With Amazon’s Fire TV device the first out the door, the second wave of microconsoles has just kicked off. Amazon’s device will be joined in reasonably short order by one from Google, with an app-capable update of the Apple TV device also likely in the works. Who else will join the party is unclear; Sony’s Vita TV, quietly soft-launched in Japan last year, remains a potentially fascinating contender if it had the right messaging and services behind it, but for now it’s out of the race. One thing seems certain, though; at least this time we’re actually going to have a party.
“Second wave”, you see, rather implies the existence of a first wave of microconsoles, but last time out the party was disappointing, to say the least. In fact, if you missed the first wave, don’t feel too bad; you’re in good company. Despite enthusiasm, Kickstarter dollars and lofty predictions, the first wave of microconsole devices tanked. Ouya, Gamestick and their ilk just turned out to be something few people actually wanted or needed. Somewhat dodgy controllers and weak selections of a sub-set of Android’s game library merely compounded the basic problem – they weren’t sufficiently cheap or appealing compared to the consoles reaching their end-of-life and armed with a vast back catalogue of excellent, cheap AAA software.
“The second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail”
That was always the reality which deflated the most puffed-up “microconsoles will kill consoles” argument; the last wave of microconsoles sucked compared to consoles, not just for the core AAA gamer but for just about everyone else as well. Their hardware was poor, their controllers uncomfortable, their software libraries anaemic and their much-vaunted cost savings resulting from mobile game pricing rather than console game pricing tended to ignore the actual behaviour of non-core console gamers – who rarely buy day-one software and as a result get remarkably good value for money from their console gaming experiences. Comparing mobile game pricing or F2P models to $60 console games is a pretty dishonest exercise if you know perfectly well that most of the consumers you’re targeting wouldn’t dream of spending $60 on a console game, and never have to.
Why is the second wave of microconsoles going to be different? Three words: Amazon, Google, Apple. Perhaps Sony; perhaps even Samsung or Microsoft, if the wind blows the right direction for those firms (a Samsung microconsole, sold separately and also bundled into the firm’s TVs, as Sony will probably do with Vita TV in future Bravia televisions, would make particular sense). Every major player in the tech industry has a keen interest in controlling the channel through which media is consumed in the living room. Just as Sony and Microsoft originally entered the games business with a “trojan horse” strategy for controlling living rooms, Amazon and Google now recognise games as being a useful way to pursue the same objective. Thus, unlike the plucky but poorly conceived efforts of the small companies who launched the first wave of microconsoles, the second wave is backed by the most powerful tech giants in the world, whose titanic struggle with each other for control of the means of media distribution means their devices will have enormous backing.
To that end, Amazon has created its own game studios, focusing their efforts on the elusive mid-range between casual mobile games and core console games. Other microconsole vendors may take a different approach, creating schemes to appeal to third-party developers rather than building in-house studios (Apple, at least, is almost guaranteed to go down this path; Google could yet surprise us by pursuing in-house development for key exclusive titles). Either way, the investment in software will come. The second wave of microconsoles will not be “boxes that let you play phone games on your TV”; at least not entirely. Rather, they will enjoy dedicated software support from companies who understand that a hit exclusive game would be a powerful way to drive installed base and usage.
Moreover, this wave of microconsoles will enjoy significant retail support. Fire TV’s edge is obvious; Amazon is the world’s largest and most successful online retailer, and it will give Fire TV prime billing on its various sites. The power of being promoted strongly by Amazon is not to be underestimated. Kindle Fire devices may still be eclipsed by the astonishing strength of the iPad in the tablet market, but they’re effectively the only non-iPad devices in the running, in sales terms, largely because Amazon has thrown its weight as a retailer behind them. Apple, meanwhile, is no laggard at retail, operating a network of the world’s most profitable stores to sell its own goods, while Google, although the runt of the litter in this regard, has done a solid job of balancing direct sales of its Nexus handsets with carrier and retail sales, work which it could bring to bear effectively on a microconsole offering.
In short, the second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail. Moreover, they’ll be “trojan horse” devices in more ways than one, since their primary purpose will be as media devices, streaming content from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix and so on, while also serving as solid gaming devices in their own right. Here, then, is the convergence that microconsole advocates (and the rather less credible advocates of Smart TV) have been predicting all along; a tiny box that will stream all your media off the network and also build in enough gaming capability to satisfy the mainstream of consumers. Between the microconsole under the TV and the phone in your pocket, that’s gaming all sewn up, they reckon; just as a smartphone camera is good enough for almost everyone, leaving digital SLRs and their ilk to the devoted hobbyist, the professional and the poseur, a microconsole and a smartphone will be more than enough gaming for almost everyone, leaving dedicated consoles and gaming PCs to a commercially irrelevant hardcore fringe.
There are, I think, two problems with that assessment. The first is the notion that the “hardcore fringe” who will use dedicated gaming hardware is small enough to be commercially irrelevant; I’ve pointed out before that the strong growth of a new casual gaming market does not have to come at the cost of growth in the core market, and may even support it by providing a new stream of interested consumers. This is not a zero-sum game, and will not be a zero-sum game until we reach a point where there are no more non-gaming consumers out there to introduce to our medium. Microconsoles might do very well and still cause not the slightest headache to PlayStation, Xbox or Steam.
The second problem with the assessment is a problem with the microconsoles themselves – a problem which the Fire TV suffers from very seriously, and which will likely be replicated by subsequent devices. The problem is control.
Games are an interactive experience. Having a box which can run graphically intensive games is only one side of the equation – it is, arguably, the less important side of the equation. The other side is the controller, the device through which the player interacts with the game world. The most powerful graphics hardware in the world would be meaningless without some enjoyable, comfortable, well-designed method of interaction for players; and out of the box, Fire TV doesn’t have that.
Sure, you can control games (some of them, anyway) with the default remote control, but that’s going to be a terrible experience. I’m reminded of terribly earnest people ten years ago trying to convince me that you could have fun controlling complex games on pre-smartphone phones, or on TV remote controls linked up to cable boxes; valiant efforts ultimately doomed not only by a non-existent business ecosystem but by a terrible, terrible user experience. Smartphones heralded a gaming revolution not just because of the App Store ecosystem, but because it turned out that a sensitive multi-touch screen isn’t a bad way of controlling quite a lot of games. It still doesn’t work for many types of game; a lot of traditional game genres are designed around control mechanisms that simply can’t be shoehorned onto a smartphone. By and large, though, developers have come to grips with the possibilities and limitations of the touchscreen as a controller, and are making some solid, fun experiences with it.
With Fire TV, and I expect with whatever offering Google and Apple end up making, the controller is an afterthought – both figuratively and literally. You have to buy it separately, which keeps down the cost of the basic box but makes it highly unlikely that the average purchaser will be able to have a good game experience on the device. The controller itself doesn’t look great, which doesn’t help much, but simply being bundled with the box would make a bold statement about Fire TV’s gaming ambitions. As it is, this is not a gaming device. It’s a device that can play games if you buy an add-on; the notion that a box is a “gaming device” just because its internal chips can process game software, even if it doesn’t have the external hardware required to adequately control the experience, is the kind of notion only held by people who don’t play or understand games.
This is the Achilles’ Heel of the second generation of microconsoles. They offer a great deal – the backing of the tech giants, potentially huge investment and enormous retail presence. They could, with the right wind in their sales, help to bring “sofa gaming” to the same immense, casual audience that presently enjoys “pocket gaming”. Yet the giant unsolved question remains; how will these games be controlled? A Fire TV owner, a potential casual gamer, who tries to play a game using his remote control and finds the experience frustrating and unpleasant won’t go off and buy a controller to make things better; he’ll shrug and return to the Hulu app, dismissing the Games panel of the device as being a pointless irrelevance.
The answer doesn’t have to be “bundle a joypad”. Perhaps it’ll be “tether to a smartphone”, a decision which would demand a whole new approach to interaction design (which would be rather exciting, actually). Perhaps a simple Wiimote style wand could double as a remote control and a great motion controller or pointer. Perhaps (though I acknowledge this as deeply unlikely) a motion sensor like a “Kinect Lite” could be the solution. Many compelling approaches exist which deserve to be tried out; but one thing is absolutely certain. While the second generation of microconsoles are going to do very well in sales terms, they will primarily be bought as media streaming boxes – and will never be an important games platform until the question of control gets a good answer.
Speculation about Amazon’s plans for its TV service, including the possibility that it could launch its own streaming device, has increased ahead of a news conference in New York next week.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the online retailer was considering a free, add-supported streaming TV and music service. Amazon spokeswoman Sally Fouts said no such plan was in the works.
“We have a video advertising business that currently offers programs like First Episode Free and ads associated with movie and game trailers, and we’re often experimenting with new things,” she said in an e-mail on Friday. “But we have no plans to offer a free streaming media service.”
Amazon’s streaming TV service currently comes included as part of its popular $99-a-year Prime service, which offers unlimited two-day shipping among other perks.
Google Inc deeply discounted its cloud computing service prices on Tuesday, seeking to woo customers away from Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp in the fast-growing market of renting computers and data storage to companies.
Price cuts range from 30 to 85 percent. Google’s Cloud Storage will cost 2.6 cents per gigabyte, about 68 percent lower for most customers. Google’s Compute Engine services will cost 32 percent less across all sizes, regions and classes.
“The cost of virtualized hardware should fall in line with the cost of the underlying real hardware,” Google Senior Vice President Urs Holzle said in a post on Google’s official developers blog on Tuesday in conjunction with a cloud event that the company hosted in San Francisco.
Holzle noted that hardware costs have improved by 20 to 30 percent during the past five years but that “public cloud prices fell at just 8 percent per year.”
Cloud services are increasingly popular among tech startups and larger companies, which rely on computers owned and operated by the likes of Amazon and Google, the world’s No. 1 Internet search engine, instead of buying the equipment themselves.
Amazon, one of the largest online retailers, was among the first companies to recognize the opportunity. Amazon Web Services provide the underlying infrastructure for key aspects of popular Web companies such as online movie streaming service Netflix Inc and social network Pinterest.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would respond to Google’s price cuts.
Earlier this week Cisco Systems Inc announced plans to spend $1 billion over the next two years to build a new cloud services business.
Apple Inc is having discussions with Comcast Corp to enter into a deal for a streaming-television service that would allow Appleset-top boxes to bypass congestion on the web, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The discussions are in early stages and there are a lot of hurdles to be crossed before a definitive agreement could be reached, the Journal said.
Apple, which wants its TV service’s traffic to be separated from public internet traffic over the “last mile” for faster transmission, is looking for special treatment from Comcast’s cables to bypass congestion, the report said.
Comcast and Apple declined to comment on the report.
Apple has been in talks for a faster TV set-top box with Time Warner Cable Inc, which recently agreed to be bought by Comcast.
Apple’s $99 TV box competes with similar streaming devices from Roku and Google Inc.
Netflix agreed last month to pay Comcast Corp for faster speeds, throwing open the possibility that more content companies will have to shell out for better service.
The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of drafting a new “net-neutrality” bill that would ensure that network operators disclose exactly how they manage Internet traffic and that they do not restrict consumers’ ability to surf the Web or use applications.
The deal would mirror a first-of-its kind agreement that Disney and satellite rival Dish Network Corp announced earlier this week.
The Internet rights being discussed are part of a large-scale programming agreement that would replace a deal between the companies that expires in late December. Disney and Dish are in negotiations but the timing of the new deal could be not be learned.
“The deal and terms are not unexpected as the Dish contract was the most recent in the Disney timeline to expire,” DirecTV spokesman Darris Gringeri said on Wednesday. “The DirecTV contract is up next and we’re in the process of working with Disney on a similar long-term agreement of our own.”
A Disney spokesman declined to comment.
A new pact could give both Disney and DirecTV, the No. 1 satellite operator, an additional revenue source as consumers gravitate toward online video services such as Netflix Inc and watch more television online.
The agreement between Dish and Disney marked the first time that a U.S. pay TV operator has been given the flexibility to offer its content over the Web through smartphones, tablets and computers outside of a pay TV subscription.
In that agreement, Disney allows for Dish to stream linear and on-demand content from ABC broadcast stations as well as cable channels, ABC Family, Disney Channel, ESPN and ESPN2. Dish has not revealed plans for its streaming service.
DirecTV, which has 20.3 million subscribers, is expected to secure better rates on programming than Dish, which has 14.1 million subscribers, because of its size. Both companies have complained about the rising cost of programming and have been involved in high-profile blackouts over the past few years.
DirecTV Chief Executive Mike White has previously said the company is working on an “over-the-top” video package to suit niche audiences featuring Hispanic or kids programming, but has not yet given details on that offering.
Verizon Communications is engaged in discussions with content providers to deliver web-based TV services to mobile platforms, chief executive Lowell McAdam, said at an investor conference earlier in the week.
Just recently, Dish Network Corp and Walt Disney Co announced a landmark deal that will allow the No. 2 satellite TV provider to deliver Disney-owned network content online, outside of a traditional TV subscription.
Verizon’s goal “is to work with the content providers,” said
McAdam at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference.
“I have personally had discussions with the CEOs of the large content companies, and we would love to partner with them to see how we can take FiOS contact mobilely across the country.” he said.
McAdam said the company could also look at providing a service delivered over wireless airwaves and not just broadband.
According to PwC’s annual entertainment and media forecast, North American consumers will spend $6 billion in 2014 on entertainment from services such as Netflix that are offered over the top, meaning they are utilized over a network but not offered by the network operator.
“I think you can actually get a virtuous cycle where broadcast viewing goes up and over-the-top viewing goes up, if you time this properly,” McAdam said.
In January, Verizon acquired Intel Corp’s OnCue service for an undisclosed sum to accelerate its push into next-generation video services, including integrating it with Verizon’s FiOS fiber-based Internet and TV service that has more than 5 million video subscribers, about 5 percent of pay TV households. The company said it was open to providing over-the-top content to any device.
McAdam also stressed that Verizon expects Netflix to pay for faster video delivery as part of a so-called interconnect deal, in an arrangement similar to the one the video provider has made with Comcast Corp.
“I have spoken live and via email with (Netflix CEO) Reed Hastings, and I believe that we will get some sort of an arrangement with them as well,” said McAdam.
Still, Verizon has had its own interconnection discussions with Netflix related to increasing the video provider’s traffic speeds on the broadband carrier’s networks, Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam said. Following a Sunday announcement that Comcast and Netflix had reached an interconnection deal, McAdam said his company has had similar discussions with the video provider.
The Comcast and Netflix deal shows “the commercial markets can come to agreement on these to make sure the investments keep flowing,” McAdam said.
McAdam addressed the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s proposed net neutrality rules during a conference call about the company’s acquisition of Vodafone’s 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless. The FCC’s move this month to resurrect net neutrality rules should provide “clarity” for the broadband industry, said McAdam, whose company successfully challenged an old version of the regulations in court.
McAdam dismissed concerns that his company would selectively block or slow some Web content. “We make our money by carrying traffic,” he said. “That’s how we make dollars. So to view that we’re going to be advantaging one over the other really is a lot of histrionics, I think, at this point.”
But McAdam suggested that broadband power users should pay extra. “It’s only natural that the heavy users help contribute to the investment to keep the Web healthy,” he said. “That is the most important concept of net neutrality.”
The FCC needs to look at the broad Internet industry, not just broadband providers, when it considers new net neutrality rules, McAdam said. Companies like Netflix, Apple, Microsoft and Google have a role, and “any rules will have to include all of these players,” he said.
McAdam called for the FCC to create “light touch” rules on net neutrality. The FCC needs to consider growing uses of broadband in medicine and other fields, he said. “Everything from health care to telematics to the energy grid need to be balanced with someone who’s trying to watch last year’s episode of [TV show] NCIS,” he said.
McAdam said he’s “encouraged” that the latest FCC effort may bring clarity on net neutrality rules.
The company is investing in original content to attract customers to its $79-a-year Amazon Prime service, which competes for online viewers with services such as Netflix and Hulu.com. Prime also includes free two-day shipping for Amazon products.
The new pilots include three comedies and two dramas for adults, plus five children’s shows. Amazon will make a decision on how many to put into development after customers have their say by leaving online comments and ratings.
Malcolm McDowell stars in the comedy “Mozart in the Jungle,” a story about “sex, drugs — and classical music,” an Amazon statement said.
A science-fiction show, “The After,” was written and directed by “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter.
Amazon chose the pilots after looking at the genres that are popular with its customers, said Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios.
“Customers have responded really well in the past to sci-fi,” Price said in an interview. “We start with some areas that customers are responding to and try to develop shows that fit in there.”
Other pilots include “Transparent,” a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family that stars Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light, and “Bosch,” based on best-selling novels about a Los Angeles homicide detective.
The new pilots are available for a month in the United States on Amazon.com and through the Amazon Instant Video app, and in Britain through Amazon’s Lovefilm streaming service.
Last year, Amazon released two comedy series, “Alpha House,” starring John Goodman as a senator, and “Betas,” about a tech start-up, after considering customer input on 14 pilots.
Three children’s series also were selected during that process, which brought in thousands of customer reviews within a few days, Price said.
Netflix Inc gained more than 2.3 million U.S. subscribers in the fourth quarter, sending its shares up 17 percent in after-hours trading, and said it was testing different pricing plans for its monthly TV and movie streaming service.
The world’s largest video streaming company on Wednesday reported net income of $48 million for the quarter, up from $8 million a year ago. Earnings-per-share were 79 cents, Netflix said in a statement, beating the 66 cents average forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The strong U.S. subscriber growth, a closely watched barometer of company performance, came in at the top end of Netflix’s forecast range. Netflix also signed up 1.74 million new customers in foreign markets, bringing its worldwide total to 44.4 million.
Answering critics who question how big Netflix could grow, the company said it expected to add more U.S. subscribers in the first quarter of 2014 than in the year-ago period.
“We expect this momentum to continue in Q1 with net additions of 2.25 million to exceed the prior year by about 11 percent,” the company said in its quarterly letter to shareholders.
Netflix shares, one of the highest-flying stocks of 2013, jumped more than 17 percent in after-hours trading to $391.77, eclipsing the all-time intraday trading high of $389.16 the stock hit in October.
In its shareholder letter, Netflix noted it had been testing variations of its $8 monthly charge “at various price points.” The company also said it “eventually” hopes to offer three pricing options “to fit everyone’s taste.”
Existing members would receive “generous grandfathering of their existing plans and prices,” the letter added.
In an interview, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said it “could take longer than a year” for the company to set new prices.
“It just depends on when we feel comfortable we’ve got something that feels really fair and appropriate to consumers,” he said.
Netflix suffered from a consumer backlash and stock plunge after it announced an unpopular price increase in July 2011.
Hastings discounted a recent U.S. court ruling on “net neutrality” that some analysts said might lead broadband providers to charge the company for quick delivery of its video content, possibly inflating costs for the company.
“Our economic interests are pretty aligned,” he said. Broadband providers want to sell higher-priced service with faster speeds and need content for it from services like Netflix that work well with faster speeds, Hastings explained.
The CEO said he would like to reach a deal with a U.S. cable operator to have Netflix accessed from their set-top boxes.
“People will use Netflix anyway and I’d think (cable operators) would rather have them use it on their boxes rather than on Roku or some other box,” Hastings said.
Netflix is investing in original programming, such as the “House of Cards,” and “Orange is the New Black” series to attract and keep subscribers. If faces competition from online video players like Amazon.com Inc and Hulu, as well as on-demand content from cable operators.
But the company reported shrinking losses in international markets.
“The international losses are going to subside and therefore show the strength of the overall streaming business,” said FBN Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi, who rates Netflix an “outperform.”
The company projected it will add 1.6 million customers in foreign markets from January through March.
It said it plans a “substantial European expansion” later this year, but did not disclose the markets it is looking at. The company currently operates in Canada, Latin America and seven European countries.
The idea is still at a very early stage, and it might not go ahead, the newspaper said, without disclosing its source.
Amazon is one of several companies that already offers on-demand movies and TV shows, but live TV would put it squarely in competition with existing cable and satellite TV providers.
Some of those providers already offer live TV over the Internet, but only as an extension of an existing pay TV subscription.
After news, music and video rentals, live TV is seen by many as the next big area that will be disrupted by the Internet. Amazon’s moves could be part of industrywide posturing in preparation for that.
The report came on the same day Verizon Communications, a major broadband Internet provider, said it is buying OnCue, a cloud TV service developed by Intel.
Sony recently said it would begin offering live television through a video service to be delivered through Sony PlayStation and connected TVs later this year, although offered no other details.
Over-the-air broadcasters are also moving toward the Internet. But in a twist on services offered in other countries, some local TV stations require a cable or satellite TV subscription in order to access live streaming programming over the Internet, despite it being broadcast free of charge over local airwaves.
One company that is attempting to break up this model, Aereo, has found itself targeted by lawsuits. Aereo receives and relays local TV broadcasts to subscribers over the Internet without the approval of the broadcasters. Aereo says it doesn’t need their approval, but TV stations disagree. That battle is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Wall Street Journal report noted the difficulty Amazon might face in getting access to content, especially if media conglomerates want to avoid upsetting major cable and satellite providers.
For all of the different brands familiar to consumers, today’s pay TV market is dominated by a handful of large companies that own many of the channels.
General Electric, for example, owns the NBC and Telemundo over-the-air networks, cable channels including CNBC, NBC Sports Network, USA Network and SyFy, cable TV and Internet operator Comcast, and a third of online streaming service Hulu.
Amazon did not immediately comment on the Wall Street Journal report. In a statement late Tuesday to the newspaper, it said it was not planning to license television channels or offer a pay-TV service. The company said it continued to build selection for Prime Instant Video and create original shows at Amazon Studios.
Dell’s $699.99 28-inch Ultra HD Monitor is the cheapest of the bunch, while Lenovo and Asustek announced similar-size monitors at $799. The monitors are being previewed at the International CES trade show in Las Vegas, and are expected to ship as early as later this month.
This sub-$800 4K monitors could be good news for gamers and creative engineers looking to make 4K content. Some games like Crysis 3, Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed Black Flag are 4K-ready, and new graphics chips from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices are capable of rendering 4K video.
The 4K monitors will display more vivid and dense images with a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels, which is four times the current 1920 x 1080-pixel HD resolution. TVs with 4K resolution are already on sale, and an early 4K monitor was shown by Sharp at last year’s CES. Apple is now selling a Sharp 32-inch PN-K321 4K monitor, but for $3,595.
PC companies want to push 4K monitors to the masses. The new monitors have a range of ports, and could also connect to gaming consoles.
Dell’s $699 Ultra HD Monitor P2815Q will ship worldwide later this month and provides the “best possible screen resolution” for photos and videos, Dell said in a blog entry. It offers depth of 1 billion colors, and has USB 3.0, HDMI, DisplayPort and mini-DisplayPort ports. The monitor has a response time of 5 milliseconds. It also has a speaker bar.
Lenovo’s $799 ThinkVision Pro2840m monitor will ship in April. It has a DisplayPort, mini-DisplayPort, USB 3.0 and HDMI ports. A stand allows the monitor to be adjusted in multiple orientations. It supports MHL (mobile high-definition link) for display of content from mobile devices and has speakers.
Asus’ $699 PB278Q has a response time of 1 millisecond for 4K images at 60Hz, which could make it more responsive than Dell’s $699 4K monitor. Asus did not provide information on when the monitor would become available.
Many new 4K TVs from Sony, Samsung and LG are also on display at CES. Netflix at CES said it will start streaming video in 4K, and streaming video from YouTube based on Google’s VP9 video codec was shown on 4K TVs.
The latest entries are led by the flagship XBR-X950B series, which was unveiled at a press conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The TV sets are expected to be available in spring this year in 85 and 65 inches and will feature direct LED local dimming.
The 4K Ultra HD TV has four times the resolution and clarity of Full HD 1080p, Triluminos display technology for enhanced color and detail, and HDMI 2.0.
“Its unique backlighting algorithm can achieve a much wider dynamic range of brightness with higher peaks and deeper blacks,” said Mike Fasulo, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics. “These televisions are eye-catching no matter what you are viewing.”
The flagship offering is followed by the X900B series in 79, 65, and 55 inches, and the X850B series in 70, 65, 55, and 49 inches. Sony is also adding a new line of five Bravia LED HD TV series to accompany the 4K entries. They will be mostly available this spring and some feature a wedge-shaped design with triangular sides and enhanced performance speakers.
The 4K push by Sony includes a new $2,000 prosumer 4K camcorder, the FDR-AX100, a tie-up on 4K content with Netflix, whose CEO Reed Hastings appeared on stage with Sony officials, and the manufacturer’s continued promotion of the Sony Video Unlimited 4K Service, announced last September with dozens of native 4K feature films.
The court’s decision may prove key to deciding under what circumstances companies can be sued for using certain software in their products.
The court said in a one-line order that it would hear a case brought by Alice Corporation Pty Ltd, which holds a patent for a computer system that facilitates financial transactions. The patent is challenged by CLS Bank International.
The court took no action on another case raising the same issue involving a patent dispute between WildTangent Inc and Ultramercial Inc.
The deep interest that the software industry and patent experts have in what is a threshold issue in patent litigation was underscored by the number of companies and industry groups that asked the court to decide the issue.
Companies including Google Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co, Facebook Inc and Netflix Inc had already signaled their interest in the issue by asking the court to hear the WildTangent case. Many also filed briefs in lower courts.
With the rise of computer-based products in recent years, courts have struggled to apply patent law. Some legal experts, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group, say that courts are too keen to uphold patents on ideas that are too vague to deserve protection.
Such vague patents can be used against big tech companies, which say they are forced to spend money defending lawsuits instead of investing in research and development. Technology companies are particularly concerned about litigation brought by so-called “patent trolls,” defined as companies that hold patents only for the purpose of suing other companies seeking to develop new products.
Spotify has had its knuckles rapped by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) for an email that contained an uncensored “f” word.
The promotional email had the subject line, “Have you heard this song by Lily Allen? Give it a try. F-ck You”.
Contextually, the phrase refers to the song “Fuck You” on Lily Allen’s album “It’s Not Me, It’s You”, and the suggestion was genuine, generated automatically based on the listener’s previous selections.
Unfortunately, this particular Spotify customer chose to take it the wrong way and made a complaint to the ASA, which announced it would uphold the complaint on Wednesday.
Defending against the claim, Spotify said it “believed there was a clear difference between deliberate language use such as that and the context in which it was used in the ad” and that “…around 36 million recommendations were sent to users by e-mail every month and therefore over the years a significant proportion of its users would have had the same song recommended to them”.
However, the ASA had not received any other complaints, Spotify said. Upholding the complaint, the ASA ruled that it “considered the use of ‘Fuck’ was likely to cause serious offence to some recipients of such e-mails and therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code”.
Although no action is taken in isolated instances like this, the ASA chose to uphold the complaint “to ensure [Spotify's] future advertising contained nothing that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence”.
But what songs had this customer been listening to that would trigger this recommendation? Perhaps he or she is a fan of Cee Lo Green or the Dead Kennedys?
Spotify has responded to criticism of the royalty amounts it pays to music artists.
Music industry figures including Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke have long called for fellow artists to boycott the Swedish music streaming service, which Yorke described as “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.
In launching the new Spotify For Artists website, Spotify has been proud to boast that it has paid out more than $1bn, over half of which it has paid in the past year. However, digging deeper the truth emerges that this equates to between $0.006 and $0.008 per play.
That’s fine if you’re Lady Gaga or Beyonce, but for musicians at the grassroots level this represents a massive hole in their finances. Or to put it in perspective, it would require a five piece band to be played 5,477 times just to be able to buy themselves a round of drinks. For a new, untested and undiscovered artist, that simply isn’t enough to get by.
A play on Great Britain’s BBC alternative radio station 6 Music nets an artist approximately five cents. Not a king’s ransom, but a huge amount compared to Spotify’s rates. In contrast, Bandcamp, the service designed to allow artists to self release their music, lets artists set their own prices for music, or even leaves it up to consumers to pay what they believe the work is worth.
This is the way that the internet is supposed to empower artists. The internet has made it possible for anyone to be a star, or at least make a living from their music, if they are good enough.
But accepting the payment of these tiny amounts of money is actually far worse for the industry than so-called ‘piracy’, because copyright infringement will always be considered wrong, while streaming for fractions of pennies normalises the practice of underpaying for creative talent and creates the kinds of gatekeepers that have made the giant music industry companies such a cartel. A cartel that is starting to implode.