Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (August 26, 2018)

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

So here we are back again, talking about the latest happenings in the world of digital video. Hope you’ve had  a great week. And now we’re here to cap it off with our usual roundup.

And if there’s a word to describe the theme of the stories this week, then that word is irony.

Copyright

Disney supporting fair use? What’s the world coming to!

The irony train’s first stop is Disney, who has found themselves on the wrong end of a copyright lawsuit. The estate of Michael Jackson is alleging that the program ‘The Last Days of Michael Jackson’, produced by Disney owned ABC, has used at least thirty different copyrighted works without permission. Disney argues that that the program was a news/documentary program, and as such, they are allowed to use short excerpts for reporting purposes. It also argues, after turning off their irony sensors, that The Michael Jackson Estate is behaving like an overzealous copyright holder and that because of this very important thing called fair use, Disney should receive protection from such lawsuits.

Their exact words were:

“This case is about the right of free speech under the First Amendment, the doctrine of fair use under the Copyright Act, and the ability of news organizations to use limited excerpts of copyrighted works—here, in most instances well less than 1% of the works—for the purpose of reporting on, commenting on, teaching about, and criticizing well-known public figures of interest in biographical documentaries without fear of liability from overzealous copyright holders”

Had the above words come from the mouths of the EFF, then it wouldn’t seem out of place at all. But from Disney? This is the same Disney that sued a childcare center for having pictures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck hanging on the walls, the same Disney that sued children’s party entertainers for dressing as an orange tiger and a blue donkey, and the same Disney that took action against people posting photos of their Star Wars toys on Twitter. And these were just the examples provided by The Michael Jackson Estate, in their lawsuit.

The Jackson Estate has called hypocrisy on the whole issue, and they’re probably in the right. But Disney is fighting the good fight on this one, which makes it an odd sensation for those of us watching on the sidelines.

Netflix Remote

Is the MPAA trying to take credit for Netflix?

The next stop for the irony train as it blows smoke from its chimney (it’s an old train, apparently) is the MPAA. In a recently made speech, the MPAA’s boss Charles Rivkin tried to link the current dysfunctional state of the Internet, the fake news, hate speech and election meddling, to movie piracy. Apparently, it’s the broken window theory, where visible signs of simple crime leads to more crime and more serious crime. Piracy is the broken window, according to Rivkin.

This kind of grand theory, trying to link piracy to everything that’s bad, not just online, but in the real world, isn’t anything new. I mean from organised crime to child porn, it’s the kind of conspiracy theory that, ironically, wouldn’t be amiss among the fake news stories you read everywhere now.

That’s not the ironic part though. The irony comes later when the MPAA boss claims that the MPAA companies, aka major Hollywood studios, have already fully embraced the digital revolution and streaming and all that cool stuff. If by fully embrace, you mean trying to shackle endless amounts of DRM to everything they can get their hands on, then dragging their feet on downloads and streaming until the likes of Apple and Netflix showed them the way. And now, after much resistance, they have finally seen the way – coincidentally after the likes of Apple and Netflix started giving them hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year. If Hollywood had fully embraced the digital revolution, like they say, then how the hell did they let, again, the likes of Apple and Netflix, squeeze themselves into the equation and grab a huge (30%?) slice of the pie when they didn’t need to. Distribution is what gives studios power, but they gave that away to tech companies because their preoccupation with piracy blinded them to the opportunity that was present, and they were also blind to the demand of users who found piracy a more satisfying solution (not just due to the price).

The preoccupation continues though, as Rivkin’s main point of his speech was to point the finger of blame at “online platforms” for not doing enough to protect the film business’s outdated business model, and another finger at legislators for trying to protect innovation by limiting the liability of online platforms that, by their function, could not control or police (nor should they control, or police) the actions of their users.

It’s just so frustrating, sometimes.

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And with that, we come to the end of another WNR. Hope you enjoyed this one as much as I enjoyed writing it (although I did get a bit angry towards the end, but that happens when you talk about the MPAA). See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (August 5, 2018)

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

And we’re back. Sorry for the brief hiatus, various reasons were responsible for it and it’s pointless to go through it now, but suffice to say, normal service resumes this week.

Not really a huge news week to begin with though, but a couple of pieces of interesting niff-naff is what brings me, and you I guess, here. So let’s get started.

High Definition

I have an odd habit of needing to having something on the in background while I work. Recently, it’s been Harry Potter movies for no other reason than the fact that there are lots of them. After going through the first four movies which are on Netflix, I ran into a stumbling block, in that none of the streaming services that I subscribe to seems to have the rest. The solution, other than piracy, was to dig out my old disc copy of ‘The Order of the Phoenix’, but for some reason, I couldn’t find my Blu-ray copy, but I did find the HDDVD copy, which was a combo version that also had the DVD edition on the other side. Not wanting to dig out my external HDDVD drive from its semi-permanent retirement home (in the closet), the DVD version had to do, and it is playing in Media Player Classic right now as I type.

HD DVD combo copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix saves the day

So the moral of the story? Discs are a pain in the neck, to store and then to locate, and if you’re one of the unlucky few to have invested in an obsolete format, then things can get very tricky, very fast. And this, along with the fact that you save a lot of money every year by not buying discs and simply relying on subscription streaming, is why subscription streaming is so popular these days.

How popular? Well, in the U.S., 17% of consumers now rely solely on SVOD services for their movie and TV needs, abandoning the rental and purchase of DVD, Blu-ray and digital copies. Out of all the people who stream, 24% now subscribe to three or more services, which backs up my experience of not being able to find everything I want on just one service (and sometimes not even on all three, case in point, my Harry Potter experience above).

Licensing restrictions and original productions means that it’s more and more necessary to hold more than one SVOD subscription. This is why hardware like Roku and Apple TV, and products like Amazon Channels will become more and more necessary, and why even smaller platforms like CBS All Access have found increasing popularity.

Star Trek: Discovery

CBS All Access’s headlining series has helped it gain a lot of new subscribers

How popular? Well, CBS All Access and CBS owned Showtime OTT will have more than 8 million subscribers by 2019, and that’s quite impressive for a platform that only offers limited (ie. CBS, and some Paramount, MGM) content. A large part of CBS All Access’s success has been the release of the show ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, which exclusively streams on the platform and has helped it earn countless number of new subscribers. Content has never been more important, and exclusive, original content is a must for any streaming platform if it’s to survive in an increasingly crowded field. This is good for consumers in that there are lot of money being invested in quality content (such as Amazon’s billion dollar gamble on a Lord of the Rings TV series), but also bad because it means that if they want to watch everything, they have to subscribe to everything. These services may only cost $5-7 per month, but this adds up quickly. On the other hand, it may still end up cheaper than cable, plus you’ll have way more content on demand.

CBS All Access’s success also bodes well for Disney/Fox’s streaming offering, which promises to have even more content, at about the same price point.

And if things worked once, why not try it again? CBS All Access’s Star Trek inspired success has inspired them to try it again with a new Star Trek series by bringing back none other than Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. The new series, I’m guessing set in the original timeline (and not the Chris Pine Star Trek series timeline), will chronicle the adventures of Picard 20 years after the events of the last Next-Gen movie ‘Nemesis’, with room for plenty of guest stars from the Next Generation era. I can’t wait, although I suspect I’ll have to subscribe to the Australian version of CBS All Access if/when it launches here, as opposed to relying on Netflix Australia, which had the rights to ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Money well spent perhaps, and money I once would have spent on DVDs and Blu-rays without a second thought, but still, it’s asking consumers to spend more money when they’ve just started to get used to spending less.

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Well, that’s it for this week’s new. I must say I’m way more excited than I should be about the return of Jean-Luc Picard to Star Trek, something I thought would never happen. We do truly live in the golden age of television! See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (July 15, 2018)

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the Weekly News Roundup. The World Cup is near an end, tears and cheers aplenty, but one can’t help but be disappointed at how things are run these days. Not to say that the World Cup isn’t an exciting event, it is, but it just all seems so sterilized and commercialized. The news about the English team being fined for wearing the wrong socks, from a sponsorship point of view, just proves something isn’t quite right with the game these days.

And what does that have to do with copyright, digital video and gaming news? Nothing really, but every WNR has to have an intro and, to be honest, I’m really struggling to write a “related” one this week.

And oh yes, there’s news to cover. There are a few stories to cover, but none are what you would call the most ground breaking news stories, so this WNR will still be rather short.

Copyright

Denuvo

Denuvo cracked again

Game crackers have won the latest bout with Denuvo, with well known game cracker Voksi cracking the latest version of the controversial anti-tampering system. Describing it as the “most bloated” version of Denuvo yet (with a 128MB game executable consisting of only 5-6MB of game code, the rest being Denuvo code), Voksi cracked the game ‘Puyo Puyo Tetris’ protected by v4.9++ of Denuvo, which then helped him to crack the bigger profile ‘Injustice 2’, which uses the same version of Denuvo.

This follows a recent trend of Denuvo failing to protect major titles after it had a great run, to be fair, over the last few years. It appears that a weakness has been exposed in Denuvo’s system and that Denuvo has not been able to effect a more permanent fix. Introducing more VM, encryption and obfuscation layers on top of Denuvo appears to only work in slowing down crackers, not stop them. And all of this is happening at the expense of resources.

Voksi’s grudge against Denuvo is well known and he (or she) has vowed to never stop cracking Denuvo (which he refers to as a “cancer”) until the protection is no longer feasible. With such bloat, and with the speed in which games are being cracked, it appears that particular moment may not be very far away.

High Definition

You know it’s a slow news week, for both us and Netflix, that they and us both report on this “new” download feature. The new “Smart Downloads” feature will automatically download new episodes for already downloaded shows, while deleting ones that have been watched to make room. It will only work via Wi-Fi and it will probably save you about 30 seconds of work if you had to do this manually, and some will probably turn it off because they don’t want Netflix to be downloading in the background without their knowledge.

Gaming

Dolby Vision

Dolby Vision comes to the Xbox One

Now here’s something slightly more interesting (emphasis on the word “slightly”), Dolby Vision support is coming to the Xbox One S/X. It’s already available for those that are part of the Xbox Insider program, as a preview, but if it works well, there’s no reason why it won’t be coming to a main update soon. Unfortunately, it only works with Netflix at the moment, and not with Ultra HD Blu-ray as you might expect it to, which is a bit strange.

For those interested, Dolby Vision is a proprietary, closed HDR format that offers several improvements over the more popular and open HDR standard, HDR10. There’s also a HDR10+, which aims to take on Dolby Vision, but in a “we don’t like to pay licensing fees” manner.

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So not too long, and not particularly important news stories, to be honest. But that’s all we have this week, so what can you do? See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (July 8, 2018)

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

So Digital Digest celebrated its 19th birthday last week, on July 4, which seems like a familiar date for some reason here in Australia. Who am I kidding? I deliberately launched Digital Digest 19 years and a few days ago on America’s birthday mainly because I know how bad my memory is and the only way I would remember the anniversary would be to piggy back it to another, more easily remembered one.

As for the reasons behind launching Digital Digest (then known as DVDigest)? It was mainly because I had become bored of answering the same questions on several message boards that I had been visiting and decided to put all the available information in one place so I can just link to it in my responses. Plus I could also host a few downloads for people to use on the GeoCities hosted site (sites, actually, since one account usually wasn’t enough to handle all the bandwidth required).

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the site, and so I suppose I should celebrate it somehow being that it’s such a nice and rounded number and all. The arbitrariness of it all …

High Definition

Netflix

Netflix is testing new pricing tiers that could mean price rises for many

The arbitrariness of Netflix’s subscription tiers comes to the fore this week as it was revealed the streaming giant was testing a new, top subscription tier that sounds a lot like the current, top tier, except at a higher price. Netflix’s proposed “Ultra” tier would cost $3.50 more than the current “Premium” tier and would offer exactly the same 4 simultaneous screen plan with 4K and HDR support. What would be different is that the “Premium” plan would drop support for HDR streaming (while still maintaining 4K streaming support), and may even drop the number of simultaneous screens to 2, while the “Standard” plan may end up only supporting 1 screen. In other words, it’s a $3.50 price rise for those that want to watch shows in HDR, and price rises for everyone who needs simultaneous streaming.

This somewhat cynical move might not happen, as I doubt Netflix can get away with something like this if they don’t call it a price rise. But Netflix does need to raise prices because licensing and producing content is expensive business and may get more expensive now that Disney is all about to acquire Fox and will definitely launch their own streaming product – without Disney and Fox’s content, Netflix will have to pay more for other studio’s content or pay even more to produce their own.

There is possibly the argument that content costs too much to license these days because Hollywood is making for losses in DVD and Blu-ray sales with profits from streaming despite not every title making it to a streaming platform. Most of the other streaming platforms, like Amazon, are not even anywhere near profitable due largely to excessive licensing costs, and I’m just not sure this is a wise long term strategy for Hollywood. What is happening is that the high cost of licensing, and particularly the headaches involved with global licensing, means that it’s often more economical for the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to make their own original content – this, eventually, could put Hollywood in a weaker position both in terms of direct revenue (more competition for eyeballs) as well as when it comes to negotiating future deals, much like how music labels are now at the whim of the likes of Apple and Spotify. In other words, short term greed may end up equaling long term pain.

Still, the idea of subscribing to one or maybe just two platforms that offers pretty much all the content I will ever want to watch, seems like a distant and impossible dream right now.

Gaming

Android Game TV Controller

Google may be getting into gaming in a big way

Google may be dreaming of something too: their own gaming platform. And as with the direction of all things these days, the new platform, codenamed ‘Yeti’, will be streaming, cloud based.

Game streaming, or cloud gaming if you prefer that term instead, isn’t something that’s widely used yet, but all the major players want a piece of it, as it definitely has some major advantages over how games are traditionally distributed. For one, there’s no need to go to a store to buy a retail disc package (which, for a popular game, may be sold out), install it and then install updates to play. Digitally purchased games removes the need to go outside, but it still means a lengthy download, followed by more updates. Both methods also require local storage space, which if you have a lot of games, will always be a problem.

And that’s all assuming you can afford the hardware to play it on – a latest generation console or a souped up gaming PC – both of which will be outdated by the time most of the good games that can take advantage of the hardware actually comes out.

So streaming removes these hurdles, as you can start playing a game in just a few minutes time, with no need to pre-download GBs of data. Plus, with the rendering done on the server level, your local piece of hardware won’t need constant upgrading or to be powerful at all in the first place. Google’s plan is that eventually, you should be able to start a new Chrome tab on any device you own and it will be able to stream-play any game at the highest quality level.

Of course, the major hurdle for this would be bandwidth, because even games these days are 4K and unlike movies and TV which can be pre-compressed to have low bitrate requirements, games are live and have to be encoded live, and so won’t be as efficient when it comes to compression (and games tend to have more motion than movies of TV shows, which further affects their ability to get compressed well). So when everyone has 100 Mbps connections, game streaming might become as normal as Netflix, but until then, it’s still not for everyone. But the major players all want to be in a position to be able to take advantage of this when the bandwidth does eventually catch up, and so this is why Google has Yeti, Nvidia has GeForce Now, Sony has PlayStation Now, Microsoft has that so far unnamed one that they just announced, and also the dozens of other lesser known platforms. Watch this space.

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Well, that’s it for the week. I just realised that it’s nearly 11 years since I started doing this weekly news roundup. The very first roundup started with these words: “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”. Looks like I did manage to keep it going for “more than a few weeks”. Here’s to a few weeks more …

Weekly News Roundup (June 17, 2018)

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

It’s another week here at WNR headquarters, and for the first time in a little while, we actually have some ripping related news. It’s not so much that people don’t care about ripping any more, but mainly because there hasn’t been anything new that requires a decrypting breakthrough, because DVD and Blu-ray ripping has become quite easy (and a quick glance at the piracy scene indicates that most rips come from web sources as opposed to BDrips, as web sources usually have new content arrive much earlier). Ultra HD Blu-ray appeared to be unbreakable when it first appeared, but this does not seem to be true these days (as you’ll see in the story below). Not that many people are lining up to download 50GB+ files when a 2GB looks perfectly fine.

Alright, let’s get started then.

Copyright

Fury Ultra HD Blu-ray

Pirates score a direct hit against Hollywood in the on-going battle to crack Ultra HD Blu-ray discs

The war between pirates and movie studios has raged for almost two decades now (ever since the days of DeCSS), and the recent battles have all been about Ultra HD Blu-ray and the so called “unbreakable” AACS 2 copy protection scheme. Just to prove that there really is no such thing as unbreakable, the latest version of the copy protection scheme, AACS 2.1, has been broken only a month after it first made its appearance on the UHD BD version of the movie ‘Fury’.

AACS 2.1 was a response to the series of UHD discs protected by AACS 2.0 that were somehow ripped and uploaded online during the back end of 2017. It appeared that a flaw had been found in AACS 2.0, which while strictly not a full crack, allowed users to achieve the same result – to obtain an decrypted version of the UHD files. According to Arusoft, the company that broke AACS 2.1, the new version added an encrypted m2ts file that contained “forensic information”, and it was a simple process to decrypt the file and remove any potential tracking information (although this part is not completely confirmed).

The problem with trying to update AACS is that the bigger changes required to re-secure the copy protection scheme may cause it to be no longer compatible with existing hardware, which is why a crack or workaround, once discovered, pretty much means the end of the copy protection scheme. With Arusoft’s DeUHD software now claiming to rip more than 1100 UHD titles (up slightly from the 30 titles that DeUHD supported at launch), it seems AACS 2.x has reached the end stage of its lifecycle.

High Definition

Apple TV 4K

Apple looking to ink more content deals as it signs WGA master contract

Media companies are starting to realise that having original content is more important than ever. Some non media tech companies, such as Apple and Facebook, have also realised that having original, unique content is key to keeping people “loyal” to your platform, even if media isn’t your main game. So Apple signing the Writers Guild master contract last week doesn’t really seem all that surprising, considering the company is already producing a couple of shows (including the new series of ‘Carpool Karaoke’).

The Writers Guild is keen to sign up companies like Apple and Facebook because, increasingly, these companies are producing “free to consumer” type of content that’s not quite the same as the content on pay per view or subscription networks. Having agreements in place means that in future rounds of negotiations, both sides have something concrete to point to when trying to find the most equitable terms.

Shortly following the announcement of Apple’s contract signing, Apple announced that it had reached an agreement with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN in a multi-year deal that will produce (as yet unannounced) original programming. Expect more of these types of announcements in the near future.

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Righteo, we’re at the end of another WNR. Short and sweet again. Maybe minus the sweet part. See you next week.