Archive for the ‘Video Technology’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (October 7, 2018)

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

The great server migration of 2018 has started. Due to circumstances beyond my control, we need to move all of our sites to new servers, all at once, and so things are a bit hectic around here. I guess a server upgrade was long overdue, and so the move is coming at a good time, but as anyone who has been involved in migrating data from one system to another, you’ll know of its frustrations (and many, many potential pitfalls). So if you find parts of the site not working or acting a bit weird, don’t stress, we’re working on it!

It was a light news week again, although that would be because I was too busy to really notice what was going on. Either way, let’s get through this quickly so I can get back to more server shenanigans.

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What I did notice was how much Netflix (or video streaming in general) I was watching in the background during the many boring hours of a typical server migration. And it isn’t just me. Netflix use may not account for as much as 15% of global downstream traffic, and up to 40% during peak times on certain networks. I know that video, especially 4K video, is a bandwidth hog, but for one single platform to use so much bandwidth, it’s still quite an amazing thing.

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian, one of the original series that could debut on Disney’s upcoming streaming platform

In a perfect world, and by perfect I mean if everybody had access to affordable ultra high speed (100+Mbps) internet connections, then this use would actually be a lot more since Netflix’s 4K streams are still very much compromises in terms of quality. This is why Ultra HD Blu-ray still has a place despite the move away from physical media, because it is still the most reliable way to deliver the sometimes 100GB worth of digital data into people’s homes.

Competition is always a good thing, but while Netflix has some, it’s clear that they’re nowhere near being able to be a threat to them just yet. Amazon Prime came closest in terms of global downstream bandwidth use, but Netflix was still more than 4 times bigger (Hulu was even smaller). But Netflix’s biggest threat may yet to materialise in the form of Disney Streaming. With Disney absorbing Fox, the combined might of these two studios could allow them to create a streaming product that has a huge backlog of titles, along with a huge list of original productions that can fully exploit Disney and Fox’s owned franchises. From the very limited information we have about its streaming product, we already know that a Marvel series based on ‘Loki’ is in the works, along with another one for the ‘Scarlet Witch’. There’s a new Muppets series too, another one based on Monsters, Inc., and two Star Wars series including $100 million live action series ‘The Mandalorian’. And don’t forget that Disney, via Fox, will now own a huge chunk of Hulu too, and there will be some kind of “synergy” (I hate myself) between it and Disney’s so far unnamed streaming product.

Exciting times for streaming, that’s for sure.

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That’s it for the week, short I know. Probably won’t get much better next week, but one thing is for sure – I’ll have watched more Netflix (and Stan)!

Weekly News Roundup (September 23, 2018)

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

Welcome to another issue of the WNR. Many of you read this roundup via our newsletter, and if you do, you might have noticed that it was our 600th issue last week. There’s a pretty strong link between the newsletter and this WNR, as both became regular features at around the same time, some 11 years ago. To put that into perspective, when the WNR first started, the iPhone was only a couple of months old. That’s the original iPhone, the one without any numbers (or now, Roman numerals/letters) after it. 2007 was also the year that Netflix started their streaming business.

So suffice to say, a lot of things have changed since then. But as you’ll find out in this WNR, some things stay the same.

Copyright

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker

Some Denuvo games are being cracked on the day of release

So 11 years later, DRM is still around and still a pain in the you know what. It used to be the controversial SecuROM that was causing all sorts of problems like constant reactivations, rootkits, these days it’s Denuvo with its potential performance problems. But publishers, just like back then, don’t care too much about the problems DRM like Denuvo and SecuROM bring, not if it protects their games. At least in Denuvo’s defence, it does actually work, for a while. That “for a while” is getting shorter and shorter though, and a new batch of games with the latest Denuvo version has just been cracked.

It’s kind of sad that publishers continue to use DRM even though there’s plenty of evidence that it’s actually making for a poorer user experience for their products, like how framerates for ‘Mass Effect Andromeda’ went up by 12%, in one test, after an official patch removed Denuvo protection from the game recently. There’s is also the negative PR for when a game is announced to use Denuvo, and that may even translate to lost sales.

But you take a look at ‘The Witcher 3’ from the one major publisher who is staunchly anti-DRM, and you look at its sales, and you wonder, is DRM really needed? Despite gamers knowing that the game, being DRM free, would be instantly piratable, 1.5 million people still chose to pre-order the game. And even after release (and after the pirated version was floating freely online), 6 million more copies were sold in the first six weeks. And the game continued to sell well two years after release, with sales in 2017 outnumbering that from 2016 – and all the while, the game was DRM-free and pirated everywhere. This made the ‘Witcher’ series more popular, sales wise, than the likes of ‘Fallout’, ‘Borderlands’, and the entire ‘Batman’ franchise.

The ‘DRM-free’ equals ‘piracy’ equals ‘lost sales’ equation doesn’t seem to compute.

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New Netflix Interface

Unique local content, interface improvements, key to being competitive for SVOD providers

The SVOD marketplace is getting very competitive. Even though Netflix has a huge share of the market, other players like Amazon, and here in Australia, Stan, are all vying for a slice of the, admittedly still growing, pie. This means that it’s more important than ever for SVOD platforms to be able to stand out from the crowd, to offer something unique. And plain old original content isn’t enough, increasingly, SVOD platforms are now offering localised original content.

Take Australia for example, the local SVOD outfit Stan has already released several original Australian series and even a movie, while Netflix has one in the works as well. And from Netflix, here in Australia, we can watch series from China, Brazil, Spain, France and many other countries.

And apart from unique content, there’s also the need to constantly improve the user experience. The apps for most streaming platforms are already pretty slick, but there are always room for improvement (even if it simply means removing certain features that are no longer useful, such as user reviews and star ratings).

Improvements to playback quality, in terms of 4K UHD, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and soon, HDR10+ are also an important way to keep things fresh.

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. I have no idea what issue this one is, since I haven’t been using issue numbers with the WNR. Probably somewhere just north of 500, is my guess. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (September 16, 2018)

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

Going by my site statistics, chances are that where you are, it’s probably nice and warm. It’s not so nice and warm here where I’m typing though. Early spring teased us with a couple of days of warm weather, but the bone chilling cold is now back for an encore. So. Bloody. Cold.

We do have a bit of news this week, not a lot, but enough. So let’s get started.

Copyright

The Pirate Bay Down

The Pirate Bay is down for a lot of users

There’s been increasing legal pressure on sites like The Pirate Bay, but while many sites have fallen, The Pirate Bay remains. I was going to say “remains strong”, but that’s probably not true. The Pirate Bay is currently in the middle of yet another extended downtime, and while access has returned for some, it remains problematic for others. Others including myself, as while writing the story and testing to see if I could access the site, I had to first deal with our court mandated piracy filter (easily bypassed with my VPN of choice), before getting the dreaded “Error 502 – Bad Gateway”, otherwise known as the can’t connect to the site, page.

There are reports that the site is working fine for others though, so it feels like there’s a bad pathway somewhere, or a few bad servers among good ones.

It’s not the only torrent site that has been experiencing technical problems of late. Demonoid, another site from the golden age of piracy, is still accessible for the most part (and not blocked here in Australia … yet), but certain parts of the site are not working. These include the all important torrent details page, although you can still download torrents from the search results/index pages.

Worryingly, there’s no real information on why these problems are occurring. It’s unlikely that these problems are the result of some specific legal action,

So not a great time for pirates looking for the latest downloads, but they already know that there are powerful forces working against pirate site these days, and if TPB and Demonoid’s problems are only technical ones and not legal ones, then that’s probably the “best” kind of downtime they can hope for.

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Amazon Prime Instant Videos

Amazon Prime not as popular as Netflix, but OTT as a whole doing extremely well

You don’t need to have being paying too much attention to realise that the future of video lies in OTT services. OTT stands for Over The Top, and it’s just another way of saying video delivery via the Internet (as opposed to cable/satellite and other traditional broadcast), and so things like iTunes and Netflix are all counted.

The latest research suggests that OTT is going to be the dominant video delivery method not just in the US but also in Western Europe. There are some interesting predictions in the last report by research firm Digital TV Research, like how dominant Netflix is (over twice as popular as Amazon Prime Video), and how dominant SVOD will be in 2023 (54% of all OTT revenue).

Showing that there’s still probably room to grow for the like of Netflix and Amazon Prime, currently 30% of all revenue comes from the UK alone. While Digital TV Research believes that this will still be true in 2023, with Netflix and others keen on adding more non English original content, the other markets might have more potential for growth than what Digital TV Research gives them credit for.

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That’s all I have for you this week. Hoping for more next week, as always. Until then, have a great one!

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.