Weekly News Roundup (January 22, 2017)

January 22nd, 2017

Hello again on this lovely summer’s day in Melbourne. Been busy this week, so not as much news as I had wanted to bring you, but at least we’ll get through this quickly!

Copyright

Arrival

New award contention flicks have been uploaded to the usual places

With award season just starting to build up, we already have a good idea what this year’s most awarded films may be. What has been strangely lacking so far though has been the widespread availability of pirated versions of these box office and/or critically acclaimed hits.

All that changed last week when no less than five award favourites found themselves at the usual piracy hangouts, thanks to prolific groups such as ‘Hive-CM8’ and new comers like ‘4rrived’. The movies that have been made available are ‘Moonlight’, ‘Arrival’, ‘La La Land’, ‘Patriots Day’ and ‘Hidden Figures’, many of which are still showing in theaters.

The late arrival of these pirated downloads may be largely due to the fact that ‘Hive-CM8’ decided not to release movies before they’re released publicly, which is something they have done in the past and have regretted doing so. And while there is a crackdown on the proliferation of award season screeners, release groups do have ways to protect the identity of sources, and it seems many of them are already in possession of leaked copies. We will start seeing these copies being uploaded soon, I think.

Gaming

PS4 Pro

PS4 Pro not what developers wanted

Gamers have given the PS4 Pro a warm, if not exactly hot, welcome, but it seems game developers aren’t quite sure what to make of it and Microsoft’s effort to introduce a mid-generation console update. While very few developers, 5 percent, actually view the update as something completely negative according to the GDC’s survey, most remain neutral or undecided as to how they can best take advantage of it, and how it can lead to more profits.

Most are worried about being forced to do more work in order to make the enhanced graphics on the PS4 Pro and Scorpio really stand out (and not just some lazy upscaling effort), and with more work and more features, it also means more room for things to go wrong. Basically, it means more uncertainty, and that’s not what developers and publishers want.

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Sorry again for the shortness of this WNR. Normality to resume next week, hopefully.

 

Weekly News Roundup (January 15, 2017)

January 15th, 2017

Another pretty slow week, which wasn’t what I was expecting after CES, but I guess most of the stuff happened last week, not this week. So it’s pretty much a gaming only edition of the WNR this week, thanks largely to our first and main story …

Gaming

Which is all the stuff we learned about the Nintendo Switch from the special press event that was kind of the official launch event for Nintendo’s new console.

We learned that the Switch’s retail price will be $299.99, which took some by surprise as being on the high side. Add to that the high cost of accessories (thankfully, most of them being completely optional to the full enjoyment of the Switch), for example $79.99 for a spare Joy-Con controller (some games will need 2 more of these in addition to the 2 included with the console for multiplayer), it left others wondering if the Switch can compete with the PS4 and Xbox One, both of which have the same entry price point.

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch may be $299.99, but it does come with a lot of innovation

But then others argued that with what you’re getting – a console that’s also a tablet, that can do local multiplayer without any other additional purchases, plus a dock for the TV – it’s actually not bad value. The high price of the simple looking Joy-Con controller (which plugs into the side of the console/tablet to become the Switch’s main controllers in single player mode) is also due to the fact that it includes a object sensing camera, as well as the oblig motion sensing capabilities, that enables some innovative game play with the announced ‘1-2 Switch’ and ‘Arms’ games.

Other things we learned include the expected battery life of 2.5 to 6.5 hours depending on the game, and how the console charges via USB-C (and can be played when charging).

Controversially, Nintendo is going down the paid route with regards to online services. The Switch will be launching with a free online service, but it will become a paid one later in 2017.

As for games, Super Mario Odyssey will launch later in 2017 and is set to feature levels based on the real world for the first time. Over 80 other games are in development by Nintendo and third party studios, the company announced.

Overall, the response to the Switch was both positive and negative. In regards to the console itself and all the innovation that comes with it, it was received very positively. The pricing and the announcement of a paid for online service didn’t go down to well, but only time will tell if gamers, and not critics, feel the same way about the Switch.

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

The PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro helped Sony win December’s US NPD results, but the Xbox One won the second half of 2016

Before the Switch comes on on March 3, we still have a couple of months where the Xbox One and PS4 have a free go in the marketplace. For the important month of December, it was the PS4 that beat the Xbox One in sales (in the US) according to the a statement from Sony. Microsoft still managed to find positives by announcing that the Xbox One had its best ever month in December 2016, and that it was the only console that managed to grow year-on-year, meaning the PS4 did less well in December 2016 than in December 2015.

Xbox One sales in the US managed to beat PS4 sales for the second half of 2016, which suggests that the launch of the Xbox One S really did help Microsoft, well not quite turn things around, but at least made it more competitive to the PS4.

The full NPD report comes out next week.

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That’s that for this slow week. Hope you enjoyed reading. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (January 8, 2017)

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 (January 1, 2017)

January 1st, 2017

Happy New Year! Happy 2017! Wasn’t expecting to put out a WNR today, but surprisingly, we had a few news stories, and so here we are.

Before we get to that though, I finally saw Rogue One and it was actually a lot better than I expected. Granted, my expectations were low, but it really does feel like one of the better movies in the franchise. It really could have come out very badly. Take the premise: mega-corp Disney trying to cash in on its Star Wars license by doing, God forbid, yet another prequel for a story whose synopsis is basically the opening crawl of A New Hope. And then emerged of a troubled production, massive reshoots, and a change of composer (neither of whom are John Williams) with only four weeks given to compose an entire new score for the movie. Almost everything was against the movie, but against the odds, they seems to have done it! Just like the protagonists in the movie, they’ve delivered a victory when defeat seemed inevitable.

Even the Michael Giacchino score was brilliant, and doesn’t take nearly as much time to become part of your humming ensemble as compared to The Force Awakens (which is brilliant in its own right) – you can listen to the entire soundtrack on Spotify.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One is better enjoyed if you’re already familiar with A New Hope

As much as it is a “standalone” Star Wars movie, it really isn’t, at least not for Star Wars fans. Think of it as an “extended universe” movie, just like how we have extended universe books and games – Rogue One just takes the same formula and applies it to the big screen. You won’t get as much out of the movie if you haven’t seen A New Hope or at least be familiar with concepts like the Force, so it’s not really a standalone and it shouldn’t be judged in isolation like this (the movie, for someone who knows nothing about Star Wars, might be no more than an average action sci-fi film, but for fans, it’s something completely different – and this perhaps explains the wide ranging views on the movie).

The correct viewing order for the Star Wars films was 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6, 7. It’s a bit harder to fit Rogue One into the timeline – the story may be before A New Hope, but it wouldn’t be right for this to be the first Star Wars film to watch. If I could, I would pause A New Hope just after the group’s arrival on Yavin 4, watch Rogue One, and then continue on with the big conclusion to Episode IV. I think it would then provides the context needed to enjoy Rogue One, and allow Rogue One to do something prequels rarely do – to improve the original.

I watched it on the day we lost our Princess, and so the movie had an added touch of emotion for me and possibly for many in the theatre with me that day. R.I.P. Carrie Fisher.

Oh yes, the news … I’ll try to keep it short considering how much time I’ve just wasted above.

Copyright

4shared

4shared can’t get a break – despite giving rights-holders what they want

It’s that time of the year again. Everyone is making merry, opening gifts, getting way too full and drunk, and of course, the USTR has to release an updated “notorious market” piracy list. There were all the usual inclusions, but the inclusion of 4shared and Youtube-MP3.org has the EFF concerned. Both sites have fair use on their side, according to the EFF, theformer also has one of the best anti-piracy systems around (despite the EFF saying they’re not being a fan of the system due to the way it could produce false positives). Many people use 4shared and Youtube-MP3.org for legitimate reasons, and just because some, maybe even if most, use it for illegal means, it shouldn’t automatically make these sites illegal. Especially not when one of them has a great system for preventing piracy.

Russian social media site vKontakte got listed again, despite the site working extensively with rights-holders to stamp out piracy. That’s what cooperation gets you, I guess. Chinese site Taobao is listed too, and if you’ve ever browsed products on there, you wouldn’t be too surprised at this listing.

What you might be surprised about are the complaints being raised against Spotify, despite the freemium platform almost single-handedly making music piracy irrelevant. The platform is so successful at defeating piracy because, according to the company’s top lawyer, stopping piracy is part of Spotify’s DNA.

Or rather, I think Spotify saw how attractive piracy was to many people and then found a way to make something even more attractive. It also clearly saw that not all pirates were unwilling to pay for music, and then went about creating a product that they were willing to pay for.

The only question is has Spotify’s popularity cannibalized sell-thru? On the reverse side, it’s also worth examining to see if Spotify’s effect of turning pirates into paying customers has had a net positive effect for the music industry even if it also causes sales to decline. According to Spotify, since the introduction of Spotify, music industry revenue has started growing again after 15 years of continuous year-on-year declines.

So maybe it’s not worth looking at the huge number of listens on Spotify and how little money this translates in terms of direct revenue from Spotify, and perhaps take a look at the big picture. Spotify may be changing user behaviour and making them shy away from illegal sources, it may also be helping with music discovery and helping to drive indirect sales. These effects are harder to quantify, but perhaps far more important than a extra couple of percent in terms of royalty from Spotify. If the music industry starts to work against Spotify, instead of working with it, then this may be a shortsighted way to look at things.

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That’s that for this week’s WNR, and for 2016 as well. Hope you had a great 2016, and hope 2017 is even better for you!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

December 25th, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

No news roundup this week because there was hardly any news. But that’s normal I guess, what with the holiday season upon us. Wishing all our loyal readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, from me and everyone here at Digital Digest.

Sean


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