Archive for the ‘Video Technology’ Category

Blu-ray: The State of Play – 2016

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Welcome to another edition of our annual Blu-ray sales analysis, where we look at how Blu-ray has performed over the last year.

The data used in this analysis derives from our weekly updates, based on figures released by Home Media Magazine. Some of the historical figures you’ll see have also been adjusted, due to slight tweaking of the metrics used by HMM to create these sets of data, although the changes have been very subtle and does not change the bigger picture in any way.

Last year, we concluded that “peak Blu-ray” had been reached in 2013, and that the format’s fortunes were on the decline ever since. 2016 is a particular interesting year to examine because of the introduction of a new Blu-ray format – Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Can these new fancy 4K discs reverse Blu-ray’s fortunes? Read on to find out!

Blu-ray Market Share

As has been the case with all of our “Blu-ray: The State of Play” reports in the past, we start with the ever wider Blu-ray Market Share graph. Blu-ray market share represents weekly Blu-ray sales as a percentage of total packaged disc sales. So a Blu-ray market share of 45% means that 45% of all disc packages sold in that week contained a Blu-ray disc (inversely, this also means that 55% of disc packages sold only contained the DVD version of the content). With the way sales figures are reported, any edition that includes a Blu-ray version of the film is counted as a Blu-ray package (even if the package also contains a DVD version of the film). Ultra HD Blu-ray sales are also counted in the Blu-ray column. In the graph below, we also point out some of the more obvious milestone releases. 2016’s major releases, at least those that had a significant impact on Blu-ray market share for the week that they were released, were Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, DeadpoolZootopia, Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeCaptain America: Civil WarStar Trek: BeyondFinding Dory, and Suicide Squad.

 

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016 – Click to see larger version

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016 – Click to see larger version

Note that because Blu-ray market share is proportional to DVD market share, any drop in DVD sales will also result in a higher Blu-ray market share, even if Blu-ray sales are steady. With DVD on a steady decline, Blu-ray market share will continue to rise as long as it’s own sales decline is slower than that of DVD’s.

Below is the same data condensed and with a trend line added. You might notice a huge peak in the graph during the earlier part of 2016 – this can be explained simply by the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released that week. I mentioned in last year’s report that the new Star Wars movie could break market share records, and it indeed did, by a considerable margin as you can see from the graph below.

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016

Blu-ray Market Share – 2008 to 2016

Blu-ray Revenue

For actual revenue, unfortunately, no records were broken as you can see from the graph below. Apart from the smaller peak for The Force Awakens, the other peak, the one that you see almost every year at the same time, is for the important Black Friday/Cyber Monday week, and the pre-Christmas sales period. 2016’s peaks are somewhat higher than 2015’s, but the record remains with 2013 (and may always be the case). 2013 being the peak Blu-ray year, at least when it comes to revenue, remains a likely fact for the foreseeable future – it’s not so much that disc sales were so much higher, but that discs costs less per unit than they did in 2013 – so more sales could still mean less revenue, overall, which seems to be the case.

Blu-ray Revenue Growth – 2010 to 2016

Blu-ray Revenue Growth – 2010 to 2016

2015 vs 2016 Comparison

So let’s take a closer look at how 2016 did compared to 2015, starting with Blu-ray market share as shown in the graph below. Unlike in 2015, the big releases came mostly in the first half of the year, as you can see from the series of peaks early on (with ‘The Force Awaken’ being the biggest peak, followed by ‘Deadpool’, ‘Zootopia’, and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’).

Blu-ray Sales Market Share: 2014 vs 2015 Comparison

Blu-ray Sales Market Share: 2015 vs 2016 Comparison

Revenue wise, the differences between 2015 and 2016 were less visible. The start of the year wasn’t particularly impressive, but things start to pick up around March, and then after the big releases start to come in. Overall, 2016 looks to be a better year than 2015.

Blu-ray Sales Revenue: 2015 vs 2016 Comparison

Blu-ray Sales Revenue: 2015 vs 2016 Comparison

We can get a clearer picture by looking at the raw numbers. Out of the 53 reporting weeks in 2016, 29 of them was better than the same week in 2015, with 24 being worse. This compares well to 2015, when 31 of them had a weekly revenue worse than the same week in 2014. The quality of releases may be the bigger driving factor, but it’s hard to ignore the effect of the Ultra HD Blu-ray format, first introduced in early March. If we look at the time period before the introduction of Ultra HD Blu-ray, 6 out of the 11 weeks (55%) were worse than the same weeks in 2015. After, only 19 out of 43 were worse off (44%). If you need further evidence that suggests Ultra HD is having a role in Blu-ray sales, then all you need to do is to follow our weekly sales reports, where you’ll find almost all new major releases now come with Ultra HD editions, some of these editions sell quite well. It’s not only replacing 3D sales, which have severely declined due to lack of consumer interest and the lack of new 3D releases, it also seems to be doing much better than 3D at the same stage of its development (and much better than the original Blu-ray format, during the same period).

But again, just the fact that The Force Awakens was released a couple of weeks after Ultra HD’s launch and continued to chart for most of 2016 could have been enough to help make things better for Blu-ray in 2016. The other major releases, in particular new properties ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Zootopia’, may also have contributed to the better results in 2016.

Whether it’s the Force, or the 4K, either or both helped Blu-ray revenue reverse course for the year and post the first year on year increase since 2014. Total Blu-ray revenue for 2015 was $2.07 billion, compared to $2.095 billion in 2016, a growth of 1.22%.

Conclusion

To sum up:

  • Blu-ray market share grew, but it may largely be due to the decline in DVD than any rise in Blu-ray sales
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the title to beat in 2016 (and possibly the best selling Blu-ray ever)
  • Blu-ray revenue reverses declines from previous two years and posts a small gain, possibly due to the better caliber of releases in 2016 as well as the introduction of Ultra HD Blu-ray.

These results still seem to confirm that 2013 was the peak for Blu-ray sales, but there seems to be a “Rey” of hope for Blu-ray, maybe thanks to Ultra HD Blu-ray. Although with that said, the first few weeks of 2017 have not been good ones for Blu-ray sales, and so perhaps the caliber of releases, as opposed to the newness of the format or the clarity of the picture, is a bigger factor when it comes to sales.

Weekly News Roundup (February 5, 2017)

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

How are you on this fine-ish Sunday? Hope the week’s been treating you well, but if not, hope things pick up again next week for ya. There’s a little bit of news of go through this week, so let’s get started shall we?

Copyright

It came, it saw, and it died with a whimper. The U.S. “six strikes” graduated response regime is dead, killed off by the very people that gave it life, the MPAA and RIAA (and top U.S. ISPs). There can only be two possible explanations as to why the copyright lobby, who lobbied and threatened ISPs so hard to get the scheme introduced, have now decided to kill it off. First, it must mean that piracy is dead, and that their little scheme worked and Internet users are now sufficiently educated (and scared) about piracy. Or, and perhaps this is slightly more plausible, that “six strikes” simply doesn’t work.

It probably didn’t work because finding an alternative downloading method, that that is not monitored by the regime, was easy. It also probably didn’t work out for the likes of the MPAA and RIAA because the high cost of going after pirates cannot be converted to increased revenue. In a perfect world where people have unlimited money and one where preventing piracy actually works, then yes, preventing piracy might increase sales. In reality, most pirates won’t spend money even if they’re denied the opportunity to pirate. Some may even spend less money if they’re unable to pirate, because they would have been denied the chance to discover new content.

So four years after it was first turned on, I can finally say what I’ve been waiting to say ever since the news broke about “six strikes” – told you so!

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Google Chrome

Is it time to look for a new browser?

Is it me or is Chrome getting more and more annoying these days? It’s still my browser of choice, and the browser of choice for many, but what was once a lightweight, fast and stable browser has been steadily getting more processor intensive, slow and buggy (it seems every new version breaks something that worked great before – and still no native option to prevent the accidental closing of multiple tabs).

And so the news that Chrome has made it impossible now to disabled plug-ins, and in particular the Widevine DRM plugin, isn’t all that surprising to me. It might be an intentional decision to force DRM on us, or it might be an intentional decision from the developer to remove an somewhat unused feature, I don’t know, but it’s not a good thing especially when the plug-in is already so controversial.

Regular readers will remember the big brouhaha over the introduction of Encrypted Media Extensions such as Widevine into the HTML5 specs, and how it signaled the creeping in of DRM into the once unburdened world wide web infrastructure. Others will remember a more recent story about Google’s implementation of EME, Widevine, having had a major flaw for the better of five years without anybody doing anything about it (thanks to the chilling effect of anti circumvention legislation, which prevents security research into security flaws in DRM systems).

But Hollywood will get what it wants in regards to this DRM (which is used by Netflix, among others), even though, just like with “six strikes”, it will probably turn out to be something that won’t work or they won’t need in another four years or so (or sooner).

Because all good DRM gets cracked eventually (while all bad DRM gets cracked sooner than you can say “this DRM has been cracked”), which appears to be happening with Denuvo. The anti-tampering system (so a DRM, not but a DRM) has been difficult to crack to the point where some thought it was uncrackable, appears to be cracking under the pressure from groups keen to test their skills on breaking this tough egg.

Resident Evil 7

Denuvo protected Resident Evil 7 from being cracked for only 5 days

But even the best efforts previously took the better of six weeks, by which time Denuvo would have proven it’s worth by protecting a game from piracy during the crucial launch period (when most of the sales occur, and when most of the piracy happens as well).

That is until recently, when Denuvo protected ‘Resident Evil 7: Biohazard’ was cracked in a record five days after release. It harkens back to the bad old days of zero day cracks and pre-release piracy for PC games, something that many had thought would never occur again thanks to Denuvo.

To be fair, Denuvo has never said that it was uncrackable, just that it was hard to crack. While protecting a game for five days isn’t all that useful, there are still plenty of other games that are receiving weeks if not months worth of protection.

But as to whether this enhanced protection leads to increased sales, or whether it actually harms the game’s marketing efforts by denying a whole of people from trying out the game, I really don’t know.

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OK folks, that’s it for now. I have tickets to The Book of Mormon this week, which just started playing here in Melbourne, and I’m really looking forward to being offended by everything that’s in the show. You would think I would get tired of being offended by things coming out of the U.S., especially in the last week here in Australia (bullying is not cool, especially when it’s done to our sensitive and precious Prime Minister).

Weekly News Roundup (January 29, 2017)

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Welcome to the Year of the Rooster. In traditional Chinese custom, those born in the year of the rooster (1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005 – although those born in early January/February might have to double check to see which side of the lunar year they fall under) should always carry with them something red (red undies will do) to ward off bad luck for the year, so make sure you take precautions!

In terms of news, it’s somewhat quiet, but there are two stories on the coming and goings of technology that are unmistakably related. So let’s get started!

High Definition

First the going. Those still getting good use out of their 3D TV will have to extra careful to protect their investment, because pretty soon, it’s going to be really hard to buy a decent 3D set. Sony and LG this week announced that none of their new 2017 range of TVs will include 3D support. This move follows Samsung and Philips, both having ditched 3D in 2016, and raft of other CE companies like Sharp, TCL and Hisense that failed to announce any new TVs featuring 3D support at CES.

Samsung 3D active shutter glasses

3D, at least for the home, going the way of the dodo as last two holdouts announce the end of 3D support for their TVs

Those following our weekly Blu-ray sales analysis will also have seen a familiar pattern, that while studios are still doing 3D releases, the number of people buying them have steadily decreased.

The irony of this, in particular the LG announcement, is the company has finally perfected 3D technology for the home using their passive technology. But the fact remains that not all movies benefit greatly from 3D, that people just aren’t that interested in recreating the 3D experience at home, or at least not enough people to justify the cost of including the tech in the latest TV models. And some people like me can’t even watch 3D for extended periods without wanting to throw up.

That cost is being transferred to other technologies that, according to the NPD and according to our own Blu-ray sales stats, are quickly gaining popularity with consumers. Of course, I’m referring to Ultra HD Blu-ray and all the associated acronyms. For the week ending January 14th 2017, eight of the top 10 selling Blu-ray titles all had Ultra HD Blu-ray editions, but only four had 3D editions. This could be because more movies, if not most movies, benefit in some way from having an 4K transfer, than compared to 3D.

So what to do if you’re a 3D fan? The first thing you should do is to make sure you take good care of your current 3D TV, because it might be hard in the future to secure yourself a good quality 3D TV. Also don’t fret too much about studios not releasing 3D movies – Disney just recently released the 3D edition of The Force Awakens, and it sold enough copies to probably justify other re-releases like this in the future (plus there’s the whole series of new Avatar movies coming).

Pioneer BDR-S11J-BK

Pioneer and Cyberlink giving us PC heads a crack at playing Ultra HD Blu-ray movies on our PCs

Now we go to the other story, the coming. With Ultra HD Blu-ray looking more and more like the natural successor to the Blu-ray format, one thing has been noticeably missing – where’s the PC support? I know PCs aren’t what they used to be, but to be a year into a format without even a glimpse of an Ultra HD Blu-ray optical drive, seems quite odd considering how Blu-ray and DVD before it (and this site, for that matter) got started.

But that will soon change. Pioneer will finally bring out a pair of Ultra HD Blu-ray capable optical drives (the BDR-S11J-BK & BDR-S11J-X). Even better, Cyberlink has teamed up with Pioneer to include a special modified (and unavailable to buy at retail) version of PowerDVD that has received Ultra HD Blu-ray certification and will play all the latest discs.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Of course, having a drive and player software is only the beginning of the requirements, thanks to the annoyance of DRM, and the brilliance of HDR. You’ll need a Kaby Lake CPU and a GPU that supports HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. And if you want HDR, you’ll need a monitor that can do it justice as well. Not too many people are buying high spec’d PCs these days, and so I don’t expect Pioneer and Cyberlink to do roaring business from these drives/software, at least not yet. I’m just grateful they haven’t forgotten us old PC heads, many of whom are itching to upgrade their PCs to attain full Ultra HD Blu-ray support status. I know I am!

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That’s all we have for this WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (January 8, 2017)

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

Hope the new year is treating you well so far? The start of the year is usually a bit quiet, and then boom, CES hits and there is this tech news explosion. This doesn’t necessarily translate to news that we cover here on the site, because there’s only so many stories you can do on company X’s new Ultra HD Blu-ray players, or company Y’s new super thin TV (if X != Y, then X in this case is Sony and Y is LG – more on this later).

Before we get to the CES stuff, there’s a bit of copyright news to go through as per usual.

Copyright

You don’t hear much about three-strikes much these days. Some countries have had it for years, and thousands upon thousands of warnings have been sent out, yet the creative industry has been particularly quiet about the positive effects it has had on piracy and more importantly, their bottom line. The reason they are quiet on the positives may be because there are none!

Three Strikes

Three-strikes has not proven to be successful in raising revenue

According to a new study, three-strikes and other types of warning regimes does not seem to have had any positive effect on box office revenue. Earlier studies and reports seems to suggest that piracy rates do drop on the pirating platforms that are monitored as part of these regimes, but it appears this drop in piracy is not translating into increased profits. In fact, when Megaupload was shuttered, the box office take actually dropped in a few key regions.

Either people are still pirating and they’re just not being caught because they’re using VPNs or an alternative, un-monitored downloading source, or maybe piracy simply doesn’t translate to lost profits that, once piracy is removed from the equation, magically re-materialise.

And all the while during the scare campaign about piracy, the movie industry has been doing much better than it has ever been. Funnily enough, even the so called piracy stricken music industry appears to be recovering (even though it’s decline may have had nothing to do with piracy, and its revival has nothing to do with anti-piracy).

Take the UK for example, where the music, movie and video game industries all recorded profit growth over the last year, much of the change, both the good and bad, has more to do with the digital transition than piracy. The fact that the digital transition started at around the same time as the surge in piracy (and think for a moment and you’ll see that both of these things are actually related) may have confused these industries as to the root cause of their woes. Their obsession with destroying piracy may have also cost them valuable time and resources that could have otherwise been used to innovate and adapt to the digital transition. Instead, tech industries frustrated with being blamed for the piracy problem developed their own innovative solutions that gave consumers the legal digital platforms they sorely wanted. This changed the distribution landscape dramatically, and shifted revenue away from the traditional industries and towards the few tech companies that had the vision to fulfill a consumer need. This is why the music industry isn’t profiting as much from say streaming as they should right now, and why they now have much less of say in how their product is distributed.

The movie industry suffered less because the digital transition occurred at a slower pace than with music, possibly due to the fact that movie files are bigger and Internet speeds just weren’t good enough back then. This allowed the industry more time to adapt, and they’ve been able to negotiated better deals with the likes of Netflix and others (as well as to launch their own platforms, such as Hulu). The gaming industry’s digital transition is further delayed, again possibly due to the file size issue, and they are perhaps even better equipped to deal with the transition.

I would like to think lessons have been learnt, but the way the music industry is still going on about Spotify, I fear it hasn’t.

High Definition

Sony UBP-X1000

Sony finally releasing an Ultra HD Blu-ray player

So CES was dominated by 4K stuff once again, and now with Ultra HD Blu-ray being the format of choice for 4K (the digital transition appears to have gone backwards here, and again file size is the main issue), there are related products all over the place. Surprising is the fact that Sony and LG have only now announced their first Ultra HD Blu-ray players, despite Samsung, and even Microsoft, having had a player out for ages.

As always trying to shoot itself in the foot, the consumer electronics industry’s latest gamble is that consumers won’t mind a pseudo  format war in term of HDR. With HDR10 and Dolby Vision already confusing things for consumers, they may have to contend with Hybrid Log Gamma and Technicolor HDR, both of which are being pushed by LG (but are open formats, so anyone is a free to adopt them). I used the term pseudo because it’s unlikely that a full blown format way will develop, mainly because CE manufacturers will simply adopt support for all of these formats (just like LG has already done) and the content distributors can pick whatever format they want to use.

LG UP970

LG also has an Ultra HD Blu-ray player coming

Not great news for early adopters with equipment that can’t be upgraded via firmware though, but isn’t that always the case?

Just more more thing on the CES before I sign off, it’s interesting to see so many new products that now fall into the category of “consumer electronics”. It used to be just TVs and tape/disc players, and now we have cars, hairbrushes and basically anything you can stick Wi-Fi into. The tech industry is expanding into other traditionally non tech industries, just like how it has made inroads into movies and music – these other industries should heed the experiences of the music industry especially, if they don’t want to be left behind.

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Looks like that’s it for the week. Hope you have a good one, and see you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (December 18, 2016)

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. It’s going to be a short one again, after last week’s epic (erm, not really) edition. There are still a few stories to go through, but a few of them are quite similar in nature, while the others don’t really need much analysis on my part.

So short and sweet it is!

Copyright

To block or not to block, that is the question. That is also the theme of this week’s copyright news stories, as countries debate the need to block, others have already decided to go ahead, and what has already been blocked becomes unblocked.

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay is being blocked in Australia, and being considered for blocking in its native Sweden

In Sweden, home of the Pirate Bay, arguments are still being heard in case that will decide whether the world’s most notorious piracy site will have to be blocked by the country’s ISPs. These ISPs, however, argue that piracy site blocking is in essence censorship. The ISPs also don’t want to be made copyright cops, or face being made an “accomplice” in online copyright crimes. With an earlier district court opinion siding with ISPs, there is a good chance that site blocking will never become a reality in the home of the Pirate Bay.

The same cannot be said here in Australia, where the Pirate Bay and other piracy sites will soon be blocked, at the DNS level, by ISPs. Most of this has already been decided via an update to the copyright act, but under the new court ruling, rights-holders will pay a nominal fee to get each domain blocked after seeking an injunction. ISPs then have 15 days to block the domain in question.

It’s a sad state of affairs that this kind of censorship will soon become a reality, as similar blocks in other countries have not resulted in any difference to the piracy rate. Enterprising pirates will easily find a way around the block too, meaning it will just be a waste of time for all involved.

Speaking of wasting time, for all the time and money that went into investigating and then shutting down KickassTorrents, it appears it’s a lot easier and cheaper to just start a new one from scratch. A new KickassTorrent clone that’s being run by many of the same people that ran the old site has just been launched, and despite some early hiccups (like the site being down due to the traffic spike).

The site is actually completely new, with a blank user and torrent database, and uses no code from the original site. So it’s actually quite an accomplishment that the new site looks and works so much like the original one, and with the original team in place, and many of the original uploaders coming back to the site, it looks like KAT might live once more.

Gaming

Xbox One S

The Xbox One original and ‘S’ getting bitstream audio support

The Xbox One S is getting bitstream support to enable external decoding of Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. I covered this story at the back end of October, but there’s been a small update since. With the update scheduled to go live in “early 2017”, some Xbox One owners can already test out this feature for themselves. Xbox Insider members can now update their Xbox One (both the original and S) to enable bistream support for Blu-ray playback. There are still some known issues, such as videos sometimes playing without sound, or a popping sound being heard between transitions, but these issues will likely all be fixed when the “gold” rollout occurs in a few month’s time.

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Looks like that’s it for the week. Short, but maybe not too sweet. But that’s okay, sugar is bad for you anyway. See you next week!