Archive for the ‘Electronics’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (March 26, 2017)

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Sorry for the little break last week, but things are back to normal now, and we actually have a bit of news to go through too.

They say that no news is good news, but sometimes having news is good news too.

Copyright

And sometimes piracy is a good things too, at least according to music superstar Ed Sheeran. In an interview with CBS, Sheeran opened up about his rise to success, and he wasn’t embarrassed to admit that piracy played a big role in his early successes.

Spotify Mobile

Legal streaming options means file sharing no longer exists, says Ed Sheeran

Sheeran says that is was university students in England, sharing his music on file sharing networks, that helped him get noticed. “I know that’s a bad thing to say, because I’m part of a music industry that doesn’t like illegal file sharing,” said Sheeran.

However, Sheeran says that musicians today may no longer need file sharing to get noticed and that fans no longer need to download illegally, all thanks to the availability of legal streaming platforms.

In other words, piracy has always been used as a discovery platform, and that’s its main redeeming feature. With legal streaming via YouTube and Spotify is taking on piracy in a big way, these platforms also now act as discovery platforms, both for musicians to get noticed and for music fans to find new artists to listen to.

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A little update on a story from a month ago when Google’s Chrome removed the ability to disable the controversial Widevine DRM. Thanks to “user feedback” (also known as angry and vocal complaints), Google has re-added the ability to disable Widevine, as well as other plug-ins that were made mandatory with the version 57 update. Who says complaining doesn’t work?

Gaming

With the PS4 back on top after a couple of months of Xbox One victory (thanks to the Xbox One S) in the hugely important U.S. market, the global picture still sees Sony on top, rather comfortably.

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

The PS4 is still comfortably beating the Xbox One

The PS4 is still enjoying almost a 2-to-1 sales margin over the Xbox One according to the latest IHS Markit report, with 53 million PS4s already sold compared to only 27.6 million Xbox Ones.

March’s NPD report will be extremely interesting, due to the introduction of the Switch. Nintendo seems to be onto a real hit with the hugely popular (and instantly out of stock) Switch, and it will give the Sony, Microsoft duopoly a real run for its money.

Will you switch to the Switch? Or keep on playing with the PS4, or keep on spending one on one time with your Xbox One?

Sorry for the lame play on words, it’s been a long week.

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What hasn’t been that long is the length of this WNR. But why waste words when you don’t need to. Especially when you’re not being paid by the word. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (March 5, 2017)

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. As we start my favourite month of the year (birthday month!), things are happening all over the place. And by things, I only mean more and more copyright actions, whether it’s new lawsuits, or new site blockings. It all seems rather pointless considering how none of it has proven to work in the past, but I guess for some, doing something is better than doing nothing at all.

But that’s a dangerous line of thought. Because sometimes doing something but doing the wrong thing can take your focus off doing the right thing. If rights-holders want to spend all their time and effort in obsessing over these anti-piracy measures, and totally ignore trying to innovate, then that’s great news for the likes of Netflix and Google and Apple, or the next big tech company, who will all gladly fill the gap in consumer need left by the dinosaurs that are the movie and music companies.

With Netflix making movies, and YouTube getting into TV, it’s only a matter of time we will have to redefine just what is a movie studio or a music label, and what kind of value do they actually inject into the whole ecosystem.

Okay, enough ranting for now, let’s get to the news (which will ultimately lead to more ranting).

Copyright

Censorship

Rights-holders: censorship is the way to go

The piracy blockade in Australia is gathering momentum, with more sites now being added to the blocking list. The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and SolarMovie have already been targeted, and now in the second round of legal action (to get a court order to force ISPs to block sites),  ExtraTorrent, RARBG, Demonoid, LimeTorrents and dozens of other sites are now being added to the blockade.

If successful, this will lead Australians to one of three choices. To pay for the overpriced, under performing legal option to watch Game of Thrones; to get a VPN to bypass the blockade (or to access sites that haven’t been blocked yet); or to not watch Game of Thrones. The last option is obviously not realistic or acceptable, and the first option is hardly palatable (or even a realistic option for many), so … let’s put it this way, if I was operating a VPN company right now, I would be pretty happy with these developments. And if I was a copyright lawyer, I would also be happy and would start preparing the legal groundwork needed to start suing VPN providers. A win-win for everyone except for consumers and innovators.

Sweden is also getting in on the site blocking game (a little late if you ask me), with the Pirate Bay, and a handful of other sites, finally getting blocked in its home country. The ISPs are not happy and vow to fight future blocking attempts, with one ISPs boss even calling this latest development just a sign of the copyright industry’s “death throes” as the industry fails to grasp the need to reform and to evolve to become more customer oriented.

Meanwhile ExtraTorrent is coming under renewed pressure with its main domain name, extratorrent.cc, being seized by the domain’s registrar, although it does not stop the site from being accessed thanks to the myriad of backup domains. More death throes.

High Definition

Netflix Downloads

Netflix: Innovation is the key to success

So on the other site we have company like Netflix, and their CEO, talking positively about the future, and taking positive steps to innovate their way to success. With mobile data usage on the up and providers not so keen on the development, Netflix has seen the potential problem and has decided to take some steps to address it before it becomes a problem. The company is working on compressing its already efficient video streams to make it less data intensive for mobile users, with CEO Reed Hastings believing that 0.2 Mbps is all that’s needed to deliver good quality video. To put that into perspective, a typical 2 hour movie would only use up 180 MBs of data.

Infographic: Finding the right sized TV

Infographic: Finding the right sized TV (Click to enlarge)

On piracy, Hastings confirmed the company’s strategy of not fighting pirates, but helping them. Helping them by giving them what they want (lots of entertainment options) at a price they’re willing to pay (so not $30 per movie).

Speaking of the future, 4K means that many people are going to start looking for a new TV soon, and one of the questions that’s always been asked, regardless of whether it’s looking for a projection TV, a plasma, a HD, or Ultra HD one, is how big should the TV be.

Based on my experience, there’s usually no such thing as too big unless you have a very small room. A TV that you think might be too big now, will seem small by the time you need/want to upgrade again. But if you do have limited space, or more precisely, limited distance between you and your TV, then maybe take a peek at this infographic (special thanks to Kagoo.com for the image). It uses science to determine what’s the optimal distance is if you actually want to be able to see those extra pixels from your new 4K TV.

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Okay, that’s enough for this week. Have a great one and see you in seven.

 

Weekly News Roundup (January 29, 2017)

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Welcome to the Year of the Rooster. In traditional Chinese custom, those born in the year of the rooster (1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005 – although those born in early January/February might have to double check to see which side of the lunar year they fall under) should always carry with them something red (red undies will do) to ward off bad luck for the year, so make sure you take precautions!

In terms of news, it’s somewhat quiet, but there are two stories on the coming and goings of technology that are unmistakably related. So let’s get started!

High Definition

First the going. Those still getting good use out of their 3D TV will have to extra careful to protect their investment, because pretty soon, it’s going to be really hard to buy a decent 3D set. Sony and LG this week announced that none of their new 2017 range of TVs will include 3D support. This move follows Samsung and Philips, both having ditched 3D in 2016, and raft of other CE companies like Sharp, TCL and Hisense that failed to announce any new TVs featuring 3D support at CES.

Samsung 3D active shutter glasses

3D, at least for the home, going the way of the dodo as last two holdouts announce the end of 3D support for their TVs

Those following our weekly Blu-ray sales analysis will also have seen a familiar pattern, that while studios are still doing 3D releases, the number of people buying them have steadily decreased.

The irony of this, in particular the LG announcement, is the company has finally perfected 3D technology for the home using their passive technology. But the fact remains that not all movies benefit greatly from 3D, that people just aren’t that interested in recreating the 3D experience at home, or at least not enough people to justify the cost of including the tech in the latest TV models. And some people like me can’t even watch 3D for extended periods without wanting to throw up.

That cost is being transferred to other technologies that, according to the NPD and according to our own Blu-ray sales stats, are quickly gaining popularity with consumers. Of course, I’m referring to Ultra HD Blu-ray and all the associated acronyms. For the week ending January 14th 2017, eight of the top 10 selling Blu-ray titles all had Ultra HD Blu-ray editions, but only four had 3D editions. This could be because more movies, if not most movies, benefit in some way from having an 4K transfer, than compared to 3D.

So what to do if you’re a 3D fan? The first thing you should do is to make sure you take good care of your current 3D TV, because it might be hard in the future to secure yourself a good quality 3D TV. Also don’t fret too much about studios not releasing 3D movies – Disney just recently released the 3D edition of The Force Awakens, and it sold enough copies to probably justify other re-releases like this in the future (plus there’s the whole series of new Avatar movies coming).

Pioneer BDR-S11J-BK

Pioneer and Cyberlink giving us PC heads a crack at playing Ultra HD Blu-ray movies on our PCs

Now we go to the other story, the coming. With Ultra HD Blu-ray looking more and more like the natural successor to the Blu-ray format, one thing has been noticeably missing – where’s the PC support? I know PCs aren’t what they used to be, but to be a year into a format without even a glimpse of an Ultra HD Blu-ray optical drive, seems quite odd considering how Blu-ray and DVD before it (and this site, for that matter) got started.

But that will soon change. Pioneer will finally bring out a pair of Ultra HD Blu-ray capable optical drives (the BDR-S11J-BK & BDR-S11J-X). Even better, Cyberlink has teamed up with Pioneer to include a special modified (and unavailable to buy at retail) version of PowerDVD that has received Ultra HD Blu-ray certification and will play all the latest discs.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Of course, having a drive and player software is only the beginning of the requirements, thanks to the annoyance of DRM, and the brilliance of HDR. You’ll need a Kaby Lake CPU and a GPU that supports HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. And if you want HDR, you’ll need a monitor that can do it justice as well. Not too many people are buying high spec’d PCs these days, and so I don’t expect Pioneer and Cyberlink to do roaring business from these drives/software, at least not yet. I’m just grateful they haven’t forgotten us old PC heads, many of whom are itching to upgrade their PCs to attain full Ultra HD Blu-ray support status. I know I am!

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That’s all we have for this WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (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!