The UpStream

HBO Max is officially available on all of the essential platforms

posted Sunday Dec 20, 2020 by Scott Ertz

HBO Max is officially available on all of the essential platforms

As the number of video streaming services increases, so does the need for those services to cement themselves into the daily life of their users. Each has taken a different tactic, with some focusing on original programming while others have focused on unique business models. The one thing that has continued to come up as a driving factor for continued usage and engagement is the availability of the platform. Quibi learned this too late, and the service did not survive. HBO Max learned this lesson, too, but has had an issue executing their plan - until now.

The company has announced that the holes in its distribution model are being plugged quickly. First, the app is officially available for the PlayStation 5. That makes the app available on almost all gaming consoles, with the exception of the Nintendo Switch. As the Switch has never been a major streaming platform, its exemption from the platform isn't going to be a long-lasting problem.

While getting onto the PlayStation 5 was important, the other gap was far more important to fill - Roku. Roku devices account for the vast majority of US streaming usage, and HBO Max has been entirely missing from the platform since launch. This is despite the fact that previous HBO streaming platforms have been available to Roku users. That has been resolved, as December 17 saw the HBO Max app finally arrive on Roku devices. It is replacing existing HBO apps on the platform, as it has in the company's business model.

The timing could not be more important, with all WarnerMedia films coming to the platform, starting with Wonder Woman 1984 this Friday. For the very risky business move to be a success, the company needs to have as many eyeballs on the film as possible. If not, investors might give in to the pressures from AMC to stop the rollout plans.

SolarWinds backdoor exposed public and private networks to Russia

posted Sunday Dec 20, 2020 by Scott Ertz

SolarWinds backdoor exposed public and private networks to Russia

One of the truths of the world is that the internet is a dangerous place. Even things that are supposed to be safe and easy can turn into unmitigated disasters. For example, when an update for a network management system is compromised by hackers, adding in a backdoor that allows those hackers to enter the systems that download those updates. That is exactly what happened several months ago when an update for network management software developed by SolarWinds was compromised and distributed to tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of networks.

The compromise was made by the innocuous-sounding hacker collective Cozy Bear, a Russian state-sponsored organization, and revealed by FireEye. The revelation is a huge problem, as users of SolarWinds range from the likes of Microsoft to the US Department of Defense. The government has recognized a "significant and ongoing hacking campaign", the scope of which is unknown.

There are a number of high-impact aspects of the hack. The first and most important is that it could take decades to unravel the details of the hack and what data might have been compromised. Currently, what is known is that the malware gives the hackers a broad reach into the infected systems. As the total scope within the government's systems is unknown, the DOD will need to operate under the premise that the Russian government knows anything and everything - creating a national security disaster.

On the second front, the depth of the SolarWinds software within networks could mean that the servers that have been infected could be unsalvageable. There's talk that any server that has been infected by the malware might need to be replaced, at a great cost to the government and the thousands of other clients of SolarWinds.

This hack brings back to the forefront a few tenents of IT security that have been lax or entirely ignored over the past few years. Unproven software, which SolarWinds product is, should never be installed on mission-critical systems. A company like SolarWinds needs years of successful track record before it can be trusted on major networks. The second is that updates should not be installed until IT has tested them as safe, both in terms of security and compatibility. Third, large central systems are never a good idea. Cloud systems have been showing us this vulnerability with AWS outages taking down everything from websites to Netflix, but even internal central systems create a bottleneck that can destroy an organization.

Cyberpunk 2077 returns are available, game removed from PlayStation

posted Saturday Dec 19, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Cyberpunk 2077 returns are available, game removed from PlayStation

If you are not aware of the continuing issues with Cyberpunk 2077, you have not played the game and likely spent very little time online. The number of memes based on the problems has become the majority of the internet, or so it seems. That is because the game was so highly anticipated, and the release has been a massive disappointment. Since we discussed requirements last week, things have gotten even more complex.

Developer CD Projekt Red has released an official apology for the state of the game, particularly on current generation consoles (Xbox One and PlayStation 4). The apology came after gamers complained that the game was glitchy at best and unplayable at worst, with some players complaining about regular hard crashes. The apology focused on the fact that they had not done enough to show the game on current consoles, relying mostly on PC and next-gen consoles instead )Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5).

The statement included language that appeared to encourage gamers to return the game if they are unhappy with the quality and are not willing to wait for updates to fix the issues. The statement said, in part,

We would appreciate it if you would give us a chance, but if you are not pleased with the game on your console and don't want to wait for updates, you can opt to refund your copy. For copies purchased digitally, please use the refund system of PSN or Xbox respectively. For boxed versions, please first try to get a refund at the store where you bought the game. Should this not be possible, please contact us at helpmerefund@cdprojektred.com and we will do our best to help you. Starting from today, you can contact us for a week up until December 21st, 2020.

The problem is that neither Sony nor Microsoft had adjusted their refund policies for digital purchases. If you had played the game on a PlayStation, you were out of luck, and gamers again expressed their displeasure with the confused messaging from CD Projekt Red. Michał Nowakowski, senior vice president of business development, said on an emergency investor call,

One has to understand: Microsoft and Sony have refund policies for every product that is released digitally on their storefronts. Despite several articles I've seen that things are being set up just for us, it's actually not true - these policies are in place and have always been in place; they're not offered specifically for us. Anyone who has purchased any title on the PlayStation Network or the Microsoft storefront can ask for a refund, and if it's made within certain boundaries, usually related to time, usage and so on, can ask for that refund. Our procedure here with Microsoft and Sony is not different than with any other title released on any of those storefronts. I want to state that clearly, as there seem to be certain misconceptions.

Fortunately, the companies decided that they needed to act because of the overall failure of the title. Sony, whose refund policies were the most impactful on gamers, went the farthest - delisting the game from the PSN Store entirely. They also adjusted the refund policy for the game, and offered refunds for any digital purchases of the title. Microsoft is also offering refunds, but has not pulled the title from the store.

Physical copies, and digital copies purchased at retail, also have a process for refund. Retail stores are ebing encouraged to accept these refunds, but if you are funded, the company will refund the purchase themselves.

Coalition for App Fairness adds most major US news publishers

posted Friday Dec 18, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Coalition for App Fairness adds most major US news publishers

If you're unaware of the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) or haven't heard about it in a while, you can be forgiven. The organization has often stayed in the shadows, working to fix a problem that the general population is not directly affected by, but developers are - Apple's App Store policies. The organization is led by Epic Games and Spotify but has grown to 50 members, with the newest coming on board this week.

While technically only one new member was added, it is a big get for the movement. The newest member is Digital Content Next, an organization that represents the majority of the major publishers in the United States. Among the group's ranks are The New York Times, Associated Press, and NPR. By adding the major news publishers, adding to the existing European members, the group now has a good fighting force on another front in the Apple monopoly battle - publishing.

Currently, the major battlefront has been general App Store policies. It started with Epic Games suit over the 30 percent "App Store tax," which is forced upon publishers for using the company's proprietary payment system - a feature that most developers don't want to use, but are forced to by Apple. Recently, Apple threw fuel on the fire by dropping the rate to 15 percent for streaming video services but did not extend the same offer to music and news subscription apps. That move was what finally brought Digital Content Next into the fold.

However, there is another aspect of Apple's closed environment that has caused problems recently - Apple News and, more importantly, Apple News+. In June, The New York Times announced that it was removing its content from Apple News entirely over the way Apple was trying to control the distribution of news on its platforms. The publishers were not to receive a large portion of the upcoming Apple News+ revenue, while also being boxed in on content.

Overall, the primary goal of the organization is still on App Store policies, but with multiple ways to show Apple's attempted control over third-party developers, it's got a stronger case for anticompetitive behavior.

Great ways you can prepare your technology and home for 2021

posted Thursday Dec 17, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Great ways you can prepare your technology and home for 2021

It's almost the end of 2020, and while the year has been chaotic for most of us, the PLUGHITZ Live team is looking for every way we can start 2021 off without some of the burdens of 2020. Our staff members and partners each have some rituals they perform going into a new year, and together we hope that these suggestions can help all of us feel a little less chaotic.

Check your batteries

Scott Ertz, Editor-in-Chief of PLUGHITZ Live

So many aspects of our lives are controlled by devices with batteries. However, we tend to have some devices around that have batteries in them that we completely ignore. While it might seem like a non-issue, that is not always the case. This is because as batteries fail, they can cause damage ranging from ruining the device itself to causing fires. Because of these risks, it is important to check your battery-powered devices, especially those you don't often use.

One of the most common causes of issues is decorations. For decorations, we put some AA batteries in those tiny LED holiday lights and then put them into the attic or basement at the end of the season. The heat and cold can damage the batteries and cause them to leak, rendering the product useless for the next season. This can also happen with remote controls for items we don't use often, like the DVD player you still have hooked up but stopped using because of your Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscription.

Another source of trouble is old phones and tablets. The rechargeable batteries in these devices are usually Lithium-Ion and can bulge up from disuse or overcharging. These bulging batteries can pop, and when they do spill corrosive battery acid over everything. In some instances, the chemicals can even explode, causing greater damage, and can even catch fire.

Put away your tech

Michele Mendez, Executive Producer of PLUGHITZ Live Presents

You know when you're done with your devices, you don't always put them away. You've got something on your kitchen counter that belongs in the living room, or a charger for your phone on the coffee table. Everyone does it, and it means we lose stuff. When you've also got studio equipment that doesn't make it back into place after a trip, it makes things even worse.

Going into the new year, I plan to find those items around the house and studio that are not where they belong and put them back. Hopefully, this will mean not looking for things that I regularly need (like an SD card we couldn't find for 9 months), or repurchasing items that I know I already own because I need it right now.

Organize your workspace

Daniele Mendez, Host of The New Product Launchpad

If you're like me and working from home for the first time, you might be finding it difficult to keep your workspace clear. You spend time there during the day, but it's also part of your house. My goal before the end of the year is to do a deep clean of my desk. The way to start is by clearing everything off the desk to determine what is necessary and what is clutter. Once the desk is clear, wipe all your surfaces down. Remember that screens, like your laptop, monitor, phone, and tablet cannot be cleaned with regular solutions - always use a screen cleaner.

Now that everything is clean, put things back in a way that you can find them and that are not cluttered. Things like under monitor pen holders can help. Also, make sure that the cords you've got are not in your way with wire clips or wire trays. Once everything is in its new place, keep things organized going forward with a side monitor memo board. Remember, a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind, but an empty desk means... nevermind.

Unsubscribe from unwanted email lists

Kirk Corless, Host of GNC Week in Review

If you're like me, you get auto subscribed to every junk email list on the planet. Thanks to GDPR, we have a guaranteed way to unsubscribe from these lists, but it's never the same. Every provider uses a different method, and it makes getting off the lists too time consuming. So, what do we do? Ignore them forever and they just keep piling up and flooding our inbox with garbage.

I want to go into 2021 without all these lists making it so I miss emails from people I care about, so I will be unsubscribing from every list I possibly can. I won't be doing it manually, though, because there are tools to make it easy. If you have an Android device, like I do, there is a tool called Cleanfox which will go through your inbox, identify the bulk lists, remove your subscription, and then delete the emails. Similarly, for my friends with iPhones, there is Unroll.Me.

Unsubscribe from unused subscription services

Dave Mendez, Floor Producer for PLUGHITZ Live Presents

Email lists aren't the only unwanted subscriptions that might be on your plate. As we approach subscription fatigue with so many options for subscriptions for music, video, collectables, comic books, and more, we can lose track of what we've got. Even worse is when you sign up for a trial and completely forget to unsubscribe before the end of the trial and you end up paying for a service you're not using.

Before next year, I plan on finding all the subscriptions I pay for and make decisions on whether I need to keep them. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, check your bank and credit card statements. You might miss that single $5 monthly subscription regularly, but upon investigation, you might find it. Also, check your app stores. This could be for Apple, Google, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, and more. You can see everything you're paying for and cancel from there.

Clean up your computer

Terri Willingham, Executive Director of Foundation for Community Driven Innovation

One of my tech issues is keeping my devices clean, both digitally and physically. During events, I take a lot of photos with my phone and camera, some of which stay on the phone while others move to the laptop so I can post them on our social media pages. But, because they're on different devices, they get mixed up and lost. Plus, most of the photos I take I know I'll never need or want again.

So, before I start the new year, I plan to go through my photos and other files and find the ones I want to keep and eliminate the others. Some might get backed up onto cloud storage, while others will be deleted entirely. Once I have my storage cleaned up, I tend to want to carry on to the devices themselves, cleaning my screens, using canned air to blow out dust, and cleaning keyboards.

Clear out phone storage

Sara Elizabeth Grossman, Founder of CODE-mktg

One of my favorite things to do (actually quarterly) is to go through and delete something that takes up so much space in my phone - screenshots and photos of who-the-heck-knows-what-that-I-clearly-no-longer-need. I try to keep the number of photos down below 3000 on my phone for my own neurotic purposes, but I do find it helps everything move more smoothly.

I also try to keep other unnecessary files off my phone - namely apps I no longer use. We all download apps and try them out or use them for a while and stop caring. But they can take up even more space than the random photos of prices at the grocery store or whatever weird photos I've got. Deleting the apps can clear space and prevent possible data theft through those apps.

Disney announces huge future for Marvel and Star Wars franchises

posted Sunday Dec 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Disney announces huge future for Marvel and Star Wars franchises

Disney Plus has had a very successful first year. The company had initially hoped to reach between 60 and 90 million subscribers in the year 2024. This week, the company announced that the service had hit 86.8 million subscribers in its first year. That kind of explosive growth, assisted greatly by the lockdowns, has pushed the company to expand the future of the service. With that, this week Disney announced plans for the future of the Marvel and franchises over the next few years.

Marvel

After more than a year of no direct contact with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the final half-season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't entirely count), Disney will be going the opposite direction and inundating viewers with content. On January 15, 2021, Disney will release WandaVision, followed shortly by Falcon and the Winter Soldier on March 19, and then Loki in May.

While all of these series have been previously announced with details, a lot of new details were released about other shows. Tatiana Maslany will be playing Jennifer Walters AKA She-Hulk, with support from Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (The Hulk) and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky (Abomination). Ruffalo has played Banner in the MCU since Edward Norton was fired after the character's stand-alone film, in which Tim Roth originated the Abomination character. This show will bring those two actors together in those characters.

Marvel is not just returning to Roth's Abomination, but also to the world of Fantastic Four. This attempt with the characters will be the first in which MArvel is in charge, after purchasing Twentieth-Century Fox, which had the rights. With the proper Marvel team behind the project, hopefully, this one will not go off the rails, as the team will be official members of the MCU.

These are just some of the many new projects coming, including Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Secret Invasion, Don Cheadle as War Machine in Armor Wars, and a Christmas special from The Guardians of the Galaxy, which has to be better than the Star Wars Christmas special, right?

Star Wars

Fortunately, it does not seem that a new Star Wars Christmas special is on its way. However, a ton of other projects are in the works. Some will be live-action, some will be animated, and then there's A Droid Story, which will be somewhere inbetween. It will feature R2-D2, C-3PO, and a "new hero." The project is said to work at "the intersection of animation and visual effects" though we don't know quite what that means just yet.

One of the animated projects is The Bad Batch, a new series that will take place following Star Wars: The Clone Wars and follows the Bad Batch "as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War." The other animated project is Star Wars: Visions, in which they will be "celebrating Star Wars through the lens of the world's best anime creators."

The other projects are a little less publicly defined. Some of the projects (Ahsoka, Andor, Rangers of the New Republic, and Rogue Squadron) will be live action, while others are even less defined. Among these, we will see the return of some previous actors and characters, most notably Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi, the format of which is unknown.

Summary

With all of this new content, much of it coming to Disney Plus, and a huge number of subscribers, the company has decided to test the waters with pricing. Only a year into the service's life, Disney will be increasing the price by $1 to $8 per month. They also announced a long-awaited bundle, which will include ESPN and Hulu without ads for $19 per month, but will be $20 after the price increase.

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