a CIA made computer scanning program, the vulnerability no longer exists in the latest version and future versions will be more “CIA proof”.

I guess it’s also a testament to the popularity of the free, open source media player (that can play almost all video formats without the need for any installed codecs) that it’s a tool of choice for not only the CIA, but also for the targets of the CIA, which may include enemies like IS/ISIS/Daesh/Whateveritscalledthesedays, frenemies like Pakistan, and friends like Germany and Australia (or are we frenemies now? Can’t keep track with Trump’s foreign policy tweets).

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So the CIA, child rearing advice, rights-holder appeasement, a bit of everything really for this WNR. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (February 5, 2017)

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

How are you on this fine-ish Sunday? Hope the week’s been treating you well, but if not, hope things pick up again next week for ya. There’s a little bit of news of go through this week, so let’s get started shall we?

Copyright

It came, it saw, and it died with a whimper. The U.S. “six strikes” graduated response regime is dead, killed off by the very people that gave it life, the MPAA and RIAA (and top U.S. ISPs). There can only be two possible explanations as to why the copyright lobby, who lobbied and threatened ISPs so hard to get the scheme introduced, have now decided to kill it off. First, it must mean that piracy is dead, and that their little scheme worked and Internet users are now sufficiently educated (and scared) about piracy. Or, and perhaps this is slightly more plausible, that “six strikes” simply doesn’t work.

It probably didn’t work because finding an alternative downloading method, that that is not monitored by the regime, was easy. It also probably didn’t work out for the likes of the MPAA and RIAA because the high cost of going after pirates cannot be converted to increased revenue. In a perfect world where people have unlimited money and one where preventing piracy actually works, then yes, preventing piracy might increase sales. In reality, most pirates won’t spend money even if they’re denied the opportunity to pirate. Some may even spend less money if they’re unable to pirate, because they would have been denied the chance to discover new content.

So four years after it was first turned on, I can finally say what I’ve been waiting to say ever since the news broke about “six strikes” – told you so!

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Google Chrome

Is it time to look for a new browser?

Is it me or is Chrome getting more and more annoying these days? It’s still my browser of choice, and the browser of choice for many, but what was once a lightweight, fast and stable browser has been steadily getting more processor intensive, slow and buggy (it seems every new version breaks something that worked great before – and still no native option to prevent the accidental closing of multiple tabs).

And so the news that Chrome has made it impossible now to disabled plug-ins, and in particular the Widevine DRM plugin, isn’t all that surprising to me. It might be an intentional decision to force DRM on us, or it might be an intentional decision from the developer to remove an somewhat unused feature, I don’t know, but it’s not a good thing especially when the plug-in is already so controversial.

Regular readers will remember the big brouhaha over the introduction of Encrypted Media Extensions such as Widevine into the HTML5 specs, and how it signaled the creeping in of DRM into the once unburdened world wide web infrastructure. Others will remember a more recent story about Google’s implementation of EME, Widevine, having had a major flaw for the better of five years without anybody doing anything about it (thanks to the chilling effect of anti circumvention legislation, which prevents security research into security flaws in DRM systems).

But Hollywood will get what it wants in regards to this DRM (which is used by Netflix, among others), even though, just like with “six strikes”, it will probably turn out to be something that won’t work or they won’t need in another four years or so (or sooner).

Because all good DRM gets cracked eventually (while all bad DRM gets cracked sooner than you can say “this DRM has been cracked”), which appears to be happening with Denuvo. The anti-tampering system (so a DRM, not but a DRM) has been difficult to crack to the point where some thought it was uncrackable, appears to be cracking under the pressure from groups keen to test their skills on breaking this tough egg.

Resident Evil 7

Denuvo protected Resident Evil 7 from being cracked for only 5 days

But even the best efforts previously took the better of six weeks, by which time Denuvo would have proven it’s worth by protecting a game from piracy during the crucial launch period (when most of the sales occur, and when most of the piracy happens as well).

That is until recently, when Denuvo protected ‘Resident Evil 7: Biohazard’ was cracked in a record five days after release. It harkens back to the bad old days of zero day cracks and pre-release piracy for PC games, something that many had thought would never occur again thanks to Denuvo.

To be fair, Denuvo has never said that it was uncrackable, just that it was hard to crack. While protecting a game for five days isn’t all that useful, there are still plenty of other games that are receiving weeks if not months worth of protection.

But as to whether this enhanced protection leads to increased sales, or whether it actually harms the game’s marketing efforts by denying a whole of people from trying out the game, I really don’t know.

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OK folks, that’s it for now. I have tickets to The Book of Mormon this week, which just started playing here in Melbourne, and I’m really looking forward to being offended by everything that’s in the show. You would think I would get tired of being offended by things coming out of the U.S., especially in the last week here in Australia (bullying is not cool, especially when it’s done to our sensitive and precious Prime Minister).

Weekly News Roundup (January 29, 2017)

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Welcome to the Year of the Rooster. In traditional Chinese custom, those born in the year of the rooster (1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005 – although those born in early January/February might have to double check to see which side of the lunar year they fall under) should always carry with them something red (red undies will do) to ward off bad luck for the year, so make sure you take precautions!

In terms of news, it’s somewhat quiet, but there are two stories on the coming and goings of technology that are unmistakably related. So let’s get started!

High Definition

First the going. Those still getting good use out of their 3D TV will have to extra careful to protect their investment, because pretty soon, it’s going to be really hard to buy a decent 3D set. Sony and LG this week announced that none of their new 2017 range of TVs will include 3D support. This move follows Samsung and Philips, both having ditched 3D in 2016, and raft of other CE companies like Sharp, TCL and Hisense that failed to announce any new TVs featuring 3D support at CES.

Samsung 3D active shutter glasses

3D, at least for the home, going the way of the dodo as last two holdouts announce the end of 3D support for their TVs

Those following our weekly Blu-ray sales analysis will also have seen a familiar pattern, that while studios are still doing 3D releases, the number of people buying them have steadily decreased.

The irony of this, in particular the LG announcement, is the company has finally perfected 3D technology for the home using their passive technology. But the fact remains that not all movies benefit greatly from 3D, that people just aren’t that interested in recreating the 3D experience at home, or at least not enough people to justify the cost of including the tech in the latest TV models. And some people like me can’t even watch 3D for extended periods without wanting to throw up.

That cost is being transferred to other technologies that, according to the NPD and according to our own Blu-ray sales stats, are quickly gaining popularity with consumers. Of course, I’m referring to Ultra HD Blu-ray and all the associated acronyms. For the week ending January 14th 2017, eight of the top 10 selling Blu-ray titles all had Ultra HD Blu-ray editions, but only four had 3D editions. This could be because more movies, if not most movies, benefit in some way from having an 4K transfer, than compared to 3D.

So what to do if you’re a 3D fan? The first thing you should do is to make sure you take good care of your current 3D TV, because it might be hard in the future to secure yourself a good quality 3D TV. Also don’t fret too much about studios not releasing 3D movies – Disney just recently released the 3D edition of The Force Awakens, and it sold enough copies to probably justify other re-releases like this in the future (plus there’s the whole series of new Avatar movies coming).

Pioneer BDR-S11J-BK

Pioneer and Cyberlink giving us PC heads a crack at playing Ultra HD Blu-ray movies on our PCs

Now we go to the other story, the coming. With Ultra HD Blu-ray looking more and more like the natural successor to the Blu-ray format, one thing has been noticeably missing – where’s the PC support? I know PCs aren’t what they used to be, but to be a year into a format without even a glimpse of an Ultra HD Blu-ray optical drive, seems quite odd considering how Blu-ray and DVD before it (and this site, for that matter) got started.

But that will soon change. Pioneer will finally bring out a pair of Ultra HD Blu-ray capable optical drives (the BDR-S11J-BK & BDR-S11J-X). Even better, Cyberlink has teamed up with Pioneer to include a special modified (and unavailable to buy at retail) version of PowerDVD that has received Ultra HD Blu-ray certification and will play all the latest discs.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Of course, having a drive and player software is only the beginning of the requirements, thanks to the annoyance of DRM, and the brilliance of HDR. You’ll need a Kaby Lake CPU and a GPU that supports HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. And if you want HDR, you’ll need a monitor that can do it justice as well. Not too many people are buying high spec’d PCs these days, and so I don’t expect Pioneer and Cyberlink to do roaring business from these drives/software, at least not yet. I’m just grateful they haven’t forgotten us old PC heads, many of whom are itching to upgrade their PCs to attain full Ultra HD Blu-ray support status. I know I am!

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That’s all we have for this WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (December 11, 2016)

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

From nothing to almost too much, this week’s Weekly News Roundup has one ingredient sorely missing from last week’s edition – namely news!

So let’s not waste any more time and dive right into it …

Copyright

YouTube Targeted

YouTube says they’re unfairly being targeted by the music industry despite handing over a billion dollars to them over the last 12 months

Google has produced the numbers to show that, far from being a place where freeloaders gather to get free music (especially ones of pirated origins), YouTube is actually putting a lot of money into the pockets of the music industry. One billion in the last 12 months, to be exact. And this is just ad-revenue from legally uploaded videos and from pirated uploads via Content ID.

You might think the music industry, and some of music’s most well known, and richest stars, might be satisfied with this. But they’re not. They say growth in free music is outpacing growth in revenue from ads and subscriptions, and they’re worried that falling track and album sales will start to hurt in the near future.

They might be right, but it’s not because of piracy or YouTube even. It does feel like the music industry may be in transition again, so soon after the last one from physical CD album sales to digital tracks. The new transition, and it’s something Google is saying as well (and giving the music industry an advanced warning on), is one from sales to subscription/advertising. The last transition has dramatically downgraded the financial fortunes of the music industry, and this new transition may hurt them again. It is a bit of a shame, but this is the free-market, and the market always decides what things are worth.

If music lovers decide that music should be subscription based, or ad-supported but free to listen, and they decide that it’s no longer in their interest to pay the current price for tracks, then that’s bad luck for the music industry. Unless they want government policy to offer special protection to the industry – and I don’t see how it’s fair to give them protection at the expense of other industries – then it’s something that Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI, and stars like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, will have to learn to live with. They will argue that this will end the music industry, and mean less music being produced, but that would only be true if all musicians are getting into the game just for the money.

In fact, with self publishing easier than it’s ever been, and with YouTube promising to put more resources into promoting the stars of tomorrow, the future of music still looks bright, even if it means the likes of Taylor Swift may have to settle for earnings of $30 million per year, instead of $73 million.

Also looking bright are the prospects of Iceland’s Pirate Party governing the Nordic island nation. The president of the country has allowed the Pirate Party, who came third in recent elections, the chance to form government after the two biggest parties failed to build a workable coalition. Now, the chance of Iceland actually being ruled by a coalition headed by the Pirates appears to be slim, since it will need the support of one of the two bigger parties, and if this was a possibility, it would have happened already. Instead, Icelanders may have to go back to the polls and see if a fresh round of elections can produce an outright winner.

But still, it highlights just how popular the Pirates are doing in the country. It is after all the anti-establishment choice for Iceland, and the recent trend away from the establishment has definitely helped them. Anti-establishment doesn’t always have to mean islamaphobia, xenophobia and electing people with un-explainable hair, and the Pirates do have some solid policies, not to mention it’s refugee-welcoming policies (73% of Icelanders say the country should accept more refugees).

High Definition

Movie Cinema Tickets

Cinema chains will not be happy if Apple’s plans become reality

Not being afraid to change things around is usually a recipe for success. Sometimes I’m a bit harsh on Hollywood when it comes to all things copyright, but often though, it’s not the studios that are resistant to change, but others in the industry. So when Apple and some of the biggest studios are meeting to discuss a way for people who prefer to watch the newest blockbusters not at the cinemas but in their homes, the resistance comes from cinema chains.

To be fair, they have valid concerns. If movies are also made available to view at home during the theatrical window, then cinemas will definitely lose money. How much depends on how much people value the cinematic experience, but with price gouging when it comes to the concession stand, and often sub-standard presentations that can’t match the clarity and aural experience of a well set up home cinema, the cinematic experience definitely has room to improve.

What could happen though is a deal which sees cinema chains get a cut of profits from this kind of premium, fast-tracked home viewing, in exchange for giving up their exclusive rights to screenings. The last thing the studios want is for cinema chains to launch some kind of protest, which ends up having films like Deadpool 2 getting boycotted at release.

For Apple though, the equation is very simple – a faster release equals more money by helping to serve a currently under-served (or really, un-served) market.

Netflix Downloads

Netflix’s download mode uses a new codec to improve quality without increasing file size

This is probably how Netflix came to the decision to copy Amazon, erm I mean, to come up on their own with the innovative idea of adding downloads to a streaming service. There’s probably not a lot of people that will use the download feature, but there are situations (no Wi-Fi, on a plane, etc…) where downloading is definitely required – so an under-served area becomes served, and everyone is happy.

But that’s not why I wanted to bring up Netflix’s download mode this week. The reason is that now we know a bit more about the technical side of Netflix’s implementation, and so this kind of stuff is right up my alley. A long time supporter for H.264 AVC, Netflix is actually using Google’s VP9 for downloads. At least for selected platforms that natively support VP9, namely Android.

Compared to using the AVC-Main profile, Netflix’s use of VP9-Mobile could actually save up to 36% in terms of bandwidth, for the same perceivable quality. Netflix is also using per-chunk optimization for its encodings, which splits the movie into 1-3 minute segments and then applying a different encoding setting for each chunk, to further minimize file size.

But minimizing file size isn’t Netflix’s only goal, it can also use these enhancements to improve the quality of downloads by keeping the files at the same size, which is that the company is doing with its downloads. And since downloads are currently only supported by a limited number of devices, Netflix are free to experiment with new encoding techniques without running into problems with backwards compatibility. It’s a good idea all around.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Big Sleeve Edition

Laserdisc makes a comeback, sort of

Speaking of good ideas, and in particularly if you’re stressing about finding a cool Christmas gift idea, how about this. Nostalgia is a thing this holiday (eg. Nintendo Classic), so why not bring back laserdiscs, without actually bringing it back. These laserdisc sized Blu-ray “Big Sleeve Editions” from Disney is obviously another cynical attempt at double-dipping, but they are also very attractive looking packages for that film fan friend or family member that already appears to have everything. They’re only available in the UK at the moment, but don’t be surprised to see it elsewhere in the future.

In Ultra HD Blu-ray news, it does speak to the current state of PCs (and possibly the paranoid copyright culture) that despite the availability of a $299 Ultra HD Blu-ray player in the form of the excellent value Xbox One S, you still can’t play UHD discs on your PC because of the lack of available hardware and software.

But the situations appears to be getting better, with Intel, Nvidia and AMD all working hard to produce new hardware that enables and accelerates UHD playback, and on the software front, Cyberlink has just announced that PowerDVD has received official UHD Blu-ray certification, meaning UHD playback will be coming in 2017.

To get the best out of UHD, you’ll probably end up needing a new CPU, GPU, optical drive and monitor (so basically an entirely new PC), at considerable cost. That $299 Xbox One S is starting to look mighty tempting.

Once things start rolling on the PC UHD Blu-ray front, I might just write a guide on how you can build the cheapest possible UHD capable system that can get the best out of UHD.

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Well, that was a good news week, and I didn’t even have to resort to fake news. Alright, no more blabbering from me. See you next week!