Archive for the ‘Electronics’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (August 11, 2019)

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

Welcome back to the WNR. Sorry for the long break, but we finally have some worthy news stories to talk about, and so here we are.

High Definition

Regular readers will know how we big up streaming here, and not just because we also run an Australian news site that’s dedicated to the topic of streaming.

But you have to be living under a rock to not notice that streaming is taking over everything, but sometimes some solid stats go a long way to paint a full picture of what’s happening.

That data has been recently provided by analytics firm Conviva, and it shows that streaming media consumption has double over the last year in the United States.

The consumption was led by Roku users, who helped to drive up the adoption of Internet-connected TVs by 143% and accounted for 43% of all connected TV viewing measured by Conviva. Roku themselves are seeing a period of strong growth, with the service now having more than 30 million subscribers.

Photo of Roku Streaming Stick
Roku is the most popular streaming device, according to new data

Adoption of Amazon Fire TV devices also growing strongly over the last year, up 145% and now accounting for 18% of connected viewing.

Here in Australia, our one and only cable TV operator has finally embraced streaming and have started to bundle Netflix with their subscriptions (despite the fact that it tried to launch its own streaming platform). And with broadband speeds increasing and bandwidth costs decreasing all the time, streaming just make more and more sense.

With that said, and this is from my first-hand experience with uploading 4K trailers, we are still dealing with huge files and that it’s going to take a while before we reach mainstream adoption. For one, YouTube’s bitrate of choice for 4K content is only around 13 Mbps (and that’s using the not so efficient VP9 codec, instead of HEVC), and that’s not really enough. But any higher, the number of people able to watch 4K quickly drops from an already small pool of users actively looking for 4K content. So until people can comfortably stream a 30+ Mbps stream and still be able to use their connections for other things, 4K adoption (despite the huge number of 4K or at least 1440p capable devices, including most phones and tablets and TVs sold these days) will be bottlenecked. Let’s not even think about 8K for now.


Disney’s acquisition of Fox is a bold and potentially profitable move for the Mickey Mouse company. But not right now though, because Disney has been surprised at just how much Fox Studios is underperforming right now, with projected profits turning into losses for the last quarter.

Screenshot from Ford v Ferrari
Disney/Fox has high hopes for Ford v Ferrari

The box office for Dark Phoenix was much less than expected, and none of Fox’s other movies also did well enough. The rest of 2019 looks a bit brighter with Ford v Ferrari and Ad Astra, but these are hardly locked in winners.

So if anything, the sale of Fox to Disney came at the right time for the former News Corp studio. Maybe at the right time for Disney as well. Not so much for Fox’s release slate, since Disney is already doing pretty well this year with over $8 billion in box office takings, but as a way to acquire a great back catalogue of titles to fill their Disney+ and Hulu content libraries.


That’s all I have for you this week. Until next time!

Weekly News Roundup (June 16, 2019)

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

And we’re back, and this time, it hasn’t taken more than a month since the last WNR.

And that’s largely thanks to the fact that we have news, and that was at least partially thanks to the gaming expo, E3.

Copyright

But before we get to that, we have a piracy blunder to talk about, this time committed by the Swiss arm of broadcaster Sky.

In releasing the final episode of the hit show Chernobyl, Sky Switzerland used not the official subtitles provided by HBO, but the fan-made version released by a subtitle download site often used by pirates. This error was revealed because whoever decided to use the inappropriate subtitle file forgot to reveal the credits that were added to the subtitles by its creator, which also referenced subtitle download site Addic7ed.

Screenshot of Sky Switzerland's incorrect use of subtitles
Good of Sky Switzerland to keep the credits for the fan-made subtitles

The closing credits were removed, and the subtitle was re-synced with the official Sky stream, suggesting the person or persons responsible for this blunder had intended to use the downloaded subtitles, and it wasn’t just a simple case of uploading the wrong file to the server.

As expected, the folks at Addic7ed were a bit bemused by the whole situation, giving Sky a thumbs up for keeping the credits intact. Sky themselves weren’t laughing though, having described this whole affair as “totally unacceptable”.

Just out of interest, the Addic7ed site is blocked here in Australia by several ISPs due to its association with piracy.

Gaming

There were lots of things being unveiled at E3, but the piece of news that probably has the greatest impact on the next few years of gaming would be Microsoft’s reveal of their next game console, currently only known as Project Scarlett.

I once read an article that suggested Sony and Microsoft should join forces and just release a single game console. The reasoning was that as consoles advance, the so-called “competing” hardware will become more and more similar, that there really isn’t much of a point to having separate consoles.

That prediction seems to have come true. No, not the part about a joint Sony/Microsoft console (the “Xbox Station 720”?), but the part about the two consoles become more and more similar is spot on.

Sony’s PS5 announcement pointed to an AMD powered console with GDDR6 RAM, backed by an SSD drive with support for advanced graphical features like ray tracing, 120 FPS gaming and 8K output (most likely for video only).

And Project Scarlett will be an AMD powered console with GDDR6 RAM, backed by an SSD drive with support for advanced graphical features like ray tracing, 120 FPS gaming and 8K output (most likely for video only).

Screenshot from Microsoft's Project Scarlett launch video
Project Scarlett and Sony’s PS5 – virtually identical in announced specs

Oh, and both console launches stressed the inclusion of backwards compatibility. Microsoft does have an advantage here due to its head start in this department – it has run a backwards compatibility program for the Xbox One since 2015, and so it has promised backwards compatibility with all Xbox generations for Project Scarlett, not just for Xbox One games.

And if I have to guess, the pricing for both consoles will be similar, if not the same. Microsoft does have a solid-ish launch date of holidays 2020, as Sony has not yet confirmed a release date (but probably holidays 2020).

As for the prediction about a joint console – I don’t think that will ever happen. As similar as the next consoles will be from both companies, and as unprofitable the hardware will be (at least initially), there is still a “need” for separate consoles in order for both companies to have a chance to earn that lucrative licensing money. Puff Daddy was right.

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So we come to the end of this roundup. Have a great one until the next one!

Weekly News Roundup (March 31, 2019)

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. It’s going to be a light one this week, as while we have a big announcement from Apple to cover, that was pretty much it.

Still, it gives us plenty to talk about this week, so let’s not waste any time.

High Definition

So the big news of the week was Apple’s entry into streaming video courtesy of their upcoming Apple TV+ service.

First of all, let’s talk about what it isn’t. It isn’t really a Netflix rival, at least not yet, because Apple TV+ will only host original content that Apple themselves have produced. So there won’t be any third-party licensed content that’s still the bulk of content on platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

Photo showing Jenifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell at the Apple TV+ launch event
Apple will hope its big star line-up will help to make Apple TV+ a success

And even with relation to original content, Apple’s content spend of $1 billion is only a fraction of Netflix’s annual spend on original content, so Apple’s ambitions, so far, are much more limited compared to Netflix’s.

Apple TV+ also won’t work on most of the non-Apple devices you actually own. While Apple is opening up Apple TV slightly, allowing it to work on selected smart TVs and even on the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV+ won’t be accessible on your Android device, on your PC or in your browser. This could change at some point, but it looks like Apple wants the content on Apple TV+ to be mainly consumed on an Apple device (which is not surprising).

Using unique content to draw users into the Apple ecosystem is one thing, but what Apple may be even keener to do is to keep the Apple TV hub relevant in the age of Roku, Amazon Fire and Google Chromecast. Apple can’t make their 30% off of Netflix if Netflix doesn’t think it’s worth having their app integrated into Apple TV, and Netflix won’t think Apple’s 30% money grab is worth it if Apple TV is not popular enough.

Apple will hope that exclusive Apple TV+ content from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah, J.J. Abrams, and shows starring the likes of
Jenifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, will help grow the Apple TV user base. Or at least grow it enough to make Apple TV an essential platform to be part of.

This talk of Apple reminded me of an old news story from way back. Way back as in when Steve Jobs was still alive, and when Toshiba’s HD DVD was still trying to beat Blu-ray. Jobs said then that Blu-ray was a “bag of hurt” and despite Apple being a member and a board member of the Blu-ray Disc Association, Apple never did bother to include a Blu-ray drive with any of their computers.

Apple never bothered with Blu-ray, but discs still have a place

Now Apple is getting into video distribution having skipped discs entirely, and this probably means something for discs (and not in a good news kind of way). But discs do still have a place (anyone who regularly tries to download high-quality 4K content will know this is the case), and they will be around for a while yet, even if they are no longer the default go-to for most people. What do you think? Do you still use discs? Let us know by voting in our latest poll.

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That’s all I have for you think week. Let’s wait and see what the next week brings us.

Weekly News Roundup (February 24, 2019)

Sunday, February 24th, 2019

Only a couple of days left in the shortest month of the year, which is just as well, as summer here in Australia has become unbearable. With March comes possibly one of the best seasons ever, and it is also my favourite month as it will be my birthday again. Yes, I’m quite vain and I definitely think this song, and the entire month of March, is all about me.

A little ’70s music trivia aside, we have a few news stories to go through, so let’s get started.

High Definition

Well, it may not be the actual end of an era, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it definitely feels like the beginning of the end. Samsung has confirmed that it will stop launching new Blu-ray player models in the US. Initially, it was thought that only 1080p Blu-ray players were affected, but it soon became clear that Samsung plans to stop launching even new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players!

Samsung's UBD-M9500
Samsung’s UBD-M9500 4K Blu-ray player, the last the company plans to release in the US

Those following Samsung won’t be too surprised by the move, as the company hasn’t brought out a new Blu-ray/4K player since 2017. Samsung’s denial of support for Dolby Vision also meant that their players just weren’t what people wanted, considering how popular Dolby Vision is compared to the rival HDR10+ format. The unpopular nature of Samsung’s players, and the fact that the marketplace for Blu-ray players is quite crowded may partly explain Samsung’s decision, but it is still quite a blow for physical media.

That a major CE firm is ending support for such a major disc format, and so soon in the format’s lifespan, does not bode well for the format, or physical media in general.

The decision is also a weird one because Samsung’s TV business is doing quite well, and it’s weird that Samsung would then force its TV owners to seek out a rival brand’s Blu-ray player. With that said, it’s not as if Samsung will stop selling Blu-ray players, but merely not planning on releasing any new models in the future – they will simply continue to sell their last released players, the UBD-M9500 (in fact, the 2016 model, the UBD-K8500, is still for sale too). The fact that there’s not a lot of upgrade potential for Blu-ray and 4K players, probably also contributed to Samsung’s decision.

But buyers not satisfied with a 2017 model will definitely have to look elsewhere.

And part of the reason why Samsung is defocusing from its physical media business is the existence of streaming, and in particular, Netflix. But just because Netflix is dominant, it doesn’t mean there aren’t things that the streaming giant is worried about. Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+, appears to be one of those things.

Netflix and Disney have previously worked together well as the Hollywood studio used the streaming platform to offer its movies and shows to a wider audience. While this generates some revenue for Disney, it also loses them some in terms of physical and digital sell-through for the same content, but with a wider audience now caught up to the happenings of the Marvel Universe, for example, it has led to higher box office receipts for the studio. There are many terms you can use to describe Disney, but stupid is not one of them.

Still photo from The Punisher
Marvel’s The Punisher cancelled by Netflix, who no longer wishes to help Disney now that the studio is launching its own streaming platform

But this past partnership is now proving to be a problem now that Disney, whether they think so or not, is directly threatening the dominance of Netflix with Disney+. Disney+ will now host much of the same content that has drawn subscribers to Netflix, and will create new content based on franchises that Netflix wish they had.

So Netflix’s steely move to cancel all remaining Marvel co-productions, including ‘The Punisher’ and ‘Jessica Jones’, is a quite understandable one. Better to lose a finger now, than a hand, later.

And the ominous statement following the move from Marvel TV’s Jeph Loeb shows the frenemy side of Netflix and Disney’s relationship, as well as a hint on how Disney will take it to Netflix via its Marvel (and other) franchises. Loeb wrote in response to the cancellations: “Our network partner may have decided they no longer want to continue telling the tales of these great characters … but you know Marvel better than that.”

Wow!

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So while we await the Avengers like epic battle between Netflix and Disney+, we have come to the end of another WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (January 13, 2019)

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Welcome back to the first WNR of 2019. Hope you’ve had a nice break. Our own little break here was abruptly interrupted by this little thing called CES 2019, and while we’re not lucky enough to be mingling with the crowds over in Las Vegas, there’s still news to report, and so here we are.

For those that aren’t subscribers to our newsletter (or didn’t get our Happy New Year newsletter), then here’s a belated Happy New Year to everyone. Hope you all have a great 2019!

Now on to the news …

It seems 2019 is the year of 8K, with practically anyone who is anyone bringing out their 8K sets, despite 8K content being so thin on the group, it verges on the invisible.

This is why Chinese TV giant TCL’s link up with streaming app platform Roku might give it a head start, since their co-branded 8K TVs will already have an entire library of apps to draw 8K content from.

And the chances 8K content coming to an app that’s on Roku is quite high and getting higher, because Roku now has 27 million active accounts (up 40% from a year ago), and it’s a platform to take seriously if you want to reach people with new content.

But with 8K offering almost four times as many pixels as 4K, the bandwidth requirements for 8K streaming will be tough to say the least. Even with a modest quality stream, you might be looking at a minimum requirement of 50 Mbps, and that’s not something readily available in people’s homes yet.

This is why discs will be here for a while yet, because it remains the most efficient way to get 8K content into people’s homes.

Samsung's smart TV with custom iTunes app
Samsung TVs to get its own, customized iTunes app

CES also showed off some new display tech in the form of Samsung’s Micro LED modular displays, which being completely bezel-free, means it can be joined up and configured in almost any aspect ratio and size. This is why Samsung was able to show off a 219-inch TV at this year’s CES, up from the 146-inch TV at last year’s CES.

More interesting was Samsung’s link-up with (often foe) Apple, announced at this year’s CES. Samsung is getting AirPlay 2 support, like a lot of other brands, but it’s also getting something nobody else is getting or has gotten in the past – it’s own iTunes app!

Apple are notoriously mean when it comes to sharing their platforms on other devices, and other than the Windows app for iTunes (somewhat more of a necessity, than a choice, for Apple), you’ll be hard pressed to find an official way of accessing the iTunes app on anything other than an iDevices running iOS. And Apple is even making a custom version that will integrate with Samsung’s own apps and functions, including Samsung’s own automated assistant, Bixby. And this is why Samsung’s announcement is a big deal.

In addition to Samsung’s 2019 TVs, Samsung’s 2018 TVs will also be getting both the AirPlay 2 and iTunes additions, via an upcoming firmware update.

Promotional photo of LG's roll up TV
LG’s roll up TV was a hit at CES 2019

But what wowed the crowds the most, perhaps, was LG’s take on the TV of the future – a TV that rolls up from a soundbar!

Taking full advantage of the flexibility of OLED displays (and moving beyond the idea of just a curved screen, or even a foldable one the case of Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy mobile), LG has come up with a novel way to hide a TV in plain sight. When fully rolled up, the TV hides in the soundbar/TV cabinet, but still “functions” as a way to control the soundbar for audio/radio playback. The TV can al
HDHuluVOD/Streaming so poke its head out a little bit and act like a kind of overly wide tablet, that can also display pertinent information, such as the weather. Check out the video in the linked news article for why this TV will be a hot item for 2019.

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Moving away from the CES, Hulu has posted some great 2018 results, with subscribers up 47%, and revenue up by almost the same amount.

I don’t know how much the hit show ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ contributed to the results, but based on merit alone, I would not be surprised if this was the case. And if you haven’t watched the show yet, I strongly urge you give it a go – it’s by no means an easy watch, but it’s definitely a good one.

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That’s it for this very busy week. A good start to the new year. See you next week!