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News in Brief - december 2008


AS the new Xbox Experience premieres in the US, users of the Microsoft games and entertainment system, who also hold Netflix memberships, will be able to stream movies and TV shows direct to their TVs. Netflix members simply add movies and TV episodes to their instant Queues at the Netflix Web site. Those choices are automatically displayed on the TV screen via the Xbox 360 and, once selected, will begin playing in as little as 30 seconds. Microsoft also announced that 25 million of Xbox 360 consoles have been sold worldwide.

AUSTRALIA’s North Southwest Police, assisted by investigators from the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), Music Industry Piracy Investigations, Trade Mark Investigation Services and the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia, raided the Trash and Treasure Market at Prestons on Sunday. The haul included thousands of pirated movie, music and video game titles, together with boxes of counterfeit luxury leather goods, children's merchandise and stickers.

ACCORDING to Nielsen VideoScan, overall DVD sales in the US were down 9% from Q2, and sales of higher-priced new releases were down 22%. Meanwhile, Warner, the largest distributor of DVDs in the U.S., says sales are down 4% for the year. Warner also says sales of more expensive Blu-Ray DVDs will miss projections by at least 25% this year. Some executives say success in the 2008 holiday season is critical. “We think this is a do-or-die time for Blu-ray. We must get it established as a favorite holiday item,” said Ron Sanders, president of Warner Home Video.

A 38-YEAR-OLD man who cheated the UK entertainment industry out of nearly £1million by counterfeiting DVDs, CDs and computer games has been jailed for three years. A total of 31,000 pirated items due to be sold at computer fairs were seized by officers, while other expensive material was sold via the internet. The convicted man, who had a bank of duplicating machines turning out thousands of pirate discs, made a profit for himself of around £200,000 and spent it on lavish living. He had two homes including a villa in Spain, he drove a £25,500 Range Rover with a £6,500 personalised registration plate and he wore a £14,000 Rolex watch.

WARNER Bros has become the first Hollywood studio to see its movies distributed directly to mobile TV in Korea. The move follows a deal with the country's number two phone company KTF. The service, known as Warner Bros Digital Distribution, launched with an initial offering of 150 recent movies and TV series. Movies will be available at $1.40 each, TV series for $0.70 per episode.

840-store UK high-street retail chain Woolworths went into administration. BBC Worldwide has put a £100 million bid to acquire the remaining 40% stake in 2entertain, the publishing venture it jointly owns with Woolworths. The deal will require a 'fast track' approval process from the BBC Trust.

SOUTH KOREAN CE giant LG will become the latest company to unveil plans to launch a 3D TV. The company plans to launch models in 2009, with 2010 and 2011 being big years for 3D TVs, according to company officials. Only a handful of markets will get the LG 3D TVs in 2009, with company officials not saying which markets will be targeted.

ALISON Casey of Futuresource Consulting told industry publication One to One that the analysts have readjusted downward their Blu-ray forecasts for 2008. "Up until the middle of the year it still looked possible for the US market to achieve very respectable sales levels by the end of the year," she said. "Back in June, Futuresource's forecasts were in line with most of the studios' own market projections, but now this figure looks likely to be close to 25 million unit sales - about a third down from the original estimates."

KENMEC Mechanical Engineering, a Taiwan-based producer of automation equipment and flat panel display manufacturing equipment, has extended its business to providing EMS (electronics manufacturing services) and recently landed ODM orders for Blu-ray Disc players from retail chains in Europe as well as China-based vendor Haier, with shipments to begin in the first quarter of 2009, according to the company. Kenmec has invested NT$60 million ($1.85 million) in developing BD players over six months, the company pointed out. Kenmec expects to ship 130,000-150,000 units on an ODM basis in 2009.

AUDIODEV and dr. schwab IT, two leading suppliers of testing equipment for Blu-Ray Discs, have decided to join forces in a strategic collaboration with primary focus on BD. With the combined resources and current product portfolios, the companies say they will be able to offer the market leading solutions. The companies have commissioned a study to assess how their respective measurement technologies’ IT testers can be combined to provide more comprehensive solutions for customers. “The strategic cooperation will mainly be in situations when this is required by customers, but can also involve collaboration in other areas,” say the companies.

PIXAR’s box-office success, Wall-E, heavily leaned on themes of environmental stewardship, over-consumption, and waste, came under fire with a DVD packaging that did not embrace the green ethos. Criticism has been noticed: the first 100,000 customers will receive an eco-friendly package that contains no plastic, made from 100 percent recyclable cardboard. The Blu-ray version doesn’t incorporate the cardboard, but is made from 30 percent smaller than the standard DVD package. Observers wonder if the price of going eco is the reason why Wall-E’s green credential ends after 100,000 copies, with millions of copies probably to be sold.

SAMSUNG has officially added support for high-definition streaming content through Netflix for its BD-P2500 and BD-P2550 standalone Blu-ray players. Netflix announced last month that it Samsung would offer a firmware update for two of their Blu-ray players, aiming the release before Christmas. The film rental service currently has only 300 HD titles – from an overall catalog of more than 12,000 – but Netflix will continue to expand the new catalogue.

WARNER Music Group is reportedly interested in creating a music tax for several major universities that have a large number of students who share music files, according to Techdirt. Under such a ‘blanket license’ in theory, students would be free to download music, but universities will have to monitor all music sharing traffic. Warner said the company continues to work with universities and "other parties" while trying to create fair resolutions to a "complex issue," but nothing is close to being announced as of yet.

ANALYST group iSuppli predicts global shipments of hard disk drives (HDDs) designed for the PC and enterprise industries will flatline or may decline in the fourth quarter of 2008. The estimated 149.4 million units expected to ship this quarter is a 10 percent sequential drop than the previous quarter. In September, analysts predicted HDD shipments would increase 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter, while increasing 16.6 percent overall in 2008.

SONY's PlayStation 3 has come up trumps in a 12-way Blu-ray benchmark battle, testing Java performance. The benchmark testing, performed by blu-ray.com, saw the PS3 games console convincingly defeat other players when rendering and scaling Java graphics objects. The PS3 also featured faster power on, load and eject times that its competitors. The PS3 was pitted against Blu-ray players from Sony, Panasonic, LG, Sharp, Pioneer, Insignia, Samsung and Olevia.

IN a recent survey of 1,600 US households conducted by ABI, while 47% of respondents plan to decrease spending during the 2008 end-of-year holidays, a surprising 40% expect to spend about the same as usual, and 13% - mostly younger consumers - actually foresee a spending increase. 18% indicated that they were planning on purchasing an HDTV, but only 8% of those surveyed said they plan to buy a Blu-ray player. Games continue to appear recession-proof, with 26% of respondents saying they planned to buy video game software, putting it at the top spot. Other optical media products included DVD players, also with 8% of people saying they would buy one.

BLU-RAY Disc enjoyed a successful week after Thanksgiving, selling 147,000 standalone players, for a total of $30.3 million in revenue, according to research firms NPD Group and DisplaySearch. However, sales of DVD players were down nearly 25% compared to last year, with 457,000 units moved for $18.5 million in revenue. Upconverters represented about 20% of the total units sold, the companies said. With some players at $128, and Sony’s popular BDP-S350 hitting $179 on Black Friday, consumers were given a tough choice between true high-definition and $49 upconverting DVD players. Sony led all Blu-ray player manufacturers with a 53% share in both units sold and revenue made. Samsung and Panasonic were a distant second and third, respectively.

THE COPYRIGHT Board of Canada has raised its private copying levies on blank CDs to 29c (from 21c) for the years 2008 and 2009. The rate for audiocassettes will remain at 24c. Manufacturers and importers of blank audio recording media are required to pay private copying levies to the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) when these media are sold in Canada. The amounts collected are distributed to eligible authors, performers and producers of recorded musical works copied by individuals for personal use in Canada. The CPCC collects about $30 million per year.

BLU-RAY’s digital rights management (DRM) technology, BD+, has been improved to stave off hackers looking to make illegal pirate copies of copyrighted content. The BD+ is a content code that interacts with the Virtual Machine found on Blu-Ray players and decides whether the player is hacked. In order for hackers to successfully attack the BD+ system, they have to overcome the AV content security system (e.g. extract AACS keys) and also overcome title-specific security code (e.g. reverse engineer security code). This title-specific security code (BD+ content code) is included by studios on a title-by-title basis.

THE WEEK starting 8 December, Samsung's BD-P1500 Blu-ray player was the top-selling electronics product at Amazon.com.

AUDIODEV has announced that it will now deliver its BD stamper tester with a new Cover Layer Applicator – the CLA100. It enables the application of a thin film with optical properties representing the polycarbonate used for cover layer on optical discs, making stampers ready for testing. This newly developed COAT technology from AudioDev provides the user with a method to achieve excellent correlation between stamper and replica. The new application method offers a very fast, simple and affordable way to prepare a stamper. Within 30 seconds a cover layer film is accurately applied on the stamper, simulating a BD replica.

BBC WORLDWIDE has reduced the amount it is willing to pay UK chain Woolworths for its 40% stake in 2entertain, the DVD joint venture with the collapsed retailer, from £100 million to £40 million, according to reports.

BBC WORLDWIDE has reduced the amount it is willing to pay UK chain Woolworths for its 40% stake in 2entertain, the DVD joint venture with the collapsed retailer, from £100 million to £40 million, according to reports.

NEW YORK state is the latest U.S. state discussing a possible tax on digital downloads, as more consumers go online to purchase music. The so-called "iPod tax" needs to be approved by the legislature, and songs sold through iTunes would earn the state 4% – or 4 cents per song. The cities in New York that charge sales tax on top of state tax, including New York City, would charge users an additional 4 cents to download a music track.  Taxing digital content would give the state $15 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, and an estimated $20 million for 2010-2011. Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and several other states are already taxing digital entertainment, with more states likely to follow suit.