Archive for the ‘3D’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (25 September 2011)

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Welcome to yet another edition of the WNR. Hope you’ve had a good week. It was mainly an uneventful week for me, except my graphics card broke early on the in the week, and so I had found the perfect excuse to do a little bit of upgrading. Faced with restrictions in budget, card length (my old Antec Sonata Designer case would only fit a card 23cm/9″ or less), power supply constraints (although my Antec EarthWatt 500W, with dual 17A rails on the 12V, is not the worst around), I eventually settled for a Radeon 6850, upgrading exactly +2,000 from my old Radeon 4850. While my Intel E8500 is now the bottleneck in certain games, it’s definitely great to be able to play most games at 1080p without having to turn down the details (or as in my old card’s case, all the way down to 1360×768 @ medium just so it doesn’t crash the faulty card). A quick, cheap, and not so nasty upgrade is sometimes a great way to give some life back to an old PC.

More than expected number of news items this week, so let’s get started.

Copyright

In copyright news, it’s hard to know where to begin. I guess we should start with the source of the problem, the money. More precisely, the money flowing into Washington and other capitals of the world, as the copyright lobby spends millions scaring politicians into believing  “net piracy plague” hype.

It was revealed this week that the MPAA spent $470,000 in lobbying in the last quarter alone, mainly to promote the hugely controversial PROTECT IP act, which if you’ve been following the WNR, you should already know that it has come under attack by a variety of professionals, from engineers, to entrepreneurs, to law professors. The idea of messing around with the foundation of the Internet, the domain naming system, just so the billion dollar movie industry can feel a little bit better, without actually solving any real problems, is I guess what these professionals are most concerned about. Basically, the MPAA has convinced politicians that the few harmless flies are actually killer bees, and that the only way to solve the problem is to launch a tactical nuclear strike (except in this analogy, the nuclear strike would probably solve the fly problem, whereas PROTECT IP won’t do anything to piracy).

What surprised me more was that, despite being only a fraction of the size of the movie industry, the music industry via its lobby group the RIAA actually spend almost three times as much money – $1.25M, in just one quarter. And somehow, this was still down on last year’s $1.4M, in the same quarter. Had the RIAA simply spend the money they’ve spent on lobbying and DRM, on actual innovation, they would have been the ones making the iPod and running iTunes, not Apple. Instead, they spend a million plus trying to get new legislation through that would allow labels to receive royalty from radio station airings – once upon a time, labels were happy to just get free airings for promotional purposes, but not any more I guess.

Rapidshare logo

RapidShare will hope its recent lobbying spending of $260,000 is enough to convince Washington politicians not to kill off the file sharing industry

The same story also showed some lobbying from the other side, specifically, by Rapidshare. If PROTECT IP passes, they have the most to lose, since they will probably be the first website to get filtered, after having appeared in all the copyright blacklists. There would be far too much collateral damage if lawmakers outlaw public file sharing, because while I do admit Rapidshare has its fair share of pirated files, it’s also an essential service for many others to share large files without having access to your own FTP server. I can’t see how you can have a public file sharing service without the problem of piracy cropping up, but it’s not as if Rapidshare doesn’t have tools for rights holders to get infringing files removed – it’s just that rights holders don’t want to have to do the work to get them removed. Automatic filters are easy to escape by real pirates, but makes false positives hard to avoid – think of the YouTube false positive copyright thing and times it by about 1,000, since at least with YouTube, some kind of audio/visual analysis could be performed, while it’s harder with generic files.

The world’s second most famous music pirate, Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum, is back in the news this week as the RIAA’s appeal of an earlier reduction in damages, to “only” $67,500, was rejected by the appellate court. But not because they supported the original jury rewarded $675,000, but because they thought that Judge Nancy Gertner has jumped to the constitutional issues  a bit too early in citing the reason for the reduction, when there were other legal recourse that should have been taken before going down this route. It appears that the appeals court agrees that $675,000 was inappropriate, and in their summary, even urged Congress to consider reducing the excessive statutory damages in relation to copyright infringement (but we’ll be lucky if Congress doesn’t do the opposite, and increase statutory damages). This is become a bigger issue, because back in the day, most copyright infringement lawsuits were related to commercial infringement, and so the statutory damages are relevant to those types of cases. Today, most copyright infringement cases relate to non commercial infringement, such as illegally downloading a 99 cent song for free, and so $150,000 per act of infringement doesn’t really fit the “crime” any more. A sensible copyright reform would introduce a new tier of penalties dealing specifically with non commercial infringement, because a fine of $150 per act is enough of a deterrent for those that actually fear the law on the matter (most don’t, even with $675,000 in damages as a potential outcome). And so for now, Tenenbaum faces $675,000 in damages again, which will of course be appealed.

But Boston University students aren’t the only ones having money trouble these days. Righthaven’s refusal to pay the $34,000 in legal fees it owns to Wayne Hoehn, possibly through lack of ability to pay, has forced Hoehn’s attorneys to petition the court to send US Marshals to seize Righthaven assets in response. Now that would be a beautiful sight to behold, wouldn’t it? Righthaven took the risk in trying to scare Hoehn into paying a settlement fee, only for Hoehn to refuse to lie down and fight his way to a win in court, and so it’s only fair that Righthaven should pay up. After all, they’re the ones who send letters threatening tens and hundreds of thousands in damages, if people don’t settle. They should have taken their own advice and settled, if they didn’t want to pay up (except I think the judge refused them the right to do so, heh).

Over to Europe right now, whose financial system should collapse any day now, but before then, there are some deck chair shuffling that needs to happen. In Italy, MPs from Berlusconi’s party (why is the guy still prime minster?) want to introduce the world’s first “one-strike” system, where people may get kicked off the Internet for just a single allegation of copyright infringement. Sometimes I think politicians are actually just using copyright as an excuse to kill off the Internet, as the Internet is  making it harder to rule against the wishes of the people. And also to hide your bunga bunga parties. You know what this is? It’s fascism. And we all know how Italians deal with fascists (well, eventually, anyway).

SFI Logo

The SFI's IP address being used for piracy should not be proof that the institute was engaged in piracy

On to Sweden, and the Swedish Film Institute has just gone through what hundreds and thousands of individuals have gone through, after the SFI was accused of pirating films because its IP address had been found in one of many BitTorrent swarms. It would be hard for the SFI to go with the “my router was hacked” excuse, because no hacking did occur, but because they operated a public Wi-Fi, and because the agency tasked with collection IP addresses aren’t cooperating with the SFI on the investigation, it has been extremely difficult for the SFI to find the source of the piracy. And if this doesn’t prove that an IP address does not equal the identity of the individual(s) who made the infringement, then nothing will. And if public Wi-Fi is now going to be the target of anti-piracy operations, then that’s taking a huge step backwards in terms of the Internet everywhere approach that we’ve become used to (and which many websites, like Facebook or FourSquare, rely on).

And this increasing perception gap between how the world works now, and how the copyright lobby/politicians want things to work, is probably why the German Pirate Party has won 15 seats in the Berlin regional elections. With their Swedish counterpart winning a seat in the EU parliament, pirate parties around the world could become the new Greens, as the issue of Internet privacy and rights become more and more important.

High Definition

In HD/3D news, next week should bring us the Star Wars numbers, an early signs show that it will be a big one. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, having watched the originally trilogies at least 50 times altogether (and the new prequels trilogies about 6 times), but I’ve actually not pre-ordered the set. It’s not a protest at George Lucas or anything, but while Star Wars on DVD was a special moment for me, I’m a bit more meh about Star Wars on Blu-ray for some reason. Probably because, upscaled, the DVD edition still looks quite good, and from early reviews, while the Blu-ray version definitely looks better, the classic trilogies aren’t the “hi-defy” experience that many would be expecting. It’s not only the age of the film that the cause, but I think not going with a new transfer, given advances in technology since the last one, seems like a step backwards. Which is why I suspect we’ll get a new transfer in time for next year’s 3D version of the films, which means a new Blu-ray set (hopefully with the remastered films in 2D, as well as 3D), and so it’s hard to get too excited. I will still probably get it, I mean I got the LotR theatrical mess on Blu-ray.

Plus, I’m finding it difficult to get the time to watch movies these days, got a dozen or more on Blu-ray that’s still under shrink wrap.

For 3D news, this week, YouTube announced a new feature in which you can convert any existing or new uploaded 2D video to 3D. Cool if you like this sort of thing, but the 3D hype is definitely dying, and the 2D to 3D conversion could be the jump the shark moment for the format, because really, it’s an admission by YouTube that nobody is uploading any real 3D content.

GamingAnd finally in gaming, those that saw and agreed to the new PSN user agreement, without reading it (obviously didn’t watch that South Park episode), may realise that they’ve signed over more than they realised.

Sony apparently sneaked a clause which makes it a lot harder for people to join in one of the many class action lawsuit against Sony for the PSN data theft. Those that signed the agreement will have agreed to go through binding individual arbitration before being allowed to join any class action lawsuit, with a Sony appointed arbitrator. If you don’t sign the agreement, then you won’t be allowed to use PSN, but you can opt out of the arbitration only by sending a letter to Sony HQ detailing your wishes, and within 30 days of signing the original agreement, and of course, all of these details were “hidden” in the wordy user agreement. I’m not going to comment on whether this is an underhanded move by Sony or not, but all I will say is that this is exactly what you would expect from such a company, and probably why it’s such an attractive target for hackers.

Diablo III

Diablo III could be a great game, but Blizzard are doing all they can to ruin it with "always-on" DRM and MMO restrictions, without any of the MMO benefits, in the single player mode

Diablo III is an eagerly awaited game, and Blizzard has a great reputation as a game producer. But the company’s insistence on using always-on DRM, they say for anti-cheating purposes, not anti-piracy, could really hurt their reputation, not to mention sales of the game. A recent play of the beta version seems to show a lot of quirks related to the always-on DRM, including the inability to pause games, and game glitches whenever the connection goes down (and it went down a lot, thanks to the flaky beta Blizzard servers), and eventually users get  thrown back to the main menu, losing unsaved progress. Hopefully, the final version will not be as “crippled”, but without adding in a true offline mode, Blizzard is always going to set themselves up to fail. The good news is that there’s still a lot of time between now and the game’s release, so enough public pressure could make Blizzard do the right thing.

And that’s all that was for the week. I’m off to play Starcraft 2 in 1080p, extreme quality mode (which is more than playable at 50/60 FPS on my new 6850, at least when the on screen unit count isn’t too high). See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (14 August 2011)

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Another pretty quiet news week, and once again, NPD has “released” stats for US video game sales in July 2011. More on the later though, let’s get through the small number of interesting news items this week in this relatively short WNR.

CopyrightIn copyright news, a couple of weeks ago, the story of a 70-year-old grandma being “caught” downloading video porn by a copyright law firm made the headlines.

Wi-Fi Security

If you have a Wi-Fi connection, you need to use WPA2 encryption

This week, a blind man is accused of doing the same. In a scenario that is likely to be repeated over and over again, the man, only known as Doe 2057, suspected that the Wi-Fi router his wife set up might not have been secured, which possibly led to neighbours abusing the connection to download Japanese porn, despite the man living in a “very upscale building”. Before we get to the rights and wrongs of copyright law firms, people really need to be more careful with their Wi-Fi routers. By not securing it, anyone could connect and use up your Internet bandwidth, and that’s actually a best case scenario. Worst case, they would have access to your network, and hence any file shared on the network. The same also applies to routers that use the default password (or no password). And I think router makers have to take some responsibility as well, as far too many routers ship with factory settings that do not have security turned on or use the easily broken WEP protocol – it makes them easy to install, a bit more compatible with older wireless devices, but a little bit of hand-holding in the set up software wouldn’t make the process that much more difficult either.

But with nobody taking any responsibility, the large majority of consumers ignorant of the need to secure their routers, copyright law firms are taking advantage of biased copyright laws. It’s certainly opportunistic, you have to say. The problem is that to actually fight the charges, as Doe 2057 found out, it’s usually more expensive than just paying the on average $2,500 settlement fee. And the copyright law firms know this, and have exploited it beautifully. It was also revealed this week that the number of people being “sued” this way, in the United States lone, has reached over 200,000, according to stats being kept by TorrentFreak. That’s half a billion dollar worth of settlement fees, but assuming not everyone pays up, it’s still a 8 figure amount that many law firms would be delighted to take in over the course of several years. If you ever get caught, you should definitely check out EFF’s page on mass copyright lawsuits, and learn about your options.

A new study seems to show that good games are pirated more, which might sound like common sense to you and me, but nevertheless the study “confirms” it as fact. Except it sort of doesn’t. The TorrentFreak article on this study has more details, including the top 10 list of most pirated games, there are a few cases, such as the awful TRON Evolution game, that still managed to be popular with pirates, despite being unpopular with critics. Similarly, the fairly average and not all all popular (sales wise) ‘Two Worlds II’ managed to get into the top 10, and the hugely popular Starcraft II wasn’t the most pirated game (Fallout: New Vegas was, which is fair enough I suppose). I would actually like to see a study that tries to find a correlation between game sales, piracy rates and the quality of the game. What I would like to know is that if high quality games have a higher or lower ratio of pirated copies versus paid for copies. And then take into consideration things like the exclusive online features of the game (eg. Starcraft II’s Battle.net support), as well as any DRM employed (eg. Ubisoft games). I think the results may be very interesting.

Speaking of DRM, Walmart is pulling out of the digital music business according to leaked memos, and this has implications for those that purchased DRM’d music from them prior to 2007 (before they went DRM-free). Luckily, Walmart seems to be doing the right thing and will keep the DRM servers online (they learned the hard way about turning off DRM authentication, back in 2008 when they tried it and met with strong public condemnation). But how long will they do it? Indefinitely? At some point, Walmart will decide unilaterally that it no longer needs to maintain DRM authentication, and all those “purchases” would be made invalid. The sensible thing for Walmart seems to be to transfer the DRM’d songs to DRM-free version, which should not really be that difficult, but I suppose it means extra licensing costs. It again highlights the problem with DRM, not only for consumers, but for content providers having to get locked in to a proprietary system for an undefined number of years.

High Definition

In Blu-ray/3D news, I posted a 3-in-1 news story just yesterday on developments in the 3D world.

The first of the three is not really that interesting, a story about 3D glasses vending machines outside of selected cinemas in California. The fact that people may pay $70 for a pair of passive 3D glasses out of a vending machine, in this economy, just seemed funny to me.

Samsung 3D active shutter glasses

A standard for 3D glasses could help end consumer confusion and lead to cheaper glasses, but will it help 3D uptake?

The second story is slightly more interesting, but let’s talk about the third one first, which is about AT&T’s U-verse no longer carrying the ESPN 3D channel, due to low consumer demand. The blame is either with lack of 3D devices being sold, or lack of interest, and both could be true. The thing is, 3D is a gimmick, and one that perhaps you might want to give it a go from time to time, but the majority of TV watching will be in 2D.

Back to that second story, and this one is about a new standard for active 3D glasses being formed by Panasonic, Sony and Samsung, three of the biggest manufacturers of 3D. Panasonic hinted at this quite a while ago, especially when it found that Samsung’s active 3D glasses can actually workon Panasonic sets, but only if you wear them upside down, the ridiculousness of this probably prompted a rethink by these manufacturers. They also plan to address a major problem with home based active glasses, in that they’re mostly based on infra-red or RF signals, both of which are susceptible to interference, and in the case of IR, line of sight issues. Hopefully, with a standard in place, and other manufacturers signing up, the cost of 3D glasses can decrease over time.

Gaming

And finally in gaming, as mentioned earlier, the July NPD figures have been released. Microsoft, as usual, were the first to provide actual hardware sales figures, not surprisingly because their Xbox 360 was the best selling home based console yet again. They also made it interesting by announcing the market share figures, at 45%, which meant that as long as one Nintendo or  Sony release figures for the Wii or PS3, then we would know the sales number for the other (based on a simple calculation).

Unfortunately, neither companies came out with any figures, and it was left to Analyst Michael Pachter to come up with the good, via a sneaky reference to the Wii’s year-on-year result. So once I get all the maths done, I should have the NPD analysis up.

Alright, another short-ish WNR, but if there’s no interesting news, then there’s no interesting news, it’s not as if I can make it up or anything. Or maybe I can?

See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (24 July 2011)

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

A solemn start to this week’s WNR. Our thoughts go out to those affected by the events in Norway. Tragedies such as this makes the issues that the WNR covers pale in significance to the many other problems in the world today, and while this is true, just because something is less significant, it doesn’t mean it’s not significant in its own limited way, it shouldn’t become an ignored topic. And life, as cliche as it sounds, must go on.

But, and I’m going a little bit off topic here, what really struck me was the media coverage immediately following the bombing, and, when looking back at it now, how slanted it was. I think many people, if not most, immediately came to certain conclusions about the terrorist attack. Conclusions that ultimately painted the suspect(s) as Middle Eastern. This, I can understand, because we are human beings, and we are  emotion creatures and ones that that need a sense of understanding, when an event that makes little sense happens. We we jump to conclusions, join the dots even if it meant drawing some of our own dots to complete the picture. It’s understandable.

Once upon a time, the news meant facts. And in the absence of facts, the media kept us safe from our own human nature, or at least attempted to, to prevent us from jumping to conclusions, to remind us to hold our judgement until the facts, and the full facts, have emerged. But that today’s news media, and even the  so called respected sources, all became cheerleaders for the view that only terrorists of the Islamic fundamentalist persuasion could have been responsible for the tragedy in Norway, shows us how news has become entertainment, how facts (and fact checking) has become optional, how accuracy has given way to expediency and the need to set a clearly defined narrative, and why all of this hurts our democratic society in more ways than even the most insidious terrorist masterminds can hope for.

Anyway, this was just something I wanted to get off my chest before we start this week’s, very much opinionated, narrative drive, and fact-check-lacking WNR (and you should consider yourself  lucky that a hack like myself is not allowed to cover the more important issues), so sorry for the interruption.

CopyrightStarting with copyright news, we start with the FBI’s arrest of members of the hactivism group, Anonymous.

Anonymous

Anonymous members are arrested by the FBI, but the attacks continue

I’ve expressed the opinion before that I was surprised the FBI or other law enforcement hadn’t taken action against Anonymous. I thought that, sooner or later, one of the targets Anonymous chose, and they did choose quite deliberately, would come screaming to law enforcement for assistance (as some of them were targeted *because* of their “too close for comfort” relationship with governments and law enforcement via lobbying). I don’t really want to get into a debate about the right and wrongs of hacking, leaks (wiki or otherwise), and hacktivism in general, but groups like Anonymous don’t exist in a vacuum – they exist and they are supported because of real (and sometimes perceived) bias, and until these biases are addressed, and the disenfranchaised feel they and their opinions are represented, there will only be more groups like Anonymous and LulzSec, not less, no matter how many arrests the FBI makes.

And you know something is not right when a private company, really out there to protects its own interests, end up being more representative of the general public than the government that the people have elected. This time, it’s Google arguing against the recently passed, and soon to be adopted, copyright law amendments in New Zealand. The NZ government, under pressure from the entertainment industry (and not even the industry in their own country), passed three-strike type laws, which allowed rights holders to force ISPs to issue warnings to suspected copyright infringers. But these kind of laws always assumed that an allegation equals guilt, that an IP address is enough to “convict”, and Google is arguing that, this shouldn’t be the case. The NZ laws actually specifically state that all allegations should be treated as fact, when the tribunal set up to deal with cases hand down rulings, even if the tribunal felt that the evidence was not enough. The whole rationale behind graduated response is to short circuit the legal system, to turn allegations into facts, because the problem is otherwise “too big” to deal with via the courts. An IP address is circumstantial evidence, at best, and the quantity of such evidence should not improve their quality.

A different kind of pirated porn

As otherwise, we might end up doing something silly like suing 70 year old grandmothers for illegally downloading porn. Oh. As far as I’m concerned, there’s not a huge bit of difference between the “sue for settlement” gang, and the graduated response proponents – both are taking flimsy evidence and trying to make a buck (or to prevent a possibly non-existent buck from being lost). So we have a grandmother who doesn’t even know what a torrent is, using a wireless router set up by a family member probably, one that was subsequently unsecured, and hacked into for “nefarious” usage. And we have the law firm involved allegedly telling her that the “unsecured router” defence was not a sound one, and that she should just charge the thousands of dollars in settlement fees to her credit card or possibly face a six figure amount in court. Other than the fact that it is a defence, and one that has been used even recently, there’s also the fact that had she gone to court (and it seems she’s determined to do so, good on her), there’s no way that any judge or jury, in their right minds, would ever reward $150,000 against her, that’s assuming the law firm involved even turns up to court. Expect the case to be dropped double quick, now that the media is involved (so I guess the news media is not entirely useless these days, not when it comes to potential “sensationalist” stories such as this one). But the 30 year old single males, using the same defence, probably won’t get very far, unfortunately, nor would he get the same kind of media coverage, despite probably being just as innocent.

The madness that is copyright enforcement these days all center around the idea that, stopping piracy is important because piracy is bad, M’kay.  But is stopping or even just caring about piracy really that important? Not according to Super Meat Boy (no, this is not the porno the 70 year old grandma downloaded) developers, Team Meat. Super Meat Boy, again not a porno, is an indie game for Xbox Live Arcade and PC, and a pretty popular one at that, with 600,000 buyers as of April. The popularity of the game also means that it’s pirated a lot, but Team Meat’s Edmund McMillen says he just doesn’t care about piracy, his exact words were “we don’t f**king care”. It’s all about word of mouth, McMillen says, and piracy helps to spread it. I would add that people also tend to buy good games, or anything they feel has value, regardless of whether it’s available for free (illegally) or not. Nobody likes “stealing”, or at least committing morally ambiguous actions, and if they can afford it and it it’s good “value”, they will buy. So if game developers cared less about piracy and stopping it, and cared more about making good games like Team Meat has done, then maybe, maybe, piracy will solve itself (it also helps for Super Meat Boy to be part of a lot of Steam sales – I got my copy for $3.75).

High Definition

In HD/3D news, a milestone of sorts for Blu-ray this week as Disney announce their release plans for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’.

Instead of having a Blu-ray+DVD combo, a Blu-ray only and one or two DVD editions, for the first time ever on a new A-list release, Disney will delay the DVD-only edition of the film for a month, and forgo the  Blu-ray only edition entirely. So when the movie comes out on disc in October, it will only be available in two different combos (three, if you count the “DVD packaging” edition), including a 5-disc combo that also includes the Blu-ray 3D and Digital Copy versions, for $4 more (on Amazon). And since Blu-ray combos, even the ones with DVD packaging, are counted as Blu-ray sales, it effectively means ‘On Stranger Tides’ will be a Blu-ray exclusive, until the DVD only version is released a month later.

Disney is not new to this kind of release schedule, previously employing this for their classic animated releases like Snow White. And it has worked wonders to boost, artificially in some respect, Blu-ray sales numbers, making these Disney releases some of the most popular on the HD format. And it looks like ‘On Stranger Tides’ will be the next record breaker (although ‘Deathly Hallows Part 2’ might have something to say about this).

Is this really a big deal? I think it is. It’s the first step towards making DVDs obsolete, although it might mean they’re still around in combo form for some time yet. The truth is that, it doesn’t really cost studios all that much to include a DVD copy with the Blu-ray version (or vice versa), so it’s all about demand, perception of value and all that.

Digital Copy

Digital Copy - insert, enter code, transfer, copy ... and then only in the "allowed" formats, is not worth the trouble

There was also the news that Fox is bringing Digital Copy to Android phones, which I didn’t think was big enough of a news item, since I already have a Fox Blu-ray that has a digital copy for Android (Unstoppable), and when UltraViolet rolls out, cross format compatibility of digital copies may not be such a huge issue any more. But it is kind of annoying, that if studios don’t include the right digital copy, your only choice to enjoy the movie on the platform of your choice is to buy it again, or illegally rip it (but the kind of “illegal” that nobody would get into trouble for, if you don’t share the copy with others). When we “buy” a Blu-ray, we’re not really buying the movie, or even licensing the movie itself – we’re only licensing the copy of the movie that appears on the platforms/media we are paying for.

Gaming

And in gaming, not much, expect that I did manage to get the NPD analysis written, using the “guestimated” (ie. made up) numbers of the PS3 that I threatened to use in the last WNR.

The Xbox 360 was once again the king of consoles, although I predict the year on year growth the console has been experiencing may experience a slight pause, thanks largely to the larger than expected bump the console got last year this time for the then new “Slim” version of the console.

Story that I didn’t really cover this week included one about the PS3 3D headset. I’m sorry, but VR headsets, to me, are so 90’s, and you can never really make them light enough for them not to be a literal pain in the neck. The idea is sound though, that instead of having headache inducing 3D glasses based on flickering between images for your left and right eye, have goggles that actually give each of your eye a different picture, and then add head tracking to boot.

There’s also a story about the next-gen Xbox 360 having “Avatar-like” graphics. Maybe it’s just me, but I might be the small minority that thought Avatar’s CGI still looked quite fake, and some of the plants definitely had a “game console” look to them.

That’s all I have for the week. See you in seven day’s time.

Weekly News Roundup (17 July 2011)

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

A news-tastic week, and I guess we were due one. It’s a shame, because I was quite busy messing up my Paper (Star) Wars Android game update, in which I released not one, not two, but three versions of the app. It always happens like this though, you get ready to release an update, do all the testing you can, confident that it works, and then you release it only to find that it’s introduced even more bugs than before. But sometimes it’s hard to properly test an app that, according to Android Market, can be deployed on 430+ different Android devices. I added a crash report feature to the app, so that I can get a report every time it crashes, and so far, no new crash reports in the last 72 hours, so that’s something I guess. I also took the opportunity to add an official website for the app, which includes some getting started tips, and also Facebook and Twitter pages.

With plenty of news to go through, let’s get started.

CopyrightIn Copyright news, opposition to the controversial PROTECT IP act is gaining momentum, as this week, more than 100 law professors from around the United States have signed an open letter urging Congress to reconsider the new copyright legislation.

So we’ve had Internet pioneer, leaders in the field of technology, and now also law experts, all coming out attacking PROTECT IP. The law professors repeated the same warnings about messing with the Internet’s naming system, but more importantly, they argued that, from a freedom of speech point of view. But it won’t be the first time Congress has ignored expert advice in favour of lobbyist suggestions, and so, I’m not too hopeful that PROTECT IP will be defeated.

Fair Use

Fair use creates jobs, while tougher copyright may destroy them

And the politicians will not find it a difficult to support the RIAA and MPAA, because, as you know, it’s all about the jobs. The RIAA and MPAA have been arguing that tougher copyright protection means more jobs, and a politician in the current climate can’t afford to be seen as being anti-jobs, even if it is at the expense of being anti-free speech. But a new report by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) shows that tougher copyright laws may actually have a negative effect on job creation, as it turns out, the US economy these days are very much driven by fair use related activities. Even I didn’t realise that fair use related industries accounted for 17% of the entire United States’ GDP, some $4.5 trillion in value added contributions. That’s much greater than the film and music business combined, and it makes sense when you see companies like Google, Facebook, Mozilla all embracing open source and taking advantage of fair use in some way.

PROTECT IP, in many ways, is just a protectionist measure in favour of the film and music business, and such measures always hurt other industries, and in this case, it’s the huge tech/Internet industry. But because one industry is more active in lobbying than the others, common sense does not always prevail in Washington. And just because the film and music business receives more protection, it doesn’t mean that they actually benefit financially as well, because tougher copyright laws does not equal more sales (and could even equal less).

If the US wants to see a real world example of tougher copyright laws, and the effect it has on revenue, they can simple look towards France, and see how their “Hadopi” three-strikes law (named after the agency, Hadopi, that is in charge of administering the program)  is working out. A new report shows the extraordinary level of monitoring that occurs, some 18 million incidents of piracy were recorded in just nine months. But out of the 18 million, only 470,000 users were sent “first-strike” emails, warning them of alleged copyright infringement being conducted via their Internet accounts. And then, in what seems to be strongest indication of the effectiveness of three-strikes, only 20,000 “second-strike” emails were sent out, suggesting that 450,000 people took the first warning the right way and “stopped” pirating. And at the end of it all, only 10 people were being considered for further action after reaching their third strike – so that’s millions spent to catch 10 people.

But despite what appears to be a 95% reduction in piracy (going from 470,000 first time offenders to only 20,000 second time offenders), there’s almost no information on the actual economic benefits of the reduction in piracy, if the reduction even exists. I can only assume that there has been no positive effect on music and movie sales in France as a result of three-strikes, because otherwise, the RIAA/MPAA would be using it as evidence that every country in the world should adopt graduated response. And just because people stopped being detected, it doesn’t mean they’ve stopped pirating – direct downloads have never been monitored by Hadopi, and it’s impossible for them to monitor BitTorrent usage if it’s done via a VPN either.

It makes perfect sense to me though, that if someone who couldn’t afford to buy a movie or a piece of music still remains in the same situation after tougher copyright laws are introduced, and as long as this is true, there can be no increase in revenue. People will stop enjoying content illegally, and if they can’t afford the legal version, they will simply stop enjoying the content entirely. And this reduces the word of mouth effect, and also prevents “upgraders”, those that download illegally and then purchase later because they really liked the content. And so, tougher copyright laws may actually lead to revenue loss. The truth of the matter is that movie home entertainment revenue is much higher than what it was before the Internet become popular, and so is gaming. And that while the music industry isn’t doing as well, increased competition from other sectors (such as movies and gaming), and the increasing popularity of purchasing music singles over albums, are all more accountable for the decline in revenue than just piracy. The music industry needs to stop blaming piracy on all of its problems, and the movie industry needs to stop pretending there is a problem (what with box office receipts at an all time high, and home entertainment revenue up significantly compared to 15 years ago).

Music Industry Revenue by Content Type

This graph shows that music industry revenue has been dominated by album sales ...

Music industry revenue for albums on different formats

... and as you can see, albums were popular on CD but has been declining ...

Music industry revenue for singles on different formats

... and this graph shows digital music is all about singles, which may explain the industry's revenue loss

The truth is that the way people consume content has changed drastically, and yes, a lot of that is due to the Internet. But with change, comes opportunity, and if the film and music industry aren’t interested in exploring the new opportunities, others will, and in this case, it has been the technology companies, like Apple and Netflix, that has benefited the most. And the latest to join their ranks may be Spotify, which has just been launched in the United States, albeit in a limited invitation only phase. Spotify attempts to address one of the fundamental shifts in media consumption, the lessening need to “own” music (well, people never owned music anyway, there merely licensed a recording of it), and the increasing need to consume (which makes owning far too expensive and time consuming to manage). So instead, people stream all the music they want in an on-demand fashion, for free if they’re willing to put up with ads. It’s completely legal, so no moral guilty as compared to piracy, plus the music industry can receive financial compensation. And those that do want to “own”, or at least rent, can buy one of Spotify’s paid for plans, with more money going towards the music industry. With Spotify, there’s almost no reason at all for pirating music.

Spotify Logo

Spotify is launching in the US, and there are now even fewer reasons for people to pirate music

And in a similar vein, UltraViolet for movies also attempt to change the way content is sold to more closely follow the consumer’s needs, an ambitious project that has the backing of more than 70 companies from a range of industries, with support, albeit reluctantly at certain aspects of it, from the movie industry. This week, UltraViolet licensing beings officially, and beta testing is also under way for an official launch later this year. If it works, it will finally allow movie lovers to buy the movie (or license it), as opposed to just buying the media that the movies comes on. It’s Digital Copy, but done right, with industry wide support, and done via the Internet.

And so, there is hope, that the music and film industry can embrace change and come out the other side stronger than before. Let’s just hope they don’t erode all of our civil rights, in a vain attempt to use legislation to stop copyright infringement, before then.

And finally, before we move on to other topics, the MPAA’s lawsuit against Hotfile has some new developments this week, as the judge in case threw out the MPAA’s claim of direct copyright infringement, simply on the grounds that Hotfile themselves did not upload any of the content that is considered to be infringing on the MPAA’s copyrights. However, the judge did feel Hotfile can be found guilty of secondary copyright infringement, of inducement to infringement by paying affiliates money for uploading popular content. I don’t think it will end well for Hotfile unfortunately, as the MPAA has chosen their target wisely, by choosing a file sharing host that actively promotes popular uploads with payment, and thus, encourage users  to upload pirated content.

High Definition

In HD/3D news, a new report suggests that Blu-ray will beat DVD by 2014 to become the most popular disc format around.

But even by then, Blu-ray’s gain in revenue would not have offset DVD’s loss, and so it will be digital media that saves the day. The report, from London-based Futuresource, says that at that time, physical media will still account for more than half of the industry’s revenue, but digital media won’t be too far behind, accounting for 46% of the market.

While Blu-ray only accounts for 13% of the sell-through market last year, it’s not too hard to believe Blu-ray will get close to 50% by 2014, especially if you look at recent data as listed in our weekly Blu-ray/DVD sales analysis. Blu-ray revenue, in the US at least, appears to be already above the 20% mark on average, and for some recent releases like ‘Sucker Punch’ have managed to has a first week Blu-ray market share way above this average (61.42% to be precise).

Blu-ray 3D Logo

Over 3.5 million Blu-ray 3D discs have been sold so far, but half of them were given away

There was also the news that 3D Blu-ray, despite the predictions of doom, has already sold some 3.5 million discs. Of course, half of these discs were given away with hardware, but with Avatar still not available for general sale on Blu-ray 3D, the number is still impressive. The main reason for the good result, and the good result of Blu-ray in general, is pricing. Blu-ray combos are now the best value packaging around usually, and with Blu-ray 3D “mega” combos becoming more popular (that is, the Blu-ray 3D version plus the Blu-ray 2D version, plus the DVD and Digital Copy versions), 3D is benefiting as a result.

What has decrease in value this week though is Netflix subscriptions, with price rises of up to 60% being announced. Netflix says the reason for the increase is due to their renewed focus on DVDs, by separating DVD and streaming into two separate, and cheaper plans (but at the same time, increasing the price of the combined plan). I suspect this price rise has to do with Netflix’s need to renegotiate digital rights for movies, with them having just agreed a new deal with Universal, and the need for a new deal with Sony. The rise in popularity of Netflix is obviously making studios feel they’ve not got the best deal they can, and they will want to squeeze as much out of Netflix as possible.

And before we move onto gaming, the news this week that new PS3s won’t be able to output Blu-ray in HD over component shouldn’t come as a surprise for those that read my news article on the Blu-ray analog sunset. Blu-ray’s copy protections system, AACS, mandated the removal of HD component support for all new players manufactured after January 1st 2011, and so the new PS3 model is just following the licensing agreement. The misinformation over HD being disabled even for games and streaming, is just that, misinformation.

Gaming

And in gaming, there’s actually not much, but I wanted to address the NPD issue again. The NPD report for June has just been released, and as been the case recently, it’s light on actual details, especially for hardware sales figures. But Microsoft and Nintendo have decided to released hardware sales figures for their consoles, once again leaving Sony as the holdout.

I’m hoping a leak will reveal the Sony PS3 numbers in the next few days, but even without the leak we can deduce that the PS3 probably didn’t do very well in June, despite Infamous 2 selling extremely well. First of all, the Xbox 360 was the most popular console with 507,000 units sold, while Nintendo revealed the sale of 273,000 Wiis. Microsoft’s statement mentioned their 507,000 was nearly twice as much as other home consoles, confirming the Wii number at least and pointing to the fact that the Wii was probably the second best selling console. And with Sony’s statement only pointing to the success of Infamous 2, with no acknowledgement of year-on-year growth for the PS3 (something they’ve been vocal about recently). In fact, Microsoft’s statement actually says the Xbox 360 is the only console to have year-on-year growth in June.

So the PS3 sold less than in June 2010 (304,800 units), and so the only issue is whether the PS3 outsold the Wii or not. Microsoft’s statement mentioned that the Xbox 360 held a “48% share of the overall current-generation console market share”, although it was unclear whether this referred to June or the whole of 2011 (it’s not lifetime sales, that’s for sure). Assuming it is for June, and for home based consoles only, then a little bit of maths puts the PS3 at 276,250 units (if 507,000 was 48%, extrapolate to 100%, then minus the known 360 and Wii numbers, to get the PS3 number).

But I hate guessing, so I’ll wait a few more days to see if there are any leaks to confirm my theory, but if not, then I’ll give Sony the benefit of the doubt for not mentioned they outsold the Wii, and use the estimated 276,000 figure.

That’s all for this news filled week. I suspect the next week will be very barren indeed news wise. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (3 July 2011)

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

How’s the second half of 2011 been treating you? Not too bad I hope. I’ve been busy working on my little Android app, which you might remember me mentioning a couple of months ago. I’ve learnt a bit more about Android programming since I last updated the app, you know things like how not to make it crash every time it starts up, or how not to make it drain up all your CPU and your phone’s battery in no time. Small things like that. And so I thought I better update the app. It’s coming along, and it should be ready next week or the one after. Android programming is not easy, as there are quite a few quirks you have to work around with, and also deal with the constant OS updates (what works in Android 2.2 may not work in 2.3, with Google not providing a whole lot of warning about the impact of potential changes). So the next time an app crashes on you, don’t immediately curse the programmers, because it’s not always their fault (it’s mostly their fault, but not always).

Let’s get on with the news roundup.

CopyrightIn copyright news, the MPAA has been busy this week, with two lawsuits to contend with, one in the UK (via the MPA, its International wing), and another back in the States.

In the UK, the MPA is trying to get the high court to force BT, a large British ISP, to ban access to the Usenet sharing website Newzbin. The high court has already ruled in favour of the MPA agaqinst Newzbin, except shortly afterwards, Newzbin2 sprang up overseas, and it’s still unknown whether this new incarnation of Newzbin has anything to do with the original. Regardless, the MPA doesn’t want the millions they’ve spent fighting Newzbin to go to waste, and now want to force ISPs to block access to all incarnations of Newzbin. This brings up an interesting question. If this new Newzbin, dubbed Newzbin2, is run by completely different people, outside of the jurisdiction of the UK, then does the earlier Newzbin ruling really apply? And if the high court this time is treating Newzbin2 as a new website, ruling it guilty based on past precedent, then can they also apply the same to every other website that the MPA wants banned?

Newzbin 2 Logo

The MPA wants UK ISPs to block access to Newzbin

And at what cost to ISPs? The MPA says that BT already has a filtering system, used to block child pornography, which they say can be used to block Newzbin/Newzbin2. But for other ISPs that don’t have a blocking system in place, they will have to invest in one at great cost. And whatever system will probably be easily bypassed anyway. And of course any ruling that forces ISPs to take action in effect shifts responsibility to copyright control over to ISPs, and somehow make them all responsible for their subscriber’s activities. I hate to use the same analogy again, but should a phone company be held responsible for all crimes committed by account holders? Some argue that ISPs profit from infringing activities (users buy more bandwidth to download pirated stuff), but phone companies do also benefit from illegal activities by charging account holder fees, so what’s the difference, other than the fact that the “crimes by phone” lobby, if it exists, isn’t as strong as the entertainment industry lobby. And since the MPA/MPAA’s members only include the big 6 studios (Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.), it’s not even a situation where the lobby group representing all studio’s interests.

The other lawsuit the MPAA is involved in is against file hosting website, Hotfile. Hotfile has complained to the court that the MPAA’s request for information has become unreasonable. Court documents reveal the MPAA simply wants everything Hotfile has, including financial records, all user details (even those not participating in unauthorized sharing and downloading), and even Hotfile’s website’s source code. Hotfile’s business would effectively be ruined if any of these are handed over, but the MPAA wants it all, and Hotfile are calling this “murder by litigation”. And maybe that’s the MPAA’s real goal. The way I see it, if you’re going to offer online digital storage with sharing, then unauthorized sharing is unstoppable. It may not be a movie, TV show or a music track, but it could still be the unauthorized sharing of business documents, trade secrets, or even national security data. So the choices are to ban this type of extremely useful service online, and go back to the bad old days of sending files section by section via email, or prosecute those that actually do the uploading. Analogy time again. If a spy steals national secrets and send them back to his home country via Gmail, should Gmail be held responsible for not properly filtering all emails and attachments?

I guess the argument would be that Gmail is not primarily used to share national secrets, and one of Hotfile’s main uses may be piracy related. But then if this is true, why are ISPs being held responsible for pirated downloads, because piracy is not one of the main uses of an Internet subscription (despite what the MPAA wants you to believe).

A Lonely Place for Dying Poster

'A Lonely Place for Dying' is trying to change the way movies are funded for their theatrical release, by embracing BitTorrent networks

And while Hollywood, and by Hollywood, I mean the big six studios, are obsessed with fighting the Internet, independent producers are trying to find ways to leverage the web to promote and sell their movies. Hollywood veteran and Star Trek icon James Cromwell has produced a film, ‘A Lonely Place for Dying’, and instead of being afraid of BitTorrent networks and people downloading the movie for free, he’s embracing it as a new way to promote and secure funding for the film’s theatrical release. Instead of using Hollywood connections to secure major studio backing for the film’s theatrical run, instead, the film is being distributed for free in serialized form on the BitTorrent powered VODO network, along with other notable P2P partners, including The Pirate Bay, isoHunt, uTorrent and Frostwire (a who’s who list of “Hollywood’s” most wanted, if there ever was one). Funding will be via donations, and the hope is that enough publicity is built up to allow the film to have a loyal following *before* it makes its way to the big screen, almost the reverse of what usually happens.

This is great for independent film producers, without the budget and backing of major studios. But it could be bad for the majors. Not just that independents can now find other ways to get their movies screened, without having to play by the majors’ rules, but also because the Internet has become the ultimate critic. If a movie is bad, the Internet will be all over it, and pretty soon, it will be all over for the film’s theatrical run (and future disc sales).  And for those that still enjoy a bad movie now and then, instead of having to pay to see it, they can simply torrent it instead, and denying the major studios an important source of their income: crappy movies. Hollywood produces a lot of crap, and in the past, people would go and see the movie and then find out it’s crap, and even then, some will be adventurous enough to rent or even buy the movie on disc. Then the Internet came along, and people no longer needed to pay to enjoy crappy movies, and this is when Hollywood became extremely worried. The reason why I think this is the case is because good movies have still managed to earn a lot of money, despite Internet piracy becoming widespread – some have earned even more than before, and some of that is actually because of the Internet and the word of mouth effect (and you can tell the studios know this, because find me one movie these days that doesn’t have its own website, Twitter account and Facebook page?). In many ways, the film business has become a lot more democratic. The choice used to be between paying to watch a movie, and not watching the movie. Now, the choice is between paying to watch something, and not paying to watch the same thing – and that has made the people that want to maintain the monopoly scared, and they’ve tried everything, from DRM, to political lobbying, to maintain the status quo.

High Definition

Which brings us to HD/3D news. 3D has helped the majors in a big way because, without having the same 3D experience at home, the viewer’s choice becomes limited again to paying for something, or not watching it at all. Except Hollywood’s greed has ensured every movie, including all the bad ones, are in 3D, and even ones that aren’t shot in 3D are converted to 3D in post processing.

As much as I hate Michael Bay’s films, and I do hate most of his films, at least he sees the importance of giving viewers the proper 3D viewing experience (or as he claims with Transformers 3), and not some half-assed afterthought that so many 3D movies are these days. Of course, it would be even better if Bay also paid a little bit of attention to plot, dialogue and character developmental as well, but that’s a debate for another day.

And to make it worse, the 3D premium is getting ridiculous, to the point where it is hurting 3D presentations at the box office.

So really, if Hollywood wants viewers to make the right choice, to pay for movies, then they need to stop making bad movies. And if they’re still complaining about not making enough money on movies such as Avatar, or The Dark Knight, then that’s just greed talking, because a billion or more in pure revenue for a single movie, in my mind, is good enough already.

For some reason, the rest of this WNR is all to do with Sony. It wasn’t intentional at all, but that how the week unfolded.

The first news item has to do with Sony movies disappearing from Netflix. Hands up if you thought that this was some kind of move by Sony to do with DRM, a protest against digital distribution from the owners of Blu-ray, or some kind of anti-competitive thing. In the end, it had nothing to do with Sony at all, well not directly anyway. It’s all to do with digital distribution deals that Sony signed with Starz, who then sold the rights onto Netflix, and in the short-sightedness of it all, the deal has included a provision which limited the number of people that are allowed to access Sony movies online at any one time. With Netflix’s explosion in popularity, this limit was soon reached, and hence, the agreement had to be terminated, and Sony movies pulled until a new agreement can be made. It certainly looks like Sony sold the online rights to its movies very cheaply back in 2008, and that Netflix, via Starz, will now have to pay a lot more to get the rights back.

Gaming

The second of the Sony related stories (don’t worry, there are still two more), has only a tenuous link to Sony. Former enemy, George Hotz (geohot), has apparently landed a great job at Facebook, just months after being sued by Sony.

Some will think, hack Sony => great job at Facebook, but it’s more of a case of smart guy => get job at Facebook, I think. Regardless of what you think of geohot’s actions, he’s one smart guy. And Facebook users should be relieved that he’s now working for the right side, because if you think Sony’s 100 million user data leak was something, just imagine if Facebook had a similar data breach – bedlam, I think, is the best word to use if this were to happen. Remember when geohot quipped that Sony should hire him if they’re serious about security, and then Sony tried to use this against him in the lawsuit as evidence of financial blackmail … maybe, just maybe, Sony should have done what Facebook has done and hired the guy, and maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t be the butt of every Internet security joke at the moment.

Sony PS3 Hacked

Let's not forget that the PS3 was only hacked because Sony's poor implementation of their security design

Or they can just stick their head in the sand and blame the whole incident on something else. Apparently, it was not Sony’s awful decision to remove OtherOS from the PS3, not when it has been so heavily promoted by the company as a feature that sets the PS3 apart from all the other consoles. No. Sony’s controversial CEO, Howard Stringer, says it was all because poor innocent Sony tried to do the right thing, to protect their games from piracy, that led to the PSN hack. This seems to suggest OtherOS was an attempt to prevent the PS3 from being hacked for piracy, something Sony has denied time and time again (saying OtherOS removal was for financial reasons, due to the high cost of maintaining this feature), and seems to suggest Sony is linking OtherOS and the Linux community to piracy once again. Of course, removing OtherOS not only did not prevent the hacking of the PS3, it led to it, and hacking groups all concentrated their effort on cracking the then impregnable PS3 security system. And then came the lawsuits, the Anonymous DDoS attacks, and the rest is history. A couple of weeks ago, I posted my opinion of how Sony should change as a company in order to put this whole incident behind them properly. Right now, it looks like business as usual for Sony, as they arrogantly deny that, in the end, they were more to blame for the PS3 hacking and PSN breach than anyone else. Not pirates. Not hackers, who could only have exploited the gaping holes you left for them. But the blames lies with a company that just doesn’t really give a crap about its customers, and are proud to show that they don’t care in multiple ways, from badly designed DRM, to pulling features people paid for, to not securing their data.

Which is probably why the lawsuit launched in New York against Sony won’t be the last. The lawsuit claims Sony neglected to protects it customer’s security, and not only did they fail to pay attention to “known vulnerabilities” in the outwards facing servers, they even sacked security staff just weeks before the PSN breach, the lawsuit claims. I don’t want to comment on the merits of the lawsuit, but it’s clear that Sony needs to be held responsible for their total lack of respect for security, because a breach like this doesn’t usually happen without a corporate policy that actively contributed to the disaster.

Alright, enough ranting this week. See you in 7 day’s time.

And I suppose I should mention tomorrow is the 12th anniversary of this website, Digital Digest (well, it wasn’t called this back then). Hard to believe I’ve been doing this for 12 years already, but I’ve never been bored (thanks to companies like Sony that continue to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, and reasons that I can explain here). Thanks for everyone who has visited, and put up with my ramblings (luckily, the WNR is a relatively new invention in the history of Digital Digest), this website wouldn’t be here without people like you!