Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

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!

Weekly News Roundup (November 27, 2016)

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

So how did your Black Friday shopping go? Found a few bargains, or did you refuse to buy in to the hype? One thing I’ve noticed that the phenomenon, for better or worse, seems to be spreading to other countries, including here in Australia. I guess retailers don’t really need another excuse to have a big sale, but if you want to find out more about just what Black Friday really means for retail, have a look at this (super long) infographic, provided to us courtesy of FreeshippingCode.com.

As for the news this week, we have a nice mix of stories for you that will make you happy, angry, and informed.

Copyright

PlayReady 3.0

Netflix 4K requires hardware based DRM, which means most PCs won’t be supported

Starting with the angry, this DRM story will definitely get your blood boiling, especially if you’ve just recently upgraded your PC (and you didn’t choose the latest Intel ‘Kaby Lake’ CPU). Your PC may be more than fast enough for 4K video, but you probably won’t be able to play Netflix in 4K, thanks to the sky-high (or rather, higher than Skylake) hardware requirements. Thanks to Hollywood’s paranoia, Netflix 4K requires PlayReady 3.0 DRM, which is only supported by Windows 10 at the moment. And also only by the practically ignored Edge browser. And also only supported by Intel’s latest generation ‘Kaby Lake’ CPUs.

Miss out any of these requirements, and you’re shit out of luck. Even if you purchased a 10-series Nvidia graphics card that supposedly supports PlayReady 3.0 and HEVC 10-bit accelerated decoding, you’re still SOL, because Netflix’s implementation currently doesn’t work this these cards.

Thanks a bunch, DRM.

With that said, the incompatibility with Nvidia cards at the moment may only be temporary and can probably be addressed with a software update. And if you don’t have the latest Nvidia card, then you probably do want a Kaby Lake CPU for Netflix 4K, as it supports accelerated HEVC 10-bit decoding. As for Edge, well, it’s and inoffensive choice while we want for Netflix to update their Windows app.

Still, DRM, what a pain in the hole!

4shared

4shared can’t understand why rights-holders are wasting time submitting “bogus” take-down requests to Google

Speaking of pains in the hole, 4shared has spoken of their own pain at seeing rights-holders waste their time filing Google DMCA take-down requests, many of which are bogus, when the file sharing site has a perfectly good anti-piracy tool at their disposal.

4shared says that rights-holders are wasting money hiring anti-piracy agencies that produce bogus take-down requests using nothing but a simplistic bot script to crawl their site for links, sometimes based on broad keywords such as ‘video’. At best, this results in links being removed from Google’s search results, but the page itself still exists on 4shared, meaning rights-holders are wasting their time.

Despite 4shared pleading with rights-holders and their agents to use the site’s own anti-piracy tool, the same rights-holders have dobbed 4shared in to the authorities, arguing that it’s a “notorious” piracy site that should be shut down. As I theorized a couple of weeks before, rights-holders may be holding off on using 4shared’s tool because they may be looking at suing the site in the future, and any “cooperation” with the site now could hamper these efforts.

Netflix Remote

Netflix helping to combat piracy much more effectively than DRM or new laws

But you know what they could do? Instead of obsessing over links and downloads, maybe, just maybe, the solution is already here. Affordable legal options, such as Netflix and Spotify, are already helping to reduce piracy, and the latest report from Australia confirms this.

It’s worth remembering that Netflix and Spotify, especially the former, aren’t perfect. In fact, there’s still way too much content that you can’t find on legal platforms, unless you’re willing to pay through the roof (and be limited in where and how to play the content). If rights-holder can be more committed to bringing in more value to consumers, then piracy can be reduced by a great deal. It will never be completely abolished though, as some people will never or cannot pay for content, but these people have always existed and in the absence of piracy, they simply consumed less content or none at all.

I get it. Rights-holders want their cake (ie. being able to charge the maximum for content) and eat it too (not having piracy), but that’s just not realistic. Their business model is effectively one where they put out an overpriced product and then force users to accept it via technical and legal measures. And it’s easy to see why consumers are choosing to go down a different route, whether this is piracy or Netflix.

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That’s it for the week. Hope you smiled, frowned and otherwise felt informed enough to feel that reading this week’s WNR wasn’t such a waste of time. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (22 May 2016)

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

A lot to go through, but I’m time constrained on this cloudy and cold Sunday, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Wait, is that cheering and applause that I hear? I’ll try not to take it too personally …

Copyright

YouTube Content ID

Content ID is not perfect, but the last thing we should do is to make broader and more automated

Now, I love a good rant as much as anyone, but have been responsible for a few of my own right here, but this one by musician Maria Schneider takes the cake. One simply doesn’t throw around terms like “racketeering”, “bullying”, “coercive” and “orgy”, and that was just in the first couple of paragraphs. Basically, Maria thinks YouTube is actively and deliberately encouraging piracy so it can make more money, all at the expense of rights-holders and “creators” (a term that was used often in Schneider’s open letter, one that I’m sure has been picked deliberately for effect).

Basically the crux of the problem comes down to the fact that YouTube assumes an innocent until proven guilty attitude, allowing content to be uploaded and waits for rights-holders to complain before acting. This isn’t just a YouTube policy though, it’s what the DMCA demands and it’s done so for obvious reasons. But Maria doesn’t like it. She wants a guilty until proven innocent policy that starts from the moment the clip is uploaded, and also want a “take down, stay down” approach (which, to be fair to YouTube, is already mostly there with their automated Content ID scanning system).

I’ve reported here time and time again about YouTube’s problematic and false positive prone Content ID system, but Schneider wants to go the other way and have Content ID block more stuff, faster, and with less checks and balances.

And while some of her points are valid, such as the relative high entry hurdle for joining the Content ID program, I’m just not sure she is the best person to launch the complaint. For one, she’s not exactly a prolific artist, with her most popular works (which has won Grammy Awards) barely having a presence online, legally or illegally (in other words, not too many people are clamouring to download or stream her stuff – her most popular video on YouTube only has 40,000 views). And if you do listen or watch her work (mostly as a big-band-leader), it’s the kind of stuff best enjoyed live in concert, as opposed to via a YouTube video. If anything, the illegally uploaded YouTube videos may help raise her profile and her work. Had a Taylor Swift or Drake come out with the same complaint, it might have held more weight, in my opinion.

Double Dribble

Double points for those that know what game this screenie is from

Look, the DMCA is not perfect, and neither is Content ID. But if anything, it’s already too prone to false positives, meaning legitimate uploads and creativity is already been impeded. This is already a too high a price to pay in my opinion, and we definitely don’t need more of it!

And just like clockwork, we have another example of why Content ID is flawed and why it should not be expanded. To summarise, Fox used YouTube clip in a Family Guy episode without seeking permission, and then used Content ID to get the original YouTube clip banned. Does this sound like something we need more of?

YouTube doesn’t block all illegally uploads. But only the really popular videos manage to do any harm to rights-holders, and these are easy to find and destroy (via Content ID, or just by reporting it). And in the end, only rights-holders can decide what should be and shouldn’t be allowed on YouTube, since just because a video wasn’t uploaded to an official account, it doesn’t mean that the artist isn’t aware or in support of the upload (but under the system Maria Schneider wants, artists and rights-holders may end up spending all their time apologising to legitimate partners for having their legal uploads banned, with practically no financial benefit).

High Definition

Netflix

Netflix has overtaken live TV in the US

Twice as many people now prefer Netflix over live TV as their preferred viewing choice, according to a new survey. This to me is amazing. Just ten years ago, this would have been unimaginable, and now, it’s a reality. That’s not to say video-on-demand wasn’t something people wanted back then – it was – but it was just hard to imagine having a service like Netflix, for such as relatively small price.

I think this is partly because we used to expect content to be overpriced (think how much it would take to fill an iPod back then with legally purchased music), but the subscription model completely disrupted the market (in a way that some rights-holders, mostly musicians, did not like) and finally gave us the value we were looking for. We want to consume (or have access) to a huge amount of content, that under the old “buy to own” model would never have been possible either due to physical space restrictions (I’ve long run out of shelf space for my movie collection) nor the astronomical cost of it. Subscription solved the problem, and ad-supported free listening also managed to win over the “I would never pay for it” pirates.

And “creators” and rights-holders simply have to adjust, even if it means lowering their expectations.

And to bring all of the stories I’ve mentioned this week so far back to a full circle, one has to talk about YouTube Red (which has just been launched here in Australia). A subscription model for YouTube would have been blasphemy years back, but I think people are finally open to the idea of paying (a small fee) for, what is essentially quite a lot more than what they would have gotten, even illegally, ten years ago. It’s a good thing for content creators, even if it means many won’t get much of that subscription fee. With that said, I’ve noticed seeing a lot more ads on YouTube recently – if this is Google’s way to further differentiate YouTube Red and make it seem like a more attractive product, then this isn’t a good development in my opinion.

Gaming

VR gaming is the all the rage these days, so it was only a matter time before the ugly head of DRM reared itself onto the scene. Those trying to make games from the Oculus store available on non Oculus hardware is now facing a new DRM that prevents just that. Oculus says it’s an anti-piracy measure, but others find it strange that it only seems to do anything on non Oculus hardware. Something to keep an eye (or two, via headset) on.

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Well so much for brevity. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (13 March 2016)

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Another short one this week, as it has been a pretty boring week in terms of news. I guess this is a kind of birthday present to me, to give me a little breather the week before. So thanks to the MPAA, pirates, the Blu-ray people and game console companies for not making any big splashes – if you can keep it up for another week, that would be much appreciated!

Here’s the news that we did get ….

Copyright

MovieSwap Media Player

MovieSwap is a Kickstarter that wants to help you rip DVDs and share it with other people … the MPAA are not pleased

A new Kickstarter aims to take DVD lending and swapping to the next level, but unfortunately, it may be a level that’s swarming with MPAA lawyers and an end boss that’s impossible to defeat. MovieSwap wants you to send in your old DVDs, and for every DVD you send in, you’re able to swap it for another DVD send in by another user. Except the physical DVD stays with MovieSwap, and its the ripped, digital version they you’ll be swapping around.

DVDs can only be “lent out” one at a time, just like with a real swap, but being digital, the movie can be watched on a variety of devices.

If you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll already know why this innovative idea will simply never work. Not because there are technical problem with it (there might be, as it seems there might be an imbalance between the number of available copies of DVDs people want and the DVDs they actually send in), but there definitely seems to be some legal clouds over the idea behind the service. Clouds, or perhaps a category 5 cyclone.

The MPAA won’t like the ripping part, that’s a given. Remember Kaleidescape and when they tried to rip DVDs for use on a local media server (not shared with anyone but the DVD’s owner), and how they got slapped legally for it? And while this replicates the idea of personal lending in the digital space, this kind of replication has never been viewed upon favourably, not by the rightsholders nor by the legal system (see Aereo and their replication of how DVRs work). Then there’s the small problem of the MPAA not getting even a small cut of the profits.

The problem for me is that MovieSwap doesn’t just replicate how DVD swapping works – it improves it by way too much. In real life, I would never be able to swap movies with a total stranger from anywhere in the world (and it might be weeks before I get my DVD back in real life). It’s DVD lending on steroids, and the net effect will be that people will spend less money to watch more movies, with money they would have otherwise given the the MPAA studios going into MovieSwap’s pockets instead via the monthly subscription fee.

It’s easy to see why the MPAA won’t like this, not one bit.

Gaming

PC Build - Innards

This is not what Phil Spencer meant by upgradeable Xbox Ones

A clarification from Phil Spencer about “upgradeable” Xbox Ones – they won’t be. When Spencer originally talked about upgrading the Xbox One hardware, some assumed it meant making the Xbox One more like PCs, with parts you can buy the upgrade the innards. Or at the very least, making the Xbox One more modular so you can plug in add-on hardware to make it more powerful. I for one always thought he meant just a new SKU with a beefier version of the Xbox One, that was still compatible with all existing Xbox One games, but had better graphics (it’s similar to the idea Sony has for a Super PS4).

Whatever the case is, you won’t be needing a “screwdriver set”, according to Spencer.

As it’s a pretty light news week, I might just update you again on the state of video game sales in the US for Februaryu, in which the PS4 outsold the Xbox One again, just like it did in January, December, November … or until whatever it was the last time I remembered to write about NPD results here (hard to find anything to write about when it’s the same every month). As per usual, Microsoft talked up the fact that sales are way up compared to a year ago, which may mean the gap between the two consoles is closing.

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So that’s that then. See you next week, when I’ll be a year older but most definitely not wiser!