Weekly News Roundup (June 9, 2019)

June 9th, 2019

Well, that was a longer break than expected. A nice vacation was then followed by the need of a vacation for the vacation, and then a couple of slow news weeks, and here we are!

Even without much news, we’ve been busy adding new trailers to our YouTube channel. Now while we use real 4K content whenever possible, we’re still at the stage of 4K where most trailers are not released in the format. So we have a “special sauce” that we use to upscale it to make it look (and sound) great, unlike other channels that upload 4K trailers that look/sound no better (and often worse) than the original HD version.

Comparison between our "special sauce" upscaled 4K versus basic 4K upscaling
Our 4K quality (left) compared to your standard 4K upscaled trailer – click to enlarge

Of course, your output is only as good as your input, which is why we almost always use ProRes high bitrate (150 Mbps+) sources (not quite uncompressed quality, but close enough) for our trailers. So while we won’t be the first to upload a trailer, we’ll always try to upload the best quality version.

With this promo out of the way, let’s get to the news.

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So the big news this week, according to many in the press, is that Apple has shut down iTunes. But for those that read articles beyond the headline, you will have realised that Apple didn’t really shut down iTunes. For one, those of us who haven’t yet drunk the Apple kool-aid and still opting to use Windows will be stuck with the frustrating iTunes software to do everything from music downloads to software updates to backups (the fact that the software did so much, too much in fact, is one of the key complaints against the much-maligned software).

A screenshot of the iTunes software
iTunes 2001 – 2019: Will not be missed

Secondly, the iTunes store will remain the way it is, still allowing you to download and store your content locally if you still don’t trust the cloud. So the stories of “the end of downloads” are a bit exaggerated, which was never going to happen while Apple is still making money from them (about a billion a year – down a lot from its peak and a fraction of streaming these days, but hey, who says no to a billion dollars, right).

So what exactly are the changes? For one, on iDevices, the iTunes app will be replaced with three different apps: Music, Podcasts and Television. By splitting the bloated iTunes app into three separate apps, it allows each app to be better customized for the user’s needs, and to have an interface that’s better suited for the content in question. You got to remember that iTunes started out as a media player before it morphed into software that attempted to do everything. So it’s a great idea for the three iTunes sub-apps to go back to their roots.

As for how will Mac people do updates, backups and restores? They will find the same functionality that used to be in iTunes as part of the Finder app, which should have been the way from the get-go. I don’t know about you, but I think using a media player to do OS updates and system backups makes zero sense, and it’s something even the worst Windows versions (Me, Vista, in no particular order) didn’t force users to do. So it’s ironic that Windows people are still stuck having to use iTunes to do everything.

Moving quickly away from the beginnings of a Mac vs Windows flame war, and to the upcoming Netflix vs Disney+ flame war, it appears many in the U.S. are already aware of Disney+ despite almost zero promotional stuff so far.

And the awareness to sign-up ratio is actually pretty good, with 22% of U.S. households appear willing to sign up. And a great sign for Disney is that the group with the highest potential sign-up rate is households with kids, which surely has to be the Mickey Mouse company’s main demographic.

A screenshot of the Disney+ interface
Disney+: There’s something there for everyone, but probably not enough to seriously harm Netflix

Also interesting was seeing what kind of content each age group were most drawn to when deciding whether to sign up or not. 35 and older people (me!) were most drawn to the Star Wars stuff on Disney+ (that’s true for me!). 25 to 35-year olds, the group most likely to have young children and most likely to have grown up with Disney animated hits like The Lion King and Aladdin were most interested in Disney’s animated hits. And 18 to 24-year olds wanted to watch the Marvel stuff the most, the studio that has produced the biggest hits for Disney in recent times. It all makes sense!

But Disney+ is still no Netflix killer. For one, Netflix will have content from Warner Bros., Paramount and Sony, while Disney+ will obviously be limited to only Disney branded content. Disney has also said that Disney+ will be more family oriented, and so don’t expect to see series like Sex Education and You, or even the fantastic When They See Us. These would most likely end up on Disney’s other streaming platform, Hulu, if they ever get made. And that’s a big if because Disney’s original production budget is minuscule compared to Netflix’s ($500 million versus $15 billion). If anything, Hulu has a better chance of competing with Netflix than Disney+, especially if Disney decides to throw more content into the platform.

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Well, that’s all we have this week. Until next time!

Weekly News Roundup (May 12, 2019)

May 12th, 2019

Happy Mother’s Day!

Not a mum/mom myself, so I have to work today. Which is just as good, as we do have some news to cover, and as I’ll be unavailable for the next two weeks, this will serve as the last WNR for a bit.

I’m still having a lot of fun with my new broadband connection (especially the much faster uploads), so have uploaded many more trailers to our YouTube channel.

I’m putting my knowledge to good use upscaling some of them to 4K (with 5.1ch audio upmix as well), optimizing them for clarity, without making them look (or sound) too artificial. All using free tools that you can download from Digital Digest as well, tools like MeGUI, AviSynth and filters like Nnedi3/nnedi3 rpow2 and SpecWeb.

Anyway, onto the news.

Copyright

There’s a new way to stream pirated movies online, and you don’t have to go to a dodgy site to do so (unless you consider Facebook dodgy, which is a fair point these days). Pirates are using Facebook Watch Parties to stream popular pirated content, such as new episodes of Game of Thrones, and Facebook can’t always get to them as quickly as they should.

Game of Thrones being streamed illegally on Facebook

What Facebook is going through it pretty normal though for a new video platform, which Facebook’s Watch platform/section qualifies as. Pirates will always find a way to exploit a new video platform to host their stuff, and it’s up to the platform to figure out a way to stop them. YouTube has had to deal with it, and Vimeo and Dailymotion are still dealing with it (and not doing as good a job as YouTube). When Twitch first launched, pirated content was everywhere on it, and it’s still there if you look for it, especially for big TV events like the last season of Game of Thrones.

But for all the problems with Facebook these days, this one is probably the least serious. Unless you’re a content owner, of course.

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It may end up being the biggest movie ever, but ‘Avengers: Endgame’ will be “free” to watch for anyone who’s signed up to Disney+.

Disney+ subscribers will be able to stream Avengers: Endgame on December 11

Disney has announced the mega-blockbuster will be available for unlimited streaming on Disney+ in December, one month after the streaming service launches. This follows the previous announcement that ‘Captain Marvel’ will be one of the “launch” titles for the platform, which will cost $6.99 per month.

If the release schedule of the previous ‘Avengers’ movie is any indication, December will be roughly 3 months after ‘Endgame’ launches on home video, suggesting that “three months” will be the typical delay between Blu-ray and Disney+ releases.

Disney is also trying to buy the part of Hulu that they don’t own from Comcast, suggesting the company still have big plans for the streaming platform, even after Disney+ launches.

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That’s all for this week, and for the next couple of weeks. Until then, have a (few) great one(s).

Weekly News Roundup (April 21, 2019)

April 21st, 2019

An exciting week we’ve just had, not only did we get a first glimpse at the final chapter of Game of Thrones (which was expected), we also got news on Sony’s upcoming PS5 console (somewhat unexpected).

So let’s not waste any time, and get to the news that was ….

Perhaps a little bit more time wasting – if you’re still in the mood to waste GBs downloading a trailer, we’ve just uploaded a new one for you for the awkwardly named upcoming film ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’ (download as HD H.264 or 4K HEVC). As usual, for those that want 4K but don’t want to go through the whole downloading process, you can watch the same trailer on our YouTube channel right here.

Copyright

So you’ve probably finished watching the first episode of the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’. If you haven’t seen it, then you either don’t care about the show or you’re stuck on an oil rig or in the middle of a rainforest. Either way, no spoilers here.

Game of Thrones piracy surge – not unexpected at all!

The only thing I’m going to spoil is the fact that the season premiere was downloaded and streamed, illegally, a whole heap of times. 54 million times actually in the first 24 hours alone, which is not surprising considering how eagerly anticipated the premiere was and how HBO dicked us around for 2 years just because they didn’t want the show to finish before they had some other hit just around the corner.

Despite this, no torrenting records were broken. In fact, only half as many people may have been downloading a torrent of the first episode compared to the previous record, also set by ‘Game of Thrones’ for the season 5 finale. This is because torrenting is no longer the preferred way of getting pirated movie and TV content for most people – 76% now choose streaming. Streaming is cool because there’s no need to wait for a download to finish, and it also receives less scrutiny from authorities who have been clamping down on torrenting and torrent sites hard in the last few years.

The increasing availability and value of legal options, on the other hand, may also have contributed to the decline.

The series finale airs on May 19, and I would expect even more people to be watching the show – legally and illegally.

Gaming

Has it really been 5 and a half years? That’s how long the PS4 has been around, and so I guess it wasn’t a surprise that Sony will be well into the development of the next console, which will probably be imaginatively named the PS5.

And we normally don’t get a lot of details about the new console at this point, but miracles do happen and one of the lead architects of the new console gave us quite a lot of information in a recent interview. According to Mark Cerny, the PS5 will feature the latest generation AMD ‘Ryzen’ CPU and a ‘Navi’ GPU and a solid state drive to really boost the performance. The latter, in particular, reduced the loading time of the PS4 game
Spider-Man from 15 seconds to just 0.8.

A photo of two PS4 controllers
Details about the PS5 so early are somewhat unexpected

The power boost will also enable 8K output for the console, although this is most likely limited to video output, with gaming output still likely to be limited to 4K (but a very nice looking 4K, to be fair).

And in a surprise announcement, the PS5 will be backwards compatible with the PS4. Veterans of the console wars will remember how Microsoft tried to one-up the PS4 by including (limited) backwards compatibility with the Xbox One, which Sony refused to do citing lack of interest. So it’s a welcomed move by Sony to finally add backwards compatibility back (if you can remember that far back, the first models of the PS3 featured a PS2 chip that allowed for backwards compatibility – all the subsequent variations did not include the chip).

So there you have it – quite a lot of information that normally would only come out at an official launch event. Now it’s up to Microsoft to “show me what you got” (a nice and random Rick and Morty reference there for you).

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So some pretty interesting stuff happening. Hope this coming week is just as exciting! Until next time …

Weekly News Roundup (April 14, 2019)

April 14th, 2019

Welcome back to another edition of the WNR. There was sadly not much happening from the week before last, but then things started happening this past week, and here we are.

I think the moment things started happening was when I got connected to my new Internet connection. No longer am I stuck at 3 Mbps on an outdated ADSL connection, I’m now connected to proper broadband that’s bazillion times faster. Granted, it’s still via an outdated HFC connection and not via a superior fibre to the home connection, but beggars can’t be choosers. What’s even better than the download speed is the upload speed – no longer confined to a 1Mbps uplink (which was more like 0.7Mbps in real usage), I can now upload without a care in the world, whether it’s backups, or for Digital Digest, some new kick-ass trailers.

Promo thumbnail for the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker teaser trailer
If you’re keen on wasting a 1.3GB download on a trailer, you now have the option

It would have taken 6 hours before, but it only took a few minutes to upload the Ultra HD teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (it took a bit longer to encode the trailer though). And yes, it’s 1.3GB, but if you were on a super fast connection like I am now, it’s not a worry at all.

Unless you have limited hard-drive space, in that case, you might want to check out our new YouTube trailers channel, and you can watch the Episode IX UHD trailer there too. We’ll be adding more trailers now and then, and some classic ones too.

Oh yes, the news.

Copyright

Pirates may have found a new source for the latest un-aired TV episodes, with a dozen shows falling prey to the latest round of leaks. The leaks include un-aired episodes from shows like ‘The 100’ and ‘American Gods’, and even includes entire un-aired seasons of ‘Ramy’ and ‘The Red Line’. All of the leaks appear to come from promo screeners, which suggests that these advanced previews, meant for industry professionals, have somehow ended up in the hands of pirates.

Poster for American Gods
American Gods – one of the shows that was part of a massive leak of promo screeners

Even though some of the leaked titles does include a person’s name in the watermark, which may point to the original recipient of the screeners, this doesn’t really provide conclusive evidence that this person was the source of the leaks. The screener may have been intercepted before it reached this person or may have been stolen from this person without their knowledge. Still, it may be a starting point for an FBI investigation, if they choose to investigate it.

High Definition

And the big news of the week is something we’ve been expecting for a while now. Disney had its investor’s conference, and as promised, they provided more “deets” on their upcoming Disney+ streaming service.

We now know the launch date: November 12 in the United States (next year in Europe and Asia); the price: a low $USD6.99 per month; and that at launch, it will have more than 500 movies and 7500 TV episodes, including some exclusive Marvel and Star Wars shows.

Still from the TV show 'The Mandalorian'
The Mandalorian will stream exclusively on Disney+ for any one willing to pay the $6.99 monthly fee

Most of the original content we already know about, like ‘Loki’, ‘The Mandalorian’ and the still unnamed Diego Luna Star Wars show, but we also have ‘WandaVision’ starring the Avenger’s Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, reprising their roles as Wanda and The Vision. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan will also star in ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’.

Disney gobbling up Fox also means lots of Fox content will be on Disney+, including every single season of ‘The Simpsons’ (that’s 30 seasons if you’ve lost count), and classics like ‘The Titanic’ and ‘The Sound of Music’.

As for whether Disney+ will be a “Netflix killer”, I don’t know about that. There’s very little overlap in content between Netflix and Disney+, and so they’re more complementary services than competing ones. Netflix will also have a lot more third party content, and a lot more originals too for that matter, so unless you crave Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Lucasfilm originals all the time, Netflix may be a more rounded choice.

Some of our more dedicated readers will remember what I wrote in the March 24 edition of the WNR:

So while Disney shares have fallen since the acquisition was completed, most likely due to the cost of the deal eating into Disney’s short term bottom line, the future is bright for the company. You don’t get financial advice that often here, but I would stock up and hold on to Disney shares with the expectation that 1 or 2 years down the line, this will prove to be a very smart decision. Of course, I have literally zero experience in investing, so you might be better off consulting the Magic Eight Ball (it told me “Most Likely” when I asked if I should buy Disney shares, so there you go).

Disney shares are “only” up 11% following these announcements. You’re welcomed!

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That’s it for this week, it seems. News and financial advice, that’s what you’ll get here. See you next time!

Weekly News Roundup (March 31, 2019)

March 31st, 2019

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. It’s going to be a light one this week, as while we have a big announcement from Apple to cover, that was pretty much it.

Still, it gives us plenty to talk about this week, so let’s not waste any time.

High Definition

So the big news of the week was Apple’s entry into streaming video courtesy of their upcoming Apple TV+ service.

First of all, let’s talk about what it isn’t. It isn’t really a Netflix rival, at least not yet, because Apple TV+ will only host original content that Apple themselves have produced. So there won’t be any third-party licensed content that’s still the bulk of content on platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

Photo showing Jenifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell at the Apple TV+ launch event
Apple will hope its big star line-up will help to make Apple TV+ a success

And even with relation to original content, Apple’s content spend of $1 billion is only a fraction of Netflix’s annual spend on original content, so Apple’s ambitions, so far, are much more limited compared to Netflix’s.

Apple TV+ also won’t work on most of the non-Apple devices you actually own. While Apple is opening up Apple TV slightly, allowing it to work on selected smart TVs and even on the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV+ won’t be accessible on your Android device, on your PC or in your browser. This could change at some point, but it looks like Apple wants the content on Apple TV+ to be mainly consumed on an Apple device (which is not surprising).

Using unique content to draw users into the Apple ecosystem is one thing, but what Apple may be even keener to do is to keep the Apple TV hub relevant in the age of Roku, Amazon Fire and Google Chromecast. Apple can’t make their 30% off of Netflix if Netflix doesn’t think it’s worth having their app integrated into Apple TV, and Netflix won’t think Apple’s 30% money grab is worth it if Apple TV is not popular enough.

Apple will hope that exclusive Apple TV+ content from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah, J.J. Abrams, and shows starring the likes of
Jenifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, will help grow the Apple TV user base. Or at least grow it enough to make Apple TV an essential platform to be part of.

This talk of Apple reminded me of an old news story from way back. Way back as in when Steve Jobs was still alive, and when Toshiba’s HD DVD was still trying to beat Blu-ray. Jobs said then that Blu-ray was a “bag of hurt” and despite Apple being a member and a board member of the Blu-ray Disc Association, Apple never did bother to include a Blu-ray drive with any of their computers.

Apple never bothered with Blu-ray, but discs still have a place

Now Apple is getting into video distribution having skipped discs entirely, and this probably means something for discs (and not in a good news kind of way). But discs do still have a place (anyone who regularly tries to download high-quality 4K content will know this is the case), and they will be around for a while yet, even if they are no longer the default go-to for most people. What do you think? Do you still use discs? Let us know by voting in our latest poll.

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That’s all I have for you think week. Let’s wait and see what the next week brings us.


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