Archive for the ‘Electronics’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (January 8, 2017)

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

Hope the new year is treating you well so far? The start of the year is usually a bit quiet, and then boom, CES hits and there is this tech news explosion. This doesn’t necessarily translate to news that we cover here on the site, because there’s only so many stories you can do on company X’s new Ultra HD Blu-ray players, or company Y’s new super thin TV (if X != Y, then X in this case is Sony and Y is LG – more on this later).

Before we get to the CES stuff, there’s a bit of copyright news to go through as per usual.

Copyright

You don’t hear much about three-strikes much these days. Some countries have had it for years, and thousands upon thousands of warnings have been sent out, yet the creative industry has been particularly quiet about the positive effects it has had on piracy and more importantly, their bottom line. The reason they are quiet on the positives may be because there are none!

Three Strikes

Three-strikes has not proven to be successful in raising revenue

According to a new study, three-strikes and other types of warning regimes does not seem to have had any positive effect on box office revenue. Earlier studies and reports seems to suggest that piracy rates do drop on the pirating platforms that are monitored as part of these regimes, but it appears this drop in piracy is not translating into increased profits. In fact, when Megaupload was shuttered, the box office take actually dropped in a few key regions.

Either people are still pirating and they’re just not being caught because they’re using VPNs or an alternative, un-monitored downloading source, or maybe piracy simply doesn’t translate to lost profits that, once piracy is removed from the equation, magically re-materialise.

And all the while during the scare campaign about piracy, the movie industry has been doing much better than it has ever been. Funnily enough, even the so called piracy stricken music industry appears to be recovering (even though it’s decline may have had nothing to do with piracy, and its revival has nothing to do with anti-piracy).

Take the UK for example, where the music, movie and video game industries all recorded profit growth over the last year, much of the change, both the good and bad, has more to do with the digital transition than piracy. The fact that the digital transition started at around the same time as the surge in piracy (and think for a moment and you’ll see that both of these things are actually related) may have confused these industries as to the root cause of their woes. Their obsession with destroying piracy may have also cost them valuable time and resources that could have otherwise been used to innovate and adapt to the digital transition. Instead, tech industries frustrated with being blamed for the piracy problem developed their own innovative solutions that gave consumers the legal digital platforms they sorely wanted. This changed the distribution landscape dramatically, and shifted revenue away from the traditional industries and towards the few tech companies that had the vision to fulfill a consumer need. This is why the music industry isn’t profiting as much from say streaming as they should right now, and why they now have much less of say in how their product is distributed.

The movie industry suffered less because the digital transition occurred at a slower pace than with music, possibly due to the fact that movie files are bigger and Internet speeds just weren’t good enough back then. This allowed the industry more time to adapt, and they’ve been able to negotiated better deals with the likes of Netflix and others (as well as to launch their own platforms, such as Hulu). The gaming industry’s digital transition is further delayed, again possibly due to the file size issue, and they are perhaps even better equipped to deal with the transition.

I would like to think lessons have been learnt, but the way the music industry is still going on about Spotify, I fear it hasn’t.

High Definition

Sony UBP-X1000

Sony finally releasing an Ultra HD Blu-ray player

So CES was dominated by 4K stuff once again, and now with Ultra HD Blu-ray being the format of choice for 4K (the digital transition appears to have gone backwards here, and again file size is the main issue), there are related products all over the place. Surprising is the fact that Sony and LG have only now announced their first Ultra HD Blu-ray players, despite Samsung, and even Microsoft, having had a player out for ages.

As always trying to shoot itself in the foot, the consumer electronics industry’s latest gamble is that consumers won’t mind a pseudo  format war in term of HDR. With HDR10 and Dolby Vision already confusing things for consumers, they may have to contend with Hybrid Log Gamma and Technicolor HDR, both of which are being pushed by LG (but are open formats, so anyone is a free to adopt them). I used the term pseudo because it’s unlikely that a full blown format way will develop, mainly because CE manufacturers will simply adopt support for all of these formats (just like LG has already done) and the content distributors can pick whatever format they want to use.

LG UP970

LG also has an Ultra HD Blu-ray player coming

Not great news for early adopters with equipment that can’t be upgraded via firmware though, but isn’t that always the case?

Just more more thing on the CES before I sign off, it’s interesting to see so many new products that now fall into the category of “consumer electronics”. It used to be just TVs and tape/disc players, and now we have cars, hairbrushes and basically anything you can stick Wi-Fi into. The tech industry is expanding into other traditionally non tech industries, just like how it has made inroads into movies and music – these other industries should heed the experiences of the music industry especially, if they don’t want to be left behind.

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Looks like that’s it for the week. Hope you have a good one, and see you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (December 18, 2016)

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. It’s going to be a short one again, after last week’s epic (erm, not really) edition. There are still a few stories to go through, but a few of them are quite similar in nature, while the others don’t really need much analysis on my part.

So short and sweet it is!

Copyright

To block or not to block, that is the question. That is also the theme of this week’s copyright news stories, as countries debate the need to block, others have already decided to go ahead, and what has already been blocked becomes unblocked.

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay is being blocked in Australia, and being considered for blocking in its native Sweden

In Sweden, home of the Pirate Bay, arguments are still being heard in case that will decide whether the world’s most notorious piracy site will have to be blocked by the country’s ISPs. These ISPs, however, argue that piracy site blocking is in essence censorship. The ISPs also don’t want to be made copyright cops, or face being made an “accomplice” in online copyright crimes. With an earlier district court opinion siding with ISPs, there is a good chance that site blocking will never become a reality in the home of the Pirate Bay.

The same cannot be said here in Australia, where the Pirate Bay and other piracy sites will soon be blocked, at the DNS level, by ISPs. Most of this has already been decided via an update to the copyright act, but under the new court ruling, rights-holders will pay a nominal fee to get each domain blocked after seeking an injunction. ISPs then have 15 days to block the domain in question.

It’s a sad state of affairs that this kind of censorship will soon become a reality, as similar blocks in other countries have not resulted in any difference to the piracy rate. Enterprising pirates will easily find a way around the block too, meaning it will just be a waste of time for all involved.

Speaking of wasting time, for all the time and money that went into investigating and then shutting down KickassTorrents, it appears it’s a lot easier and cheaper to just start a new one from scratch. A new KickassTorrent clone that’s being run by many of the same people that ran the old site has just been launched, and despite some early hiccups (like the site being down due to the traffic spike).

The site is actually completely new, with a blank user and torrent database, and uses no code from the original site. So it’s actually quite an accomplishment that the new site looks and works so much like the original one, and with the original team in place, and many of the original uploaders coming back to the site, it looks like KAT might live once more.

Gaming

Xbox One S

The Xbox One original and ‘S’ getting bitstream audio support

The Xbox One S is getting bitstream support to enable external decoding of Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. I covered this story at the back end of October, but there’s been a small update since. With the update scheduled to go live in “early 2017”, some Xbox One owners can already test out this feature for themselves. Xbox Insider members can now update their Xbox One (both the original and S) to enable bistream support for Blu-ray playback. There are still some known issues, such as videos sometimes playing without sound, or a popping sound being heard between transitions, but these issues will likely all be fixed when the “gold” rollout occurs in a few month’s time.

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Looks like that’s it for the week. Short, but maybe not too sweet. But that’s okay, sugar is bad for you anyway. See you next week!

 

Weekly News Roundup (October 30, 2016)

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Welcome to the pre Halloween edition of the WNR. There’s nothing particularly scary or Halloweeny about this edition though, well other than the usual scary, depressing, frustrating and insane anti-piracy news stories that I post almost every week. More Groundhog Day than Halloween, I suppose.

Copyright

Another scary anti-piracy idea comes from Cisco this week, as the networking giant has a new way to help cable companies protect their price gouging business model, via anti-piracy tech. Cisco plans to tackle the problem piracy of cable content, especially the live streaming of cable channels, by something they call Streaming Piracy Prevention (SPP). SPP will help cable networks digitally watermark their content, and when a stream or download is detected by SPP, it’s able to trace the pirated content (via the watermark) all the way back to the subscriber account that’s responsible for pirating the content. In the case of a live piracy streaming, SPP is able then to communicate with the cable company’s systems and immediately shut down the account in question, thus cutting off the stream in the quickest possible way.

SPP will be completely automated, meaning no human intervention is required. And because of this, SPP is also likely to trigger a lot of false positives if the past is any indication.

Streaming piracy is a big problem, especially at times of major sporting events like the World Cup or the Olympics. But I’m always weary of tech solutions to piracy, especially automated ones. And it still doesn’t address the root cause of piracy, which is an access problem, usually caused by high pricing, lack of value, choice, and services that aren’t in tune with how people want their content delivered (that is, online and accessible everywhere – the polar opposite of a cable connection).

Pirated Movies For Sale

DVD screeners are a more and more common source of pirated copies

Now a story about a different kind of piracy, and something that involves players completely within the film industry. Warner Bros. has sued well known talent agency Innovative Artists for copyright infringement, for leaking award screeners that were sent to the agency. The screeners that have been mentioned in the lawsuit are for the movies ‘Creed’ and ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ and were sent to Innovative – the digital watermark in the pirated downloads were then tracked to the copies given to the agency. The agency represents clients including the likes of Adam Ferrara (Rescue Me), Alicia Witt (Twin Peaks) and used to represent The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons.

Innovative have since provided an official statement, saying they were surprised that this matter wasn’t handled privately and will now head to the courts, despite the agency having previously cooperated fully with Warner on the same matter. The sharing of screeners, Innovative says, is also commonplace in Hollywood and something that Warner knows all about.

So instead of going after downloaders, it seems Hollywood need to get their own house in order, since screener piracy, one of the most damaging kind (because it usually happens before the retail disc release of the movie), has become far more common in the last couple of years as pirates up their game and try to release movies as fast as possible.

Gaming

Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray

Ultra HD Movies like Deadpool may sound better on the Xbox One S thanks to a firmware update in 2017

The Xbox One S is helping Microsoft bridge the sales gap between the console and the PS4, at least in North America, and at least some part of that is due to the inclusion of a new Ultra HD Blu-ray drive in the console, allowing it to play the latest 4K movie discs. This has helped to greatly improve the value of the Xbox One S, which is actually cheaper than most standalone UHD Blu-ray players on the market. This makes the Xbox One S almost no brainer for those looking to buy a UHD player, even if they don’t want to play too many games – I say almost because the Xbox One S’s UHD Blu-ray function does lack a few key features.

These mostly relate to the console’s poor audio output options, with no bitstream output support, and as a result, no support for Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. This rules out the Xbox One S as a serious contender for those that have already heavily invested in these next-gen audio system, or are planning to.

At least this was the case until this week, when Microsoft announced that bitstream output, along with Dolby Atmos and DTS-X support, will be coming to the Xbox One S in early 2017. Not only that, bitstream support and Dolby Atmos for gaming is also coming to the original Xbox One.

The inclusion of UHD Blu-ray even in the cheapest Xbox One by Microsoft, in my opinion, is a masterstroke. Whether this helps the Xbox One catch up to the PS4 is another matter though, as the PS4’s lead is extremely impressive, to say the least.

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I think that’s all we have for this week. Hope it wasn’t too boring. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (September 18, 2016)

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

And I’m back! Sorry for the long hiatus, but I’m now back from vacation, refreshed and ready to give you another few hundred words every week that you probably won’t want to read. It’s good to be back!

Gonna keep it short though, still coming back from jet lag so the mind’s not so sharp.

Copyright

The Hateful Eight

Want to watch The Hateful Eight in 4K? Piracy is your answer!

This is what happens when you don’t serve market demand. With no legal way to watch Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ in 4K, pirates have stepped up to the plate and delivered. Just how exactly they did it, is a bit of a mystery. It may have been sourced from a legal Russian site, but how the encryption was broken, if it was broken, is the subject of much speculation.

In any case, fans of the film can now watch it in 4K, the way it was intended to be watched, and the powers that be that made the decision not to make it available to buy or rent in 4K have nobody to blame but themselves.

The wider implication from this release is that a widely used copy protection scheme could have been broken for the very first time, which may signal a new flood of top tier content, in top tier quality, flooding the piracy scene in the short term.

Gaming

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

Two new PS4s, but no Ultra HD Blu-ray for either …

So a lot has happened in gaming while I was gone. Sony has finally let the cat out of the bag, the same cat they kept hidden at E3 for (what now appears to be) no reason at all. The PS4 Slim and Pro have been officially unveiled, the former is already available, while the latter comes in November, a full year before Microsoft’s own upgraded Xbox One arrives.

Thanks to an active rumour mill, there weren’t any real surprises except for a biggie – the PS4 Pro, which has been upgraded with 4K in mind, won’t play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. This is because the upgraded PS4 won’t have an upgraded Blu-ray drive capable of reading these higher capacity discs, even though every other part of the hardware is more than good enough for UHD playback.

The decision to leave out UHD Blu-ray playback is compounded by the fact that the Slim’s main rival, that’s already on the market for the same price, already has UHD Blu-ray playback. Microsoft has pulled off a masterstroke in deciding to go down the UHD route with the Xbox One S, something nobody expected, not when the S is marketed at a price that’s cheaper than most standalone players on the market.

Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray

The Xbox One S can, but the PS4 Pro can’t – Ultra HD Blu-ray movies like Deadpool won’t work on the PS4

It’s definitely a surprising omission from a company that once risked too much to include playback of a new disc format with their brand new console. Perhaps the mistake of including Blu-ray playback with PS3 (which delayed the console’s release and led to the console’s notoriously high launch pricing) is what prevented Sony from including UHD Blu-ray playback with the PS4 Slim or Pro. Also surprisingly, Sony has shown little interest in UHD Blu-ray, with their first standalone player not even coming until next year (and it’s a premium, high-end model to boot) – the slow ramp up to UHD may also explain why Sony was just not ready to include UHD Blu-ray in the upgraded PS4s.

Also disappointing fans slightly is the fact that the PS4 Pro’s hardware upgrade, while significant, won’t be able to compete with the Xbox One “Scorpio” when it’s available in 2017. Bragging rights still count for a lot in 2016 (and 2017), and it could be the case that for the rest of this console generation, the Xbox One will bcome the more powerful console (and the one more capable of handling games in 4K).

And to make things worse for Sony fanboys, the Xbox One beat the PS4 in sales again in August – that’s two months in a row. Of course, Sony will probably reclaim the throne in September when the Slim goes sale

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That’s all we have for the week. It’s good to get back into the swing of things, even if it means swapping the nice warm Mediterranean for wet and freezing Melbourne.

Weekly News Roundup (July 31, 2016)

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Slightly more news this week. Nothing like the earth shattering demise of KickassTorrents, but still some really interesting stuff. Something that may also pique your interest is my new site Meowware (meowware, malware, geddit?), which now mostly lives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you’re interested in funny cat pictures, videos, but with a technology (and malware/security) focus, then Meowware may just be a site that you’ll occasionally visit when you can’t be bothered to do any real work. And even if you’re not particularly interested, please like, share, follow, retweet, forward, twist, turn, fax, churn or bake our pages!

Speaking of real work, here’s the news roundup …

Copyright

IsoHunt Logo

isoHunt’s legal troubles have only just ended, despite the site being shut down nearly three years ago

While KickassTorrents’ troubles are just starting (have a look at last week’s WNR if you’ve missed the big news), the legal worries for another once great torrent site, isoHunt, has just ended (not the clone that’s now in its place, but the original one that was run by one Gary Fung).

Fung announced that the last of the lawsuits against the now defunct isoHunt has been settled, and Fung can now move on with his life (to be fair, he’s already done that) with another $66 million in damages awarded against him. So that’s a combined total of $176 million “owed” by Fung, or rather, the now bankrupt isoHunt – money that the MPAA and Music Canada, the two respective plaintiffs in the lawsuits, will most likely never see.

It took 8 years from the very first take-down notice to this final judgement, and who knows how much money spent on lawyers, and while rights-holders rejoiced when the original isoHunt was shut down, the fact that a clone of the site is still operating and doing well, means that it could all be for nothing. And in terms of the isoHunt shut down and legal victories being a deterrent, that doesn’t seem to have been the case either.

The seizure of KickassTorrents, and the arrest the prosecution of its owner, might be a short term deterrent though, but all it will do is to make others who run similar sites be more cautions in the future, and to protect their identities better. The solution to piracy, I think, lies elsewhere.

Dolby Vision HDR

Technology for the home, like Dolby Vision, putting pressure on cinema chains

One potential solution, when it comes to movie piracy, has been suggested by none other than James Cameron this week. The director of Avatar has urged cinema chains to step up and give movie-goers a more “premium” movie experience, or they might face destruction at the hands of industry disruptors, including piracy. As a director, Cameron is especially sensitive to the fact that he often has to shoot to fit the lagging standards of cinemas, rather than to be true to his own vision, this, he says, is key to winning the war against piracy.

For the price we’re paying, I definitely feel that we’re not always getting what we’re owed in terms of the cinema experience. Whether it’s dim screens, or lackluster sound, it has become the norm that you can often get a better cinematic experience at home if you invest in the right equipment. And with new home theater technology such as OLED screens, 4K, HDR, wide color gamut, and Dolby Atmos becoming more common, and cheaper to access, the threat that Cameron mentions is very much real and getting realer by the day.

Gaming

With Nintendo stock rising tanks to Pokemon GO, and then falling when investors realised the hit AR game has very little to do with the company, Nintendo’s real profit results were a real disappointment. With hardware sales down 50%, the company’s next console can’t come soon enough. But that console, dubbed the NX, might be a very different console to what we’re used to seeing, if Eurogamer’s report is to be believed.

Wii U

Wii U’s Gamepad, underused, or overhyped?

The NX may in fact just be a gaming tablet. A very advanced one that plugs into your TV via a dock, and has two detachable controllers that allows for two player gaming instantly regardless of where you are, but still a tablet. It will be powered by a powerful Nvidia Tegra chip, but don’t expect graphics that will kick the PS4/Xbox One’s butt (let alone the Neo/Scorpio). And oh, game cartridges are back, at least for a gaming company’s flagship console.

I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest. When I imagine a gaming tablet with two detachable controllers, I’m thinking either a huge-ass tablet that’s not particularly portable, or two super tiny controllers that are hardly worth the bother. And as good as mobile technology has gotten, there’s only so much tech you can fit into a tablet before it becomes too hot or too heavy – will it be good enough to deliver graphics that people might be looking at on 4K TVs (by the time the NX is near its mid-life, 4K might be more common than you think)?

Of course, all of this could be nonsense and Nintendo will give us just another run of the mill home console, but doing the same thing may not be a bad idea, as long as you do it right (like the PS4 has done). Getting innovative can have its rewards, like the Wii has proven, but it could also have its risk, like the Wii U has sadly proven.

Meanwhile, you can now get a Xbox One for $249, after Microsoft dropped the price of the 500GB version ahead of the arrival of the “S”.

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That’s it for the week. Don’t forget the visit Meowware – you can never have enough meowware in your computer!