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Hi there. No I'm not dead, sick or dying but I'm sure if you've visited the forum in the past few months you already knew that. I figure what would be a better time to return to duty than to wish you a Happy New Year.

And as usual, it's time to look back and ahead. First off, since this is time sensitive some BD+ news: As reported a long time ago, SlySoft managed to beat the second layer of copy protection on Blu-ray discs called BD+ and for a long while it was good. Even the open source community managed to catch up and the tools can now handle discs up to about October 08. The latest DumpHD even does BD+ removal on the fly (and the thread contains some very useful instructions on its use - I haven't quite forgotten how to write a guide). However, the guys at Macrovision haven't been sitting idly by and managed to score a temporary victory with the release of the latest batch of titles starting at the end of October / start of November. But just in time to end the year with a good note, SlySoft managed to get around the more advanced code with their latest release of AnyDVD HD. Since studios never get the point and keep adding new protection mechanisms that require updates, SlySoft is moving to a subscription based pricing model starting in 2009 - so today is the last day you can snag up your copy of AnyDVD (HD) and get life long updates (and no I don't get a dime for writing that). Oh, open source BD+ removal was only made possible by the discovery of new processing keys, and

Since I kept bookmarking newsworthy stories I have way more news than I can possibly write down (especially since I have to leave for a New Year's party in a couple of hours), so let's condense it to the most important things: For starters, after many suggestions by concerned readers (thank you), I finally gave Media Player Classic Home Cinema (or MPC-HC for short) a try and I'm hooked. My Quad Core CPU keeps complaining that it really has nothing to do now as playing high def content now needs as little CPU time as playing a DVD thanks to acceleration by my nVidia GFX card. And while we're talking about nVidia cards, neuron2 has written new versions of his DG*DEC tools that leverage nVidia's GPU acceleration: DGAVCDecNV and DGVC1DecNV.

jdobbs has also been busy and released the first beta of BD Rebuilder - if you're familiar with DVD Rebuilder BD Rebuilder does the same, just for Blu-ray titles.

And sticking with Blu-ray for a bit, just recently the first hybrid Blu-ray /DVD disc was announced. If you recall the same thing for HD DVD this means a single layer disc for both formats - which isn't so great if you ask me. Both Plextor and Pioneer have also announced new BD drives.

And here are some other new tools that I found noteworthy: Ut Video Codec Suite 5.1.2 contains a new lossless video codec, TSPE (or Transport Stream Packet Editor) is a non linear editor / analyser for transport streams (including those found on Blu-ray discs), Pcm2Tsmu converts LPCM files to a format accepted by TsMuxer, TSSplitter is a transport stream splitter, DivFix++ is a new AVI repair tool, DiAVC is a new MPEG-4 AVC decoder filter and MakeMKV is a tool to create MKV files from (HD)DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

And in some other recent news, the RIAA announced the end of their lawsuit campaign and instead cooperate with ISPs to warn users and eventually cut them off (here's an example of a letter they'll send the ISP). There's just one problem - their statements have proven to be false. However, the RIAA has a certain interest in terminating the lawsuit campaign: Aside from the obvious PR angle, when cases actually get to trial, they're having an increasingly difficult time getting their point across. The fact that the only jury trial so far will be rolled up again because of the jury instructions (the jury was instructed that the mere act of putting a song onto a P2P network is equal to copyright infringement - a legal opinion which has come under fire and definitely makes no sense (no download = no damage, right?)) has the RIAA trembling in their boots. If they need to prove actual downloads, their lawsuit campaign is dead in the water.. they can prove one download (their own for verification purposes) but that's it.. they need detailed ISP logs for the rest. And that's why they're eager to make the ISP the enforcers. If you've made some bad experiences with ISPs in the past you know what that could mean - ISPs aren't too particular about cutting people off or throttle their line (I have firsthand experience with the latter) and if you need your Internet connection, you really have no recourse. Sure you can go to court but that takes time and money and you might not be able to wait months or years until the thing is settled. By the way, some countries have already bought into Big Content's three strike policy.

And with that let's begin our look back (and as it goes hand in hand with what's coming it's also sort of an outlook): In 2008 we see a coordinated push by content owners to bring the ISPs into the mix for the reasons I've just pointed out. We can expect pressure to mount so make sure you remind your elected officials that you're the one they're depend on for reelection regardless of how much money content owners throw at them (and they will throw plenty). They'll also continue to try bringing in justice departments all over the world and make them their watchdogs and enforcers - why go down the civil route which is costly when you can have the state do the same for free? Of course, they'll also keep on pushing for longer protection periods (the most recent example comes from the UK where the government is about to cave to the pressure from the industry and disregard the study they commissioned on the subject which clearly states that it makes no sense to extend the period of protection). I have to ask though: what makes artists so special? Why should copyright protection last longer than say patent protection? A lot of inventions protected by patents brought a lot more to society than a song ever will.

We also saw DRM rear its nasty head with a variety of services shutting down and upsetting users (some have since extended their operations due to consumer backlash) who purchased content they'd no longer be able to play once the DRM servers go black. So will labels and studios learn anything in 2009? Heck no. Just remember that they've been against every technological advance (that ended up making them more money than ever before once they've embraced it) in the past - and I doubt that cycle will ever be broken. And while we're at it, Amazon, where's that MP3 store please? You have about 7 hours to make the deadline.

2008 actually started with a bang if you're into high definition content. A few days ago we mark the first anniversary where Warner thrust the knife into HD DVD's back. Warner was supposed to be a prominent member at the HD DVD press conference at CES but a few days before, they announced that they'd drop HD DVD. That announcement started a series of events that lead to HD DVD's demise. While you can still buy titles today, there've been no new releases since mid year and no more titles are on the horizon either. Despite that, today we know that Sony's prediction of 50% market share are widely overblown - December's release of The Dark Knight managed to catapult Blu-ray's market share to 14% and made TDK the best selling Blu-ray release to date, however there's some controversy as to whether this really makes Blu-ray more successful than DVD's Matrix. I've covered the BD camp's number games many times and seeing that DVD launched in August 1997 and Matrix came out in September 1999, and Blu-ray launched on May 23rd 2006 and TDK came out on December 9th 2008 I don't think the comparison is all that honest, but at least it shows that Blu-ray is selling quite well.

After this paragraph, I'm sure some of you will be smirking when they recall last year's New Year's message where I said don't buy Blu-ray - and now you've seen me gradually convert. In fact, last month, my Blu-ray collection managed to surpass my HD DVD collection (there's a triple digit number for each), I've had a Blu-ray reader for almost the entire year and my current box even sports a Blu-ray burner (all dual format drives though). Seeing how SlySoft continually discovers new keys even before some titles are being released, and their latest BD+ exploit has taken away some of my skepticism as to Blu-ray's DRM (but I'll never consider it to be a truly safe deal.. I'm sure Macrovision is already busy working on the next headache). I also pointed out that BD wasn't a good deal due to region coding. This still stands today though - from my over 100 BD titles only 3 are region B, the rest is region A. This is not only due to a larger selection, but also price. While I've seen some $25 discs for Christmas, the bulk of disc still sells in the $35 - $45 region and that's simply way too expensive. Look at BD prices in the US.. at Amazon you can get discs in the $23 to $27 range. While you can buy modded players now (for outrageous prices), region coding single handledly stopped me from putting Blu-ray in the living room - I finally saw a sub $200 player for Christmas (after mail in rebate at least), but if it only plays 3 discs, what's the point? So for now, the only way to watch high def content in my living room is rip the disc, put it onto one of my NAS boxes and play it via Popcorn Hour. DVD launched in Spring 1998 in Europe, and a year later my parents bought into it.. with a player that cost about $200 and was region free (plus it included an NTSC to PAL converter as well as no support for protected user operations.. so I could change audio in those old Disney titles without going to the menu) - the BDA likes to make comparisons so where's a comparable player to that? And don't even get me started on all those non profile 2.0 players. Sure, BD-Live might not interest you (it doesn't interest me much either), but if you've ever had a consumer electronics device with an Ethernet port that is prone to firmware upgrades, there's nothing better than to plug it in and have it load the firmware. Downloading an image to your PC, burning then loading it into your player is so 20th century. So here's my request to the BDA for 2009: make profile 2.0 mandatory, and keep working on those prices, especially in Europe.

2008 also saw a major shift in the DVD backup world in terms of tools, codecs and containers - looking at our own MPEG-4 Encoder GUIs forum, the most popular tools all support x264 - and judging by the drop of messages in the MPEG-4 ASP codec forums (which lead to a merger of the DivX and XviD forums) x264 seems to have made major inroads. Some people might still hold back because their standalones play ASP but not AVC, but I think that's one area where we'll see a lot of movements in 2009. My DVD players have become unemployed since I put my DVD collection into two NAS boxes (5 TB space each.. my collection is quite extensive). For $200, you now get a player which can handle pretty much anything you throw at it.. DVDs, HD DVD and Blu-ray content files, transport streams captured from digital TV, etc. Just make sure you don't go beyond AVC profile 4.1 and you'll be fine. The first combined Blu-ray player / HD media stream are also coming to the market, and what makes more sense than to combine the two. After all, each Blu-ray player needs to be able to play high def content, and with profile 2.0 comes Ethernet support and built-in storage. Now we just need that chipset that can handle AVC profile 5.1.. However, if nVidia's Ion platform is any indication, this might happen sooner than later. Just make sure the box is passively cooled, run the proper player on it and it is the perfect media streamer (not to mention that if they make it dual core and still leave out the fan I'll buy that box as my PC for daily use and keep the Quad Core for transcoding and gaming purposes). Further indication that AVC is the way to go comes from DivX's purchase of Mainconcept. DivX 7.0, scheduled for release in January, will bring the first AVC encoder under the DivX flag. DivX7 will also underscore another development: Matroska has definitely made it. Now hardware players that want to be compatible with the latest DivX codec need to support the new container. So I think it's safe to say that Matroska is well on their way to becoming a standard for backups in all shapes and forms.

With a network streamer also comes the question of storage space. I've seen many colleagues and friends start looking into NAS boxes over the year. With high speed powerline, and Wireless N there's enough speed to not need to have your content next to the player (and thus cut down on noise.. the Popcornhour and similar players make no noise whatsoever and are thus even quieter than disc based players) so if the idea of having your entire movie collection available at your fingertips, I'd definitely look into that as having to keep your PC running is less convenient.

Last but not least, a quick wrapup of some of updates to major softwares that I've missed during my absence: There's a beta of HCenc 024, eac3to has been updated many times (madshi's tool is the most updated high def tool these days), there's a new major release of PgcEdit, as well as mkvtoolnix, PVAstrumento, DGAVCDec, VirtualDub, and that's just for December.

Oh, and I just have to bring this - you can now play Doom in your webbrowser.


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