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The End of Film - Paramount Begins Distributing via Digital Exclusively

posted Sunday Jan 19, 2014 by Scott Ertz

The End of Film - Paramount Begins Distributing via Digital Exclusively

We knew that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was going to be funny, but I don't think anyone expected it to be historic. Paramount Pictures has decided to make it just that, however, announcing that the film will be the last one the studio distributes on film. Starting now, if a movie theatre would like to show a Paramount movie, it will have to be done in a digital theater.

Starting with The Wolf of Wall Street, 35-mm reels have been unavailable to theater owners in most major countries. This is a huge change for the industry as 35-mm has been the format of choice for over a century. UCLA Film & Television Archive directors, Jan-Christopher Horak, said,

It's of huge significance because Paramount is the first studio to make this policy known. For 120 years, film and 35 mm has been the format of choice for theatrical presentations. Now we're seeing the end of that. I'm not shocked that it's happened, but how quickly it has happened.

This will not be the only studio announcement we hear on the subject; possibly not the only one we hear this year. With Paramount breaking ground on the digital front, it is expected that the other major studios will follow closely behind. Several studios have issued similar warnings previously, but without a set timeline for implementation. 20th Century Fox said "within a year or two" in 2011 and Disney said about the same. Lions Gate was expected to be the first with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but that didn't come to pass, either.

So, why the delay past the initial announcements? 35-mm is still viewed as "pure" to many Hollywood elites, including many critics, and studios were all reluctant to be the first to receive derision from these so-called purists. However, with only about 8% of US screens remaining 35-mm only, Paramount must have decided that the loss of box office revenue and the opinions of the critics had finally been outweighed by the cost savings of digital distribution.

Are you sad to see 35-mm retired? Let us know in the comments.

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Living in Digital Times - Real Products for Real People (PLuGHiTz Live - Special Events)

posted Monday Jan 6, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Living in Digital Times - Real Products for Real People (PLuGHiTz Live - Special Events)

Jeffrey Powers decided to start the show off right by talking with Robin Raskin, a former PC Magazine editor now with Living in Digital Times, who has brought products that people really need to CES 2014.

Canary is a home automation hub, in a similar vein to Nexia, but with the added bonus of temperature monitoring, noise detection and other less automation-focused sensors.

Through their focus on families, Living in Digital Times also showed off Kurio, a smartphone for kids without the full smartphone price tag. In addition, the phone sports some family-friendly features, such as app-specific time limits so parents can turn off games at 8pm and texting at 9pm.

Robin also discusses a product to help coaches better determine whether players should stay on the field or not after a hit.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine

Hit the break to see the video.

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Another Lawsuit Plagues EA from Suspicious Stock Trading After Battlefield 4 Disaster

posted Sunday Dec 22, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Another Lawsuit Plagues EA from Suspicious Stock Trading After <i>Battlefield 4</i> Disaster

Another game release, another lawsuit. This really should just be EA's tagline at this point. From problems with the NCAA (and canceling the game) to suing Zynga for being a look-a-like, the company is always involved in some sort of legal matter. Now, a class-action lawsuit has been filed, with EA coming under fire for both the still-broken state of Battlefield 4, as well as alluding to false success of the game, with EA employees then selling off stock to the tune of over $12 million.

The letter of complaint (PDF in the source link below) says EA knowingly hid the game-breaking issues in the online mode of the company's latest first-person shooter. Don't remember what was said? Here's a few excerpts from a July earnings and investor conference call prior to the game's launch.

We couldn't be happier with the quality of the games our teams are producing or the early reception those games are getting from critics and consumers...Two other games drew spectacular praise: Battlefield 4 coming this year from out DICE Studio...

In summary, EA is in very good shape. We are executing on a clear set of goals for leadership on mobile, PC, current-generation systems and next-generation consoles. The big bets we've made with blockbusters like... Battlefield 4... are resonating with critics and consumers.

We could say that at the end of July, perhaps the developers were unaware of some problems or even that the team could probably fix some issues before launch. Naturally, statements like that caused stocks to rise, and right before EA's annual meeting on July 31st, five EA executives sold off over 150,000 shares of stock, totaling $4.8 million. Perhaps the team was more aware of problems than previously thought.

Then, during a call later in the year, EA said that Battlefield 4, to date, was more successful than the previous iteration of the franchise, and also mentioned that "our team is battle-tested and ready, and today we are sending our ace, Battlefield 4, to the mound." EA's executive VP of games, Patrick Soderlund, toted the shooter as an overall positive experience, mentioning reviews from the likes of Machinima and Joystiq reaching 9 and 9.5. So on the close of day for October 29th, stocks rose to $26 per share, leading three more EA executives to sell off almost 325,000 shares over the next ten days, for nearly $8.5 million.

The suspicious trading aside, the mood of EA has changed from when the company was boasting about its game prior to launch. Earlier this month, noting all of the broken elements of the multiplayer mode of the game, EA said that it has stopped working on DLC content for both Battlefield 4 and Star Wars and that,

We know we still have a ways to go with fixing the game-it is absolutely our #1 priority. The team at DICE is working non-stop to update the gameā€¦ We know many of our players are frustrated, and we feel your pain. We will not stop until this is right.

To bring it full circle, the complaint also mentions that from back in August, after a high price of $27.97, EA's stock value has dropped more than 25 percent, with the majority of the loss coming within a month after the launch of the game. I can't fault investors for leaving, especially after one of the year's most anticipated games has succumb to server errors, disconnections, bugs causing consoles to freeze or crash, and game-breaking glitches. Some of the server issues even feel like the botched SimCity launch, and that's never a good feeling to get twice in a year, let alone from the same publisher.

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Aereo Expansion Delayed as Company Handles Legal Issues with Broadcasters

posted Sunday Dec 22, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Aereo Expansion Delayed as Company Handles Legal Issues with Broadcasters

Court cases seem to be the popular way to keep Aereo in the news as of late. Whether or not the next round, a push from the broadcasters to bring Aereo to the Supreme Court, will bode successful or not doesn't really matter right now. This is because legal issues also take up Aereo's time and prevent the company from expanding, which is what the networks want to happen anyway. This week, CEO and founder Chet Kanojia explained why some of the 24 markets promised still haven't seen Aereo appear. I'm sure you can guess why.

Having not opposed the broadcaster's petition to hear the case before the US Supreme Court, Aereo had this to say.

We have decided to not oppose the broadcasters' petition for certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. While the law is clear and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and two different federal courts have ruled in favor of Aereo, broadcasters appear determined to keep litigating the same issues against Aereo in every jurisdiction that we enter. We want this resolved on the merits rather than through a wasteful war of attrition.

The long-standing landmark Second Circuit decision in Cablevision has served as a crucial underpinning to the cloud computing and cloud storage industry. The broadcasters' filing makes clear that they are using Aereo as a proxy to attack Cablevision itself.

Aereo provides to consumers antenna and DVR technology. With Aereo, a consumer tunes an individual, remotely located antenna and makes personal recordings on a cloud DVR. The Aereo technology is functionally equivalent to a home antenna and DVR, but it is an innovation that provides convenience and ease to the consumer. The plaintiffs are trying to deny consumers the ability to use a more modern antenna and DVR by trying to prevent a consumer's access to these technologies via the cloud.

Consumers have the right to use an antenna to access the over-the-air television. It is a right that should be protected and preserved and in fact, has been protected for generations by Congress. Eliminating a consumer's right to take advantage of innovation with respect to antenna technology would disenfranchise millions of Americans in cities and rural towns across the country.

We are unwavering in our belief that Aereo's technology falls squarely within the law and we look forward to continuing to delight our customers.

As you would imagine, Kanojia said that he is completely sure that Aereo conducts business legally in all markets it's currently in. Partly summarizing the above statement, he also reiterated that so far Aereo has come out the victor in twice in court hearings, with the New York court straight-up denying an appeal from CBS.

However, because of the issues that have come to the surface every time Aereo tries to enter a new market, the over-the-air-streaming start-up has gone along with the decision by the broadcasters to have a federal ruling finally end the saga. But legal things tend to get pricey, and Kanojia said that time and money are two big reasons we haven't seen the expansion that the company initially had planned for. Since the plans to roll out in 24 new cities was announced, we've only seen 10 markets go live.

Another delay the CEO cited was transitioning the Aereo technology to adapt to other cities. Currently, the company uses indoor antennas to provide service to its customers and some areas have required outdoor antennas to function properly, which requires a different type of hardware and of course, permits and approval.

The good news is that the delays won't have those wanting service to wait much longer. For the promised markets, Kanojia said that Aereo should be available in a handful more by the end of January. So while we wait to know when and where we'll see even more markets available for Aereo, we'll be watching something else unfold: a potential Supreme Court ruling.

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Microsoft Enters the Documentary Business on Xbox Video

posted Friday Dec 20, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Enters the Documentary Business on Xbox Video

When Microsoft made clear its intentions for original programming in 2014, everyone knew it would not be long before we would hear details about some of this programming. This week, Microsoft made good on those desires, announcing a new original documentary series exclusive to the Xbox platform.

The series will be produced by two-time Academy Award-winning producer Simon Chinn and Emmy-winning producer Jonathan Chinn. Simon Chinn described the project saying,

Our collaboration with Xbox offers an unparalleled opportunity to make a unique series of films around the extraordinary events and characters that have given rise to the digital age.

Jonathan Chinn added,

Our goal is to produce a series of compelling and entertaining docs which will deploy all the narrative techniques of Simon's and my previous work. It's particularly exciting to be partnering with filmmakers like Zak Penn who come to this process from other filmmaking disciplines and who will bring their own distinctive creative vision to this.

To ensure the gaming community will buy into the series, the first documentary in the line will be about the spectacular failure that was Atari and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the game that ended it all. If this premise sounds familiar, you're right - this is the documentary of the excavation I wrote about in June, which will unearth what some believe is millions of copies of the disaster game.

In addition to the excavation, the film will feature all of the urban legends that have sprung up about the sudden and silent shutdown of the videogame company, along with the path that led up to the middle of the night burial of whatever is in the cement-covered Atari landfill. It will also highlight the ups and downs of the company that brought videogames into the modern common culture and the events that ultimately closed the doors.

In addition to this announced film, the series will feature many other films documenting the early days of our modern digital culture. What stories do you hope the Chinns will tell? Post your hopes in the comments section.

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BitTorrent Attempts to Hide You From NSA With New Chat

posted Friday Dec 20, 2013 by Scott Ertz

BitTorrent Attempts to Hide You From NSA With New Chat

Since Snowden originally revealed that, through PRISM and other programs, the US government has been spying on, well, everything that everyone does, security has become a hot topic. From encrypted email services to on-site cloud platforms, the fear of government snooping on the Internet has never been higher, and never before have so many people been trying to solve said problem.

One entry into the "Obama can't know what I'm thinking" line of products is from an organization known for wanting to keep their goings-on private: BitTorrent. The company has been working on a chat program which, rather than having a centralized chat relay server, BitTorrent Chat will use a peer-to-peer method. BitTorrent's Christian Averill explains,

With other chat tools, messages are sent through a central server, unencrypted as it passes through and stored before being re-encrypted and sent to it's final destination. Our key innovation is to build a tool for communications that does not need servers. A way for two people to connect directly with the threat of their privacy being violated.

Obviously he meant without the threat of their privacy being violated, but we will ignore that slight oversight. This will actually not be the first messenger to allow encrypted, peer-to-peer messaging, as Averill suggests; AOL Instant Messenger has allowed this for years. This will be the first time that accounts and initial contact will not be initiated through a centralized server, however.

According to the developer blog,

With BitTorrent Chat, there aren't any "usernames" per se. You don't login in the classic sense. Instead, your identity is a cryptographic key pair. To everyone on the BitTorrent Chat network at large, you ARE your public key. This means that, if you want, you can use Chat without telling anyone who you are. Two users only need to exchange each other's public keys to be able to chat.

Using public key encryption provides us with a number of benefits. The most obvious is the ability to encrypt messages to your sender using your private key and their public key. But in public key encryption, if someone gains access to your private key, all of your past (and future) messages could be decrypted and read. In Chat, we are implementing forward secrecy. Every time you begin a conversation with one of your contacts, a temporary encryption key will be generated. Using each of your keypairs, this key will be generated for this one conversation and that conversation only, and then deleted forever.

This means that, even if every chat is cached locally, each individual conversation would have to be decrypted uniquely. Since the chats will not be cached locally, the NSA or hackers would have to collect the conversations live, as they happen, and decrypt them with a unique key for each conversation. This is a great idea that leapfrogs the concept of Snapchat, which still stores all of the content that is transmitted, only hidden from the user, not the server.

Is a technology that is constantly changing to protect your data something you want or need? Is this a service you would start using if made widely available today? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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