Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (January 14, 2018)

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

2018 has properly started, and the reason I say this is because there are actually some news stories to talk about this week. Some news stories, not necessarily the best or most interesting news stories, but you know what, I’ll take what I can get after the last couple of quiet, quiet weeks.

Lets get this thing started.

Copyright

Spotify Logo

Spotify: Good for the consumer, or is it more of the same?

Netflix and Spotify have been labeled as a solution to the piracy problem. To be fair, this label has been mostly applied by the PR people at Netflix and Spotify, as the industry do not necessarily see these services as any kind of solution, at least not one that benefits them. For people who are file sharing though, both do represent a new way to get their content, legally, and in the case of Spotify, for free as well.

But according to one of the founders of The Pirate Bay, people shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security over the emergence of Netflix and Spotify, because for file sharers, these are not solutions but something much worse.

Peter Sunde says that the whole point of file sharing was to decentralise not only the way content is distributed, but decentralise the way it is controlled by of a powerful few. And Sunde says that with Netflix and Spotify, this problem hasn’t gone away, if anything, it’s become a little worse.

This is because the same companies that controlled things before still controlling things now, either through being shareholders of streaming platforms, or because they have agreements with them that sets the rules on how things are done. “The dependence is higher than ever,” says Sunde.

It’s hard to argue against Sunde’s concerns though, but I will add this. Through Netflix and Spotify, we as consumers are getting something that’s a little bit closer to what we want, and that’s a positive change. Because the “dependence” is still there, there is always the risk that we will lose what we’ve gained, but that’s why we, as consumers, have to be vigilant and not simply accept changes that are not to our benefit. And this is why piracy is actually a useful tool for consumers, because it’s something that’s always going to be there to force the major labels and movie studios to at least try and give us what we want, or else we have alternatives. The danger is that, through the loss of Net Neutrality and the invention of new technical measures, we might lose this alternative, this competitive pressure that forces the market to produce better products for us. And when that happens, we will no longer get a choice in how we get to consume content (and at what cost), and that will be a bad things from a consumer’s point of view (and eventually a bad thing for the entire industry if consumers become disinterested).

High Definition

Amazon Fire TV

Google and Amazon’s fight means bad news for Fire TV users

Speaking of the powerful few acting badly and hurting consumers in the process, Google and Amazon’s little dispute is now causing major problems for users of Amazon’s Fire TV device – they can no longer use YouTube! Google has accused Amazon of abusing its market power by not properly selling Google’s range of products on their website. In addition, Google says Amazon is refusing to add Chromecast functionality for its Prime streaming service. It all adds up to Amazon not playing fair with Google in an attempt to promote its own competing products (Fire and Echo range, which competes with the Chromecast and Google Home range), at least that’s what Google claims.

Google may have a point, but the next move by the Google seems a bit petty – they have banned Amazon’s Fire and Echo devices from working with the YouTube app. This seems to have forced Amazon to start selling the Chromecast again, but an agreement that settles this issue once and for all seems to be far away.

The problem is that Amazon is both a service provider (in this case, a retailer that helps sell your products) and also a product manufacturer. It’s not in Amazon’s interest to sell tons of Chromecast and Home devices in its store, because it will have come at the expense of its own Fire and Echo range. On the other hand, if it promotes its own range at the expense of other products, it’s failing in its duty as a service provider to these other manufacturers (in this case, Google).

But Google shouldn’t feel they have the moral high ground on this. Google does exactly the same thing with its search engine and app store. Google has been accused of favoring its own websites and services, YouTube or Shopping, over other competing websites when people search for something related. In this case, Google is both a service provider and a “manufacturer”, and it both provides a service for website owners and competes with them in the same space. It’s exactly the same thing that Amazon is doing, except when it’s good for Google, it’s not evil.

In the end, consumers are the ones being hurt, and again this comes from companies getting too big, having too much control over what we consume and how we consume it.

Sometimes though, big companies get together not to take away our choices, but to give us more. But this usually isn’t because they’re doing it out of the kindness, but it usually means that their own self interest has been affected in some way. And this is why Apple is joining the Alliance for Open Media to push the AOM’s AV1 video format, not because they truly want an open format, but because if AV1 succeeds, it will mean less royalty payments going forward for them (although Apple may already receive royalties due to patents owned by them from HEVC, AV1’s main competition, they will probably still end up paying less if a truly open format becomes mainstream).

For those who like to tinker around with video stuff, having another format like AV1 is great news. It’s still early days though, as hardware support (for both encoding and decoding) is severely lacking. For consumers, it probably doesn’t mean much – the money saved by companies not having to pay HEVC will not get passed down to us. And companies most likely won’t be able to escape HEVC completely, because too many applications already use it.

Sorry to go all cynical on you in this week’s WNR, but I definitely didn’t intend to go this way at the start, but that’s where we ended up. Funny how these things work.

Gaming

I’ll try to remove the cynicism from the next story though, even though there are obvious places where one can insert a eye roll or two. Unlike with the PS3, Sony has been very open to releasing sales data for the PS4 (I wonder why that is *rolleyes*), and it’s announced that 74 million PS4s have now been sold, making it the 10th best selling console of all time.

Nintendo Switch

The Switch is selling better than the Wii at the same stage

Despite these healthy numbers, and a very good holiday sales period (5.9 million PS4s sold around the world), most of the positive news stories has been focused on Nintendo’s Switch, which has sold more than 10 million units in just 10 months. It’s selling faster than the Wii was selling, and if it lasts, it could outsell the PS4 eventually. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the PS4 is already more than 4 years old!

As for Microsoft, they’ve been keeping pretty quiet on the Xbox One sales figures (and I wonder why that is *rolleyes*), only saying that sales are above their expectations, whatever that means. By all estimates, it’s selling half as many boxes as the PS4. So not as bad as the Wii U (21st best selling console of all time), but definitely not in the Xbox 360’s league (7th best selling console of all time). The Xbox One is currently estimated to be the 14th best selling console of all time, according to VGChartz.

======

And with that, we come to the end of another WNR. See you next week when I promise to be far less cynical!

Weekly News Roundup, Looking Back at 2017 (December 17, 2017)

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Sorry for the lateness of this roundup. Two things happened. One, I was an idiot and slammed the car door on my left index finger, and so typing, while not impossible, became not quite a pleasant experience. And two, there really wasn’t much going on. So the originally plan was, before the finger ouchie, was to do a kind of brief roundup for the year. That is still the plan, but I’m afraid it will be even briefer now.

Let’s get started.

Copyright

So a lot has happened in terms of copyright news, and and in another aspect, not much has happened. Hollywood and the music industry are still going after the “bad guys”, only the bad guys will change from time to time (the lack of any effect on piracy, remains unchanged).

YouTube Targeted

YouTube is destroying the music industry according to the music industry

For the music industry, YouTube is now the new enemy number one, after having bit of a whinge at Spotify last year. Both YouTube and Spotify have virtually ended piracy as a thing, but because the music industry doesn’t make as money from these platforms as they like (kinda their own fault for not inventing these platforms, the ones that their customers had pleaded for them to introduce, and leaving it for the tech heads to disrupt the industry), they hate it.

They do have a point. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to The Last Jedi soundtrack on YouTube, an official legal upload by DisneyVEVO. There will be lots of people like me that, because of the availability of free listening, won’t bother to pay for it. And the ad money that these uploads make, won’t amount to much I suspect (the same ad for the movie Ferdinand playing over and over again hasn’t made me want to watch it). But in the past, people like me might have just pirated the soundtrack which means no revenue for the labels. So you win some, you lose some. And perhaps there will be others that actually buy the music after hearing and liking it on YouTube or Spotify.

But the fact of the matter is that streaming now accounts for the majority of the music industry’s income, income that has shrunk a lot since the heydays of CDs. People not willing to pay as much for music is now a reality, regardless of who is to blame (and maybe the greater availability of entertainment, from Blu-rays to Netflix to mobile gaming to social media, none of which existed during the peak of CD sales, has had a greater effect than piracy or even the move to digital). Accepting the reality and trying to adapt to it is a much better strategy than complaining about the present and reminiscing about the “good old days”.

MXQ Player

Kodi boxes were public enemy number one

For Hollywood, they too have a new Boogeyman in the form of Kodi boxes. Kodi boxes makes piracy too easy, argues the MPAA. This is true, but it wasn’t as if piracy was rocket science to begin with (especially if you have a geeky boyfriend/girlfriend/brother/sister/cousin/friend that can help you out). The real reason the MPAA is going after Kodi box makers is that it’s easy. These people usually have a traceable bank account, maybe even a real business address, and so it’s so much easier than going after Torrent sites and private trackers.

Going after someone, particularly an easy target that you can take to court and win easy cases against, makes the industry feel they’re doing something, and makes the MPAA relevant. It has no actual effect on anything though, because all that will happen is that we’ll begin to see a lot more Kodi box makers emerge from the traditional markets that are out of the jurisdiction and reach of the MPAA. People will also now learn how to make their own Kodi boxes, which isn’t too hard to begin with (again, the geeky boyfriend/girlfriend/brother/sister/… comes in handy).

HBO Hack

Hacking became a new source for pirated content

Hacking has become a real problem for Hollywood though, with the high profile HBO hack coming to mind. It’s not as disruptive as say general piracy, but in many ways, it is much more damaging. Not just the leak of unreleased content, but also emails and other data that studios would liked to have remained private.

There is also renewed attack on Safe Harbor protection, not just in the U.S., but in Australia too. Hollywood is seeking to erode the legal protection offered to tech companies, protection that has been essential in the creation of platforms like YouTube and Facebook. To be fair, this line of attack is not new, but Hollywood and the copyright industry are getting closer to rewriting copyright law than ever before.

And finally, the Weinstein expose will hopefully have a positive effect on the perverse and unhealthy culture in Hollywood and elsewhere.

High Definition

Disney content on Netflix

Disney (and Fox) will be a real threat to Netflix

The biggest disruption to business as usual in Hollywood in 2017 may have only occurred in the last few days, with the news that Disney will buy Fox. Two huge studios are now just one mega huge studio, and that has wide ranging effects on all parts of the industry. With Disney already announcing they’re coming after Netflix, the acquisition of Fox means they now have the content to mount a real battle. There is also Hulu, which has had a great year thanks to The Handmaid’s Tale. Hulu is co-owned by Fox, Disney and a few others – it will now be majority owned by Disney, and is already a threat to Netflix and Amazon.

And the timing of the acquisition and the move into the streaming market couldn’t be more better. With the physical media business, one that Disney dominates thanks to its mega franchises, losing steam again in 2017 after a brief hiatus in 2016, the signs are already there. Ultra HD Blu-ray has done well actually, but it was always a niche market and the declines in standard Blu-rays and DVDs cannot be ignored (sales dropped by 8.5% and 15.7% respectively for Black Friday).

2017 probably marked the end of 3D as a serious format on home video as well, with fewer and fewer 3D TV sets being produced, and not that many movies being released either.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch Mario Odyssey Bundle

The Nintendo Switch is the must-have toy for Christmas

Gaming also saw some big changes in 2017. Two big new (or newish) consoles were released in 2017, the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox One X. But only one of these will be the must-have item for Christmas, and that’s the Nintendo console. The hybrid nature of the console, the line-up of great games (Zelda in particular), and the same-old-same-ness of the PS4 and Xbox One offerings really helped to convince many that the Switch is the one to have. Just about every Christmas ad I’ve seen for department store or online retailers, or even credit card companies, feature the Switch as a much wanted gift. This is just a reflection of reality, but at the same time, it’s great promotion for Nintendo.

It was a big gamble for Nintendo, and I’m happy for them that it paid off. Creativity and risk taking is something that the gaming industry lacks sometimes, and so it’s always nice to see innovation win the day, rather than just better graphics and higher framerates.

======

I know it’s not much of a roundup, and I’m sure I’ve actually missed talking about most of the things that have happened this year, but you know how hard it is to type without your left index finger? Actually not as hard as I thought it would be, but still hard. Until next week or when my finger heals a bit more, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (December 3, 2017)

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Welcome to the last months of 2017. It has really flown by, hasn’t it? I’ve found a way to judge how busy I’ve been in a year, simply by the amount of binge worthy TV that I’ve managed to miss. So if you’ve still got Black Mirror Season 3, Stranger Things Season 2 and other similar shows in your watch queue, it must mean you’ve had a super busy year.

Was it a super busy week in terms of news? Kinda. Let’s go through it and see what happens.

Copyright

Netflix Remote

Netflix’s effect on piracy may take time to measure

New research shows that Netflix may not be the cure-all for the piracy problem after all. The study compared households with a known piracy track record, and tried to see if there was a change when half of the households were given a free subscription to an unnamed VOD service. The results weren’t that promising, with only a small change in the downloading habits of those given free subscriptions.

The main problem? Most of the shows and movies people wanted to watch simply weren’t on the SVOD platform they had access to. Anyone who uses Netflix will know this is not a lie.

When asked given what’s available on Netflix, how much these households were willing to pay, most said an amount that was nowhere near what Netflix needs to cover its costs – only $3.25 USD. And even then, these households were still going to continue pirating.

So while it seems that SVOD alone isn’t the answer to the piracy problem, when combined with digital sell-through and fairer pricing for all content, the piracy problem may not be as difficult to solve as this research suggest. Plus, there is one major phenomenon that the study may have failed to account for – and that is how SVOD *changes* one’s viewing habits over time.

Speaking from personal experience, having access to Netflix, Australia’s own Stan and Hulu has dramatically changed how I consume content. It used to be that I would buy lots of DVDs and Blu-rays (but usually when they’re on sale – rarely would I buy a new release). Now, if I can wait for a movie to get onto one of the SVOD platforms, I would. For the movies that I really want to see right away, I would go see it at the cinemas, or when all else fails, buy it on Blu-ray.

I’m also now spending much more of my free time viewing original productions on Netflix, Stan and Hulu, to the point where I’m skipping a lot of content that, in the past, I would have bought on Blu-ray (when they were on sale). The content that I’m skipping would usually be the so-so movies with average ratings that, I’m curious about, but definitely not in the must-see category (there’s plenty of content on Netflix that falls into this category, so I’m never really out of stuff to watch). Even some blockbuster movies, ones that did well at the box office, might fall into this category as well.

So if other people can change the way they consume content, to be more patient with new releases, to consume more of the original productions, and to be willing to skip a lot of “not so great” content, then piracy should come down thanks to Netflix and other SVOD platforms. It will take time though for this to happen, something a quick study like this one might not be able to account for.

======

A small followup to a story I covered a few weeks ago. It seems the latest version of Denuvo is working again to offer publishers some protection, since it’s been a month and Assassin’s Creed: Origins still remains uncracked, along with some other A-list titles like Star Wars: Battlefront II that uses the same updated version of Denuvo. So the cat and mouse game begins again, even though the cat (or is it the mouse) has the upper hand for now.

High Definition

Alliance For Open Media

Alliance For Open Media’s AOMedia 1 format looks promising

The HEVC hegemony is being challenged by a newcomer – AV1. Officially known as AOMedia Video 1 (with AOMedia standing for Alliance for Open Media), it’s a next-gen codec that promises to be even more efficient than HEVC. And Mozilla, one of the founding members of the Alliance, has just added AV1 support to the latest beta version of Firefox.

Tests so far have confirmed that AV1 is at least as efficient as HEVC, and probably more so. With software giants Microsoft, Internet giants Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and computing icons IBM, Intel all backing the Alliance, it’s easy to see why AV1 might just prove to be the real thing (or at least more real than VP9).

The problem though, is the lack of hardware support for AV1 at the moment. Encoding is a pain in the ass right now, 150 seconds of encoding just for 1 second of AV1 video, and without hardware decoding support, anyone playing AV1 files on their mobile devices will soon run out of battery. But these things take time, and the hardware support will come (especially with Intel on board).

So why the need for AV1? It’s in the name, really – the Alliance for *Open* Media. Nobody wants to get tied to a royalty heavy codec like HEVC, so if there’s an open source, royalty free alternative, it will be warmly embraced, especially by open source developers like Mozilla.

While I’m here, I also wanted to address the strange emphasis on Apple in the CNET article I linked to above. While Apple has embraced HEVC in iOS 11, it’s by no means the first company to embrace HEVC, nor does it have some kind of stake in its success. In fact, one might say it is one of the last to fully embrace the format, what with Netflix, Amazon all using HEVC, and with support for it mandatory for 4K TVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray. And Android has had decoding support for it since Android version 5.0. So it’s not so much as AV1 taking on Apple, as AV1 taking on an established format that, I’m sure if AV1 was successful, the likes of Apple would be more than happy to add support for.

======

And we reach the end of another WNR. Hope it was an interesting read for you all. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (November 12, 2017)

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

Running a bit late today, so the WNR is being released a bit late too. There are a few things to go through, so let’s not waste any time …

Copyright

The piracy rates has been steadily dropping in Australia, previously infamously known as one of the piracy capitals of the world (when it comes to Game of Thrones piracy, at least). And in the most up-to-date survey finds that the number of Australians actively engaged in piracy has dropped again, ever since the rate started in drop in 2015.

Stan Australia

The introduction of legal streaming sites like Stan in Australia has had a big effect on piracy

The piracy rate has dropped from 29% in 2014, that is 29% of those surveyed said they downloaded pirated movie and TV content, to only 16% now.

There might be all sorts of explanations as to why movie and TV piracy started to decline in 2015 on wards, but the fact that Netflix came to Australia in 2015 and Australia’s own subscription streaming platforms were also launched that year, might point to a possible reason.

But despite the clear relationship between the arrival of affordable, legal options and the decline in piracy (which incidentally has also happened with music piracy, after the arrival of Spotify), the group that commissioned the survey, the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association (representing the Australian film and TV home entertainment industry), feels that it’s actually website blocking and personal lawsuits that might have been responsible for the decline.

Never mind the fact that website blocking has only just recently started, despite the piracy decline starting in 2015, and the fact that the talk of personal lawsuits is just that, talk, at the moment. It is kind of worrying that even with such clear data showing what needs to be done in order to reduce piracy, some in the industry still fall back to the tried and failed solutions.

That’s not to say that the copyright crusaders haven’t changed. They have, for sure. They started with suing and blocking download sites. Then they changed to sue and block torrent sites. And then streaming sites. And now, it’s about suing and blocking Kodi.

The battle of words against Kodi has started in earnest (and the legal battle having started a few weeks ago), and this week, the MPAA claims that almost 70% of Kodi users are pirates. Of course, nobody actually knows where they got this information from, since not even the makers of Kodi are aware any such data exists about how their users use the software (and this was done intentionally, in order to protect the privacy of users). So just where and how the MPAA obtained their stats is a bit of a mystery, or as the Kodi people would say, it’s either completely accurate or something they’ve just made up.

Assassin's Creed Origin

Assassin’s Creed Origin’s choice of DRM under attack

Speaking of something that may be completely made up (and something I forgot to cover last week), Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origin has been in the spotlight for the wrong reason due to its use of Denuvo, and more specifically, using VMProtect on top of Denuvo to make it harder to crack. There were claims that the game’s unusually high CPU usage was down to this controversial setup, wasting resources that otherwise could have been used by the game. Ubisoft then came out and flatly denied that their DRM implementation was at fault, saying the DRM had “no perceptible effect” on the game’s performance.

We won’t know who is telling the truth until the game’s DRM is cracked and a comparison can be made. As for when the game will be cracked, based on recent evidence, it might not take long at all.

======

Well, that didn’t take long. I think I may have rushed things a bit because I’m so out of time. I’m sure the qaulity of the artical hasn”t been affected at all! See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (November 5, 2017)

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

Again, sorry for the hiatus last week. I know this is becoming far more common than I would like, but I did have a genuine excuse last week. Apparently, you’re never too young to have your first bout of vertigo. First, and I really hope last for a while if not forever, because having the whole room spin every time you move your head, is not a pleasant experience.

So this week’s Weekly News Roundup is more like a Fortnightly Roundup, or Bi-Weekly if you prefer that terminology instead. I promise not to make a habit of it!

(One positive from my confined bed rest was how I managed to catch up on my Netflix a bit. Also good timing that Stranger Things 2 just came out! Tubular! I’m currently working my way through Mindhunter.)

Copyright

Here at Digital Digest, we’ve always been waiting for the day that common sense prevails when it comes to DRM. In that, we look forward to the day that everyone sees just how worthless and counter-productive the whole thing is and either it stops being used, or if needed, legislation is put into place to prevent its use. What’s happening in Portugal falls short of this, but it’s at least in the right direction, with the European country deciding to inject a bit of common sense into digital copyright laws.

No longer will fair use have to play second fiddle to laws protecting DRM, and so if you need to rip something for research or personal use, there are no legal repercussions for doing so. And the use of DRM is now completely banned in Portugal when it comes to protecting content that shouldn’t be protected, such as works in the public domain.

The only things Portugal doesn’t do the right thing on is in relation to obtaining the tools to rip and remove DRM. Distributing these tools will still be considered unlawful, despite their use being legal in many cases. How this will work, I don’t know (probably a “turn a blind eye” kind of deal), but it just goes to show that, despite progress being made, there’s still a long way to go before “the folly of DRM” is consigned to the history books.

High Definition

HEVC Logo

HEVC wins an Emmy!

One things I found out last week was that it is actually possible for a video codec to win an Emmy. Or rather, the super smart people behind the HEVC codec won an Primetime Engineering Emmy, and I think well deserved too. Without HEVC, the 4K revolution really wouldn’t have been possible (imagine if Netflix 4K required a minimum bandwidth of 50+ Mbps, instead of the current 25 Mbps requirement).

Now, you could enter the argument that without the existence of HEVC, some other codec, maybe even an open source one, could have taken over. But one that is as efficient as HEVC, and also at the same time totally free of royalty encumbrances, might be nothing more than just wishful thinking – paying for something some times gives you a peace of mind that not paying for something and then getting sued later on for it does not.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch Mario Odyssey Bundle

The Nintendo Switch is selling like hot cakes. Better, even!

Things get better and better for Nintendo. The Switch is dominating the PS4 and Xbox One in the NPD results, and this has translated to a upgraded profit results for Nintendo. And if you ever needed a comparison to how well the Switch is doing and how poor the Wii U was, all you need to know that in just a year, the Switch will most likely have sold as many units as the Wii U managed to do in its entire lifespan of five years. In other words, the Switch will outsell the Wii U by next March!

I don’t know if this says more about how popular the Switch is, or how poor the Wii U was, but probably a bit of both.

The next couple of months will be very interesting. Not only do we have the usual holiday sales peak, there’s also a new console out from Microsoft. The Xbox One X somehow manages to be the most powerful console ever made, and heaps smaller than the original Xbox One (and even smaller than the Xbox One S). Its price tag, however, is not that small, and that’s its main weakness.

Going back to the Switch, it will be interesting to see if sales hold up during the holidays, whether it’s the “must have game console” for the holidays, and if so, whether Nintendo can ensure there’s plenty of stock for everyone.

======

Alright, that’s it for the week. Time to finish off Mindhunter and then move on to the next binge target. See you next week.