Archive for the ‘Electronics’ Category

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!

Weekly News Roundup (December 9, 2018)

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

So I watched two action movies this week. The action genre is not one of my favourites, although I really don’t mind it too much. But the differences in experience in watching the two action films, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (I know, I shouldn’t have waited so long) and ‘Geostorm’, couldn’t be bigger. Well one movie has quotes like “You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome”, and the other has lines like “It’s GENOCIDE, LEONARD!” – so let’s just say one movie was “Mediocre, Devlin! Mediocre!”

Between the adrenaline rush that was Fury Road, the snooze-fest that was “Gravity” for idiots aka “Geostorm”, I also watched Netflix’s ‘Dogs’ dogumentary. “Sniff-Sniff”. What an intense week!

Oh yes, I had some time to write a few news stories too.

Copyright

Another week, another disappointment for Denuvo. They should be used to it by now. Only weeks after citing how important it was for games to be protected by Denuvo, if only to cover the first two week’s of the game’s release (when most of the piracy occurs), Denuvo’s owners, Irdeto, has had to deal with an embarrassing setback.

Not only did Denuvo fail to protect ‘Just Cause 4’ for two weeks, it couldn’t even protect the game for two days.

Just Cause 4 Screenshot
Just Cause 4 cracked in less than a day – #DenuvoDoesntWork

With the game currently being slammed by users for having too many issues, it seems to me that the publishers of the game, Square Enix, maybe should have invested the money they spent on licensing Denuvo on actually making the game work properly before release. The poor reviews plus the availability of a pirated copy should hurt ‘Just Cause 4’ sales, which is bad news for the fantastically talented people that worked on the game, but probably what was deserved for the people at Square Enix that made the decision to use Denuvo.

High Definition

So Black Friday has come and gone. I hope you didn’t spend too much, or if you did, you spent it well. And apparently, a lot of people spent good money on Blu-ray for this Black Friday, in particular, on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Deadpool 2 Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Deadpool 2 UHD edition was discounted to $9 during Amazon’s Black Friday sales, down from the normal $25

Blu-ray sales, including UHD disc sales, were up almost 9% compared to last year’s Black Friday, and a lot of the growth was driven by UHD sales. The stats seem to imply this (unit sales up 3.4%, but revenue up a higher 8.9% – seems to suggest people were buying more expensive Blu-ray discs than last year, which could mean box sets or, more likely, UHD discs). The fact that Amazon, one of the main drivers for Blu-ray sales during Black Friday, discounted a lot of UHD discs to as low as $8, also seems to point to an UHD inspired buying frenzy.

Blu-ray sales, including UHD disc sales, were up almost 9% compared to last year’s Black Friday, and a lot of the growth was driven by UHD sales. The stats seem to imply this (unit sales up 3.4%, but revenue up a higher 8.9% – seems to suggest people were buying more expensive Blu-ray discs than last year, which could mean box sets or, more likely, UHD discs). The fact that Amazon, one of the main drivers for Blu-ray sales during Black Friday, discounted a lot of UHD discs to as low as $8, also seems to point to an UHD inspired buying frenzy.

There is also the fact that the top 10 Blu-ray sellers for Black Friday week were all titles that had UHD editions (and were either recently released UHD titles, or had UHD editions that were heavily discount). 

In other words, cheap UHD equals big Blu-ray sales!

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So that’s the end of another WNR, as we count down to the end of the year. I’m also writing this on the new WordPress editor, and I must say with such a nice and clean writing environment, I feel more productive already!

Weekly News Roundup (December 2, 2018)

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

Welcome to the final month of 2018. Where has it all gone? Or is it a case of “why did it take so long”? Regardless of which side you’re on, I think it’s safe to say that the fact that I’m talking about the calendar means I really don’t have anything more interesting to write in this intro, so I guess it’s best I just move on to the news, right?

Copyright

Google Auto-Suggest

Google’s piracy demotions system being exploited by scammers?

In case you need another reason as to why copyright take-down regimes are a bad idea because they’re too prone to abuse, well, I have another one for you this week. It appears that scammers have found a way to game Google’s anti-piracy demotion system in order to get malicious websites to rank higher for popular piracy related keywords.

The ingenious scheme involves sending bogus copyright take-down notices to Google, pretending to be well known entities such as Steam or Ubisoft, to remove game piracy related links from the rankings. To be fair, the links they’re asking to be removed do contain pirated content, and so any legitimate take-down notices containing the same links would have been removed. But the intentions behind these take-downs are not quite right, it seems, as with the real piracy links removed from the search results, the fake ones, the ones with malware, are now occupying higher positions on the search results and allowing the scammers to profit.

The scammers have obviously done their homework too, as they’ve submitted “DRM” take-downs, as opposed to the normal DMCA ones. DRM take-downs on Google do not allow the website owner to file a counter-claim, to defend their position (or to inform Google that the take-down notice was a fake one to begin with), and so the scammers have found a great way to get what they want without anyone being able to do anything about it. Many of the removed URLs do contain DRM breaking tools (cracks for games), but many do not.

But since this news story has been making the rounds, it seems Google have wised up to this little trick, and they’ve started flagging some of the take-down notices as potentially fake, although the removed URLs remain removed for the present.

Abuse of copyright take-down regimes isn’t really anything new, but it usually involves companies trying to destroy competitors.

High Definition

LG UP970

Standalone Ultra HD Blu-ray players have doubled in numbers in 2018

This Christmas may be all about 4K, according to a new report by consulting firm Futuresource. The report shows that, with the average price of 4K UHD TVs now down to about the same level as a standard HDTV, adoption of these ultra high definition sets are speeding up. Global shipment of UHD TVs are expected to exceed 100 million units globally, with China being the biggest market. Even the pricier HDR enabled sets are selling well, roughly half of UHD TVs sold are now HDR capable.

Standalone Ultra HD Blu-ray players are also increasingly popular, with this year doubling the number of units sold previously, and along with that, $360 million in UHD Blu-ray disc sales.

Streaming still remains the most popular way for people to obtain 4K content though, and by streaming, it mostly means Netflix at the moment. 4K broadcasts, on the other hand, remains rare. There are still some issues to be resolved in regards to broadcasts standards, and this may mean a lot of 4K UHD TVs are already obsolete (or require a very “last decade” solution, like a set top box, for future compatibility). For now, OTT (ie. streaming) still easily beats OTA (over-the-air), when concerning 4K.

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And on that note, we end the first WNR of December, and one of the last of 2018. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (July 8, 2018)

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

So Digital Digest celebrated its 19th birthday last week, on July 4, which seems like a familiar date for some reason here in Australia. Who am I kidding? I deliberately launched Digital Digest 19 years and a few days ago on America’s birthday mainly because I know how bad my memory is and the only way I would remember the anniversary would be to piggy back it to another, more easily remembered one.

As for the reasons behind launching Digital Digest (then known as DVDigest)? It was mainly because I had become bored of answering the same questions on several message boards that I had been visiting and decided to put all the available information in one place so I can just link to it in my responses. Plus I could also host a few downloads for people to use on the GeoCities hosted site (sites, actually, since one account usually wasn’t enough to handle all the bandwidth required).

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the site, and so I suppose I should celebrate it somehow being that it’s such a nice and rounded number and all. The arbitrariness of it all …

High Definition

Netflix

Netflix is testing new pricing tiers that could mean price rises for many

The arbitrariness of Netflix’s subscription tiers comes to the fore this week as it was revealed the streaming giant was testing a new, top subscription tier that sounds a lot like the current, top tier, except at a higher price. Netflix’s proposed “Ultra” tier would cost $3.50 more than the current “Premium” tier and would offer exactly the same 4 simultaneous screen plan with 4K and HDR support. What would be different is that the “Premium” plan would drop support for HDR streaming (while still maintaining 4K streaming support), and may even drop the number of simultaneous screens to 2, while the “Standard” plan may end up only supporting 1 screen. In other words, it’s a $3.50 price rise for those that want to watch shows in HDR, and price rises for everyone who needs simultaneous streaming.

This somewhat cynical move might not happen, as I doubt Netflix can get away with something like this if they don’t call it a price rise. But Netflix does need to raise prices because licensing and producing content is expensive business and may get more expensive now that Disney is all about to acquire Fox and will definitely launch their own streaming product – without Disney and Fox’s content, Netflix will have to pay more for other studio’s content or pay even more to produce their own.

There is possibly the argument that content costs too much to license these days because Hollywood is making for losses in DVD and Blu-ray sales with profits from streaming despite not every title making it to a streaming platform. Most of the other streaming platforms, like Amazon, are not even anywhere near profitable due largely to excessive licensing costs, and I’m just not sure this is a wise long term strategy for Hollywood. What is happening is that the high cost of licensing, and particularly the headaches involved with global licensing, means that it’s often more economical for the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to make their own original content – this, eventually, could put Hollywood in a weaker position both in terms of direct revenue (more competition for eyeballs) as well as when it comes to negotiating future deals, much like how music labels are now at the whim of the likes of Apple and Spotify. In other words, short term greed may end up equaling long term pain.

Still, the idea of subscribing to one or maybe just two platforms that offers pretty much all the content I will ever want to watch, seems like a distant and impossible dream right now.

Gaming

Android Game TV Controller

Google may be getting into gaming in a big way

Google may be dreaming of something too: their own gaming platform. And as with the direction of all things these days, the new platform, codenamed ‘Yeti’, will be streaming, cloud based.

Game streaming, or cloud gaming if you prefer that term instead, isn’t something that’s widely used yet, but all the major players want a piece of it, as it definitely has some major advantages over how games are traditionally distributed. For one, there’s no need to go to a store to buy a retail disc package (which, for a popular game, may be sold out), install it and then install updates to play. Digitally purchased games removes the need to go outside, but it still means a lengthy download, followed by more updates. Both methods also require local storage space, which if you have a lot of games, will always be a problem.

And that’s all assuming you can afford the hardware to play it on – a latest generation console or a souped up gaming PC – both of which will be outdated by the time most of the good games that can take advantage of the hardware actually comes out.

So streaming removes these hurdles, as you can start playing a game in just a few minutes time, with no need to pre-download GBs of data. Plus, with the rendering done on the server level, your local piece of hardware won’t need constant upgrading or to be powerful at all in the first place. Google’s plan is that eventually, you should be able to start a new Chrome tab on any device you own and it will be able to stream-play any game at the highest quality level.

Of course, the major hurdle for this would be bandwidth, because even games these days are 4K and unlike movies and TV which can be pre-compressed to have low bitrate requirements, games are live and have to be encoded live, and so won’t be as efficient when it comes to compression (and games tend to have more motion than movies of TV shows, which further affects their ability to get compressed well). So when everyone has 100 Mbps connections, game streaming might become as normal as Netflix, but until then, it’s still not for everyone. But the major players all want to be in a position to be able to take advantage of this when the bandwidth does eventually catch up, and so this is why Google has Yeti, Nvidia has GeForce Now, Sony has PlayStation Now, Microsoft has that so far unnamed one that they just announced, and also the dozens of other lesser known platforms. Watch this space.

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Well, that’s it for the week. I just realised that it’s nearly 11 years since I started doing this weekly news roundup. The very first roundup started with these words: “This might become a regular feature on the blog (hopefully) if, unlike most of my other projects, I actually manage to keep it up for more than a few weeks”. Looks like I did manage to keep it going for “more than a few weeks”. Here’s to a few weeks more …

Weekly News Roundup (July 1, 2018)

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

Welcome to the second half of 2018. My oh my, didn’t it go by fast? Actually, I completely understand that for some, maybe even many, it hasn’t seemed that quick, or even not quickly enough. Which just goes to show that time really is relative, and that we are heavily influenced by our perceptions, even when our perceptions are wrong at times.

What isn’t wrong is that we do have a few stories to cover, and so there’s definitely no time to waste (regardless of how quickly or slowly it passes for you).

Copyright

Roku FBI Warning

Roku’s anti-piracy measures have worked according to the company

We have a trio of copyright related stories in regards, to apps, streaming and gaming, three of the largest arenas when it comes to the digital world. Starting in no particular order, Roku has announced that they’ve succeeded in taming the beast that is piracy on their platform.

Roku has had a piracy problem so bad that it got banned in Mexico, of all places, and they’ve removed more than 400 organisations that have links to piracy on their platform, and who knows how many channels that were run by these organisations. Of course, some of these actions have led to unfortunately collateral damage (like when the Netflix and YouTube channels were removed accidentally), but there is no doubt that Roku is now a much more legal platform than when it started (although my feeling is that people who are using their Roku for piracy are using it wrong, or rather, there are better ways to get pirated content than from a Roku!).

The positive PR message is much needed from Roku, what with the streaming device industry now firmly in Hollywood’s sights. These days, preemptive action is the perfect prophylaxis when it comes to avoiding the unwanted attentions of the copyright industry.

Nintendo Switch

Piracy on the Switch is possible, but dangerous

Nintendo is also taking preemptive action against what the company thinks might be a flood of piracy occurring on their Switch console, following the jailbreaking of the console earlier this year. The Switch now apparently has code that could ban an entire console from being able to connect to online services, if it detects that pirated games are being run on it.

It’s not the only thing that Switch pirates have to worry about, as apparently the custom firmware they’re using the run pirate games has its own copy protection mechanism that could brick their consoles. Apparently, even pirates are worried about piracy, in this case of their custom firmware that they’re selling (as opposed to being given away, like most of these types of things). As with most things piracy related, use at your own risk!

There’s also a risk that when you look at everything through the prism of copyright, that sometimes, you see more than what’s actually happening. This may have been the case with the story involving Google’s addition of metadata on Android apps that, some say, could be used as a form of anti-piracy DRM.

Never mind the fact that Android apps can already use a Google provided server based authentication DRM for paid apps, and that Google was pretty clear what the metadata is for. Of course, the cynic would say that Google would never say that their DRM was a DRM, because that would be met with a huge public backlash. But what Google says is also true and also an important point, is that by adding metadata support, it will allow offline distribution of Google Play store compatible apps. Previously, offline distributed apps would count as a separate entity to Play store downloaded apps, in terms of updates, licensing and tying into Google accounts.

So there’s definitely the possibility that metadata can be used by app publishers as a form of DRM, to restrict the sharing of “unauthorised” apps, but there are already means to do this, so perhaps the Google Play store aspect is the more important story here (as it would open the way for third party app stores to exist, that would be able to sell apps for developers and have those apps work in exactly the same way as an app downloaded from the Play store).

Perception matters.

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So that’s all we have for the week. All related, but all different as well. See you next week.