Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (10 January 2016)

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

So here’s something interesting. I’ve started on a new PC build. It’s not because my Surface Pro 3 is no longer good enough as my desktop replacement (it is more than enough), but I just thought I would update my skills (as a PC builder) with some of the new tech and parts since I last played around inside a PC case (erm, probably in 2012?). Plus, there are some processor intensive tasks, such as video encoding, that are just not suited for a laptop/tablet hybrid (it’s fast enough to do it, but it also runs quite hot, maybe too hot). I will start documenting my build process here, once all my parts arrive.

CES is currently on, and so there’s a bit of news here and there that’s relevant to what I cover here. News for things like Roku branded 4K TVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray players will be relevant, but things like hoverboard booths getting raided by the DoJ are not really relevant, although interesting. Let’s get started then …


Game pirates might have to start worrying about where they’re going to get their new games, as a game cracking group warned that the age of game piracy might be coming to an end. It’s not just because games these days often have so much online interactivity that it’s hard to tell where the single player game ends and the multi-player begins, but apparently the technology used to protect games have advanced to a stage that is making it very difficult for crackers to do their work.


Denuvo becoming a major pain for game crackers

Games like Just Cause 3 and FIFA 16 that use the Denuvo anti-tampering system are proving incredibly difficult to crack, according to the founder of a Chinese cracking forum. Denuvo doesn’t work like traditional DRM, instead it’s another layer on top of existing DRM solutions that protects these platforms (such as Steam, Origin) from being cracked. Sort of like a DRM for DRM. I don’t really know how it works exactly (and the people behind Denuvo, many of whom were responsible for Sony’s controversial SecuROM DRM, are keeping things very secret for obvious reasons), but it apparently makes it much more difficult for crackers to examine and make modifications to game code. Whether this is through obfuscation, encryption or some kind of black magic, I don’t know, but when crackers are struggling to bring out a clean game months after its release, you know things are starting to get difficult.

However it works, there have been unsubstantiated reports that Denuvo might be causing performance problems for certain games, or that it increases the read/write workload for games (which is a bad thing for SSD drives that are becoming the standard for gaming PCs). It’s also apparently a very expensive technology to license, which is why not all games are using it these days.

But if PC gaming piracy can be ended, will this be a good thing for the gaming industry, or will it mean a return to the bad old days of over-priced, buggy, sub-par game release? Oh, never mind.

With everything at CES being 4K, or Internet connected, or both, here’s a copyright story that rides that particular hype train. Remember a few months back when 4K stuff from Amazon and Netflix’s streaming libraries started to appear on pirated sites? The mystery of where these perfect 4K rips came from may have been solved, thanks to court documents from Intel and Warner Bros’ lawsuit against the makers of a 4K HDCP stripper device. The device is apparently capable of dealing with HDCP 2.2 protected sources, which explains how Netflix and Amazon 4K content ended up on the torrent networks. While the cat and mouse game between PC gaming DRM makers and crackers seems to be reaching a conclusion, for video, the idea of “if you can view it, you can rip it” still appears to be holding true (after all, at some point, the video must be displayed unprotected so that the human eye can see it, and this will be true until they invent DRM implants for eyes – oops, did I just give Hollywood a new idea?)

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Samsung UBD-K8500

Samsung’s $399 Ultra Blu-ray player could be the pick of the early players

On to the real CES 4K stuff now. Both Panasonic and Samsung have shown off their Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES, but both are aimed at very different demographics. Samsung’s UBD-K8500, previously exhibited at the IFA show in Berlin, will go on sale in March (already available for pre-order on Amazon) for an acceptable looking $399. It has HDR and wider-color gamut support, and will do 4K streaming, plus all the normal Blu-ray features (eg. Blu-ray 3D) that you’ll expect in a $399 machine.

For those looking for something a bit more premium-y, have a look at Panasonic’s as-yet-unpriced DMP-UB900. It will do all the same things as the K8500, but will do everything just a little bit better. Being THX certified, featuring dual-HDMI output, high resolution audio playback, a 4K High-Precision Chroma Processor and other goodies, this one will definitely set you back more than $399 once it’s released sometime in 2016 (as firm a release date you’ll get from Panasonic at this time).

Panasonic DMP-UB900

But for those looking for something a bit more premium, try the Panasonic DMP-UB900

On the 4K TV side, there’s a new brand that you might want to look out for: Roku! Not known for anything else other than a media streamer boxes, Roku has been trying to expand their profile by lending their name, and their much praised OS, to lesser known TV brands, mainly Chinese brands such as Haier, Hisense and TCL. At CES, Roku announced that Roku branded 4K TVs will also soon be available, starting at just $600 (so that’s less than $1000 at retail for both a Ultra HD Blu-ray player and 4K TV for those keeping track). It’s a win-win for both Roku and their Chinese TV maker partners – Roku gets to have branded TVs without having to invest in development and manufacturing, while the Chinese TVs get more exposure in the US and a fantastic smart OS (with tons of apps) to boot.

The earlier sets won’t be fully featured like their more bigger branded cousins, so things like HDR will be missing, but Roku says sets with support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10 (two competing HDR standards) will be made available later in the year.

With so many 4K related products being released in 2016, it definitely has the look of being the year 4K reaches the mainstream. The good news is that these products are not entirely out of reach of the average consumer ($399 for a early model Ultra HD Blu-ray player compares well to the $1000+ you had to pay for the first Blu-ray players, same goes for 4K TVs, thanks largely to Chinese TV makers).


That’s it for the news this week. For those still interesting in my new PC build, here’s a sneak preview of what’s inside: Intel Core i5-6600K with 16GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2400 memory. For a full list, and I’m sorry for going all promotional on you, you’ll have to check out issue 490 of my newsletter which will contain a link to my PCPartPicker page for the build!

See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (6 December 2015)

Sunday, December 6th, 2015
Dell 27" Monitor

A new monitor to spice things up a bit

So what did you buy this Black Friday/Cyber Monday? I got myself a nice new 27″ Dell monitor, decided the time was right to upgrade my el cheapo Dell 24″ that I got in 2009 (cheap in price, but not in quality, at least for a multimedia monitor). In previous years I might have had a peek at Amazon for the Black Friday Blu-ray deals, but I didn’t even bother this year, since it will take me approximately 19.654 months to finish watching the content I already have in my Netflix queue (assuming I don’t add more to it, which I definitely will).

On with the news.


So did it happen, or didn’t it? SoundCloud removed a completely silent track for copyright abuse, according to the author of the track, DJ Detweiler. The remix was John Cage’s 4’33, a track which was infamous for its complete silence (and that’s the joke), and SoundCloud’s removal would shame the audio sharing site’s copyright policing. Or did it?

According to SoundCloud, the track removed did indeed contain copyrighted content, a Justin Bieber song to be precise (which to be fair, would still be a valid remix of 4’33, since I’m sure the Bieber song did contain moments of silence). In making a statement on the issue of copyright, it appears DJ Detweiler has not only trolled SoundCloud, but everyone else as well.

Still, it helped to highlight the issue of remixes, and whether there should be copyright protection, or exemption, for them. If taking someone else’s work and putting your own creative spin on it to produce something that’s differentiated enough from the original, and if it’s done on a non profit basis, should it be allowed? There are arguments for not allowing it on commercial grounds, but equally, there are arguments for it on creative grounds, especially if copyright’s real job is to protect creativity and fuel innovation.

DVD vs Blu-ray vs 4K

Diminishing returns for pirates who have to download 10GB for every hour of 4K content

Moving on to perhaps a slightly less ambiguous issue involving copyright, it appears ripped 4K content from Amazon and Netflix are appearing on file sharing sites. Previously thought to be impossible, due to the yet uncracked HDCP 2.2 copy protected scheme, the availability of high quality 4K downloads of shows like Netflix’s ‘Jessica Jones’ and Amazon’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’, among others, seems to suggest a loophole has been found.

The fact that Amazon’s own Fire TV uses an older version of HDCP, and also the introduction of a new Roku device capable of streaming 4K and possibly having a weaker version of copy protection protocol, may be clues as to how these 4K streams ended up being pirated.

As with new video or disc formats, their out-of-reach-ness will protect it from mass piracy for a while.  Not everyone has the hardware to download and play 4K movies, and many won’t bother with a 10GB download unless they have a fiber connection or something. Plus, Amazon and Netflix’s low entry costs makes the economy of 4K piracy somewhat less obvious of an advantage.

One thing that doesn’t seem to have an advantage at all is the endless filing of DMCA requests with Google – now up to an astounding 1,500 per minute. To put that into context, in the time it took me to search for synonyms for the term ‘useless’ (albeit not at my peak Google-fu powers), Google has received and processed 500 requests.

I fully expect this number to go much higher the next time I run out of news and so have to resort to writing an article about Google’s DMCA business. The number of piracy URLs on the Internet (and thus being indexed by Google) will, of course, rise at a faster rate.

Ineffective; meaningless; futile; counterproductive.


That’s pretty much it for news this week. There’s more streaming stuff, including what’s new on Netflix, Hulu in December, on Streambly. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (22 November 2015)

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Gonna be a short one this week, as news just wasn’t that forthcoming. While I was scouring the web for news, I did manage to do a bit of informal research on PCs, specifically gaming PCs. To my surprise, a decent rig these days is still quiet expensive, if not even more expensive than a few years ago when I last did my research. Lower volume sales of PCs and component equals higher prices? Perhaps, but I was also surprised that the range of products available hasn’t really reduced as a result, in fact, it seems to have increased. It all seems fairly unsustainable, but I still have a soft spot for PC gaming that I can’t quite get rid of, even if the value proposition (compared to say buying a decent game console like the PS4 or Xbox One) is probably at its lowest ever.

On with the news …


Netflix Remote

Netflix – more disruptive than movie studios had wanted

A new study from Sweden once again confirms that pirates are the best customers. Or more precisely, those that love music and movies will buy more than the more casual listener/viewer, but they will also illegally download more content as well.

Also not particularly surprising was the finding that legal services, like Netflix and Spotify, have really shaken up the piracy market place, and that almost a majority of users now readily pay for content compared to when these legal services weren’t available. So it’s clearly a case of people willing to pay for content, but only if the “right” service (right in terms of pricing, usability) is there to deliver it. And as for the argument of users only migrating from being leechers on piracy networks to being leechers on Spotify’s free plan, this doesn’t seem to be true as 54% of online music listeners are happily paying for content in Sweden (40% for video, up from only 14% just a year ago).

Of course, the money these users are paying might not all end up in the hands of the major labels and studios, but it’s hardly the fault of Spotify and Netflix that not only do they exist, but also exist outside of the control and ownership of these very same labels and studios. In other words, had the MPAA and RIAA members spent less time suing single mothers and students, and instead invented their version of Netflix and Spotify, they would be the ones making most of the money right now.

But it’s always easier to go after pirates than to actually come up with a good idea, even if one ends up being a futile game of whack-a-mole. Case in point, for all of the MPAA’s efforts in closing down Popcorn Time and YIFY, alternatives to both have already sprung up, and not before long, it will be business as usual for Popcorn Time users. The MPAA can close down these new alternatives too, but new ones will spring up. And eventually, the game shifts to the next level when someone invents a new further decentralised variation of Popcorn Time that will be much harder to shut down, just in time for the next Netflix or whatever to be launched by a tech company that completely disrupts the market.

Looking forward to it!

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Hancock poster

Was Hancock really Sony’s best choice for a Ultra HD Blu-ray launch title?

I guess it’s unfair to say the MPAA studios haven’t tried to innovate when the official launch of Ultra HD Blu-ray is nigh. It may not be the best kind of innovation, or the kind of innovation that actually meets user demand (for all things digital and not on disc), but at least it’s something. Not so impressive is the launch titles for the new disc format from Sony, which includes The Amazing Spiderman 2′, ‘Chappie’, ‘Hancock’, ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Salt’ and ‘The Smurfs 2’. Hardly screams “must-have”.

But it’s not easy for Sony though, it’s not as if they have franchises like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Jurassic Park’ to exploit – these were the best they could do in 2015, and it’s too soon for ‘Spectre’ to be released on disc.

Still, I think the best way to view Ultra HD Blu-ray is to view it as a niche format for home theater enthusiasts and collectors. Market it like this, complete with disc packages that reflect what the typical UHD BD user wants (so more collector’s box sets), and they will be much more successful than trying to market it as a mass media format for the Average ‘Walmart’ Joe. Joe will most likely watch the same movie via streaming and download, or on DVD/Blu-ray.


And that’s that for the week. I’ll continue to do my research on the latest PC hardware (more out of interest than anything else), and see how much my potential gaming rig will cost me (right now it stands at $1500 just for the CPU, motherboard, RAM and GPU, and I could have easily doubled the amount if I wanted to). See you next week.


Weekly News Roundup (8 November 2015)

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Is this what it has come to? Have we become that desperate to find out all we can about the new movie, that we’re analysing whether the hair shown near the edge of a still from the Star Wars VII trailer is Han Solo’s or Chewbacca’s? For me, matters not the story does – it’s the journey (“Here we go again!”) that I’m most looking for, as it’s a real comfort to be back in the Star Wars universe again (and for all the problems with the prequel trilogy, and there were many many problems, you have to admit it was nice, back at the time, for the whole world, not just geeks like us, to be so Star Wars crazed. Just like now!). So no more analysing, no more second guessing, let’s all just take a step back, wait patiently and go watch the movie in December. We’ll all enjoy it a lot better this way!

Here’s the news for the week …


I posted this two weeks ago about the demise of YTS/YIFY and Popcorn Time:

It’s all very confusing, and it’s hard to believe this sustained and multi-pronged attack on anything Popcorn Time related isn’t coordinated at some level (although it really could be just a coincidence, who knows).

The MPAA Is Watching You

The MPAA has been busy of late …

Both the take-down of YTS/YIFY, and the closure of the most popular branch of Popcorn Time, as we found out this week, was indeed part of a larger concerted effort by the MPAA. While both take-downs may have occurred independently, and that the timing was just a coincidence, there is no doubt that the MPAA had been working long and hard behind the scenes to put the pressure on these two related entities (Popcorn Time relied on YTS/YIFY provided content).

So while the MPAA appears to have had a great victory, the moment of triumph may be short lived if history is any guide, and something newer, probably better, will come along and replace these now defunct piracy outlets. As usual, makes for good headlines – but very little actual practical effect in the long term.

Speaking of ineffective, DVD and Blu-ray ripping remains illegal for yet another day as the US Copyright Office rejected calls for a legal exemption for disc ripping to protect fair use rights. So while you are within your full right to rip your own Blu-ray and DVD movies for fair use purposes (such as transferring media between your digital devices), it remains illegal for you to actually exercise your rights. The Office rejected the exemption because they feel that the act of ripping your own discs still has too much of a relation to piracy, which is also the same reason why they rejected an exemption for jailbreaking of game consoles.

What is now allowed is the cracking of DRM for games that have been abandoned, but only for “local play” portions of the games, not the multiplayer. So if Blizzard one day abandons the authentication servers for StarCraft II, for example, you’re within your legal rights to crack the crap out of the game – but only for the single player campaign, not the multiplayer component. Why the distinction? I’m not sure, since an abandoned game is an abandoned game, and I can’t see why gamers are allowed to play the single player missions, but are barred from doing anything to salvage the multiplayer component (assuming there are no intellectual property issues related to replicating the multiplayer/authentication servers).

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Amazon, Netflix and Hulu Plus

Amazon, Netflix and Hulu may have less Warner Bros. and HBO stuff in the future

Don’t be surprised to see HBO and Warner Bros. content gradually disappearing from SVOD outlets like Netflix and Hulu. Time Warner, which owns these properties, feels they’re just not making enough money from licensing SVOD content and is seriously considering delaying the release of content on these platforms, or forgoing releases entirely.

This stance may seem at odds with recent moves by Time Warner, which includes giving Netflix the first season of “Gotham”, and opening up HBO’s catalog to Amazon. These, however, were most likely done to promote these Time Warner assets, and getting Netflix/Amazon involved was just the best way to achieve this. This could also point to the further fragmentation of the SVOD market, with Time Warner likely to funnel more content to its own SVOD and digital platforms at the expense of Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. Not too dissimilar to what CBS is doing with its All Access platform, which has led to missing or disappearing content on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.


And that’s that for the week. As usual, there’s some more streaming related stuff on my other site Streambly, including a look at what’s new on Netflix/Hulu in November. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (30 August 2015)

Sunday, August 30th, 2015
John Oliver

It was a real pleasure seeing John Oliver in person at the Palais on Thursday

I had the good fortune (and quick online ticket ordering skills) to catch John Oliver performing at the Palais Theatre here in Melbourne last night – it was a fantastic show from a fantastic comedian. He really doesn’t like our Prime Minister, which isn’t all that strange because nobody likes him, not even people from this own political party. All very funny stuff.

This week’s news stories are not that funny. Not just because I’m not a particularly good comedian (or a comedian at all), but because these stories were never meant to be funny anyway. Most of the stories you read here carry a fog of sadness, and at best, they’re funny in a “I would laugh if this wasn’t so depressing” kind of way. I bet you can’t wait to read them now!


Some more Windows 10 headlines this week, as it’s been revealed that some old games with outdated DRM won’t be supported by Microsoft’s new OS. Many of these old DRM toolkits were notorious when it comes to being security risks, and Microsoft has said enough is enough when it comes to these being supported on their brand new OS.

Windows 10

Windows 10’s default privacy settings are disconcerting

Unfortunately, Windows 10 is also getting a bit of notoriety due to Microsoft playing fast and loose with the new OS’s privacy rules. Apart from the bizarre Wi-Fi password sharing feature, which shares an encrypted hash of your Wi-Fi password with your email, Skype and Facebook contacts, via Microsoft’s server. Microsoft’s justification is that this means you no longer have to share your password with you people (which may be more insecure), but sharing anything with so many people, especially a group as diverse as your contacts list (many of whom on mine I’ve only ever talked to once, and probably only via email), can never be that secure. The fact that the password hash is also stored on Microsoft’s servers, is also troubling.

And with this, along with other troubling behaviour from W10, including sending the results of local searches to Microsoft, plus the company’s data sharing with a well known anti-piracy firm, and also add to this last week’s news story about Microsoft’s controversial service agreement changes, has now led to many torrent trackers banning users who use the OS.

It does seem like an overreaction to me, to ban an entire OS. Yes, the privacy in Windows 10 is an issue, but there are workarounds, plus some of the claims are more speculation than actual privacy intrusions (for example, Microsoft has been working with anti-piracy firm MarkMonitor for years, not just with Windows 10).

I’ve been using Windows 10 for a couple of weeks now (after accidentally agreeing to upgrade from 8.1 – stupid dialog box popping up while I was typing something), and it’s clearly Microsoft’s best OS since 7. More and more people will start to use it, and to ban everyone just because of a few problems, and a few misconceptions, doesn’t seem quite right.


Spotify Mobile

Please don’t mess with Spotify’s free plan – it’s the only thing keeping piracy at bay

Some in the music industry are not happy with Spotify, because the company isn’t earning much from the ads on the free tier of the subscription service, and so isn’t paying out much, despite the huge number of people listening to songs. Spotify argues that the free tier’s real competition is with radio (also free to listen) and piracy, and that it should be used as a promotional tool, rather than a revenue earner. Those in the music industry argue that this devalues their work, and ultimately affects their earnings.

So the pressure has been building on Spotify to drop their free tier, and basically do what Apple Music is doing – a long trial, but after that, it’s pay or go away. But Spotify warns that if this were to happen, the only real winner would be piracy.

To me, it’s clear that free Spotify’s real benefit is its anti-piracy effects. Not only does it help convert pirates to paying customers, through ad revenue, it also convinces others of the value of upgrading to a premium plan. And most importantly, it’s helping to create a new generation of music listeners that have never had to resort to piracy just to listen to a new song (Taylor Swift songs aside). And this has to be worth something to the music industry.

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Those keeping up with my weekly Blu-ray revenue updates will have noticed the very depressing trend lately. Lack or really good releases haven’t help, but Blu-ray revenue seems to have plateaued. But new data shows that discs are still quite popular, and still making studios most of their money when it comes to home entertainment. In fact, Nielsen’s data shows that 20% of users still exclusively buy movies on discs.

The data also shows that SVOD is changing how people watch their movies. It’s making them go to the movies less, and also buying less TV shows on discs. And I bet if you actually asked one of the respondents, they would tell you it’s also making them buy less crappy movies and TV shows, the kind of stuff that’s very prevalent on Netflix and others, and stuff you used to buy from the bargain bin (or go watch at the cinema, ideally using a discounted ticket offer, when there’s nothing else to do). I know it’s saved me a lot of money already, and that has made me far less guilty about my disc buying habits!


Xbox One Controller

What is this obsession with adding or removing Blu-ray drives to Xbox consoles?

Add another one to the “Xbox One Slim” rumor pile. Or rather, this one is for the Xbox One Mini – a Xbox One console that removes the Blu-ray drive, making it only a digital only console.

I’m not sure I quite believe this one. While removing the Blu-ray drive is the easiest way to make the Xbox One both smaller and cheaper, I’m just not sure if we’re ready for a digital only game console. Maybe the Internet situation in the US is a lot better than here in Australia, but I wouldn’t want to wait ages to download GBs of game data. And what happens after you fill the HDD? Start deleting games and then re-download them later if you want to play them again – what a waste of time and bandwidth! A digital only game console would only work if it had a huge (I mean 5TB+) hard-drive, and when fiber broadband becomes the norm.

This particular rumour also brings back memories about the obsession of adding a Blu-ray drive to the previous Xbox console – a popular and long running rumour about a Blu-ray add-on drive for the 360. I’m sure it was mostly spread by PS3 fans, mocking 360 owners for not having Blu-ray capabilities and for Microsoft’s backing of HD DVD. But now that the Xbox has a Blu-ray drive, all the rumours are about getting rid of it. Kind of ironic!


That’s it for another week, same bat-time, same bat-channel, next week!