Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (30 September 2007)

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Once again, I’ll go through all the news items that have gone through the Digital Digest website and forum for this week.

Starting with copyright related news again, some DRM advocates are worried that there might be a consumer backlash towards DRM (you don’t say!). I mean it’s not like there was a DRM related revolt on Digg earlier this year or anything, and I’m sure Apple/EMI and Amazon launching DRM-free music was just a coincidence, and in no way related to a consumer backlash. Torrent site Demonoid has been shut down by the Canadian RIA. Torrent sites usually only link to torrent files, and not the actual copyrighted content, but in the greater scheme of things, providing any assistance to copyright infringement is going to be risky, whether they host the actual file or not. I would like to see some separation between torrent sites and legitimate sites like Google Video, who are under renewed pressure this week over users uploaded pirated content – the main aim of torrent sites is to offer pirated content, whereas Google Video and other video sharing sites have pirated content because they cannot control their numerous users. Then again, there are video sharing sites that advertise free movies and encourage users to upload them, so they again should be treated differently. And then there is “Movie Night” on school campuses. Showing movies in common rooms or public areas is technically “broadcasting” and is against the terms of the copyright agreement, but how much does that really hurt the movie studios, so much so that lawsuits need to be launched? What’s next, not being showing to watch movies with people other than your immediate family?

Onto gaming news. Sony says that it can catch up to the Xbox 360 by March next year. I would say that if they don’t at least achieve this, then the PS3 is in serious trouble. The PS3 is the cheapest Blu-ray player around, and actually represents good value if you want next-gen gaming + HD movie playback, but it still hasn’t been able to beat the Xbox 360 + HD DVD add-on drive in sales since launch. Add to that the Xbox 360’s better range of games and exclusives, it’s not looking great for the PS3 compared to how well the PS2 did at this stage of its release. Can Sony claim a huge market share like it did with the PS2? I don’t think so and not being able to hold on to the market the PS2 created means a defeat for Sony no matter which way you look at it. Sony will hope that’s it’s new slim PSP bundle will at least claim a bigger market share in the handheld gaming market, a market dominated by Nintendo for some time now. But the big news of the week has been the launch of Halo 3. Even the news of scratched discs didn’t slow down sales, with Halo 3 breaking all gaming and even movie box office records on the first day. When video games start making more money than big Hollywood blockbusters like Spider-Man 3, something has changed in the way entertainment is delivered. It’s no wonder then that there has been more and more games to movie conversion, rather than the reverse, lately (Hitman the movie is that one I’m waiting for).

In HD news, it seems site like us are either not doing our jobs, or people are not visiting our sites (the most likely explanation, and I’m sure that the 10 people that read this blog will agree with me here). Consumers just don’t seem to understand HD with only 11% feeling they understand HD completely, and even HDTV owners don’t seem to understand. The situation is not just limited to the US either, with Australian consumers faring even worse. It’s a shame, because HD really is quite wonderful … people who have enjoyed proper HD will never want to go back to standard definition. And if you’ve already jumped on the HD movie bandwagon (in particularly, the HD DVD one), then you can enjoy state of the art interactive features from future titles such as Shrek the Third, in addition to the superb video and audio quality. But speaking of interactive features, Blu-ray is still playing a game of catch-up, and consumers will be the victim once again (no wonder they are confused about HD). As I’ve blogged previously, Blu-ray has really screwed the pooch on the issue of hardware standards, and now Blu-ray owners may need to replace their less than a year old Blu-ray player because it doesn’t have all the required features for future Blu-ray movies. Us HD DVD owners are feeling pretty smug about it all because the HD DVD standard has been finalized from day one and includes all the advanced interactive features that Blu-ray owners might not be seeing until next year. And did I mention that HD DVD is region-free? I know I shouldn’t go on and on about region-free, but it really is wonderful to have it. There’s not a lot of HD DVD movies on sale in Australia (and the ones on sale are too expensive), but because of the region-free status, I can import movies from the US or UK, usually at a lower price and faster release date. Unlike DVDs, with the NTSC/PAL difference, HD DVDs don’t have this difference so the US version is either likely to be identical, or in most cases, superior to the local release. Studios and local distributors may not like it, but it’s partly their fault isn’t it for not releasing identical versions in a timely manner. My US import to my local purchase ratio is at 3:1 at the moment.

And that’s all folks for this week. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (23 September 2007)

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

This might become a regular feature on the blog (hopefully) if, unlike most of my other projects, I actually manage to keep it up for more than a few weeks. I’ll go through all the news items that have gone through the Digital Digest website and forum.

Starting with some copyright related news, I found some funny anti-piracy video parodies on the net and posted them up – it’s not strictly news, but I thought it needed to be shared. There was news that MediaDefender, a anti-piracy company, set up a fake video sharing websites to lure people in to get their details for legal purposes – it’s ironic that their own emails and details were leaked or stolen, and it’s now available online for all to see. The MPAA is at it again, and they once again have asked ISPs to help them catch video pirates, or to filter out “inappropriate” content, and maybe even charge users extra up front for the movies they will no doubt steal at some point. Macrovision, the company with the slogan “quality protection”, which actually means copy protection that ruins quality, is talking about legal DVD rips, albeit at a premium. It’s not a bad idea, I must admit, and it’s certainly better than introducing more and more layers of (easily bypassed and consumer unfriendly) DRM. And to round off the copyright related news, Germany will ban all kinds of CD and DVD copying, even for personal use, starting in 2008.

Now onto some gaming news, reports say that Sony will sell its PS3 cell chip division or manufacturing plant to Toshiba, Sony’s bitter rivals in the HD war. Are Sony that desperate to free up some cash to subsidize their struggling PS3? Or is this just part of normal business and cooperation between Japanese conglomerates, which happens quite frequently. A Star Wars lightsaber game on the Wii? Yes please (and what took so long). Sony’s long awaited “Home” virtual community for the PS3 is going to be delayed – things are really not going well for the PS3, and comments such as the following from Sony execs aren’t helping:

Going aggressive only on price without being able to back it up with content doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me

In other words, no discounts for the PS3 because it doesn’t have enough games to make up for the loss in income. Yes, I’m sure the high price and low hardware sales will encourage software publishers to make more games for the PS3, not less. Bioshock on the PS3 anyone?

In HD news, Intel says that it’s next mobile chip platform, Montevina, will support both Blu-ray and HD DVD decoding. Intel is still a major backer of HD DVD, but because Blu-ray uses the same set of video codecs as HD DVD, it’s impossible to support one HD format without supporting the other, unless they do something really sneaky and anti-competitive by deliberately blocking Blu-ray playback or acceleration. Not that Blu-ray will care even if Intel ditches Blu-ray, because you see, they have already won will win. Disney CEO Robert Iger is quote as saying that “victory is a forgone conclusion” during an investment meeting, which stunned other attending studio execs. I went on a nice rant at Iger’s statement, and also this other statement: “The public can tell the difference” statement in regards to Blu-ray being heaps better than HD DVD – yes, there differences Mr. Iger. Blu-ray can’t do the advanced interactive stuff that HD DVD has been doing since day one, like picture-in-picture and Internet connectivity. A lot of Blu-ray titles also used the inferior MPEG-2 video codec, making for a poorer picture quality compared to MPEG-4 AVC or VC-1 encoded discs. But Blu-ray does have more copy protection and region protection (HD DVD is region-free), so I’m sure that’s exactly what consumers want. Just what kind of company would sacrifice essential features and quality, and yet not miss a beat when it comes to unnecessary DRM and region control?

Okay, that’s about it for this week. Stay tuned next week, same time same place, for another roundup (hopefully).

Free Software Guide

Monday, May 28th, 2007

I’ve just finished writing another guide. Unlike the other articles I usually write, this one is not entirely about digital video. Instead, what I have done is to see if it is possible to set up a computer with only free software (Windows XP excepted), and what I have found is that not only is it possible, you actually end up with a great system.

This guide (creatively titled the “Free Software Guide”) starts with a new computer with only Windows XP (or Vista), and then recommends internet, security, file transfer, office/productivity, graphics, multimedia and even games – all are freeware or open source (apart from the ad-ware supported Eudora).

Long gone are a time when freeware meant software that looks bad and runs badly, with hardly any features. Today, freeware and open source sometimes represent the best of breed software, and your best choice even when commercial options are available. So take a look at our guide, which only really provides a small sample of all the free goodies out there, and save yourself a few hundred bucks in the process.

My ADSL Saga

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

A couple of blog posts before, I mentioned that I switched over from iiNet to Internode and joined the world of 8 Mbit ADSL. Unfortunately, the story didn’t just end there.

Upon getting the new 8 Mbit connection, it became quite obvious that this connection was not all that stable. In fact, I was dropping out 10 to 20 times a day. After playing around with my modem settings and doing an isolation test, I decided that the problem wasn’t on my end. I ran Internode tech support, didn’t have to wait very long to speak to a real person at all which was a pleasant surprise, and a line fault was put in with Telstra (our phone provider).

Before I go on, it’s probably necessary to explain a bit about the ADSL infrastructure here in Australia. Telstra has a monoply on our telecommunication infrastructure (phone lines, exchanges), and ADSL providers like Internode purchase ADSL services wholesale from Telstra and then sell on to the public. As such, any line faults is Telstra’s responsibility. Because of Telstra’s advantageous position in terms of the infrastructure, the ACCC (our competition watchdog) has tried to level the playing field and allow companies such as Internode some chance to compete. Telstra is not happy about it.

Back to my problem. Internode arranged for a Telstra technician to come over and fix the problem on Tuesday. The technician did arrive, but instead of fixing the problem, my other phone line (not used for ADSL) was cut (but we did not found out until a day later). On Wednesday, Internode called me and said that they had asked Telstra to take a look again because their logs showed that I was still having drop out issues. Telstra determined that there was a foreign battery source on the phone line and that everything would be fixed by Friday. A separate call was made to Telstra to tell them about my cut phone line, and they promised it would be fixed on Thursday. Thursday came and went and the second phone line was still dead, so another call was made and now they promised a technician would come over on Friday.

Friday morning, and the technician did come. The second phone line was fixed (apparently the first technician had cut off the line for some reason), and the external battery source problem was looked at too and promptly fixed. I checked my ADSL connection, and instead of the 4500 kbps ADSL link speed, it was now 7616! Unfortunately, the SNR was at a ridiculously low 5 dB (6 dB is the minimum for maintaining a stable connection, the higher the SNR the better), and now the drop outs were even worse than before – 3 or 4 times an hour! So another call to Internode support, and they put in another request for Telstra to have a look. This was Friday afternoon already, so it looked like I would be stuck with this until Monday.

Saturday 10pm, I get a phone call and it’s from Internode. They said that Telstra have added a stability profile was added to my phone line, and lo and behold, the line SNR had increased to 11 dB. I can now only connect at 6144 kbps as opposed 7616, but what’s the point of a fast connection that drops out every 20 minutes? And 6144 is still 4 times faster than my old 1.5 Mbps connection. While I can’t be 100% certain that the drop out issues have finally gone, but things are looking up.

Internode were great throughout the ordeal. They didn’t really have much control over any of this, since all Internode could do was rely on Telstra to do their job (a big ask). Internode kept me informed all the time with a dozen or so phone calls (it’s refreshing for technical support to be calling you, and not the other way around), and now it’s easy to see why they have been voted as the best ISP by several places. My opinion of Telstra, on the other hand, remains the same.

8 Mbit ADSL, 6 GB download limit?

Friday, April 27th, 2007

That’s right. My current ISP, iiNet, has just launched some new broadband plans (the “broadband1” plans). The new offerings now include a 8 Mbit/s plan, but strangely, only offers 3 GB of downloads during peak usage hours (12pm to 2am), with a further 3 GB during off-peak hours. The 8 Mbit/s is a theoretical maximum, so most likely I’ll get between 4 Mbit/s and 6 Mbit/s – even at 4 Mbit/s, this means that if I download at the maximum speed continously, I’ll use up the 3 GB limit in less than 2 hours! After the limit is reached, the speed is capped to 64 kbit/s, or a nice and speedy 8 KB/s. Not only that, this is actually the most expensive plan available for home users – there is no option to get more bandwidth! Even for a somewhat broadband-backwards country as Australia, these plans are ridiculous (the phased out set iiNet plans used to include a 30 GB plan, albeit at a higher cost).

iiNet’s ADSL2 (“broadband2”) plans are a little more generous, 10 GB peak/10 GB offpeak, but the problem is that ADSL2 is only available in very select areas (as determined by where iiNet install their own hardware DSLAMs), and certainly not available in my area. I know it is in iiNet’s interests to promote their ADSL2 plans, and if I had ADSL2 in my area, I would sign up immediately. But the case is that I’m stuck on “broadband1”, and I get punished by these crappy plans because iiNet haven’t bothered to install the proper hardware in my area.

There are business plans available which gives more bandwidth, but I would have to spend $20 more to get roughly the same plan I am on now (but with an upgrade to 8 Mbit/s), bringing my yearly ADSL bill to $AUD 1908 ($US 1575). I would have to bundle their VOIP service, which I don’t need, and pay extra (included in the $1908) for a static IP address, which I do need.

Of course, the situations is more complicated than it seems, with Telstra’s (our major telecommunication provider) wholesale ADSL policies being the source of the pricing problems. But the rival broadband provider, Internode, is able to provide the same 8 Mbit/s connection, with 40 GB of bandwidth that can be used anytime (no peak usage times), a faster 128 Kbit/s cap, and all of this at $20 $10 cheaper (edited 5/5/07: me bad at maths) than my current iiNet (phased out) plan (or a massive $40 per month savings on iiNet’s closest comparable plan) – so if your competitors can do it, why can’t you iiNet?

Churn baby, churn.