Archive for the ‘Video Technology’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (April 8, 2018)

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Just a heads up that the next few weeks might be light in terms of news and roundups, as I’m going on a small trip. Luckily, there were a few things to talk about this week, as otherwise, it would be a rather long break without a WNR. The things that we talk about are rather related too, as you’ll find out.

So without wasting any more time …

Copyright

The problem of leaked screeners has gotten bad enough that the MPAA has finally decided to seek external help to get the problem under control. The MPAA has partnered with the Content Delivery & Security Association to created the Trusted Partner Network (TPN), a group that will try to ensure standards are being met in terms of the secure storage and distribution of entertainment content, including screeners.

TPN will set out to raise awareness of proper security protocols, and TPN approved assessors can provide auditing to content owners and vendors who wants to ensure they aren’t the weak link in the distribution chain.

You can’t blame them for taking some action though, because screener leaks and even major hacks have become so common, they’re no longer even news worthy. That’s not to say that the problem is so big that the revenue lost, and the jobs associated with it, has become news worthy as a result. If anything, it appears that the movie business has never been better.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the top movie domestically

Don’t think that’s the case? Then why not check with the MPAA, who’s most recent report paints a very rosy picture of the film business. The last 3 years have been record years, domestically, for the movie industry, and globally, 2017 was a record breaking year.

Box office receipts are up, especially in emerging markets like in Asia, and not only that, home entertainment profits are up as well. The latter might be surprising because the same report paints a dire picture for physical media, with revenue down some 41% since 2013. But as luck would have it (or not luck at all, but just common sense), the rise of digital has more than offset the losses with physical media. This has meant an overall increase in consumer spending, meaning that despite some of the money going to the likes of Apple, Google and Netflix, digital is actually more profitable than physical (or maybe more precisely, the ease of use of digital now means people are consuming more content than ever). Who would have thought that innovation and user friendliness are the keys to success? I certainly didn’t in 2009 or even earlier if I had bothered to search through WNRs from before then.

But the focus on piracy still hasn’t decreased, because in the eyes of the MPAA and its members, it’s still “money lost” despite there being very little evidence that stopping piracy entirely (not possible anyway) would lead to a surge in profits. For me, the transition to digital would not have gone so smoothly had there not been pirate applications that had already gotten people used to consuming digital media. Kind of like how without MP3 piracy, Apple would have found it a lot harder to launch the iPod and iTunes, because there just wouldn’t have been a market for the entire ecosystem. And without the price pressures put on the industry by piracy, Spotify would have never existed for the same reasons Netflix might have never been.

Digital music player

Digital, more precisely, digital subscriptions, are helping the music industry recover financially

And as we’re on the topic of music, it’s a bit of a coincidence, or not, that the RIAA also released their own report on the state of the music in industry, and it’s starting to look brighter too. Again, digital is playing a key role in the “revival” of the industry (following it’s “collapse” due to piracy if you believe the RIAA, or more likely, the transition from CDs to digital). And within the larger physical to digital transition, and as we are also seeing within the movie industry, there is also a transition from ownership to subscription. From iTunes to Apple Music, or iTunes again to Netflix.

And hysterical claims from the RIAA about the lousy royalties from streaming, it’s actually paid subscriptions that’s driving industry profits forward – both digital downloads and physical media sales were down, but total revenue grew by 16.5% thanks to a 56% rise in the number of paid subscription.

Things will never go back to the heydays of CDs, but so many things have changed since then (um, the Internet, for one), so is it really realistic to expect business to stay the same?

You can’t blame everything on piracy.

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. There might still be one next week before I leave for my trip, unless I run out of time packing, which is very likely. See you … when I see you again!

Weekly News Roundup (April 1, 2018)

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

I’m not getting into the April Fools game this year. If you follow this roundup, or just read news in general, you’ll already know how absurd real news stories can get these days, so anything I can come up with for April Fools will be lame by comparison. So if I you read a new story about the MPAA sending a representative to become a board member of the XBMC Foundation, the foundation that operates the Kodi project, or if the RIAA has decided to submit Spotify to the USTR to add to their global piracy blacklist, or if Australian media boss Graham Burke says Google’s perceived lack of action on piracy means kids are being lured into bad Internet neighbourhoods full of prostitutes and drug dealers, then you probably have no idea whether they’re real or if they’re an April Fools news story.

That last one was actually real news, BTW.

Here’s the real news (I promise) …

Copyright

'Kodi' has been filtered by Google

‘Kodi’ has been filtered by Google

Google has decided the term Kodi might as well be a synonym for piracy, and has banned the word from its Autocomplete feature. So instead, if you type “kod” into Google, you’ll get the suggestions like “kodak black” or “kodiak bear”, and nothing related to the media software.

The fact that the Kodi software is just a media interface, not too dissimilar to Microsoft’s Windows Media Center software that came with Windows versions from XP to 8.1, makes the banning quite strange. Especially when you consider that other legal software terms with even stronger links to piracy, such as “uTorrent” and even “Popcorn Time”, are perfectly fine by Google standards.

I do expect Google to reverse their decision in an embarrassing back down at some stage, and they will do what they always do, blame the algorithm (and so to theoretically remove the human element from the equation as a means to project themselves from lawsuits … never mind that algorithms are written, tested and monitored by human beings, and I believe that’s where the ultimate responsibility lies – anyway, getting off topic).

Does this all have an effect on Kodi? According to Google Trends, search traffic for the term “Kodi” dropped by more than 21% in the last week, so …

Spotify Logo

People are pirating Spotify. I really didn’t know that this was a thing until this week.

Another media software in the spotlight recently is Spotify, mainly due to its impending IPO on the NYSE. As part of that process, Spotify has had to audit themselves and present any irregularities. One irregularity that Spotify has identified is that approximately two millions of its users are using hacked versions of the Spotify app, which allows free accounts to access premium features, such as no ads. What this means is that there are two million users that aren’t generating profit for Spotify, and unfortunately, these users has been counted as normal users and included in Spotify’s previously published key performance indicators.

I personally believe it isn’t the ads that people are trying to bypass by using the hacked version. The free version of Spotify’s most annoying limitation, at least when it comes to the mobile app, is the inability to select tracks to play, and only being able to play a playlist on shuffle. Worst yet, and this is one of those badly documented limitations, the shuffle playlist play will only work for a number of tracks before Spotify will just play you random (but sometimes related) tracks not in your playlist. This is especially true if your playlist consists of tracks from a couple of different albums – this is Spotify’s way to prevent free account holders to listen to a single album on a loop, even if it’s on random shuffle. If it was just the ads, I think most people would just live with it.

Anyway, Spotify has notified accounts suspected of using the hacked version and also barred the hacked versions from accessing Spotify’s servers. There are however many hacked versions, and not all are blocked, and so I suspect many users are still using “pirating Spotify”.

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (February 25, 2018)

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR, one that, unlike in recent times, is actually full of stuff to talk about. Yeah well, I don’t know what happened either. Maybe it was the post Valentine’s Day euphoria that got the news juices flowing, but I think it’s just lucky timing.

Alright, let’s not waste any time …

Copyright

Redbox Kiosk

Redbox scores a win in its lawsuit with Disney

I didn’t really expect this to happen, but Disney’s lawsuit against Redbox isn’t going to be as easy as they thought it would be, with a judge having denied Disney’s request for a preliminary injunction. Lawyers usually don’t ask for preliminary injunctions (or even file the lawsuit in the first place) if they didn’t have a reasonable expectation of success. But sometimes all it takes is a good argument, and a judge willing to consider it, for the tables to turn, and turn they have.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that Disney was engaged in “copyright misuse”, by attempting to bundle too many conditions to the redemption and use of the digital copy that comes with Disney combo packs. Specifically, Disney tried to “tie” the ownership of the digital copy to the ownership of the discs in the combo packs, and this meant that users had to give up their right to resell the discs if they wanted to redeem the digital copy, and that, the judge said, was beyond what Disney’s copyright allowed them to do.

It wasn’t a complete slam dunk for Redbox though, as they failed to get the judge to recognise that the “first sale doctrine” applied to the redeemable digital copy, as in the judge’s opinion, the digital copy doesn’t actually exist at the time of sale (it only exists after the buyer redeems the code). Without being able to rely on the “first sale doctrine”, which limits the ability for the rights-holder to control the product after the first sale has occurred (and is the basis that allows us to resale our legally purchased goods), Redbox’s assertions that they had a right to sell the digital codes might not be an easy argument to make.

Interestingly, the judge found issue with the wording of the “Codes are not for sale or transfer” condition on Disney’s combo packaging, which does not make it clear that opening the package is considered acceptance of the conditions. Expect changes to the packaging to happen sooner rather than later.

Speaking of changes, those that have used Google Image search in the last week would have noticed a rather big, and annoying, change. Google has removed the “View Image” and “Search by Image” links in its image search results, meaning that it’s now much harder to download the original, unedited versions of any image. And that’s the whole point really, because Google has come under pressure copyright wise (via a Getty Images lawsuit) to stop making it so easy to download images via its image search function.

As expected, users have not reacted positively to these changes, and who could blame them. Also as expected, website owners have welcomed these changes, many of whom have long accused Google of “stealing” their images by directly linking to them (allowing users to download them without the need to visit the publishing website). The same problem exists with snippets (you know, live sports scores, weather, and things of that nature), but at least with snippets, some websites are actively providing the content to Google. Not so with images, and many webmasters have even gone as far as install scripts on their site to prevent direct linking.

While one fire has been potentially put out, expect the conflict between publishers and Google to intensify with Google’s other features.

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Denuvo

Is Denuvo a performance killer?

Does Denuvo affect gaming performance? There’s evidence to suggest that it does, and there’s also evidence to suggest it doesn’t. But I think what is clear is that Devnuo has the *potential* to affect performance, and if the cat and mouse game between Denuvo and crackers continue and Denuvo start to use more and more complicated means to protect games, then yes, performance will eventually become a big issue. Anything that potentially makes hundreds if not thousands of calls per second will take something away from the gaming performance, even if these calls are super efficient.

Denuvo isn’t the only anti-tampering game in town though. Arxan is another company that’s promoting their anti-tampering tech, and it has already been used in some games. It has been used in games for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform, which allows game publishers to use a single API set to publish games for a wide variety of Microsoft devices. UWP features not one but 5 layers of DRM to protect its games, and was previously though to be impenetrable. Try telling that to a hacker though! This week, a UWP game and its 5 layers of DRM (MSStore, UWP, EAppX, XBLive, and Arxan) were all cracked by group CODEX, allowing the game ‘Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection’ to be pirated. It’s hardly a game that pirates have been waiting for, but as a proof of concept that UWP can be cracked, it is just as effective as a AAA game.

High Definition

Disney’s upcoming streaming service won’t compete with Netflix (says Disney at least)

Not content with having control over all of the most profitable franchises (and making a zillion movies for each franchise), Disney is in the process of buying another major studio Fox. This, along with their plans to pull new content from Netflix starting in 2019, all bodes well for the studio’s upcoming streaming platform. It has already been discussed as a potential “Netflix killer”, but Disney says that’s not what it is at all.

Instead, Disney’s streaming offering will be a more streamlined affair, offering 500 movies compared to Netflix’s 4000+ at launch. The price for the service, according to Disney, will also be lower than Netflix’s.

So the new service may not be a Netflix killer, but it might injure it some, considering how many good movies Disney (and Fox) has at their disposal.

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I think that’s all we have this week, hope you found it all interesting. See you next week!

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!