ABC HD to screen 24-hour news - spits in the eye of Australian HDTV owners
By Adam TURNER
Following in the steps of Network Ten, ABC viewers will no longer be able to watch their favourite shows in high definition.
Australia's national broadcaster is preparing to launch a 24-hour news channel later this year, but unfortunately the ABC is running out of digital channels. We've already got ABC1 (main), ABC2 (repeats) and ABC3 (kids) - so the ABC has decided to ditch high-def simulcasts of its main channel and screen constant news on ABC HD. So anything that screens on the ABC will no longer be available in high-def.
At times it's hard to see why Australia even bothers with high-def television broadcasts. Last year viewers paid the price for Ten's 24-hour sport channel. Ten now screens poker tournaments in high-def on One HD, while high-def dramas and sci-fi languish in standard-def on the main channel. I wonder if the ABC will continue to make local programs such as Bed of Roses in high-def, now that no-one will be able to see them in high-def.
ABC chief Mark Scott conceded this week that 24-hour news is not the best use for the ABC's high-def channel and hopes to reshuffle the channels in the future. Lets hope it's sooner rather than later, for the sake of everyone who has spent good money on a high-def TV.
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iiNet victory is worthless if secret copyright treaty is signed
By Adam TURNER
AFACT will have the last laugh if Australia signs the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
This week Australian ISP iiNet won its legal battle against the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), which had teamed up with seven movie houses to accuse iiNet of not doing enough to stop its customers illegally downloading movies. The truth is that this case is merely one battle in the global war against piracy.
Meanwhile, Australia is part of a secret treaty to force ISPs to cut off people accused of illegal file-sharing. Leaked details of the confidential Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement reveal that copyright groups are pushing for global powers to force ISPs to adhere to take-down notices and disconnect customers, or be held legally responsible for their actions. iiNet's court win will mean nothing if Australia signs this treaty, as AFACT will get its way on a global scale.
It's worth noting that Australia's Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies were recently granted broad new powers to track and intercept online communications. Previously these agencies only had snooping rights to protect networks from malicious software. You can bet your bottom dollar that the copyright police will lobby hard for such laws to be applied to copyright theft - once again using McCarthyist tricks such as linking piracy to drugs, terrorism, child pornography and whatever else they can think of.
The copyright police may have lost this legal battle with iiNet but, behind the scenes, they're lobbying lawmakers for bigger weapons in the ongoing war.
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Will Australian iPad owners get screwed?
By Adam TURNER
As if it wasn't hard enough to justify US$499 on Apple's new glorified iPod touch, it looks like Australians will get screwed when it comes to two of the iPad's few redeeming features.
The easiest way to justify the expense of an iPad is to call it an eBook reader, which is reasonable considering the iPad's screen size and price tag are the same as Amazon's new Kindle DX. To coincide with the launch of the iPad, Apple has announced the addition of an iBookstore to the iTunes store.
Considering the iPad has a colour display and a range of internet-enabled features, it's pretty hard to favour the Kindle DX over the iPad unless battery life is the most critical feature. The icing on the cake is that Amazon offers an excellent Kindle iPhone app that lets you buy books even if you don't own a Kindle. You can expect Amazon to call in the lawyers if Apple bans the Kindle app from the iPad.
Okay, so that settles it - let's buy an iPad and call it an eBook reader. But wait. The iBookstore is not listed as an iPad feature on the Apple Australia's website. A tiny note on the US site says iBooks are "available in the U.S. only". Sorry Australia, but it looks like No iBooks For You! when the iPad is launched here in March, although a US iTunes account might do the trick.
Australia will also miss out on the 3G-enabled iPad when it's launched in March, initially we'll only get the wifi-enabled version. The 3G version will be available in the US, but it seems it uses a 3FF SIM card - known as micro-SIM. Never heard of it? Don't worry, few people had until this week (that Wikipedia page was only created yesterday). By an amazing coincidence, Apple's US telco partner AT&T has heard of micro-SIM cards and will have them ready to roll out for the iPad. Jobs' bragging about selling the iPad as unlocked for pre-paid plans is a cynical bastard act when he knows full well that the iPad won't take a standard SIM card. Only the most rabid Apple fanboy could seriously defend Apple's choice of micro-SIM as future proofing. Using micro-SIM cards is the perfect lock-in which can't be subverted with simple software hack, although the fact iPads are unlocked might force Apple to offer competitive international pricing to foil the flow of grey imports.
The iPad's use of micro-SIM cards is a godsend for the telcos but a pain for users because they can't just slip in the SIM from their phone or USB modem. It gives the telcos absolute control over who uses an iPad over mobile broadband, how they use it and how much they pay. Once again Apple has betrayed loyal customers in favour of the telcos, and monopolistic players such as Telstra will be rubbing their hands together with glee. Apparently you can fit a SIM card into a micro-SIM slot if you take to it with a Stanley knife, but it's not something you'd do lightly (especially if you can't get a micro-SIM to SIM adaptor).
So as if it wasn't hard enough to justify buying Apple's fancy new toy, Australians look set to get screwed when it comes to eBooks and mobile data. It's a special Australia Day gift from His Holiness, Steve Jobs.
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Travel tales of the tech-savvy
By Adam TURNER
A week spent with the family in the tropics taught me a few valuable tech lessons.
Lesson 1: Never trust a telco's mobile broadband coverage maps. Vodafone left me stranded in Mackay and, whichever mobile broadband service you use, I'd certainly recommend calling the local store before travelling to see if the coverage maps lie.
Lesson 2: Have plenty of entertainment options if you're travelling with children. A cancelled flight saw us stuck in Mackay airport for five hours and not arrive home until after midnight, but access to plenty of entertainment meant it was an inconvenience rather than a disaster.
Lesson 3: iTunes M4V is my new video format of choice. Using HandBrake to rip DVDs as H.264 M4V files means you can play the same files in iTunes, on an iPhone or with a portable media player like the WD TV Live.
Lesson 4: The torture test for sat-nav apps is travelling interstate (something I'll write up soon). I spent the week playing around with the TomTom iPhone app and cradle, and I was lucky to live to tell the tale. The latest TomTom app is far more useful if you mute the voice, because it can't count when it comes to which roundabout exit you should take.
Hopefully these lessons could help save the day if you're looking to take your clan on the road this summer.
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What to watch in 2010
By Adam TURNER
The New Year is filled with entertainment promises - here's what we can expect to see in the months ahead.
- 3DTV hype will peak and then plunge into the trough of disillusionment. The situation won't be helped by the use of expensive active shutter glasses, which will probably trigger yet another format war. Sony will be up to its usual tricks.
- Network Blu-ray players with decent media player features will take hold, such as LG's BD390 and the HDi Dune PRIME 3.0. We might even see some competition for Panasonic's Blu-ray recorders, hopefully driving down prices.
- The spread of Video on Demand services to more devices, such as the Nintendo Wii. The Australian iTunes store will also continue to get its act together, offering a lot more movies for rental rather than just purchase.
- Australia's old-school television networks will continue to push the con job that is Freeview, while throwing lawyers at innovative ideas like myTVR's PVR in the cloud which hopes to stream live TV this year.
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