Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (December 4, 2016)

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

Welcome to another edition of the Weekly News Roundup. A new week has definitely passed, but unfortunately, due to Thanksgiving probably and me being busy with other stuff, there’s not much to talk about (or more precisely, there’s no news to talk about at all).

So instead, I’ll use this blank canvas to ramble incoherently about DVD, Blu-ray and 4K sales, as a preview to my yearly Blu-ray: The State of Play series.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been keeping track of weekly U.S. Blu-ray and DVD sales numbers for quite a few years now, and every year, I write the “State of Play” to summarise how the year went in terms of sales, and looks at trends. Even though we are without probably the best weeks of the year in terms of sales, I thought I would offer a preview of what the year has been like so far for Blu-ray sales.

Ultra HD Blu-ray Logo

Is Ultra HD Blu-ray helping total disc sales?

It’s an important year because a new Blu-ray format, Ultra HD Blu-ray, was introduced, and the popularization of streaming continued unabated. So it’s important to take a look to see if discs are still a thing that people want. More importantly, has 4K had a positive effect on the format (considering that 4K UHD Blu-ray sales are counted as Blu-ray sales in the stats I provide weekly).

Looking at the stats, the short answer is yes, 4K has helped Blu-ray record a turn-around!

2015 was not a good year for discs, and not a good year for Blu-ray. Blu-ray revenue had declined for the second year running, and it certainly appears that “peak Blu-ray” or even “peak disc”, where the peak for Blu-ray/disc sales, had already been reached some time in 2013.

But 2016 is turning out to be quite different, at least for the first 47 weeks so far of the year, and the turning point came in March, when the first Ultra HD Blu-ray discs were released.

Let me go into some more detail for you. Of the 52 weeks in 2015, thirty weeks (that’s close to 58% of the weeks) had a Blu-ray revenue result that was lower than the same week in 2014, compared to 22 weeks (42%) that had recorded a rise in Blu-ray revenue.

Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray

Studios aren’t shy to bring their biggest hits to UHD Blu-ray

For 2016 so far, it has reversed, where 21 weeks (45%) were worse compared to 26 weeks (55%) that were better. Looking at the same time period (the first 47 weeks) in 2015, Blu-ray revenue was 7.6% lower than the same period in 2014, but comparing 2016 to 2015, Blu-ray revenue is now up 2.3%. That’s what I call a turnaround!

Now looking at the first 11 weeks of 2016 that did not include any Ultra HD Blu-ray sales, 6 of these weeks were worse than the same weeks in 2016, only 5 were better. Revenue for this period had fallen 6.1% compared to a year ago.

So in other words, before Ultra HD Blu-ray, revenue was falling at about the same rate as in 2015, but since then, revenue has actually risen. Ultra HD Blu-ray has had a very positive effect on Blu-ray sales.

None of this should be a surprise for those that have been following the WNR. I’ve mentioned many times that studios have been very proactive in releasing titles on UHD Blu-ray, and that the UHD version is selling quite well given how new the format it (it frequently beats the 3D version of the same film). And studios are only keen to push UHD because there are lots of households already with 4K, thanks to a lower than expect price premium to upgrade to the format (relatively speaking, of course).

Now with that said, the final few weeks of 2016 could still change things around, depending on how receptive people are to Ultra HD Blu-ray during this crucial sales period. But given that the Xbox One S is expected to sell very well in the U.S. during the holidays, and the Xbox One S includes an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, it’s quite possible the sales growth will actually intensify during the next few weeks.

We’ll have to wait a few more weeks before I can confirm were Blu-ray revenue will end up, and even if my hypothesis is correct and that 4K is helping sales, it’s hard to tell if this boost is just a temporary one on the transition away from discs.

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More news (or some news) next week, I promise. Have a good one!

Weekly News Roundup (November 20, 2016)

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Welcome to another week here on the Weekly News Roundup. Hope everything’s been well? Having Trump-tastically good week or a Trump-sasterously bad one? Having a nice Trump-eekend, on a nice Trump-day (every day is a Trump-day)? Sorry, but we’ve been forced to make some changes here at WNR HQ by President-Elect Trump, so this is how things are now.

It was a good week in terms of news though, in that there were some interesting ones and ones that are away from the usual copyright related bore-fest that fills the WNR all far too often.

Copyright

HDMI Connector

Sony’s buggy firmware, or did HDMI’s nasty DRM HDCP strike again?

I know it’s kind of weird to continue on from the last sentence by bringing you a copyright related story, but this one actually has a little bit of everything in relation to what we usually cover here in the WNR. The new super duper 4K PS4 Pro (gaming – check!) has hit a snatch thanks to a potentially buggy firmware update, that, possibly due to annoying DRM (copyright – check!), causes the console to output nothing but a blank screen (digital video – check!).

Those with selected TVs (especially the older, but 4K variety) and who intend to upgrade to 4.05 may need to hold off (4.06 is out, but it doesn’t fix this issue), or follow the workaround I linked to in the news story, as a potential bug in the HDMI copy protection scheme HDCP may be causing a blank display for some. The workaround involves going into the PS4’s Safe Mode and changing the output to HDMI 1.4, or turning off HDCP entirely.

A proper fix in the form of another firmware update is expected to hit the PS4 eventually, so it’s a good thing that the PS4 allows you to turn off HDCP (primarily used to capture gaming footage), even though this means you’ll not be able to play most videos (Blu-ray, Netflix, etc…) due to the fact that Hollywood is extremely paranoid.

High Definition

You still won’t be able to play Ultra HD Blu-ray movies on the PS4 Pro though, because Sony missed a really big opportunity to market the PS4 Pro as the ultimate 4K machine, not just for gaming, but also for video (that is, until the Xbox One Scorpio arrives). I can understand if Sony wanted to remain more profitable (or less lossy) by not including a new UHD drive in the PS4 Slim, but it just doesn’t make much sense to skip it for the PS4 Pro, especially considering Sony the studio is actually quite active in releasing movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray, and that Sony the consumer electronics firm is bit lacking in the Ultra HD Blu-ray standalone department.

Ultra HD Blu-ray Logo

Ultra HD Blu-ray is a hit with consumers …

And it’s a shame, because UHD Blu-ray actually appears to be doing quite well, better than Blu-ray was at the same time in its release cycle. Over 1 million UHD discs have already been sold in the U.S., and that’s before the format has had its first Holiday sales season even.

For those that follows my weekly Blu-ray/DVD sales analysis, it’s easy to see that studios have (for the most part – Disney, I’m looking at you!) embraced Ultra HD Blu-ray – most new releases, even some you might consider as minor ones, are getting the UHD treatment, many also getting HDR too. Prices are higher, but not astronomical for a new format. Consumer electronics firms have also contributed by ensuring the premium for 4K TVs is mainly due to the increased screen size (and decreased depth) – smaller 4KTVs are actually quite affordable given how new the format is. So with plenty of new content, and affordable hardware, it’s easy to see why the format is doing well.

Gaming

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

… so why didn’t the two new PS4s include playback when the Xbox One S did?

Which brings me back to my earlier point about the PS4 Pro’s lack of UHD Blu-ray support being such a missed opportunity. Sony’s wrong turn could benefit Microsoft, as the Xbox One had just beat the PS4 for the fourth straight month in the U.S. largely on the backs of the UHD Blu-ray capable Xbox One S. This is despite Sony releasing the PS4 Slim, which many analysts see as a totally unnecessary addition to the PS4 line-up. I can see why Sony needs a cheaper PS4 Slim to sit alongside the “premium” PS4 Pro, but while the Slim and just like its fatter older sibling is a better console than the original Xbox One, it looks decidedly average in value compared to the S. Even without looking at the lack of UHD Blu-ray playback, the Slim is not as powerful as the S, it’s not capable of 4K (at the moment) for things like Netflix, and the S can also do 4K upscaling for games. Microsoft is on to a winner with the Xbox One S – the PS4 Slim just simply isn’t

With that said, PlayStation VR may tip the battle in favour of Sony again though. But the game may change again when the Xbox One ‘Scorpio’ is unleashed.

Whatever happens, gamers will be the ultimate winner as competition between Sony, Microsoft, and come next year, Nintendo heats up.

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And that’s all we have for you this week. See you next week, but until then (and as we’re now legally obligated to end all articles this way), May the Trump be with You!

Weekly News Roundup (November 13, 2016)

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

A somewhat shorter WNR this week, for no other reason than the fact that it’s been a quiet week, on the copyright/digital video/gaming front, with the world and the U.S. in particularly preoccupied with other matters.

Whatever your political affiliations, we can all agree that compassion, tolerance and kindness are core values that we all share, and it’s always worth noting all the things we share in common, as opposed to always focusing on our differences.

On a more specific political note, it’s clear that the real loser of this election has been establishment politics. Many people feel that they have been left behind by a much changed economy, and that to vote for more of the same is not in their best interests. Many have voted for real change when the last 8 years promised much but delivered little, but not all change is good change. And some change, are more likely to set things back, than to advance them forward. Time will tell what kind of change, if any, Americans be getting this time.

Copyright

4shared

4shared being targeted on Google, but righs-holders shunning the site’s own anti-piracy tools

Megaupload’s dramatic takedown has ensured many of its previous competitors have either gotten out of the game, or were themselves targets of lawsuits. One major site still exists though – 4shared. Those with good memories will remember a story I’ve written in the past about 4shared and their effort to create a superior anti-piracy tool for rights-holders – a tool that has largely been ignored by the very same people who complain to the U.S. government about 4shared’s activities. These same rights-holders are also going crazy on Google to try and remove Google’s search result links to 4shared, more than 50 million URL requests sent already, when they can achieve this and much more by using 4shared’s tools. It’s as if the rights-holders aren’t really that interested in getting pirated stuff off of 4shared, or at the very least, they show little interest in working with 4shared to solve a common problem.

My little pet theory is that rights-holders don’t want to be seen as cooperating with 4shared because some of them still harbour a wish to sue the site in the future. By using 4shared’s tool, and especially if it’s effective, it makes for a powerful argument that 4shared is already doing all they can to minimize the piracy problem. It also shifts the responsibility of patrolling the site for copyright infringement firmly back towards rights-holders, something rights-holders will always try to avoid.

Coding

The software industry’s copyright watchdog has a mini SNAFU when it comes to obeying software licensing on their own website

One things rights-holder groups should definitely try to avoid is to engage in their own copyright abuse, which may be what anti software piracy group the Business Software Alliance (BSA) did inadvertently. The BSA’s website used a free JavaScript library, but failed to include the software’s license with the modified code, which is the one requirement that’s required by the authors of the library. The library, jQuery, is used quite commonly on the Internet (including right here on Digital Digest), and including the license terms is quite normal for software of this kind. But some web developers prefer to strip away all “unnecessary” code to improve efficiency, and while this may be okay for other sites (even if it is against the licensing terms), for copyright stickler like the BSA, it’s a no-no for sure.

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Believe it or not, we’ve come to the end of this WNR. I was going to talk a bit more about the Nintendo Switch, like the fact that we now know the screen is indeed a touchscreen, and maybe a little bit about the Nintendo Classic (mini NES with 30 games, but way too short of a controller cable). But I can’t get my hands on either of these at the moment (the Switch for obvious reasons, the Classic because it’s sold out everywhere), so any talk is kind of pointless if you think about it.

So on that note, time to say goodbye for now. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (November 6, 2016)

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

A new week brings more new stories, and usually something interesting to write in the intro. I’m really struggling today, so I’m going to cheat and skip trying to think of something to say here and get straight to the news.

Copyright

Facebook may be the place you get your funny cat pictures from, but it’s also the place where some get their illegally downloaded music from. And where there’s piracy, there’s an anti-piracy agency sniffing around to see if it can get in on the action. And that’s exactly what prolific Dutch anti-piracy agency BREIN did last week when it targeted nine Facebook groups that have been accused of sharing copyrighted music. Facebook obliged without much resistance and closed down those groups immediately.

Copyright groups and their masters are notoriously slow when it comes to keeping up with the latest trends, and with most of their focus having been on websites, forums and torrent trackers, pirates have been quietly moving into social media for some time now. Now that copyright groups such as BREIN have finally caught up, it may signal the next round of copyright whack-a-mole, now involving social sites.

If the whack-a-mole game becomes too tedious, also expect copyright groups to try and hold sites like Facebook and Twitter responsible for all their woes, anything to actually not have to innovate and cater to their audience’s needs.

So while some copyright groups are busy trying take down half the Internet in order to protect their outdated business model, others are trying hard to strengthen laws in order to protect their outdated business model. Thus the DMCA was born in the late 90’s, when the Internet thing just started to scare the bejesus out of the movie studios and record labels. Since then, it’s various flaws have been exposed and none more so than the controversial anti-circumvention provision.

Botnet

The DMCA has hindered security research and allowed malicious actors to hack devices unhindered

Companies have been abusing the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision to stifle innovation, reduce competition and even cover up negative coverage about the security flaws in their own products. It’s gotten so bad that security researchers, whose job is to find flaws before those with malicious intent find and utilize them for their own nefarious means, have been unable to do their job for fear of being prosecuted under the DMCA. Of course, black hat hackers don’t care about the law, and so they’ve been able to do their “job” unhindered in many cases. As I write in the news story, “this chilling effect may have contributed to an epidemic of hacking and malware attacks on devices ranging from smart light bulbs to security cameras, especially now with more and more devices now having public facing Internet connectability”.

The good news is that the government has finally wised up to the problem, and the FTC among others have lobbied the US Copyright Office to grant a new exemption to allow researchers to finally do their job, without the fear of being sued.

And it only took 20 years for this sensible change to occur!

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Remember Iceland’s Pirate Party and how they had become a political force to be reckoned with in the country, well Iceland held their election last week and while the Pirate Party did extremely well with 15% of the vote (compared to 29% received by the country’s largest political party), it wasn’t enough for them to form government, which would have truly been an extraordinary turn of events had it occurred.

Still, it was a very good effort and perhaps something to build on while in opposition.

Gaming

Wii U

This is the first picture we’ve ever uploaded for the Wii U, which ended productions this past week

Sad news for Wii U fans as reports suggests Nintendo has officially ended production for the console. There’s been a lot of talk about how the Switch is what the Wii U should have been, and there has just been as many people defending the Wii U for what it is – a console that was never going to be as popular as the Wii, but was a stepping stone in Nintendo’s eventual vision for the Switch.

But the bottom line is clear – the Wii U was not a commercial success for Nintendo, having only sold a bit more than 13.4 million units, and it’s been retired fairly early in relation to the typical console lifecycle (it’s only a year older than the PS4 and Xbox One, both of which have easily outsold the Wii U in the 3 years they’ve been on the market).

So it’s bye-bye to the Wii U (and the Wii brand, in fact), and hello to the Switch. Can’t wait!

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And it’s a bye-bye to all of you as we come to the end of another WNR. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading, 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!