Weekly News Roundup (August 6, 2017)

August 6th, 2017

A heads up – this is going to be another short one for you, as it’s been a relatively quiet week again. And just because the news stories this week all revolve around Game of Thrones, it does not mean that I’ve spent the last week bingeing on old and new episodes of the hit HBO show and this is the actual reason why I haven’t bothered to write up any news stories. No, this is definitely not the case.

Copyright

Game of Thrones - Season 7, Jon Snow

Game of Thrones making all the wrong headlines this week

So while I wasn’t lying on the couch, munching on junk food and getting my GoT fix, this story about GoT happened: HBO got hacked! Terabytes of data were stolen in a brazen cyber-heist, and the point of entry may have been HBO’s Executive Vice President Legal Affairs Viviane Eisenberg’s account at HBO – her personal and banking passwords were also released as part of the hack suggesting she may have been the original target (or that she was careless enough to store all her passwords as plain text on HBO’s servers).

While the hackers may have been disappointed that they could not get their hands on any unaired GoT footage, they did get script and story overviews for the then unreleased episode 4 of the latest season. They did get unaired episodes of Ballers, Barry, Room 104 and Insecure. All of the stolen content were uploaded online to the website winter-leak.com (a reference to the weather phenomenon that is currently occurring in Westeros), which at the time of writing, has been taken down.

The recent trend has been worrying for Hollywood. The old problem used to be unauthorised leaks, usually via a third-party production or distribution company. Now, it’s brute force hacking that studios and supporting companies have to deal with. Netflix, Disney, and now HBO, have all fallen victim recently, as hacking groups vie for notoriety by trying to get their hands on the “best” stolen content.

So when a couple of days later, news broke that episode 4 of GoT season 7, the one whose script was leaked, was the subject of another leak, this time a much more serious one in which the entire episode was uploaded online. Ironically enough, this new leak was entirely unrelated to the HBO hack, and instead, came via the “old problem” I mentioned above – HBO’s Indian pay TV partner Star India appears to be the source of the leak based on the visible watermark found in the leaked video.

The digital revolution has brought about many positive changes. The ease in which content can now be stolen and shared, is not one of them.

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So I think that was it for the week. That wasn’t all of “it”, I’m sure, and I’ll definitely have more for you next week, and it’s definitely not because I am almost finished binge watching all 6 and a bit seasons of GoT. Nope, definitely not because of that, because I definitely didn’t do that last week instead of work.

Weekly News Roundup (July 30, 2017)

July 30th, 2017

I know I’m a little late to the game, but having wanted to do the right thing and wait for a legal way to watch Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale here in Australia, I’m just about to finish the first season. Wow – is all I can say, what a great show! Sure, there may be a little too much hand-holding to elevate the show to the status of The Sopranos or The Wire, but it’s right up there, especially the acting from Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel and Ann Dowd (she’s also great in the movie ‘Compliance’, which is also very disturbing) – but everyone the show does a fantastic job, to be honest). Give it all the awards now!

And yes, despite what might feel like me wasting words on filler, we do have news to go through this week.

Copyright

AutoGK Google AdSense Ban

Apparently Google thinks video conversion tool AutoGK is a file sharing tool

The war on piracy takes a strange turn as previous ally, Google, has apparently now joined the dark side. Google’s decision to prevent download site FossHub from putting ads on pages that link to file sharing (including BitTorrent) software sounds like something Hollywood would do, not the tech company we’ve known and loved. Apparently, having anything to do with BitTorrent, in Google’s eyes, is illegal, despite the fact that these software are completely legal and have as much to do with piracy as web browsers (in that while it’s true that BitTorrent clients are used to download pirated content, the same can be said of web browsers, like even Google’s own Chrome browser, which people who visit The Pirate Bay and other pirate sites are most likely using).

But was I surprised at the way Google acted? Ask any webmaster that has been in the business for a few years, and they’ll tell you lots of horror stories about having to put up with the search engine company we all used to love, but is now out to screw us in any way it can. In fact, I’m not even surprised at the exact circumstances that led Google to ban the entire FossHub site from their advertising service just for a few file sharing tools, because I’ve been through exactly the same thing, and even worse.

Google banned ads from being served by my AutoGK software download page a while ago for the exact same reason they gave to FossHub: “unauthorized file sharing”. This is despite the fact that AutoGK is a video conversion tool, and does not have any file sharing features (and it’s also 8 years out of date). I attempted to repeal the decision, but there’s almost always no real person at the end of the review process, and so I just gave up.

A couple of years ago, Google also banned my site from being able to display ads because we had a few YouTube downloader tools. Despite the fact that Google claims different parts of their company (YouTube, Google search, AdSense …) are all separate and they do not collude with one another (and so there’s no anti-trust issues at all), the fact that their advertising branch banned my site because it featured downloads that violated another branch’s policies, seems to suggest otherwise. Also interesting to note that they did not care about video downloaders for other video sharing sites like Dailymotion or Vimeo. Anti-competitive much?

Anyway, here’s hoping the extra media attention will help FossHub reach a real person at Google and resolve this issue. But even if that happens, the thousands of other sites that are in the same situation and won’t get the same media coverage, like this one, are still going to be out of luck. And you know what the suckiest thing about all of this? That there’s actually no real alternative to Google ads, just like there’s no real alternative to YouTube, Google Search, Google Shopping … monopolies are no fun!

Game of Thrones: Season 4

Oh crap, GoT season opener viewed 90 million times illegally

A follow up to last week’s story about Game of Thrones piracy, the final figures are in and the season premier was viewed or downloaded illegally more than 90 million times! And as we touched upon last week, nearly 78 million views were directly associated with streaming portals, as opposed to torrent downloads. Only 500,000 downloads came from torrent sources, according to the data from piracy monitoring firm MUSO.

Australia didn’t have the most downloads/views, but given our small population, 2.2 million views (and assuming 2 view/download per household), it means that something like 12% of households in Australia might have gone down the piracy route for GoT – not surprising considering the epic fail by our only legal broadcaster for the show (see last week’s WNR for more info on that).

High Definition

Paramount has chosen to embrace Dolby Vision, joining the likes of Warner Bros., Lionsgate and Sony. Why is this news? Well, it isn’t really, as Paramount hasn’t even bothered to produce a list of future releases that will feature the souped up HDR tech (Baywatch? Transformers: The Last Knight?). And since hardly anyone even has a DV enabled TV, will anyone actually care?

But news is news, and when there’s not much going on, one can’t be choosy.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch

The Switch is selling well for Nintendo

Speaking of choosy, a lot of people have chosen the Nintendo Switch, with 4.7 million units already sold in the first four months since release. This compares well to the Wii U, which only sold 3.45 million units during the same period, and it didn’t have stock issues to deal with either. It’s still somewhat behind the Wii’s 5.84 million, but who can compete with the Wii?

Switch games are also selling like hot cakes (I looked it up, I think we call them pancakes here in Australia), with ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ being the pick of the bunch with 3.92 million copies sold (and who are the 0.8 million people that are buying the Switch without Zelda? Heretics!)

As to why the Switch is a success while the Wii U wasn’t? I think it’s because the Switch’s design and purpose are a lot clearer than the Wii U’s “portable but not really portable” design.

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That’s all I have for you this week. A little bit longer than my recent efforts – it’s good to have news to write about! See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (July 23, 2017)

July 23rd, 2017

Back again after another small break last week. I actually flew to Sydney to watch my beloved Arsenal play, and it was a great trip. Luckily, not too much happened in terms of news, so we can just continue on this week as if nothing has happened (and nothing did happen, I promise).

Copyright

Game of Thrones Pirates

The only real pirate *in* Game of Thrones, but lots of pirates *for* the show in real life

Winter has truly come here in Australia, and it has also come to Westeros. While a little bit later than usual due to the shortened season, the season premier of Game of Thrones has once again caused a piracy frenzy. While lots of people are still illegally downloading to find out what Arya, Jon, Daenerys, Cersei et al. have been up to, not as many people are doing it via torrents, it seems.

Just like with legal viewing options, streaming seems to be taking over. And it’s not hard to see why. Streaming is more convenient, works better on mobile devices, does not require extra time to download, and most importantly, is less likely to cause the viewer legal problems.

So for all the effort rightsholders have put into going after torrenters (and HBO have already started to crack down on them for the season 7 premier), the only net effect it seems is to drive them to find alternative ways to pirate, ways that can’t be monitored. If anything, this has helped to create piracy solutions that are actually much more convenient that before, and possibly more convenient than the legal streaming options. And this is not a good thing.

The piracy surge was also made worse by HBO’s servers meltdown. In Australia, our only legal source for the new episode had its own technical difficulties with many unable to stream the show during prime time viewing hours. Making piracy look like the better option (irregardless of the price), again, not a good thing.

High Definition

Okja Poster

Christopher Nolan not a fan of how Netflix chooses to release original productions like Okja

Also not a good thing, according to legendary director Christopher Nolan, is Netflix. Or more specifically, the way Netflix likes to release its original theatrical productions in theaters and also online at the same time. The director behind big blockbusters such as ‘Interstellar’, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and the more recent ‘Dunkirk’ thinks it’s a rather pointless exercise to do simultaneous releasing, at a time when all the major studios are trying to find ways to bring forward digital releases.

Instead, Nolan says that Amazon’s approach of having a 90 day exclusive window for releases before it becomes a free-for-all on their own streaming platform is the way to go.

While I do agree with Nolan that the theatrical experience is unique (and you have to say, Nolan’s films deserve to be seen on the biggest screen you can find), giving movie lovers another option via streaming is ultimately good for the consumer and a great way to fight piracy. But Nolan touches on a great point in that the “straight-to-Netflix” release isn’t too far from a “straight-to-video” release, and it devalues the film in question. It makes me feel like the movie must not be a very good one if it’s already straight to Netflix, even though in many cases, it’s probably a pretty good one if it doesn’t star Adam Sandler (I kid, I kid, but also not really?).

Still, there hasn’t been a Netflix original movie that’s on the scale of something like ‘Dunkirk’, and there may never be, simply because not even Netflix would want to risk releasing such a high budget movie direct to streaming, for fear it may anger the cinema chains as well as the previously mentioned “cheapening” effect.

Gaming

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

PS4 back on top after a few months of Switch fever

The Nintendo Switch’s honeymoon period is well and truly over, with the PS4 getting back on top not just in May, but also for June’s NPD report. It was, according to the NPD, the best June ever for the PS4. Sony will be hoping the momentum will carry them through and past the release of the (potentially too expensive) Xbox One X towards the end of the year. Otherwise, the introduction of a “real” 4K game console could reverse fortunes for Microsoft, who have never really recovered from their “all our games are digital, and you can’t trade them – plus our console is clearly not as powerful as the PS4” SNAFU from before the Xbox One launch.

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That’s all I have for you this week. Much better than the nothing from last week, I hope. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (July 9, 2017)

July 9th, 2017

How are you doing on this Sunday (or Saturday, depending on where you are)? It’s been another quiet week (I think the US public holiday might have had something to do with it), so we’ll get through this rather quickly (again). But before we get to that, there’s the little matter of a birthday. Not only was it America’s birthday, it was also Digital Digest’s own, 18th, birthday.

If I had to be completely honest, eighteen years ago, I deliberately chose an easy to remember day to launch Digital Digest (then known as DVDigest). What I didn’t know back then was that I would be doing this for an other eighteen years, as when I started, I had much shorter term ambitions.

Before I launched the website, I had been on forums helping people find a way to play DVDs on your PCs (which was something really new at the time, and quite difficult to achieve if you want a smooth 30FPS experience). What I found was that I had been answering the same set of questions over and over again, and that was getting tiresome. This is what led me to set up a new website, where I would gather all my knowledge and provide the necessary downloads to get people started with DVDs. Eventually this became talk about AVIs and DivX, and when Hollywood started to fight back against DVD ripping, naturally the discussion shifted to the issue of copyright and piracy. And we’re still talking about it today (although there is much less talk on DVDs, and more on Ultra HD Blu-ray)!

Eighteen years is a long time. I don’t even want to imagine what things will be like 18 years from now (we probably won’t be using discs as much, but streaming might still be around, with Netflix sending a holographic video feed directly into your brain implant no doubt), but I bet it will be interesting.

Oh yes, the news.

High Definition

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Disney finally jumping on the Ultra HD Blu-ray bandwagon?

Speaking of Ultra HD Blu-ray, only one major studio has so far neglected to release anything on the format, and unfortunately, it happens to be the biggest studio around. Disney’s lack of interest in 4K is rather annoying, considering the studio’s franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar), films from which would look fantastic on 4K no doubt. It would also give Ultra HD Blu-ray a huge lift in terms of sales.

Not convinced by movie fans eager to pay Disney good money for 4K content, it took director James Gunn to finally convince Disney to do the right thing – Disney will release its first Ultra HD Blu-ray movie in August, for James Gunn’s latest movie, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’.

This is big news for Ultra HD Blu-ray. Looking at the recent Blu-ray top 10, there are some notable omissions when looking at the titles that have Ultra HD editions, titles like ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Moana’ and ‘Rogue One’ (speaking of ‘Rogue One’, it has been consistently in the top 10 since its release in April – a UHD release for it would sell like the proverbial hot cake). And this list doesn’t even include any Marvel titles, the whole back catalogue of which would instantly be best sellers on UHD.

Still, you can’t blame Disney for waiting this long. The wise thing to do for Disney would have been to wait and see on a new disc format in an age where discs are slowly dying. And as the most profitable studio, they can afford to sit on the sidelines for a while.

But there will be no more sitting. Expect a deluge of 4K hits from Disney in the near future.

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That’s all I have for you this week. I know it’s not much, but I’m sure things will pick up again. See you next week.

Update: Forgot that I have a small trip planned for the next weekend, so it’s very unlikely there will be a WNR at that time. So not so much “see you next week” as “see you next, next week”.

Weekly News Roundup (July 2, 2017)

July 2nd, 2017

First of all, sorry for the lack of a roundup last week – a combination of not much happening and too much happening elsewhere for me, meant that I had to skip it. And I almost had to skip this week’s roundup too, pretty much the same situation as last week, but thought it polite to at least give you an update.

So there is a tiny bit of news, but only a tiny bit, so we should get through this one rather quickly.

Copyright

Piracy is Stealing?

Piracy is stealing? Not according to one game developer …

So what would you do if you found the game that you painstakingly made on a torrent site, free for all to download? Rage? Call your lawyer? Or would you post a comment, give away a few legal copies of your game, and then even provide a tip on the best way to pirate it? If you chose the third option, then you’ve just reacted in much the same way as the maker of the indie game Paradigm.

The reason why Jacob Janerka didn’t get made was because he too would have done the same when he was younger and without much disposable income to pay for games. And when you can’t afford to buy something, not paying for a legal copy is not exactly costing the developers or publishers anything if you think about it. But if you like the game, you might save up to buy merchandise or a sequel or at least tell your friends about it, and maybe some of them will buy a copy.

I think big game publishers have a lot to learn from someone like Jacob, and I hope the positive publicity he received will have converted to a few game sales (and I guess it doesn’t hurt for news sites or blogs like this one to link to his official site for his game).

Gaming

SNES Classic

You’ll have to be very quick to be able to get your hand on a SNES Classic

For those of you who missed out on the NES Classic, you now have a chance to miss out on the Super Nintendo Classic, which by all accounts, will sell out in exactly 2 minutes and 34 seconds after pre-order opens.

Actually, for those that found out early, like myself, it wasn’t that hard. But you really only have a few hours to a day to make up your mind as to whether you want the mini SNES with 21 built in games or you want to stick with your (illegal) ROM playing ways. For me, it was a no brainer, especially after I missed out on the NES classic. Some feel it’s a little bit pricey, but I believe I paid that much just for a new copy of Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES back in the day (in what seems like centuries ago), so for a piece of my youth back, it’s well worth the price!

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I told you it was short! Things have gotten back to normal on my end, so things should become normal this coming week (assuming that there is news, of course). See you then.


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