Archive for the ‘High Definition (Blu-ray/HD DVD/4K)’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (February 18, 2018)

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Valentine’s Day just passed, and one of three things might have happened. You might be single and it was simply just another day (or maybe you were at a gathering with like minded other singles), or you are in a relationship and had a nice celebration. Or you *were* in a relationship and now you’re no longer because you had totally forgotten about it. Ouch!

Incidentally, it was also the Chinese/Lunar New Year, so Happy year of the Dog to everyone.

Neither of these two holidays meant that the work of this site stopped, and so we do have news to cover this week. Yeah!

Copyright

Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll vulnerability lets pirates enjoy free content

Sometimes it’s hard to find and share pirated content. Sometimes though, it’s quite easy, as streaming search engine StreamCR found out this week. StreamCR found a vulnerability in anime/manga streaming site Crunchyroll that allowed all of the subscription site’s content to be streamed for free. Apparently, all that was needed was an active subscription and a little bit of code hacking to extract the link to the stream.

I’m sure the vulnerability will be patched up soon, but piracy has never been easier!

This brings up a side issue that pretty much unrelated to this news story. Is it a good thing to have niche streaming platforms like Crunchyroll or Hayu that can cater for a specific taste in viewing, or is it better to have “all-in-one” platforms like Netflix that has a bit of everything. I guess it’s true that even if Netflix devoted a lot of time and resources to streaming anime, it probably wouldn’t do half as good a job as Crunchyroll, and that’s why niche streaming services like them exists. But on the other hand, it really is becoming a pain to have to subscribe to so many different services if you want to get a bit of everything, and that’s before Disney/Fox launches its own streaming service.

It’s all getting a bit fractured, and that’s not how I envisioned on-demand streaming (or at least it’s not how I wanted it to be) when it started to become mainstream. I’m still holding out for a single service that has everything, but I think that dream is looking less likely by the minute.

High Definition

VLC 3.0 HDR

HDR support is now present in VLC 3.0

A new major version of VLC has been released and it adds a few very useful features. The addition of Chromecast support is much welcomed, which now allows you to stream local media files to the Chromecast, even if the media file is in a format not natively supported by Google’s streaming dongle. Chromecast support for VLC only work in Android (and on Chromebooks via the Play store app) at the moment, but with a unified codebase, it’s likely the same support will be coming to the other platforms.

Also added was HDR more, better hardware decoding support that makes 4K and 8K playback much more efficient (VLC has a demo showing 8K playback on the Samsung Galaxy S8), 10bit video support and even support for 360 degree videos with 3D audio.

And as always, VLC remains free and open source.

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That’s it for news this week. I know it’s not much, but believe me, this was the best of a bad lot. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (February 11, 2018)

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Hello! Welcome to another issue of the WNR. I hesitated about actually writing one this week, since there really isn’t much going on, but I don’t really want to make it a habit of skipping issues, which I know has become a bit too frequent recently, so I thought I would just cover what I can and then rant for the rest of it. So basically, the same as usual.

Copyright

Denuvo Cracking

If you want to, you can try your hand at cracking Denuvo yourself

Those that have been following my coverage of Denuvo related news in the last couple of months will know the game ‘Assassins Creed Origin’. It is one of the many high profile games protected by version 4 of Denuvo’s anti-tampering engine, and by recent comparisons, one of Denuvo’s success stories. That story is still very much a success, even though ‘Assassins Creed Origin’ was finally cracked last week.

For those keeping count, that’s about 4 months of protection for the triple-A game, which in piracy terms, is an eternity (most sales happen in the first few weeks). So for Denuvo, is has been a success story, but for crackers engaged in a war of attrition with the company, the cracking of ‘Assassins Creed Origin’ was also a success story, at least from a technical point of view.

Also interesting is that one cracker, known as Voksi, has even released a YouTube tutorial on how to crack Denuvo v4 yourself. I say tutorial, but for most of us, it might as well be in an alien language (or as someone posted on Reddit, like “giving a monkey a physics textbook”).

So the current state of warfare is this. Denuvo is using more and more complicated techniques to add and hide “triggers” into the game code that the Denuvo engine checks for at run time to detect tampering. The problem with this is that this also becomes increasingly resource intensive, to the point where eventually, game performance will be severely affected. Crackers are also finding it harder to find and remove these triggers. With a new version of the engine, crackers have to figure out where these triggers are and this is an time intensive process at first. This can be automated eventually, and so once a game is cracked, the time between it and the next crack will get increasingly shorter, and eventually, an avalanche of releases make their way to the scene. Then Denuvo comes out with a new version, and the game continues.

Will Denuvo eventually run out of ways to protect the triggers, or if it’s too much of a performance hit to do so? Don’t know, but cracking group are very determined to see this war all the way to the end, and usually when this is the case, the crackers usually win.

But for now, Denuvo can still license their engine to game publishers keep to protect their game – even if the protection only lasts 2 weeks, that’s still better than nothing in the publisher’s thinking. That is unless gamers start complaining loudly about Denuvo and its impact on game performance (if it’s proven beyond a doubt that Denuvo is a resource hog – we still can’t really say because the current crack is a workaround which does not remove Denuvo running in the background, but merely bypass it) and start voting with their wallets – maybe only then, with that kind of public backlash, will publishers think twice about putting Denuvo into their games.

High Definition

Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray

UHD not enough to prevent the slide in Blu-ray revenue

While news is a bit light, I’ve been preparing the stats and graphs for our annual “Blu-ray: The State of Play” article, where I summarise how Blu-ray, DVD and Ultra HD Blu-ray are doing. 2016 saw a slight improvement for Blu-ray, possible related to the release of the UHD format, or possibly just due to the caliber of releases.

So what happened in 2017? You’ll have to wait for our full analysis to find out, but spoiler alert: Blu-ray is not doing very well. I mean, it’s still doing better than DVDs, but we’re looking at almost a 7% decline in revenue, and where for most weeks in 2017, Blu-ray revenue was down compared to the same week in 2016. Even UHD couldn’t save the day (or year) this time.

Keep your eyes peeled for the full analysis soon.

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Well, that’s it really for the week. Here’s hoping for a bit more to write about next week. Until then, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (February 4, 2018)

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Alright, it’s going to be another short one this week, as news was light on the ground again. So without wasting too much of your time …

Copyright

Redbox Kiosk

Redbox fires back against Disney with its own lawsuit

The Redbox/Disney legal tussle gets interestinger by the minute, this time, Redbox’s the one killing trees by filing a lawsuit against the studio. Redbox claims that Disney has had it in for them from the very beginning, refusing to work with them, creating artificial barriers and even going after Redbox’s business partners to pressure them not to do business with the rental kiosk company.

Redbox says that unlike most other studios that have all come to some sort of agreement with the company, Disney at first demanded a 28 day exclusion window for Disney titles in Redbox vending machines, and when Redbox circumvented this by buying discs at retail to fill their machines, Disney went after any distributor or retailer found to be doing business with Redbox in this way.

What really got Disney angry was that Redbox had found the value spot when it came to buying Disney titles and maximizing their profit. Instead of buying individual packs, Redbox bought combo packs that contained the Blu-ray, DVD and even a Digital Copy of the film. Redbox then rented out the two discs types individually, and just recently, started selling the Digital Copy code. This was the final straw for Disney, who sued Redbox in early December.

I’m really sitting on the fence on this one. In my opinion, it’s pretty clear that Redbox has been skirting around the lack of a deal with Disney. Buying from retail, separating a combo pack, and re-selling Digital Codes, all sounds a little dodgy in my opinion, and not something a company that has over 42,000 kiosks should be doing. Disney of course is only looking after themselves, and they couldn’t care less if people are inconvenienced from being to rent their movies from Redbox, not if they can maximize their own profits. It’s greed vs greed, and it feels to me this is something the two companies should hash out behind closed doors, not in a court of law.

As to who I think has a better case, if I had to guess based on the court’s tendency to favour the big guys, Disney will probably win both cases. It’s all about whether Disney has the right to prevent their retail products being used in this way – the disclaimers and warnings make it clear how Disney wants their products to be used, but will these stack up in court?

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That’s all I have for you this week though. More next week, I’m sure. So until then …

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.

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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.

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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!