Archive for the ‘Electronics’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (January 14, 2018)

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

2018 has properly started, and the reason I say this is because there are actually some news stories to talk about this week. Some news stories, not necessarily the best or most interesting news stories, but you know what, I’ll take what I can get after the last couple of quiet, quiet weeks.

Lets get this thing started.

Copyright

Spotify Logo

Spotify: Good for the consumer, or is it more of the same?

Netflix and Spotify have been labeled as a solution to the piracy problem. To be fair, this label has been mostly applied by the PR people at Netflix and Spotify, as the industry do not necessarily see these services as any kind of solution, at least not one that benefits them. For people who are file sharing though, both do represent a new way to get their content, legally, and in the case of Spotify, for free as well.

But according to one of the founders of The Pirate Bay, people shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security over the emergence of Netflix and Spotify, because for file sharers, these are not solutions but something much worse.

Peter Sunde says that the whole point of file sharing was to decentralise not only the way content is distributed, but decentralise the way it is controlled by of a powerful few. And Sunde says that with Netflix and Spotify, this problem hasn’t gone away, if anything, it’s become a little worse.

This is because the same companies that controlled things before still controlling things now, either through being shareholders of streaming platforms, or because they have agreements with them that sets the rules on how things are done. “The dependence is higher than ever,” says Sunde.

It’s hard to argue against Sunde’s concerns though, but I will add this. Through Netflix and Spotify, we as consumers are getting something that’s a little bit closer to what we want, and that’s a positive change. Because the “dependence” is still there, there is always the risk that we will lose what we’ve gained, but that’s why we, as consumers, have to be vigilant and not simply accept changes that are not to our benefit. And this is why piracy is actually a useful tool for consumers, because it’s something that’s always going to be there to force the major labels and movie studios to at least try and give us what we want, or else we have alternatives. The danger is that, through the loss of Net Neutrality and the invention of new technical measures, we might lose this alternative, this competitive pressure that forces the market to produce better products for us. And when that happens, we will no longer get a choice in how we get to consume content (and at what cost), and that will be a bad things from a consumer’s point of view (and eventually a bad thing for the entire industry if consumers become disinterested).

High Definition

Amazon Fire TV

Google and Amazon’s fight means bad news for Fire TV users

Speaking of the powerful few acting badly and hurting consumers in the process, Google and Amazon’s little dispute is now causing major problems for users of Amazon’s Fire TV device – they can no longer use YouTube! Google has accused Amazon of abusing its market power by not properly selling Google’s range of products on their website. In addition, Google says Amazon is refusing to add Chromecast functionality for its Prime streaming service. It all adds up to Amazon not playing fair with Google in an attempt to promote its own competing products (Fire and Echo range, which competes with the Chromecast and Google Home range), at least that’s what Google claims.

Google may have a point, but the next move by the Google seems a bit petty – they have banned Amazon’s Fire and Echo devices from working with the YouTube app. This seems to have forced Amazon to start selling the Chromecast again, but an agreement that settles this issue once and for all seems to be far away.

The problem is that Amazon is both a service provider (in this case, a retailer that helps sell your products) and also a product manufacturer. It’s not in Amazon’s interest to sell tons of Chromecast and Home devices in its store, because it will have come at the expense of its own Fire and Echo range. On the other hand, if it promotes its own range at the expense of other products, it’s failing in its duty as a service provider to these other manufacturers (in this case, Google).

But Google shouldn’t feel they have the moral high ground on this. Google does exactly the same thing with its search engine and app store. Google has been accused of favoring its own websites and services, YouTube or Shopping, over other competing websites when people search for something related. In this case, Google is both a service provider and a “manufacturer”, and it both provides a service for website owners and competes with them in the same space. It’s exactly the same thing that Amazon is doing, except when it’s good for Google, it’s not evil.

In the end, consumers are the ones being hurt, and again this comes from companies getting too big, having too much control over what we consume and how we consume it.

Sometimes though, big companies get together not to take away our choices, but to give us more. But this usually isn’t because they’re doing it out of the kindness, but it usually means that their own self interest has been affected in some way. And this is why Apple is joining the Alliance for Open Media to push the AOM’s AV1 video format, not because they truly want an open format, but because if AV1 succeeds, it will mean less royalty payments going forward for them (although Apple may already receive royalties due to patents owned by them from HEVC, AV1’s main competition, they will probably still end up paying less if a truly open format becomes mainstream).

For those who like to tinker around with video stuff, having another format like AV1 is great news. It’s still early days though, as hardware support (for both encoding and decoding) is severely lacking. For consumers, it probably doesn’t mean much – the money saved by companies not having to pay HEVC will not get passed down to us. And companies most likely won’t be able to escape HEVC completely, because too many applications already use it.

Sorry to go all cynical on you in this week’s WNR, but I definitely didn’t intend to go this way at the start, but that’s where we ended up. Funny how these things work.

Gaming

I’ll try to remove the cynicism from the next story though, even though there are obvious places where one can insert a eye roll or two. Unlike with the PS3, Sony has been very open to releasing sales data for the PS4 (I wonder why that is *rolleyes*), and it’s announced that 74 million PS4s have now been sold, making it the 10th best selling console of all time.

Nintendo Switch

The Switch is selling better than the Wii at the same stage

Despite these healthy numbers, and a very good holiday sales period (5.9 million PS4s sold around the world), most of the positive news stories has been focused on Nintendo’s Switch, which has sold more than 10 million units in just 10 months. It’s selling faster than the Wii was selling, and if it lasts, it could outsell the PS4 eventually. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the PS4 is already more than 4 years old!

As for Microsoft, they’ve been keeping pretty quiet on the Xbox One sales figures (and I wonder why that is *rolleyes*), only saying that sales are above their expectations, whatever that means. By all estimates, it’s selling half as many boxes as the PS4. So not as bad as the Wii U (21st best selling console of all time), but definitely not in the Xbox 360’s league (7th best selling console of all time). The Xbox One is currently estimated to be the 14th best selling console of all time, according to VGChartz.

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And with that, we come to the end of another WNR. See you next week when I promise to be far less cynical!

Weekly News Roundup, Looking Back at 2017 (December 17, 2017)

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Sorry for the lateness of this roundup. Two things happened. One, I was an idiot and slammed the car door on my left index finger, and so typing, while not impossible, became not quite a pleasant experience. And two, there really wasn’t much going on. So the originally plan was, before the finger ouchie, was to do a kind of brief roundup for the year. That is still the plan, but I’m afraid it will be even briefer now.

Let’s get started.

Copyright

So a lot has happened in terms of copyright news, and and in another aspect, not much has happened. Hollywood and the music industry are still going after the “bad guys”, only the bad guys will change from time to time (the lack of any effect on piracy, remains unchanged).

YouTube Targeted

YouTube is destroying the music industry according to the music industry

For the music industry, YouTube is now the new enemy number one, after having bit of a whinge at Spotify last year. Both YouTube and Spotify have virtually ended piracy as a thing, but because the music industry doesn’t make as money from these platforms as they like (kinda their own fault for not inventing these platforms, the ones that their customers had pleaded for them to introduce, and leaving it for the tech heads to disrupt the industry), they hate it.

They do have a point. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to The Last Jedi soundtrack on YouTube, an official legal upload by DisneyVEVO. There will be lots of people like me that, because of the availability of free listening, won’t bother to pay for it. And the ad money that these uploads make, won’t amount to much I suspect (the same ad for the movie Ferdinand playing over and over again hasn’t made me want to watch it). But in the past, people like me might have just pirated the soundtrack which means no revenue for the labels. So you win some, you lose some. And perhaps there will be others that actually buy the music after hearing and liking it on YouTube or Spotify.

But the fact of the matter is that streaming now accounts for the majority of the music industry’s income, income that has shrunk a lot since the heydays of CDs. People not willing to pay as much for music is now a reality, regardless of who is to blame (and maybe the greater availability of entertainment, from Blu-rays to Netflix to mobile gaming to social media, none of which existed during the peak of CD sales, has had a greater effect than piracy or even the move to digital). Accepting the reality and trying to adapt to it is a much better strategy than complaining about the present and reminiscing about the “good old days”.

MXQ Player

Kodi boxes were public enemy number one

For Hollywood, they too have a new Boogeyman in the form of Kodi boxes. Kodi boxes makes piracy too easy, argues the MPAA. This is true, but it wasn’t as if piracy was rocket science to begin with (especially if you have a geeky boyfriend/girlfriend/brother/sister/cousin/friend that can help you out). The real reason the MPAA is going after Kodi box makers is that it’s easy. These people usually have a traceable bank account, maybe even a real business address, and so it’s so much easier than going after Torrent sites and private trackers.

Going after someone, particularly an easy target that you can take to court and win easy cases against, makes the industry feel they’re doing something, and makes the MPAA relevant. It has no actual effect on anything though, because all that will happen is that we’ll begin to see a lot more Kodi box makers emerge from the traditional markets that are out of the jurisdiction and reach of the MPAA. People will also now learn how to make their own Kodi boxes, which isn’t too hard to begin with (again, the geeky boyfriend/girlfriend/brother/sister/… comes in handy).

HBO Hack

Hacking became a new source for pirated content

Hacking has become a real problem for Hollywood though, with the high profile HBO hack coming to mind. It’s not as disruptive as say general piracy, but in many ways, it is much more damaging. Not just the leak of unreleased content, but also emails and other data that studios would liked to have remained private.

There is also renewed attack on Safe Harbor protection, not just in the U.S., but in Australia too. Hollywood is seeking to erode the legal protection offered to tech companies, protection that has been essential in the creation of platforms like YouTube and Facebook. To be fair, this line of attack is not new, but Hollywood and the copyright industry are getting closer to rewriting copyright law than ever before.

And finally, the Weinstein expose will hopefully have a positive effect on the perverse and unhealthy culture in Hollywood and elsewhere.

High Definition

Disney content on Netflix

Disney (and Fox) will be a real threat to Netflix

The biggest disruption to business as usual in Hollywood in 2017 may have only occurred in the last few days, with the news that Disney will buy Fox. Two huge studios are now just one mega huge studio, and that has wide ranging effects on all parts of the industry. With Disney already announcing they’re coming after Netflix, the acquisition of Fox means they now have the content to mount a real battle. There is also Hulu, which has had a great year thanks to The Handmaid’s Tale. Hulu is co-owned by Fox, Disney and a few others – it will now be majority owned by Disney, and is already a threat to Netflix and Amazon.

And the timing of the acquisition and the move into the streaming market couldn’t be more better. With the physical media business, one that Disney dominates thanks to its mega franchises, losing steam again in 2017 after a brief hiatus in 2016, the signs are already there. Ultra HD Blu-ray has done well actually, but it was always a niche market and the declines in standard Blu-rays and DVDs cannot be ignored (sales dropped by 8.5% and 15.7% respectively for Black Friday).

2017 probably marked the end of 3D as a serious format on home video as well, with fewer and fewer 3D TV sets being produced, and not that many movies being released either.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch Mario Odyssey Bundle

The Nintendo Switch is the must-have toy for Christmas

Gaming also saw some big changes in 2017. Two big new (or newish) consoles were released in 2017, the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox One X. But only one of these will be the must-have item for Christmas, and that’s the Nintendo console. The hybrid nature of the console, the line-up of great games (Zelda in particular), and the same-old-same-ness of the PS4 and Xbox One offerings really helped to convince many that the Switch is the one to have. Just about every Christmas ad I’ve seen for department store or online retailers, or even credit card companies, feature the Switch as a much wanted gift. This is just a reflection of reality, but at the same time, it’s great promotion for Nintendo.

It was a big gamble for Nintendo, and I’m happy for them that it paid off. Creativity and risk taking is something that the gaming industry lacks sometimes, and so it’s always nice to see innovation win the day, rather than just better graphics and higher framerates.

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I know it’s not much of a roundup, and I’m sure I’ve actually missed talking about most of the things that have happened this year, but you know how hard it is to type without your left index finger? Actually not as hard as I thought it would be, but still hard. Until next week or when my finger heals a bit more, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (October 22, 2017)

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Sorry again for the hiatus last weekend, a combination of not much happening, and too much happening in my personal life, meant that writing a WNR was just not going to work out.

Luckily, there’s more news and less other stuff this week, and so here’s we are again.

Copyright

There’s more Denuvo news, and you guessed it, it’s not good news for the anti-tampering/piracy system. Two more games have been cracked this week, and both were cracked in about 24 hours. I think it’s safe to say that the current version of Denuvo is no longer viable, and unless Denuvo the company can bring out a major new revision that changes things enough to make whatever the current method of cracking obsolete, then things are not looking good for the protection system that was once hailed as unbreakable.

So in terms of PC game piracy, it seems we’re back to the drawing board. With mobile gaming moving away from the pay-to-play to a free-to-play model, which has made piracy redundant (although hacking/cheating to get in-game premium currency remains a thing), perhaps it’s something PC game makers need to consider. Or at the very least, ditch the use of bad user experience, processor intensive, and hardly working protection systems.

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MXQ Player

Kodi boxes are in the spotlight again

The MPAA has finally decided to go after Kodi box makers, that’s not surprising. What was surprising was that Netflix and Amazon decided to tag along too. Or perhaps this isn’t surprising either, because both streaming giants are now very much in the content production game, and they want to protect their content too.

This lawsuit is by no means a certain victory for the content creators though, if the Kodi box maker in question, TickBox, decide to fight this thing in court. TickBox can argue all they’ve done is install a bunch of freely downloadable software into an Android box. The software may do things that are illegal, but TickBox has nothing to do with that. Against TickBox is the fact that their website seems to promote the device as something that can replace paid for content, so they cannot argue that they aren’t aware of the piracy nature of the apps they package with the device.

It’s worth keeping an eye on this, but I suspect the makers of TickBox will be keen to make a deal, as opposed to taking this thing further.

High Definition

iTunes 10

Could a new way to distribute video undercut Apple’s profits?

Here’s something that could possibly challenge the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google, and to a lesser extent, Netflix and Hulu. White Rabbit is a new video distribution system that aims to connect consumers directly to content creators, bypassing the “middlemen”. White Rabbit uses the same Blockchain technology that helps to drive Bitcoins, and instead applies the transparent transaction principle to buying movies and TV shows. White Rabbit aims to separate the distribution to the financial transaction, so they a company like Apple and Google won’t have as much power to dictate pricing and revenue sharing, just because they happen to run a download/streaming service.

Instead, content holders get the majority share of revenue, directly from consumers, and multiple outlets can provide the download/streaming ecosystem, bringing more competition, and less monopolisation, to the marketplace. It’s easy to see that this paradigm shift can apply to not just video, but practically any kind of digital delivery.

Not sure how this could apply to subscription streaming though, but the idea behind Blockchain is solid and can apply to any kind of transaction system if you want transparency, and fraud prevention.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch was on top again in September

The Nintendo Switch was on top yet again in September, after winning August and July, This makes it 5 out of 7, the number of months it has won since it’s release. This news doesn’t actually come from the NPD, which usually releases these things, but directly from Nintendo themselves, due to a “data issue” that delayed NPD’s September report.

Regardless, it’s a very impressive set of results for Nintendo. The release of the Xbox One X in November won’t really change things, I suspect, due to the console’s high cost and niche factor. The holidays tend to favour the big two, but the momentum is with the Switch and it could become the “must-have” video game hardware for the season, just like the Wii was back when.

Time will tell …

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That’s it for the week, a nice collection of stories that I hope was interesting enough for you. 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.

Copyright

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.

DeUHD

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.

Gaming

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.

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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 (September 17, 2017)

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Sorry for the brief hiatus last week – things got a bit out of control on all fronts, and something had to give. Things are bad to a normal-ish rhythm now, and so the WNR continues!

A few things to go through this week, but it shouldn’t take too long.

Copyright

WordPress Logo

WordPress experiences a surge in invalid and abusive DMCA take down requests

DMCA abuse is real. And for a company like Automattic, the makers of WordPress, who deal with each and every DMCA take-down request manually, it’s a headache that’s growing exponentially. Automattic revealed that for the first half of 2017, the number of DMCA requests they received more than doubled, but the number of actual legitimate requests actually dropped in the same period.

This means that the number of false reports, some due to inaccurate information, others are deliberated attempts to silence critics, have dramatically increased. The problem is so bad now that Automattic have rejected 78% of requests in the first half of 2017. Now, it has to be said that the 9,000+ requests received by Automattic is not a huge number compared to what a company like Google receives, and so for now, Automattic can still deal with them manually, with a human behind every request to determine if they are valid or not. For others, it means an automated system to deal with these requests, most of which are also being created automatically by bots, and the legal threat of things means that these system will err on the side of caution, to approve requests even if many are not valid.

So it end up being a battle of bots, neither side accurate enough to avoid collateral damage, which is legitimate pages being removed for no good reason.

But sometimes there are good reasons to get something removed, even if the main motive behind it has nothing to do with copyright. Internet celebrity PewDiePie is in the news again for all the wrong reasons after using a racial epithet in a recent video. The Internet backlash was strong and totally expected. One indie game developer, Campo Santo, was finally fed up with PewDiePie’s antics, and no longer wanted him to make money off the firm’s game Firewatch. What Campo Santo did to force PewDiePie’s hand, on the other hand, was controversial. The game developer used YouTube’s Content ID, its DMCA take-down platform, to get the video removed. And they succeeded.

The problem with this is that even after Campo Santo made it clear that copyright had nothing to do with their wish to have the video removed, they still manged to do it, despite fair use probably being on the side of PewDiePie. And as this The Verge article explains, maybe it shouldn’t be this easy, or at least, it should be a lot clearer just who’s right in this legal clash.

High Definition

Apple TV 4K

Apple fully on board the 4K and HDR train with its updated Apple TV

So the big news in the tech world this week was the release of the Apple iPhone 8 and X. Big news, but hardly surprising because of all the leaks that, in hindsight, were spot on. Perhaps a little bit lost among the hype of the X was the announcement of an upgraded Apple TV that supports 4K and HDR.

Apple has always been a gatekeeper of sorts for the “mainstreaming” of previously niche technology. By now supporting 4K and HDR, perhaps it’s as official a signal as we’re going to get that these technologies are ready for prime time, ready to become mainstream.

The best part though about the announcement was the fact that there won’t be a price hike when it comes to buying 4K content – it will be the same as the HD version. In fact, if you’ve already purchased the HD version, you can automatically upgrade to the 4K version for free.

As for the X, nothing was too much of a surprise thanks to the leaks, but the removal of Touch ID was a “double take” moment for me. Samsung’s clumsy last minute addition of a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone was not the best move, but Apple removing it altogether because they couldn’t get the screen integrated fingerprint reader to work in time, could be worse. For those like me that tend to unlock their phone with the fingerprint reader the moment I pick it up and before I even look at the phone, the switch to Face ID might be hard. Apple will hope that it works flawlessly, or it will definitely be the point of attack for critics.

As for the lack of a home button, not even a virtual one like on the Galaxy S8, I know for a fact that some will find it annoying (at first at least, and then it will probably be like second nature to them).

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Well, that’s it for the week I guess. See you next week. Hopefully.