Weekly News Roundup (August 5, 2018)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly News Roundup (July 15, 2018)

July 15th, 2018

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

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

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

Copyright

Denuvo

Denuvo cracked again

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

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

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

High Definition

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

Gaming

Dolby Vision

Dolby Vision comes to the Xbox One

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

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

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

Weekly News Roundup (July 8, 2018)

July 8th, 2018

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

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

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

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Netflix

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming

Android Game TV Controller

Google may be getting into gaming in a big way

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

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

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

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

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

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Well, that’s it for the week. I just realised that it’s nearly 11 years since I started doing this weekly news roundup. The very first roundup started with these words: “This might become a regular feature on the blog (hopefully) if, unlike most of my other projects, I actually manage to keep it up for more than a few weeks”. Looks like I did manage to keep it going for “more than a few weeks”. Here’s to a few weeks more …

Weekly News Roundup (July 1, 2018)

July 1st, 2018

Welcome to the second half of 2018. My oh my, didn’t it go by fast? Actually, I completely understand that for some, maybe even many, it hasn’t seemed that quick, or even not quickly enough. Which just goes to show that time really is relative, and that we are heavily influenced by our perceptions, even when our perceptions are wrong at times.

What isn’t wrong is that we do have a few stories to cover, and so there’s definitely no time to waste (regardless of how quickly or slowly it passes for you).

Copyright

Roku FBI Warning

Roku’s anti-piracy measures have worked according to the company

We have a trio of copyright related stories in regards, to apps, streaming and gaming, three of the largest arenas when it comes to the digital world. Starting in no particular order, Roku has announced that they’ve succeeded in taming the beast that is piracy on their platform.

Roku has had a piracy problem so bad that it got banned in Mexico, of all places, and they’ve removed more than 400 organisations that have links to piracy on their platform, and who knows how many channels that were run by these organisations. Of course, some of these actions have led to unfortunately collateral damage (like when the Netflix and YouTube channels were removed accidentally), but there is no doubt that Roku is now a much more legal platform than when it started (although my feeling is that people who are using their Roku for piracy are using it wrong, or rather, there are better ways to get pirated content than from a Roku!).

The positive PR message is much needed from Roku, what with the streaming device industry now firmly in Hollywood’s sights. These days, preemptive action is the perfect prophylaxis when it comes to avoiding the unwanted attentions of the copyright industry.

Nintendo Switch

Piracy on the Switch is possible, but dangerous

Nintendo is also taking preemptive action against what the company thinks might be a flood of piracy occurring on their Switch console, following the jailbreaking of the console earlier this year. The Switch now apparently has code that could ban an entire console from being able to connect to online services, if it detects that pirated games are being run on it.

It’s not the only thing that Switch pirates have to worry about, as apparently the custom firmware they’re using the run pirate games has its own copy protection mechanism that could brick their consoles. Apparently, even pirates are worried about piracy, in this case of their custom firmware that they’re selling (as opposed to being given away, like most of these types of things). As with most things piracy related, use at your own risk!

There’s also a risk that when you look at everything through the prism of copyright, that sometimes, you see more than what’s actually happening. This may have been the case with the story involving Google’s addition of metadata on Android apps that, some say, could be used as a form of anti-piracy DRM.

Never mind the fact that Android apps can already use a Google provided server based authentication DRM for paid apps, and that Google was pretty clear what the metadata is for. Of course, the cynic would say that Google would never say that their DRM was a DRM, because that would be met with a huge public backlash. But what Google says is also true and also an important point, is that by adding metadata support, it will allow offline distribution of Google Play store compatible apps. Previously, offline distributed apps would count as a separate entity to Play store downloaded apps, in terms of updates, licensing and tying into Google accounts.

So there’s definitely the possibility that metadata can be used by app publishers as a form of DRM, to restrict the sharing of “unauthorised” apps, but there are already means to do this, so perhaps the Google Play store aspect is the more important story here (as it would open the way for third party app stores to exist, that would be able to sell apps for developers and have those apps work in exactly the same way as an app downloaded from the Play store).

Perception matters.

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So that’s all we have for the week. All related, but all different as well. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (June 24, 2018)

June 24th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. It was another slow news week, and so this is going to be another short one. Some of you are probably too busy watching the World Cup to worry about copyright issues, or how streaming is taking over everything. I get it, and I would be too, if the time differences were a little kinder for those of us here in Australia.

Let’s get on with it then.

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Disney Star Wars

Disney may own Star Wars, but it actually doesn’t own the distribution rights to the original trilogy … not until they buy Fox

Disney’s bid to buy Fox’s film and TV business now has some serious competition in the form of a rival bid from Comcast. The telecommunication company has to react to rival AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner, which took place last week and was quickly followed by the launch of AT&T’s streaming product, WatchTV.

Comcast’s bid put pressure on Disney to up their earlier offer, and this they did too, now offering more cash on top of their original stock only offer. Throughout all of this, Fox has always said they prefer to do business with Disney and the new offer cements this believe.

Disney wants Fox not only to re-unite its Marvel properties (not to mention the distribution rights to the original Star Wars trilogy with the rest of the franchise), but may also needs Fox’s content for its own streaming product to be launched next year. When that happens, the new yet unnamed streaming platform will be more akin to Netflix than AT&T’s WatchTV, which focuses more on live streaming of TV channels, some of which are now owned by AT&T (including CNN, TBS and TNT). And with both Disney and Fox’s library of content, the new streaming service will offer some serious competition to Netflix.

Fox shareholders will hold a special meeting on July 10 to vote on the potential merger.

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Other than that, there wasn’t anything else that was of particular interest. Hopefully there will be more stuff to cover next week. Until then …


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