Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (24 April 2016)

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Hello again! It has gotten unseasonably cold here in Melbourne, and it has given me just the motivation I need to make sure I write up this WNR as quickly as possible – so I can quickly finish, get under a blanket with a warm drink, and watch The Force Awakens again on Blu-ray. Oh yes!

But there’s just one obstacle to my nerdish plans – there’s actually quite a lot of news to go through this week. Oh no!

Copyright

The Expendables 3

The Expendables 3 does badly at the box office. One ‘Expendables’ movie too many, too much competition due to other blockbusters, or pre-release piracy to blame?

Starting with the copyright news as we have always done, Hollywood mogul Avi Lerner, the producer behind The Expendables franchise, has come out firing on all cylinders on what he perceives to be the lack of action to tackle online piracy. The target of his tirade? President Obama and Congress, for being too scared to take on Google.

Lerner is particularly angry about online piracy because he believes a pre-release leak of The Expendables 3 may have taken as much as $250 million away from the film’s actual $209 million global box office take. This means that according to Lerner, The Expendables 3 would have made $459 million at the box office without the pre-release leak. But the thing is that the previous film in the series, which was better received by critics, only made a combined total of $312 million (without any piracy intervention). To me, the third film’s $209 million makes sense given the movie’s poor reception, which according to the film’s star, may have more to do with ratings than downloads.

Most controversially, Lerner says that not only should people who help to pirate movies go to jail, even those that aren’t actively helping to stop piracy (like Google, I presume) should be punished in some way. So I’m guessing that removing 91 million links monthly and demoting piracy sites is apparently not considered to be “helping” by Lerner.

High Definition

Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens Blu-ray

The Force Awakens breaks more records, this time on Blu-ray

I’ve made it pretty clear I like The Force Awakens and enjoyed watching it on Blu-ray. It seems I wasn’t alone, as not content in breaking many box office records, the latest film in the Star Wars saga has also broken a few Blu-ray records. It helped Blu-ray sales better that of DVD’s for the first time ever (59% of disc sales belong to Blu-ray for the week in which The Force Awakens was released – the previous record was 48%), and an astonishing 82% of buyers chose to buy the Blu-ray edition of the film over the DVD-only edition (it’s normally under 70% for most new releases).

Some will note that the DVD-only edition was a bare bones edition without any special features, and that the Blu-ray edition does include the DVD edition of the film (in such a combo retail package, these sales count towards Blu-ray), but these records still took a long time to be broken. Note that the most successful Blu-ray of all time is another Disney title, ‘Frozen’ – could The Force Awakens break one more record?

Also interesting to note is that Disney chose not to release a 3D edition of the film, let alone a 4K Ultra HD version. This possibly hints at more double dipping later on, perhaps a new edition that includes more than just a couple of minutes of deleted scenes.

Disney has yet to really commit to Ultra HD Blu-ray, and only it and, surprisingly, Sony have yet to announce their release slate following Universal’s announcement this week. Universal’s first Ultra HD discs, to be released sometime in the U.S. summer, will be ‘Everest’, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Lone Survivor’, and the new releases to receive the 4K treatment will include ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ and the as yet unreleased ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘Warcraft’ movies. Perhaps not the most exciting line-up ever considering all the films that Universal have access to, and definitely not as exciting as The Force Awakens, which is the kind of title that benefits most from a 4K treatment and would boost the format to no end if it becomes available.

Gaming

Metal Gear Solid V PS4

PS4.5, PS4K, or PS4 NEO – whatever you call it, the upgraded PS4 appears to be real

There’s something a lot more concrete to the rumors of a new “super” PS4, including a codename of the so far still unofficial console upgrade. The PS4 “NEO” will have a better CPU, GPU and faster RAM – not quite next-gen, but enough to make 4K gaming a reality.

As for how Sony will reconcile having two vastly different PS4 SKUs, the company has informed developers of several restrictions to how they can release games in the future. First of all, all games have to work on the older standard PS4s, but they are allowed to have a “NEO Mode” that includes support for better graphics. Games in “NEO Mode” have to have the same or better framerate than games in standard mode, even if the games are running at 4K (and games also have to be at least 1080p). Things like save games and online modes have to be shareable and compatible between the two modes.

What isn’t so clear right now is whether the included Blu-ray drive will be upgraded to one that can read Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. It seems like the perfect opportunity to add UHD Blu-ray playback to the PS4, but it all depends on how costly it would be to add the drive, and more importantly, how costly it will be to obtain the licensing needed to allow UHD Blu-ray playback.

Xbox 360 - Red Rings of Death

The Xbox 360 wasn’t always a success …

Microsoft may be working on their own upgraded Xbox One too, which FCC filings (and the Brazilian equivalent) pointing to at least two more SKUs. Interestingly, there’s information to suggest that all will be revealed at E3, but whether these proves to be the elusive Xbox One.Point.Five, or just a minor SKU refresh, we’ll have to wait and see.

What we won’t wait to find out is the fate of the Xbox 360, which this week Microsoft announced the end of production for. It’s been an incredibly successful decade for the 360, which didn’t start well (remember the RRoD?), but ended very strongly. With the Xbox One now having backwards compatibility, I guess Microsoft has decided the time was right to send the old beige, and eventually black box into retirement.

Rest well, 360, you deserve it.

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So that’s it for the week. Not a minute too soon either, as I’m freezing my appendages off here. See you next week, when hopefully it’s a bit warmer.

Weekly News Roundup (17 April 2016)

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Having watched The Force Awakens on Blu-ray (having already seen it twice at the cinemas), I can honestly say that it is one fun movie (at least for Star Wars fans). Sure, it may be derivative, but it’s proper Star Wars in the sense that the prequels weren’t, and one that even casual fans will enjoy. And add to it JJ Abrams’s latest slip of the tongue (or deliberate use of the good old mystery box) about Rey’s parentage, the anticipation for the next instalment is going to be insane.

There’s no Star Wars related news this week though, but there are stories about zombies, conspiracy theories and popular video game characters.

Copyright

The Walking Dead

This photo shows anti DMCA abuse protesters at a protest event

The latest season of The Walking Dead has just ended, and a new season of Fear the Walking Dead has started in its place. So while there’s still plenty of zombie action on TV, there’s also apparently lots of zombie action online as well, at least according to the head of a copyright group. The head of the pro copyright group Copyright Alliance says recent online protesters, demanding an end to DMCA abuse, are just like walkers, biters and roamers, that their protest lacks both “effort or brainpower”.

The online protests centered around the issue of DMCA abuse, or when rights-holders abuse the DMCA submission process to submit invalid requests, sometimes due to negligence, and also for more sinister reasons (such as to cripple a competitor). However, according to the head of the Copyright Alliance, Keith Kupferschmid, these protests are meaningless because they were submitted via an automated online form, where a pre-written message was provided for protesters. Despite the fact that users can and many did choose to submit additional comments in addition to the pre-written messages, and despite the fact that the Copyright Alliance runs similar automated campaigns (sometimes without even an option to submit additional commentsa), Kupferschmid still likens these protesters to “zombies in The Walking Dead” due to the “lack of effort”.

Those still wanting to join the horde can still do so on the offiical TakedownAbuse campaign website. And despite what Kupferschmid says, zombies, especially those in The Walking Dead, can be quite effective when trying to achieve their goals (eat humans), so underestimate them at your own peril!

Those that want to legally watch The Walking Dead, however, may find things a little more difficult after the MPAA’s WhereToWatch website removed the ability to search Netflix. WhereToWatch was set up by the MPAA to promote legal content, trying to silence critics who say the piracy problem is partly due to how difficult it is to find legal content online. Conspiracy theories sprung forth from the well that is the Internet, some suggesting that maybe the MPAA no longer considers Netflix as a legal source.

But the actual explanation was much more simpler – Netflix no longer allows third parties to search its library. The abundance of Netflix search sites seems to suggest otherwise, but these crawl Netflix’s site to retrieve a listing of content, and this is very much against Netflix’s terms of service, something the MPAA owned WhereToWatch wasn’t prepared to do.

Still, the critics’ original point stands – it’s can still be exceedingly hard at times to find legal content, and with content being more and more fragmented across a variety of SVOD platforms (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and FOX, CBS and others own SVOD platforms, each offering a subset of content), it really is hard at times to determine just which one of your many subscriptions has that show, episode or movie you want to watch (sure, you can buy it all on iTunes, but I’ve left my American Express Black Card in my other pants).

Gaming

Wii U

Nintendo will hope the NX sells better than the Wii U

Onto gaming news now, with E3 just around the corner, the rumour mill is now working over time on everything from the PS4.5, to the Xbox Next, and the most mysterious of them all, the Nintendo NX. Theoretically coming out next year, we still don’t really have an official name (I doubt it will be called the NX, which sounds more like project codename). The latest rumours suggest the NX will be “noticeable” more powerful than the PS4, and that some of the most popular Wii U games will be ported over to the NX at/near launch.

Assuming Nintendo has learned the lessons from the relative failure that is the Wii U, launching a console mid-generation that’s barely better than what’s already on the market, with games from some of the biggest Nintendo franchises missing, is not something the company will want to see a repeat of with the NX, even if the price is low enough. So I hope the NX will be powerful, maybe more powerful than the much touted PS4.5, and there will be a nice collection of Mario, Pokemon, Zelda and Super Smash Bros. games available at launch, even if some are just ported/enhanced editions of previous games. If they can do this, and introduce a bit of Nintendo magic in again changing the way we play games, then the NX looks to have a bright start and an even brighter future.


So that’s another week done and dusted. Have a great one and see you in seven.

Weekly News Roundup (27 March 2016)

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Can’t believe it’s Easter already, and here I am, absentmindedly thinking it’s still 2015 from time to time.

Quite a bit of news to go through before we probably encounter the Easter/post Easter lull, so let’s get on with it, shall we?

Copyright

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray

People will still buy this disc even though a pirated copy is already available, almost two weeks before the official release date

Well, it was unfortunate and probably predictable, as the Blu-ray edition of Star Wars: The Force Awaken, not due on store shelves until another week and a bit, has been ripped and uploaded online illegally. I say it’s predictable because, as one of the biggest movie releases ever (and possibly a record breaker for Blu-ray too), there was just no way this wasn’t going to get leaked early, especially considering how many people will have had access to the retail discs before the embargo date. While the official release date isn’t until April 5th, stores that plan on selling the disc will most likely already have received stock, stock that has been made and packaged long before – all the steps on this production and distribution line will be vulnerable to leaks, and for a release this big, it would have been amazing if there wasn’t a pre-release leak.

With that said, will it really affect sales? Probably not. This is one of the biggest movies ever, and true fans will not be sated until they get their (my) hands on the retail Blu-ray package, the existence of an illegal pirated download is not relevant (we might still download it though) – they (I) would have pre-ordered their copy months in advance anyway, and they won’t be cancelling it for the rip. There might be a few lost sales here and there, but these people were never really that serious about buying the disc anyway, and it’s not going to make a huge dent on the predicted huge sales numbers.

High Definition

The Peanuts Movie Ultra HD Blu-ray

As UHD Blu-ray releases go, The Peanuts Movie wasn’t a popular one

Speaking of Blu-ray sales, the Blu-ray sales stats I published this week contains the first set of numbers for Ultra HD Blu-ray, and there are both good and bad news for the new 4K format.

The Peanuts Movie is one of the first new releases that happens to be released simultaneously on Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray, and long story short (actually, story isn’t that long anyway), not many UHD copies were sold at all. UHD discs for this movie were only 0.27% of total disc sales (which includes standard Blu-ray and DVD), or just under 0.5% of total Blu-ray sales (in other words, only one UHD copy was sold for every 203 standard Blu-ray copies, or 166 DVD copies).

Okay, perhaps this wasn’t the best movie to show off the UHD format, and according to disc buyers, it was ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ that was the UHD demo disc of choice. It had a much more respectable UHD sales share of 6.19% (so one UHD copy for every 6 Blu-ray copies sold, or every 8 DVDs).

It’s still early days, but it looks like its going to take some time before UHD Blu-ray becomes a major factor in disc sales.

Gaming

What might help accelerate UHD Blu-ray’s adoption would be if the PS4 was upgraded to support it – and this might actually happen, if you believe the rumours. Apparently, game developers are already being briefed on a new mode of the PS4 that will support 4K gaming (the current PS4 only supports 4K for images and video files), which necessitates the use of a new GPU. If such a major hardware change is to occur, then chances are, Sony might use the opportunity to also upgrade the optical drive in the PS4 to support Ultra HD Blu-ray. It will make the new PS4, dubbed PS4.5 (or PS4K, as I’ve read about it in some quarters), more expensive, but this “premium” PS4 would not be aimed at the budget conscious anyway.

I think it makes good sense for Sony to make this move, and if they do, it would also fill the rather obvious looking gap in Sony’s Blu-ray player line-up – the company does not even have any current plans to release a Ultra HD Blu-ray player at all!

Wii U Boxes

Wii U sales have been bad enough to maybe force Nintendo to bring the NX’s release date forward to 2016

So while Sony (and Microsoft) are all thinking about making their flagship consoles better, Nintendo might be trying to abandon it altogether in 2016. Reports, which was later somewhat weakly refuted by Nintendo, suggests the Japanese company is going to cut their losses and stop production of the Wii U in 2016. The PS4 has sold three times many units globally than the Wii U despite being released a whole year later, and the situation is not going to get any better. But with Nintendo’s next console not coming out until 2017, it’s extremely unlikely the company will end Wii U production before then – not unless they bring up the release date of the NX to 2016.

It’s actually not too difficult to see what went wrong with the Wii U. It wasn’t powerful enough compared to the other current generation consoles, it wasn’t cheap enough either thanks to the price war between Microsoft and Sony. And while it had a good stable of first party games, there were some obvious absentees (Zelda!), and third party support was lacking. It was probably lacking because the Wii U failed to bring anything really innovative to gaming unlike the Wii – the tablet controller is good, but is often underutilised, even by first party games – and third party developers just weren’t excited about what the Wii U brought to gaming (that’s not to say that the PS4 and Xbox One were innovative, they weren’t, but they didn’t have to be because they were superior in almost every other way).

So it’s a bit early to eulogise the Wii U, but let’s just hope Nintendo has learned their lessons and give us something that will either be revolutionarily different and/or powerful enough to make Sony and Microsoft look over their shoulders with nervousness. Plus better launch games (Zelda!)

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Okay folks, that’s it for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of the WNR, Happy Easter, and see you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (20 March 2016)

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Hello again! I’ll try to keep this one nice and short, despite there being actually quite a bit of news this week. I just had a sneaking suspicion that you’re not in the mood for reading a whole bunch, that and the fact that I’m not in the mood for writing too much either.

Being lazy and not feeling guilty about it has its perks!

Copyright

Australia's Internet Filter

Australian Internet filtering about to start … only if the legal stuff can be sorted out first

We first step onto the continent of Australia, where the powers that be (ie. Hollywood) have finally decided to do something about the Pirate Bay problem. And by doing something, it of course means site blocking. But before the blocking can happen, the rights-holders have to get a court order, and things are not very straight forward for them due to the laws we have here (laws that were only recently changed to allow site blocking). You can read the whole piece for details as to why site blocking is kind of tricky to get started here. But a difficult process is what’s needed, as censorship is not something that should be taken lightly, even when it relates to something as obvious as The Pirate Bay.

From one lawsuit to another, this time from the other side of the world. When the sister company of Warner and Intel and the company responsible for managing the HDCP copy protection system found in HDMI/DP connections sued Chinese HDMI/DP splitter/conversion maker LegendSky, it might have seemed a rather straight forward case. After all, one of LegendSky’s latest devices may have been responsible for the spate of 4K rips that hit the torrent scene last year, from sources that had been protected using the latest and most secure version of HDCP.

HDMI Connector

When is a HDCP stripper not a HDCP stripper?

But it appears LegendSky’s devices doesn’t actually strip the new version of HDCP at all from sources like Netflix 4K streams and Ultra HD Blu-ray. Instead, it converts the new, hard to crack version to an older version that has already been cracked – and the conversion is legal (and used to maintain legacy compatibility).  This, LegendSky says, means DCP’s original lawsuit is flawed and based on the wrong assertions, and that it should be dismissed by the judge immediately. Bold words. Fighting words, which means this straight forward lawsuit has just become anything but straight forward.

Speaking of Netflix rips, the streaming giant has done the unthinkable – it has joined the Google DMCA filing game, submitting 71,861 links for removal. Netflix, using the services of the anti-piracy outfit Vobile, wants streaming and download links to shows like Sense8, House of Cards taken down. This marks a drastic change of direction for Netflix, who, up until now, had maintained a relaxed attitude towards piracy. In fact, CEO Reed Hastings even admitted that piracy sometimes “creates the demand” for the streaming network’s own original programming.

Gaming

Microsoft has just dropped the price of the Xbox One again, this time to $299. The price drop is only temporary, but based on history, it might turn into a permanent one if sales respond in the expected manner. It’s the best weapon in Microsoft’s arsenal in their bitter battle with the PS4, and truth be told, it’s probably the most effective weapon anyway. It will be interesting to see if Sony responds, but given their sales lead and momentum, they probably don’t even need to.

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So that’s it then for the week. Not too long as promised, but still full of tasty goodness as always, erm, or something. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (13 March 2016)

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Another short one this week, as it has been a pretty boring week in terms of news. I guess this is a kind of birthday present to me, to give me a little breather the week before. So thanks to the MPAA, pirates, the Blu-ray people and game console companies for not making any big splashes – if you can keep it up for another week, that would be much appreciated!

Here’s the news that we did get ….

Copyright

MovieSwap Media Player

MovieSwap is a Kickstarter that wants to help you rip DVDs and share it with other people … the MPAA are not pleased

A new Kickstarter aims to take DVD lending and swapping to the next level, but unfortunately, it may be a level that’s swarming with MPAA lawyers and an end boss that’s impossible to defeat. MovieSwap wants you to send in your old DVDs, and for every DVD you send in, you’re able to swap it for another DVD send in by another user. Except the physical DVD stays with MovieSwap, and its the ripped, digital version they you’ll be swapping around.

DVDs can only be “lent out” one at a time, just like with a real swap, but being digital, the movie can be watched on a variety of devices.

If you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll already know why this innovative idea will simply never work. Not because there are technical problem with it (there might be, as it seems there might be an imbalance between the number of available copies of DVDs people want and the DVDs they actually send in), but there definitely seems to be some legal clouds over the idea behind the service. Clouds, or perhaps a category 5 cyclone.

The MPAA won’t like the ripping part, that’s a given. Remember Kaleidescape and when they tried to rip DVDs for use on a local media server (not shared with anyone but the DVD’s owner), and how they got slapped legally for it? And while this replicates the idea of personal lending in the digital space, this kind of replication has never been viewed upon favourably, not by the rightsholders nor by the legal system (see Aereo and their replication of how DVRs work). Then there’s the small problem of the MPAA not getting even a small cut of the profits.

The problem for me is that MovieSwap doesn’t just replicate how DVD swapping works – it improves it by way too much. In real life, I would never be able to swap movies with a total stranger from anywhere in the world (and it might be weeks before I get my DVD back in real life). It’s DVD lending on steroids, and the net effect will be that people will spend less money to watch more movies, with money they would have otherwise given the the MPAA studios going into MovieSwap’s pockets instead via the monthly subscription fee.

It’s easy to see why the MPAA won’t like this, not one bit.

Gaming

PC Build - Innards

This is not what Phil Spencer meant by upgradeable Xbox Ones

A clarification from Phil Spencer about “upgradeable” Xbox Ones – they won’t be. When Spencer originally talked about upgrading the Xbox One hardware, some assumed it meant making the Xbox One more like PCs, with parts you can buy the upgrade the innards. Or at the very least, making the Xbox One more modular so you can plug in add-on hardware to make it more powerful. I for one always thought he meant just a new SKU with a beefier version of the Xbox One, that was still compatible with all existing Xbox One games, but had better graphics (it’s similar to the idea Sony has for a Super PS4).

Whatever the case is, you won’t be needing a “screwdriver set”, according to Spencer.

As it’s a pretty light news week, I might just update you again on the state of video game sales in the US for Februaryu, in which the PS4 outsold the Xbox One again, just like it did in January, December, November … or until whatever it was the last time I remembered to write about NPD results here (hard to find anything to write about when it’s the same every month). As per usual, Microsoft talked up the fact that sales are way up compared to a year ago, which may mean the gap between the two consoles is closing.

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So that’s that then. See you next week, when I’ll be a year older but most definitely not wiser!