Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (8 February 2016)

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the year of the Monkey, so those born 12, 24, 36 … hope you can spot the pattern … years ago should seriously consider wearing something red every single day to avoid bad luck. Me? I’ve stockpiled on red underwear during the holiday sales, so I’m all good!

No go on part one of the PC build guide – just too much going on this week in terms of news, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Maybe not even a minute, because here’s the news …

Copyright

PayPal Logo

PayPal doing the dirty work of the MPAA, bans VPN provider UnoTelly

Trigger happy PayPal has another target, this time it’s VPN/SmartDNS providers. UnoTelly was the unfortunate first victim in PayPal’s potential purge of geo-dodging service providers, possibly due to pressure from Hollywood. Once again, PayPal disappoints in caving to almost no pressure at all, having previously banned file hosting providers, torrent search engines, or anything that rights-holders don’t like.

The worst thing about this ban is that it isn’t very clear at all that geo-dodging, while definitely against the user agreements of services like Netflix, is considered copyright infringement. In fact, it’s considered legal here in Australia (as specifically confirmed by our current prime minister). Plus, VPNs have all sorts of non geo-dodging uses, including enhanced security for when you’re using public Wi-Fi, so I’m not sure if PayPal’s actions can be defended if companies like UnoTelly do challenge it (which they probably won’t).

We’ll have to wait and see if this is just an isolated incidence, or part of a wider campaign to clamp-down on geo-dodging (which could extend to other payment providers, including credit card companies). It’s quite disconcerting to known that major corporations can make deals like this to bring entire industries to their knees, all the while bypassing the legal process that’s designed to protect all parties involved.

Speaking of bypassing the legal process, the MPAA has apparently reached an private agreement with the operators of Popcorn Time, and this week Hollywood’s copyright lobby took over the Popcorntime.io domain name. Technically, the MPAA did not bypass the legal process, as it had launched a lawsuit against the operators – a lawsuit that has now been settled, so this one is still better than PayPal’s unilateral bannings.

High Definition

Dolby Vision HDR

HDR, like Dolby Vision, is where the big leap in picture quality is going to come from

I expect a lot of the focus this year to be on 4K, with the technology all but ready to be mainstream in 2016. But while I like the fact that the admission price into the world of 4K is quite low these days, I do worry that people aren’t getting the best out of it. While the increased resolution should be somewhat noticeable even if you don’t have a mega-sized TV (think of it as down-scaling or anti-aliasing), it’s things like increased colour gamuts and HDR that should give the biggest visual punch for upgraders – and you probably won’t get that from a budget 4K TV.

Netflix also agrees that the biggest thing about 4K isn’t 4K, but HDR and improved colours, and the company is doing its bid to make the content available. Netflix predicts that 5% of its content will be HDR enabled by the end of this year (and 20% by 2019), and it’s already shooting its Original shows in HDR whenever possible.

The problem now though is that we do have a format war brewing between two different HDR standards – Dolby’s Dolby Vision and HDR 10. Hopefully, most TV manufacturers, like Netflix, will choose to support both. Ultra HD Blu-ray officially supports HDR 10, but also offers “possible” support for Dolby Vision which will depend on manufacturers.

In related HDR news, Samsung’s first Ultra HD player, the UBD-K8500, is already available to buy, a little bit earlier than expected. The player apparently does not support Dolby Vision, but I’m hoping something could come along via a firmware update to fix this. Meanwhile, despite being the major backers of Blu-ray, Sony is adopting a wait and see attitude towards Ultra HD Blu-ray, preferring to not release its UHD BD player until 2017 (at the latest). Sony cites strong competition from 4K streaming, and the lack of slated Ultra HD releases in 2016, as reasons for the delay, worries that apparently aren’t on Samsung, Panasonic and Philips’s radars.

Gaming

Xbox One Halo 5 Edition

Xbox One selling only half as many as the PS4, according to EA

Just how far behind the PS4 is the Xbox One? That’s the question that everyone is asking, but Microsoft, the only ones that have the actual data to answer the question, is remaining pretty quiet on the issue. Except they’re actually not the only ones that can answer the question – apparently, EA can do too, and they have. EA’s boss has accidentally leaked the Xbox One sales data, and it shows Sony’s PS4 is outselling the Xbox One by almost a 2-to-1 margin.

Despite this, Microsoft says they’re still happy with the sales results so far because it’s still better than the Xbox 360 at the same point in time. However, the Xbox 360 became stronger after the slim update, and then subsequently became the best selling home console for a long while – for the Xbox One to be as successful, it too needs something like this to happen. But I doubt it will happen though – the PS4 is just too strong.

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That’s it for the week. Hope you had fun reading. See you next Chinese year!

Weekly News Roundup (10 January 2016)

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

So here’s something interesting. I’ve started on a new PC build. It’s not because my Surface Pro 3 is no longer good enough as my desktop replacement (it is more than enough), but I just thought I would update my skills (as a PC builder) with some of the new tech and parts since I last played around inside a PC case (erm, probably in 2012?). Plus, there are some processor intensive tasks, such as video encoding, that are just not suited for a laptop/tablet hybrid (it’s fast enough to do it, but it also runs quite hot, maybe too hot). I will start documenting my build process here, once all my parts arrive.

CES is currently on, and so there’s a bit of news here and there that’s relevant to what I cover here. News for things like Roku branded 4K TVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray players will be relevant, but things like hoverboard booths getting raided by the DoJ are not really relevant, although interesting. Let’s get started then …

Copyright

Game pirates might have to start worrying about where they’re going to get their new games, as a game cracking group warned that the age of game piracy might be coming to an end. It’s not just because games these days often have so much online interactivity that it’s hard to tell where the single player game ends and the multi-player begins, but apparently the technology used to protect games have advanced to a stage that is making it very difficult for crackers to do their work.

Denuvo

Denuvo becoming a major pain for game crackers

Games like Just Cause 3 and FIFA 16 that use the Denuvo anti-tampering system are proving incredibly difficult to crack, according to the founder of a Chinese cracking forum. Denuvo doesn’t work like traditional DRM, instead it’s another layer on top of existing DRM solutions that protects these platforms (such as Steam, Origin) from being cracked. Sort of like a DRM for DRM. I don’t really know how it works exactly (and the people behind Denuvo, many of whom were responsible for Sony’s controversial SecuROM DRM, are keeping things very secret for obvious reasons), but it apparently makes it much more difficult for crackers to examine and make modifications to game code. Whether this is through obfuscation, encryption or some kind of black magic, I don’t know, but when crackers are struggling to bring out a clean game months after its release, you know things are starting to get difficult.

However it works, there have been unsubstantiated reports that Denuvo might be causing performance problems for certain games, or that it increases the read/write workload for games (which is a bad thing for SSD drives that are becoming the standard for gaming PCs). It’s also apparently a very expensive technology to license, which is why not all games are using it these days.

But if PC gaming piracy can be ended, will this be a good thing for the gaming industry, or will it mean a return to the bad old days of over-priced, buggy, sub-par game release? Oh, never mind.

With everything at CES being 4K, or Internet connected, or both, here’s a copyright story that rides that particular hype train. Remember a few months back when 4K stuff from Amazon and Netflix’s streaming libraries started to appear on pirated sites? The mystery of where these perfect 4K rips came from may have been solved, thanks to court documents from Intel and Warner Bros’ lawsuit against the makers of a 4K HDCP stripper device. The device is apparently capable of dealing with HDCP 2.2 protected sources, which explains how Netflix and Amazon 4K content ended up on the torrent networks. While the cat and mouse game between PC gaming DRM makers and crackers seems to be reaching a conclusion, for video, the idea of “if you can view it, you can rip it” still appears to be holding true (after all, at some point, the video must be displayed unprotected so that the human eye can see it, and this will be true until they invent DRM implants for eyes – oops, did I just give Hollywood a new idea?)

High Definition

Samsung UBD-K8500

Samsung’s $399 Ultra Blu-ray player could be the pick of the early players

On to the real CES 4K stuff now. Both Panasonic and Samsung have shown off their Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES, but both are aimed at very different demographics. Samsung’s UBD-K8500, previously exhibited at the IFA show in Berlin, will go on sale in March (already available for pre-order on Amazon) for an acceptable looking $399. It has HDR and wider-color gamut support, and will do 4K streaming, plus all the normal Blu-ray features (eg. Blu-ray 3D) that you’ll expect in a $399 machine.

For those looking for something a bit more premium-y, have a look at Panasonic’s as-yet-unpriced DMP-UB900. It will do all the same things as the K8500, but will do everything just a little bit better. Being THX certified, featuring dual-HDMI output, high resolution audio playback, a 4K High-Precision Chroma Processor and other goodies, this one will definitely set you back more than $399 once it’s released sometime in 2016 (as firm a release date you’ll get from Panasonic at this time).

Panasonic DMP-UB900

But for those looking for something a bit more premium, try the Panasonic DMP-UB900

On the 4K TV side, there’s a new brand that you might want to look out for: Roku! Not known for anything else other than a media streamer boxes, Roku has been trying to expand their profile by lending their name, and their much praised OS, to lesser known TV brands, mainly Chinese brands such as Haier, Hisense and TCL. At CES, Roku announced that Roku branded 4K TVs will also soon be available, starting at just $600 (so that’s less than $1000 at retail for both a Ultra HD Blu-ray player and 4K TV for those keeping track). It’s a win-win for both Roku and their Chinese TV maker partners – Roku gets to have branded TVs without having to invest in development and manufacturing, while the Chinese TVs get more exposure in the US and a fantastic smart OS (with tons of apps) to boot.

The earlier sets won’t be fully featured like their more bigger branded cousins, so things like HDR will be missing, but Roku says sets with support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10 (two competing HDR standards) will be made available later in the year.

With so many 4K related products being released in 2016, it definitely has the look of being the year 4K reaches the mainstream. The good news is that these products are not entirely out of reach of the average consumer ($399 for a early model Ultra HD Blu-ray player compares well to the $1000+ you had to pay for the first Blu-ray players, same goes for 4K TVs, thanks largely to Chinese TV makers).

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That’s it for the news this week. For those still interesting in my new PC build, here’s a sneak preview of what’s inside: Intel Core i5-6600K with 16GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2400 memory. For a full list, and I’m sorry for going all promotional on you, you’ll have to check out issue 490 of my newsletter which will contain a link to my PCPartPicker page for the build!

See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (20 December 2015)

Sunday, December 20th, 2015
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The new Star Wars movie is great fun, for fans and non fans alike. Photo credit: Bella Sun

So I saw The Force Awakens on release day. I was far too nervous and excited to maybe take in everything, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the movie (both the good and the bad things about it) since, and I guess that’s an achievement in itself. I really liked it, although it’s not without its flaws, some quite significant. You get the feeling that the people behind TFA tried to play it safe this time around (maybe too safe), mostly because they (and everyone other than the most die hard Jar Jar fans) didn’t want a repeat of The Phantom Menace. That’s not to say it isn’t without its epic moments, scenes that instantly become Star Wars classics in my opinion.

The next one will probably be a bit more adventurous and it will be a better film for it (just like how ESB was a better film than ANH).

I think Star Wars fans will love it (and many will watch it multiple times, like I hope to do, time permitting), and those not sure of the difference between a Wookiee and a Gungan, will probably love it too, which is probably the greatest compliment you can give to JJ, and exactly what Disney wanted. This movie will break most, if not all records.

As for this week’s WNR (and yes, I still found the time to work, even if I’m posting on Reddit every other hour on The Force  Awakens), there are a few interesting news stories, but not ones that warrant too much discussion here (so, another short one, I’m afraid).

Copyright

Philips Hue

Philips fails in their attempt to introduce DRM to light bulbs

With more and more devices becoming “connected”, true to the vision of the Internet of Things (IoT), there’s one danger lurking in the shadows, just waiting to strike when the time is right … DRM!

So it will surprise no one that Philips tried to infect their “Hue” Iot light bulbs with DRM, to lock out third party bulbs from being used in their system, and again it will surprise no one that their evil plan was foiled by the good guys. By good guys, I mean you and me, and other consumers sick and tired of companies trying to use technological lock-outs, DRM, to stifle competition.

The other thing that was kind of wonderful, and disturbing, about this news story was that Philips was able to use a firmware update to first add inb and then to remove the DRM. Think about that for a minute. A firmware update for light bulbs! If the IoT vision is truly the correct vision for the future, then I wonder how many firmware updates will occur every day for all of my connected devices (my toaster, my toothbrush, my coffee mug, my fruit bowl, etc…). I’m not sure I can afford the bandwidth!

High Definition

Samsung 4K TV

4K TVs will be in many homes by 2019

One of my future devices that will definitely be connected to the Internet, and will receive frequently firmware updates, will be my 4K TV. And by 2019, I will no longer be one of the very few to own a 4K TV, and instead, will be one of the many (but not most) households that will have upgraded to 4K, at least according to a new report by IHS.

What I found most interesting was that China could be one of the biggest markets for 4K TV, with a predicted adoption rate of 24% by 2019. Considering how many households there are in China, that’s a huge number (one that might actually equal the *total* number of households in the U.S.). India, on the other hand, is only expected to have a 4K TV adoption rate of 2%, showing that not all developing countries are the same when it comes to new tech adoption.

Another interesting tidbit from the report was that by 2017, it is predicted that most 50 inch or larger TVs will be 4K. So it’s pretty much like what happened with HD – economies of scale in manufacturing means you’re gonna have to buy a 4K TV whether you need it or not, by 2017.

Gaming

The PS4 might have been jailbroken, according to a hacker that has previous accomplishments in the field of PS4 hacking. But it’s still early stages, and so don’t expect pirated games, or even homebrew, to work on a jailbroken PS4 (one that has to have a firmware version 1.76 or older).

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Well, I told you it was short. Not as short as Luke as a stormtrooper (not a TFA spoiler), but still pretty short. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (13 December 2015)

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

There are no Force Awakens spoilers in this WNR, rest assured, even if one of the stories is about such a spoiler. It would be far too cruel to know too much about the film only a week to its release.

On to the news …

Copyright

Star Wars 7: Rey

Star Wars: Rey spoiler subject to DMCA take-down

I normally don’t write news stories unless I’m familiar with 100% of the story (maybe not always the background behind the story), but I did a first time week by writing a news article on a photo that I haven’t even bothered to look at. But it’s all intentional you see, as that photo may very well contain a spoiler for the new Star Wars movie (don’t worry, this link has no spoilers unless you click on the clearly marked spoiler ridden link within the article), and I just couldn’t bear to possibly ruin a major plot point by actually taking a look.

Walmart started selling a new toy for the new movie, perhaps a week earlier than originally planned, and the packaging for the toy apparently contains a major spoiler for the film. The photo was uploaded online and shared, but then became a subject of a DMCA take-down by Lucasfilm, despite them not owning the copyright on the photo at all (and their claim that the photo was for a unreleased product is untrue, since Walmart was selling the toy publicly). So once again, we have the exploitation of copyright law for non copyright reasons, something that will go unpunished yet again.

Or at least that’s what I think the story is about, since as mentioned earlier, I haven’t the heart to look at the “offending” photo for fear it will ruin my Star Wars VII experience. I don’t like writing stories based on guessing, but sometimes the needs of the one outweighs the needs of the many (oops, wrong movie franchise). There goes my journalistic integrity out the window, not that I had much to begin with anyway!

High Definition

Samsung 4K TV

Samsung leads the 4K TV market, but 4K TV adoption still faces many obstacles

What’s holding back 4K adoption? Apparently, it’s the question “what the heck is 4K”. A new poll finds that 42% of those surveyed didn’t even know what 4K was, and when they were informed, most didn’t really care about the increased resolution or the expanded colour range.

Just goes to show that for many, even DVD (and certainly Netflix) is good enough already, and that Ultra HD Blu-ray and 4K will always be a niche thing for those that truly want the best possible representation of the film (until something even better, like 8K, comes along).

Still, many will end up buying 4K TVs eventually once the price premium has dropped to an acceptable level (and then later on, when every TV will be 4K – this might happen a lot sooner than you think, since I’ve already got myself a 42″ 4K set for under $USD 300, and that was months ago, mainly because it was as cheap if not cheaper than similar non 4K sets of the same size).

The Blu-ray Disc Association better market 4K as such (a niche technology for home theater enthusiasts), and don’t waste time (and money) trying to market to the Walmart crowd.

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Got Netflix? Often find movies in your “watched” queue that’s not supposed to be there? Your Netflix account may have been hacked, and you’re not the only one that have had this happen. Read this news story to find out how you can make sure your Netflix account is secure!

Gaming

PS4 DualShock 4 Controller

The PS4 won the important month of November

Sony has let the cat out of the bag early, and announced that the PS4 was the best selling console in the US for November, ahead of the official NPD announcement. This marks a change from last November and the last month, when the Xbox One won. While the Xbox One could still have won Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it looks like its “greatest gaming lineup” in November failed to beat Sony’s PS4, which many gamers find superior in terms of performance (pricing wasn’t an issue, as both consoles were discounted to $300 for Black Friday, and the rest of the holiday sales period).

If Microsoft want to beat the Sony, it looks like the pricing for the Xbox One will have to below that of the PS4. Exclusives can only do so much, and even the effect of price cuts diminish the longer it gets into a console’s life cycle (if one console has a huge lead, then gamers will naturally flock to that console, just so they can play with their friends online). Can Microsoft afford to do it? Do they want to or need to beat the PS4?

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That’s all I have for you this week. Next week, The Force Awakens opens in cinemas around the world – not sure they’ll be much non Star Wars news, especially during the latter half of the week, but what can you do. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (22 November 2015)

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Gonna be a short one this week, as news just wasn’t that forthcoming. While I was scouring the web for news, I did manage to do a bit of informal research on PCs, specifically gaming PCs. To my surprise, a decent rig these days is still quiet expensive, if not even more expensive than a few years ago when I last did my research. Lower volume sales of PCs and component equals higher prices? Perhaps, but I was also surprised that the range of products available hasn’t really reduced as a result, in fact, it seems to have increased. It all seems fairly unsustainable, but I still have a soft spot for PC gaming that I can’t quite get rid of, even if the value proposition (compared to say buying a decent game console like the PS4 or Xbox One) is probably at its lowest ever.

On with the news …

Copyright

Netflix Remote

Netflix – more disruptive than movie studios had wanted

A new study from Sweden once again confirms that pirates are the best customers. Or more precisely, those that love music and movies will buy more than the more casual listener/viewer, but they will also illegally download more content as well.

Also not particularly surprising was the finding that legal services, like Netflix and Spotify, have really shaken up the piracy market place, and that almost a majority of users now readily pay for content compared to when these legal services weren’t available. So it’s clearly a case of people willing to pay for content, but only if the “right” service (right in terms of pricing, usability) is there to deliver it. And as for the argument of users only migrating from being leechers on piracy networks to being leechers on Spotify’s free plan, this doesn’t seem to be true as 54% of online music listeners are happily paying for content in Sweden (40% for video, up from only 14% just a year ago).

Of course, the money these users are paying might not all end up in the hands of the major labels and studios, but it’s hardly the fault of Spotify and Netflix that not only do they exist, but also exist outside of the control and ownership of these very same labels and studios. In other words, had the MPAA and RIAA members spent less time suing single mothers and students, and instead invented their version of Netflix and Spotify, they would be the ones making most of the money right now.

But it’s always easier to go after pirates than to actually come up with a good idea, even if one ends up being a futile game of whack-a-mole. Case in point, for all of the MPAA’s efforts in closing down Popcorn Time and YIFY, alternatives to both have already sprung up, and not before long, it will be business as usual for Popcorn Time users. The MPAA can close down these new alternatives too, but new ones will spring up. And eventually, the game shifts to the next level when someone invents a new further decentralised variation of Popcorn Time that will be much harder to shut down, just in time for the next Netflix or whatever to be launched by a tech company that completely disrupts the market.

Looking forward to it!

High Definition

Hancock poster

Was Hancock really Sony’s best choice for a Ultra HD Blu-ray launch title?

I guess it’s unfair to say the MPAA studios haven’t tried to innovate when the official launch of Ultra HD Blu-ray is nigh. It may not be the best kind of innovation, or the kind of innovation that actually meets user demand (for all things digital and not on disc), but at least it’s something. Not so impressive is the launch titles for the new disc format from Sony, which includes The Amazing Spiderman 2′, ‘Chappie’, ‘Hancock’, ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Salt’ and ‘The Smurfs 2’. Hardly screams “must-have”.

But it’s not easy for Sony though, it’s not as if they have franchises like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Jurassic Park’ to exploit – these were the best they could do in 2015, and it’s too soon for ‘Spectre’ to be released on disc.

Still, I think the best way to view Ultra HD Blu-ray is to view it as a niche format for home theater enthusiasts and collectors. Market it like this, complete with disc packages that reflect what the typical UHD BD user wants (so more collector’s box sets), and they will be much more successful than trying to market it as a mass media format for the Average ‘Walmart’ Joe. Joe will most likely watch the same movie via streaming and download, or on DVD/Blu-ray.

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And that’s that for the week. I’ll continue to do my research on the latest PC hardware (more out of interest than anything else), and see how much my potential gaming rig will cost me (right now it stands at $1500 just for the CPU, motherboard, RAM and GPU, and I could have easily doubled the amount if I wanted to). See you next week.