Archive for the ‘Video Technology’ 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.

======

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.

======

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?

======

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.

======

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 (January 7, 2018)

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Welcome to this side of 2018. Now the hard part begins of having to remember to write 2018 instead of 2017 (or if you’re one of those who did not heed the lessons of Y2K, 18 instead of 17). I nearly forgot to do just that for the title of this WNR.

With the holidays slowly coming to an end, there’s a bit of news this week, but only a bit. And to be honest with you, neither of the stories this week are the “freshest” in that they came out a while ago and I’ve only decided to cover them now because there’s not much going on really.

So without further ado …

Copyright

It’s the single story that has given us plenty to write about last year, but with the U.S. Copyright Office seeking submissions for changes to the DMCA, it’s an opportunity for interested parties to have their say, regardless of which side of the copyright divide they happen to be on. For filmmakers, you would think that they would be on the pro-copyright side of things, considering how piracy affects their livelihood. But for some filmmakers, it’s the existing copyright protections that are harming their creative rights and their ability to produce the kind of work they want.

It has been generally accepted practice for documentaries to be allowed to use existing footage even if it falls foul of copyright issues. This is why there’s an exemption to allow documentary filmmakers to rip DVDs and Blu-rays (and Netflix even), to use existing commercial footage for criticism or analysis.

Filming Smartphone Piracy

Filming a smartphone – the MPAA’s recommendation for when breaking DRM is necessary

But this locks out other filmmakers from being allowed to do the same for their non documentary work. And with the barrier between genres breaking down all the time, work that can be considered both a documentary and drama lies in a grey area where filmmakers run the risk of being sued if they rip and use existing works. This is why filmmakers are now calling for more clarity, and leeway, when it comes to ripping and using footage, even if the work in question is not strictly a documentary.

Funnily enough, the MPAA are not against filmmakers using existing footage if the work calls for it, but they are still firmly against any softening of existing copyright laws. How does this seemingly contradictory viewpoints translate to the real world for the MPAA? Easy, simply play the copy protected video as you would on a TV screen or a tablet, and then use your camera to tape that. I mean, I’m sure plenty of Oscar nominated films have done it this way, who can forget the parts of ‘Argo’ where it somewhat awkwardly cut into recorded footage of something playing on a iPad (I’m assuming taken by Ben Affleck holding a camcorder) and how that totally didn’t take you out of the a story set some 31 years before the first iPad was released. Argo f*** yourself, MPAA.

Google DMCA Stats

Google now actively blocking new piracy links from appearing, just not removing the ones already in its index

Speaking of effing yourself, Google might be doing just that with their latest anti-piracy move to preemptively block piracy related links. Going above and beyond what the DMCA calls for, Google will now block links that it hasn’t even indexed from ever appearing in Google’s search results, and many rightsholders are already taking advantage of this new way to block links.

I always hate the slippery slope argument, because you can use it to justify any objection to anything new, but it seems Google is getting closer to accepting the idea of “take down, stay down”, because part of that idea is to also make Google take down links that may not yet exist. But as long as Google stays firms on the condition that it has to be rightsholders that come up with the link in the first place, and not place the burden on the service provider to identify the infringing links, then the DMCA system is safe.

But then, in the same news piece, Google is advocating the use of A.I. in piracy take-downs, and that’s also worrying. Is A.I. going to be used to detect and preemptively block links, and if so, then isn’t that take down, stay down in practice?

A worrying start for 2017. I mean, 2018. Damn it!

======

Luke and Rey

This film is not going to go the way you think

Before I go, I just thought I would wade into the Last Jedi controversy. I saw the film two weeks ago, and unlike many fans, I wasn’t offended by the film. I actually quite enjoyed it, and this is coming from someone who watched the pre Special Edition original trilogy about 30 times each when I was growing up. Yes, there are scripting problems, plot holes the size of a Mega¬†Dreadnought, and some scenes are more ridiculous than miraculous (if you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know which one I’m talking about). But what it did well, I thought it did brilliantly and I can see why the critics liked it. Without spoiling things, I thought it was a thematically strong film (that really deserves a repeat viewing) that questioned the very nature of what it means to be a hero, to be a legend, and drew some really clear parallels with the political situation in the United States. Resistance has to be more than just about slogans, identity politics, and a cult of personality based on supporting political dynasties, and it’s easy to get trapped in your own opinion bubble oblivious to the real struggle and the real reason why people are in need of change. A tiny not-really spoiler, but Finn learns this along the way with Rose, and at the end, everyone gets it.¬†Even themes of toxic masculinity gets a brief airing in the story involving Poe.

Obviously for people who saw these things in the movie but disagreed with the film’s stance on these and many other issues, will find a way to hate the movie, because the film itself is far from perfect. Just like all the Star Wars films.

======

That’s enough ranting and political soapboxing for now. See you next week!