Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (March 11, 2018)

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Sorry for the lack of an edition last week, again, nothing much was happening. So this is the first WNR of March, and long time readers will know it is my favourite month because it’s when my birthday happens. I know, self absorbed much? But still, March is a nice month generally regardless of where you are (spring in the Northern hemisphere, and a nice autumn here in the south), and how can you not love a month that sees a Star Wars film being released on Blu-ray. I know, nerd much?

A few things to go through, so let’s not waste too much time on the intro …


Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix really messed up the release of Final Fantasy XV

If you want a checklist of things not to do when it’s time to release a game, just take a look at what Square Enix did do with the release of Final Fantasy XV on Windows. First of all, Square Enix’s decision to use Denuvo was always going to be a bad one, when it comes to building relationship with your customers and fans – they weren’t happy! But if you’re going to use Denuvo, there are a few things you need to ensure. First, don’t release pre-load files on Origin in unencrypted form that allowed cracking groups from all over the download the full game files, ready for distribution once the game is cracked. Second, and this is a big one, don’t release a demo that included a game launch executable that could somehow be used with the full game to bypass copy protection. That’s right, Square Enix managed to release a crack for their own game via the demo version, and all signs point to the full game (minus the DLC content) being playable.

Square Enix’s SNAFU does present an unique opportunity to benchmark the performance of Denuvo, and whether or not it affects gaming performance. Some benchmarks have already come in, but most of these test the demo version against the full version for the first few levels (which both the demo and full version include). Most of these say that there are no performance losses associated with Denuvo. While this does test a Denuvo-free version of the game against the Denuvo version, there’s is no information that suggest that the demo is at exactly the same optimization stage as the full release version – the full version may have included additional performance optimizations that the demo version does not. A better test would be the pirated version (with the demo exe, and the full game files) versus the full official version. Hopefully, a benchmark of this type will be made soon (and the benchmark hopefully will take into account the need to ensure there are no GPU bottlenecks fudging up the results – it’s stressing the CPU, preferably on a minimum requirement spec system, that will ultimately show up any performance differences, if there are any).

MXQ Player

The US government will help the MPAA take on Kodi box makers

It’s not going to be easy to segue into the other stories this week since there’s not much in common with any of them, so I’m not even going to try. And so the next story is one that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – the U.S. government is now actively helping the MPAA fight Kodi boxes.

Do a congressional testimony thing, or a discussion panel in this week’s case, let the MPAA and others provide a one sided argument about the dangers and perils of the latest piracy craze, and then the government, as expected, take “swift” action using taxpayer’s money to defend Hollywood corporations from, in most cases, an exaggerated threat. And sometimes, even the President get in on the act, something that Trump’s handlers was able to get him to do this week too.

We now have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu for streaming plus iTunes, Google and Amazon again for downloads, there’s also DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray, not to mention cinemas, early digital releases and cable. If after all this, people are still relying on piracy, then it either means piracy is still somehow better/easier to use than the myriad of legal options, or that people simply can’t afford to pay the prices that Hollywood demands (not if they want access to all the content they like). You can’t stop piracy – people will find a way – but you can minimize it if you give people a better service at a price they deem is affordable/good value. And even then, you’ll probably still have people who prefer piracy.

Innovate, not legislate (or litigate), out of this problem.

uTorrent Logo

uTorrent was once owned by Spotify

Speaking of innovation (hey, I guess there was a way to segue, after all), with Spotify about to get listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and being valued at $20 billion, you might be surprised to find that Spotify’s origins had many links to piracy. In fact, you might be even more surprised to find that Spotify once owned a piece of software called uTorrent – yes, the same uTorrent that people who don’t use Spotify use to “obtain” music.

But the link isn’t so strange when you consider that one of the early developers of Spotify, Ludvig “Ludde” Strigeus, just happened to have invented uTorrent. Spotify bought his software and his technology, and then only a few months later, sold the software to BitTorrent Inc, the current owners. Spotify not only gained technology that they integrated into their own software in the transaction, but they also made a bit of money in the sale to BitTorrent Inc, money that they put to good use to grow the company into the $20 billion behemoth it is now. And not only that, it has virtually wiped out music piracy as a thing of concern even to the likes of the music industry, who failed to innovate out of the problem, but instead, let someone else, Spotify, to benefit from the innovation.


That’s all I have for you this week. Given that it’s my birthday next week, I might not find the time to do too much work (hehe). But if I do find the time, then see you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (February 25, 2018)

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR, one that, unlike in recent times, is actually full of stuff to talk about. Yeah well, I don’t know what happened either. Maybe it was the post Valentine’s Day euphoria that got the news juices flowing, but I think it’s just lucky timing.

Alright, let’s not waste any time …


Redbox Kiosk

Redbox scores a win in its lawsuit with Disney

I didn’t really expect this to happen, but Disney’s lawsuit against Redbox isn’t going to be as easy as they thought it would be, with a judge having denied Disney’s request for a preliminary injunction. Lawyers usually don’t ask for preliminary injunctions (or even file the lawsuit in the first place) if they didn’t have a reasonable expectation of success. But sometimes all it takes is a good argument, and a judge willing to consider it, for the tables to turn, and turn they have.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that Disney was engaged in “copyright misuse”, by attempting to bundle too many conditions to the redemption and use of the digital copy that comes with Disney combo packs. Specifically, Disney tried to “tie” the ownership of the digital copy to the ownership of the discs in the combo packs, and this meant that users had to give up their right to resell the discs if they wanted to redeem the digital copy, and that, the judge said, was beyond what Disney’s copyright allowed them to do.

It wasn’t a complete slam dunk for Redbox though, as they failed to get the judge to recognise that the “first sale doctrine” applied to the redeemable digital copy, as in the judge’s opinion, the digital copy doesn’t actually exist at the time of sale (it only exists after the buyer redeems the code). Without being able to rely on the “first sale doctrine”, which limits the ability for the rights-holder to control the product after the first sale has occurred (and is the basis that allows us to resale our legally purchased goods), Redbox’s assertions that they had a right to sell the digital codes might not be an easy argument to make.

Interestingly, the judge found issue with the wording of the “Codes are not for sale or transfer” condition on Disney’s combo packaging, which does not make it clear that opening the package is considered acceptance of the conditions. Expect changes to the packaging to happen sooner rather than later.

Speaking of changes, those that have used Google Image search in the last week would have noticed a rather big, and annoying, change. Google has removed the “View Image” and “Search by Image” links in its image search results, meaning that it’s now much harder to download the original, unedited versions of any image. And that’s the whole point really, because Google has come under pressure copyright wise (via a Getty Images lawsuit) to stop making it so easy to download images via its image search function.

As expected, users have not reacted positively to these changes, and who could blame them. Also as expected, website owners have welcomed these changes, many of whom have long accused Google of “stealing” their images by directly linking to them (allowing users to download them without the need to visit the publishing website). The same problem exists with snippets (you know, live sports scores, weather, and things of that nature), but at least with snippets, some websites are actively providing the content to Google. Not so with images, and many webmasters have even gone as far as install scripts on their site to prevent direct linking.

While one fire has been potentially put out, expect the conflict between publishers and Google to intensify with Google’s other features.



Is Denuvo a performance killer?

Does Denuvo affect gaming performance? There’s evidence to suggest that it does, and there’s also evidence to suggest it doesn’t. But I think what is clear is that Devnuo has the *potential* to affect performance, and if the cat and mouse game between Denuvo and crackers continue and Denuvo start to use more and more complicated means to protect games, then yes, performance will eventually become a big issue. Anything that potentially makes hundreds if not thousands of calls per second will take something away from the gaming performance, even if these calls are super efficient.

Denuvo isn’t the only anti-tampering game in town though. Arxan is another company that’s promoting their anti-tampering tech, and it has already been used in some games. It has been used in games for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform, which allows game publishers to use a single API set to publish games for a wide variety of Microsoft devices. UWP features not one but 5 layers of DRM to protect its games, and was previously though to be impenetrable. Try telling that to a hacker though! This week, a UWP game and its 5 layers of DRM (MSStore, UWP, EAppX, XBLive, and Arxan) were all cracked by group CODEX, allowing the game ‘Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection’ to be pirated. It’s hardly a game that pirates have been waiting for, but as a proof of concept that UWP can be cracked, it is just as effective as a AAA game.

High Definition

Disney’s upcoming streaming service won’t compete with Netflix (says Disney at least)

Not content with having control over all of the most profitable franchises (and making a zillion movies for each franchise), Disney is in the process of buying another major studio Fox. This, along with their plans to pull new content from Netflix starting in 2019, all bodes well for the studio’s upcoming streaming platform. It has already been discussed as a potential “Netflix killer”, but Disney says that’s not what it is at all.

Instead, Disney’s streaming offering will be a more streamlined affair, offering 500 movies compared to Netflix’s 4000+ at launch. The price for the service, according to Disney, will also be lower than Netflix’s.

So the new service may not be a Netflix killer, but it might injure it some, considering how many good movies Disney (and Fox) has at their disposal.


I think that’s all we have this week, hope you found it all interesting. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (October 8, 2017)

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Sometimes you get a weird collection of news stories, everything ranging from DRM delusions of grandeur to the latest news about advances in video tech (even though many people are still happily buying DVDs and watching Netflix in SD). Sometimes, like this week, you get a theme: rip, rip hooray.

You’ll get what I mean in a moment.


The ripping scene has been pretty quiet ever since AACS 2.0 showed up via 4K Ultra HD (and some streaming services). This was a tough copy protection scheme that, unlike previous efforts (CSS, AACS 1.0), wasn’t trivial to break. This meant that 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, were for a while, safe from ripping. This seems to no longer be the case.


It may not look much, but it may just get the job done if you need to rip Ultra HD Blu-ray discs

Enter DeUHD, the first tool that makes ripping 4K Ultra Blu-ray discs as easy as clicking on a button. Sure, it’s pricey at the moment (an eye watering €199 for a lifetime license), requires specific hardware to work (and it doesn’t always work), but it’s the best we’ve got, and maybe a sign of things to come.

Just goes to show that, no matter how tough the DRM is, it’s only a matter of time before it’s broken. For now, UHD’s sheer size and the lack of proper burning options makes UHD Blu-ray ripping (and downloading) sometime strictly for video tech geeks like myself and gives the format natural protection against being pirated a lot, but being able to down-convert from such a high quality source may mean a slight but noticeable improvement in the quality of rips you’ll start to see (UHD-BDRips?).

Like AACS 2.0, Denuvo, while strictly speaking not a DRM (but really is a DRM), has been a star advertisement for the necessity of DRM (or DRM-like services). But not anymore, maybe.

News that Denuvo protected game ‘Total War: Warhammer 2’ was cracked in matter of hours should give pause all game publishers who had thought that zero day releases were a thing of the past. The time it takes to break Denuvo protected games has been shortening all the time for those that have been following the WNR, from months down to days, and now, down to hours.

So basically it’s the same thing I said two paragraphs ago, so I won’t repeat it again just to make the word count go higher.


PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

It’s taken a while, but the first pirated PS4 game has been shared – you most likely won’t be able to play it though

I guess when things happen they always happen in three’s, and so when the first pirated PS4 game was uploaded online, it wasn’t a total surprise seeing how this week was panning out. But unlike the other two efforts, this was is not for the faint of heart.

In order to play the pirated PS4 games, not only will you need a jailbroken PS4, which means one running a very old firmware version, you’ll also need to know your way around ELF loaders, Netcat and FTP Payload. In other words, it’s not something that will worry Sony at the moment, since it’s purely academic that pirated PS4 game exists – no one will be that desperate to play free PS4 games that they go to all this trouble just to do so.

Still, it’s the first small step towards something bigger perhaps, especially with rumours that a much more recent version of the PS4 firmware may have been compromised.


So this week’s theme based WNR comes to a close here. I doubt next week will be as coherent, and probably not as busy either. We’ll find out then!

Weekly News Roundup (June 4, 2017)

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. I’m going to wrap this one up in quick order because I just realised that I haven’t really played much with the Galaxy VR that I got with my Samsung S8+. I had a short play with it when I first got it, and found it to be quite immersive (scary at times), but have been far too busy to give it a go again. I know this isn’t really a good excuse not to do my work, but it is Sunday after all, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

So let’s get started.



Another one bites the dust – ExtraTorrent is no more

Torrent sites are shutting down left and right, and most without any real explanation. The latest is the super popular ExtraTorrent, which shut down last week without any real explanations being given. The only real bit of information the site admin provided was the fact that all data, especially user data, have been deleted.

This bit of useful information didn’t stop other people from launching clones of the site, claiming that they had access to backups – all of these clones are either fakes or just skins over an existing site like The Pirate Bay.

The other existing sites were also caught by surprise, with a sudden surge of traffic after users started searching for alternatives. And there are lots of alternatives still left too, which just goes to show that trying to shut down torrent sites, or even if the torrent sites shut themselves down, won’t make an iota of difference when it comes to piracy.

Also not making a difference is DRM. The only DRM that managed to make a difference in recent times was Denuvo, even though it doesn’t call itself a DRM (an anti-tampering system that prevents existing DRM from being stripped). But Denuvo has come under increasing pressure from game cracking groups, who seems to have found the system’s Achilles heel.

Denuvo has updated their protection, now onto version 4, but it seems crackers are finding it easier and easier to crack Denuvo protected games. And it seems Denuvo may be getting desperate too. The most recent example involves the game RiME, a new innovative game from developers Tequila Works. It was probably not the best idea in hindsight, but the people behind the game openly suggested the game would be stripped of Denuvo if/when it becomes cracked. This was just the motivation the crackers needed, and they went to work quickly, with game cracker Baldman the first to crack the game only a couple of days after the developer’s announcement.


RiME no longer has Denuvo after it was cracked in record time

What was more interesting was that during his cracking attempt, Baldman found that Denuvo has really upped the ante when it comes to protecting the game, to the point where it’s becoming kind of absurd. The way Denuvo works seems to be the placement of triggers within the game code. The Denuvo engine then checks for the presence of these triggers to detect if the game has been tampered with or not. Normally, Denuvo might do a trigger call every couple of minutes, but for RiME, Baldman found that Denuvo was issuing 20 to 30 calls every second. Talk about a performance hit!

To make it worse, the calls are obfuscated under a virtual machine in order to cover its tracks, which means there’s an even bigger performance hit. DRM (or an anti-tampering engine) is never worth it, but when it starts to affect performance like this (not just a slower game performance, there is also the extra stress being placed on your hardware), it’s simply unacceptable.

And true to their word, after they’ve confirmed that Baldman had indeed cracked the game wide open, the publishers of RiME promptly remove Denuvo protection from the game. I can imagine many game publishers are also now wondering in private if Denuvo is worth it or not. If it doesn’t protect games and make the experience worse for gamers, it becomes an easy choice for many, I think.


That’s it for this week’s nice and short WNR. See you next week!


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)



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!


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.


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?