The UpStream

Netflix to send reports to parents on their kids' watching habits

posted Sunday Jul 18, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Netflix to send reports to parents on their kids' watching habits

Shortly after Netflix introduced profiles, they also introduced Kids' profiles. This concept allowed parents to limit the content that their children had access to. By choosing this profile type, the content is limited to only child-friendly content. However, there is one big problem - it's not really easy to get a report of what your kids actually are watching. Netflix plans to fix this by introducing an email report of viewing habits.

Currently, you can access the viewing history of a kid's profile, but it requires being on the website and accessing account details. With the regular bi-weekly emails, parents will get a direct report of the kind of content that their child is interested in. This can give some insight into their personality that might lay dormant in regular interaction. From this information, parents can make decisions to encourage (or possibly discourage) certain personality traits. For example, if the kid is watching more science or tech-related shows and movies, it might be a call for encouraging those interests through toys, books, and even clothing.

The email also contains suggestions for additional content that is also available on the platform. Obviously, this is using the same general AI technology that the marketing emails you already receive from Netflix uses. I know that the email I receive every week about what new content is launching on the platform shows different content from my brother, whose interests are different from mine. That is exactly what parents can expect in their Kids' profile reports. Plus, the company will be adding free, printable coloring pages - also based on their watching habits.

Another new feature coming to Kids' profiles is Top 10. If you've got a regular Netflix profile, you know that the company introduced this feature a while back. It shows the top 10 content being watched across the user's country. For some, this can be helpful in finding new content, while others are not interested in what's popular. Either way, the feature will be introduced for children as well, so kids can see what their peers in their country are watching. Again, this can introduce kids to new content they may not have heard of before.

Amazon buys Facebook's ISP business to compete with Starlink

posted Sunday Jul 18, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Amazon buys Facebook's ISP business to compete with Starlink

Last week, President Biden signed an Executive Order, among other things, encourages research into how to provide greater choice in internet access. Many people, especially in apartments and condos, only have a single choice in ISPs because of agreements between the complex and a particular service provider. One company that has taken on this challenge on its own is Starlink, the Elon Musk-backed satellite internet company. With a good idea comes competition, and this will be coming in the form of the Amazon-backed Project Kuiper.

Project Kuiper is another satellite-powered internet project, which got a big boost in its deployment. Obviously, the startup cost for any business that relies on custom satellites is going to be high, and the amount of time it takes to go from zero to fully functional can be immense. Oftentimes, the quickest way to get going (if you're well-funded) is to purchase a competing project that already has hardware in space.

That is exactly what happened with Amazon this week, as Amazon added some satellites that Facebook launched in 2018 as part of a research experiment. The Information reported first of the acquisition, which has seen the transfer of Facebook's technology, as well as a small number of employees, to the Amazon project. Facebook commented on the purchase, which was confirmed by both Facebook and Amazon this week, saying,

it has not been our plan to launch a constellation of satellites, become an ISP, mobile operator, or tech vendor. We've long held the belief that satellite technology will enable the next generation of broadband infrastructure, and as part of our ongoing connectivity efforts, this team was focused on designing and testing new ways to advance satellite connectivity using optical communications and radio frequency systems and solutions. We are really proud of the work this team has accomplished and are excited to see what they will continue to build (at Amazon).

This acquisition is just the beginning of a future constellation of satellites, which will become the company's Starlink competitor. Unfortunately, Project Kuiper is far behind the SpaceX project. Starlink has already begun taking orders for service (including from our CES partner Todd Cochrane, as well as providing service in beta form to around 10,000 users. The company believes that it will have near-global coverage by the end of August of this year.

Project Kuiper, however, does not plan to begin the launch of its own installation until 2023. This suggests that it will likely be several years before the project is up and running to a point where they will be ready to accept customers. While this move puts them a little ahead of their timeline, it won't get a service up and running within even a few years of Starlink.

Meanwhile, Facebook will continue working with partners in building infrastructure to improve the overall performance of satellites. They hope that these infrastructure improvements will help in bringing a better internet experience to rural areas and other hard to reach markets which are generally ignored or neglected.

Valve enters the console world with portable Steam Deck handheld

posted Saturday Jul 17, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Valve enters the console world with portable Steam Deck handheld

A few weeks ago, Valve boss Gabe Newell confirmed that the company was working on something console-related, but did not say what it was. We speculated that perhaps they would expand their relationship with Microsoft, bringing the Steam Store to the Xbox consoles in the same way Microsoft wants the Steam Store to enter the Microsoft Store on Windows 11. As it turns out, the company had a much grander plan for entering the space, announcing the Steam Deck handheld gaming computer. This is not to be confused with Elgato's Stream Deck, which is also a gaming product (and one we use in the studio).

What is the Steam Deck?

Think of it as a beefed-up version of the Nintendo Switch, mixed with the company's ill-fated Steam Machines, with a focus on a different breed of gamers. This is a proper computer, running Valve's SteamOS, which was originally created for the epic failure that was the Steam Machine brand. Now, using the same Linux-based operating system and game launcher, you will be able to take your games on the go.

The big promise of these devices is the ability to play the games you already own through your Steam account. As it is the world standard for game distribution, most PC gamers already have a lot of games in their catalog. Using the Steam Deck, you'll be able to play those same games in a portable environment, as well as in a more console-style experience, finally fulfilling the Steam Machine hopes and dreams. The company says that most of the Steam catalog will be available on the devices, even though Linux support is not native for many of the titles.

Our Concerns

The device sports a 1.6 teraflop GPU. This would be an impressive stat if it were 2016, as it beats the Xbox One S, which had a 1.4 teraflop GPU, and comes in just under the PlayStation 4's 1.8 teraflop GPU. Unfortunately, the Xbox One X boasted 5.8 teraflops and the PlayStation 4 Pro came in with 4.0 teraflops. It is important to note that all of these devices have been retired in favor of newer, more powerful hardware - save for the Steam Deck. This spec makes it a little more difficult to justify the cost of $399 to $649.

Next up is our faith in the company's focus. As noted, this is the second time Valve has tried to launch hardware running this same operating system. Last time, the products never actually made it to market. In fact, several of the partners gave up and launched these computers running Windows. This time, Valve is not working with partners but instead launching the hardware under its own brand. Other hardware developed by Valve, including the Steam Link device, was never given the love it deserved, and the Steam Controller was... just bad. Will Valve be able to stay focused on this hardware and ecosystem, or will it inevitably see a Windows install to make it useful in the long term? Only time will tell on that one.

The comparison to the Nintendo Switch is obvious, and that leads us to another concern over controller drift. Nintendo has famously had issues with the Joy-Cons for the Switch, and Microsoft and Sony have had significantly less, but still not not zero, issue with their controllers. The Steam Deck is the only one in this list to have the controllers connected to the console, meaning that drift issues would be devastating. You could not easily swap them out, or return just the controller to the company for repair or replacement - you would be out the entire device in this situation.

Video Capabilities and Latency Issues

Because the Steam Deck is designed to work as both a handheld and as a console, its video capabilities become more important. The company says that it can output at 8K running 60 Hz, or 4K running 120 Hz. But, there could be choke points in this setup. For example, video output runs over USB-C, meaning conversion will be involved. This might not limit the overall output, but could lower real world framerate and introduce latency.

In addition to external display issues, there are other points of game latency possible. Controllers connect via Bluetooth, which has proven stable for the PlayStation and Xbox hardware, but performance on PCs can vary widely depending on whose Bluetooth chipset is installed. If a lower quality radio is part of the Steam Deck hardware, external controllers could introduce significant lag, which is felt most severely in fighting games and first-person shooters.

Framerate also has a major impact on battery life. The company says that playing Portal 2 at 30 FPS will result in 50% more playtime than the same game at 60 FPS. This, of course, means that gamers will have to choose between graphics performance and battery performance - a choice that will be difficult for most.

When Can I Get One?

The announcement said that hardware would be shipping in December 2021, with pre-orders opening immediately. After some serious server issues, pre-orders have gone smoothly, though expected delivery dates continue to drift farther from the original date. As of the writing of this article, pre-orders for the top model are estimated to ship in Quarter 3 of 2022. They are going to have to ramp up production if they don't want to be delivering the hardware a year after launch for pre-orders placed this week.

Samsung has a new systemic problem: Galaxy S20 screen failures

posted Saturday Jul 17, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Samsung has a new systemic problem: Galaxy S20 screen failures

In 2018, Samsung made headlines, but not for the reasons they would have hoped: Galaxy Note7 devices were exploding. Now, Samsung is facing an equally embarrassing, yet far less dangerous issue with Galaxy S20 owners beginning to experience screen failures.

The current issue with the screens is in its early days but looks to be an equally wide issue. The issue with the Galaxy Note 7 came about because of a problem with the power system that Samsung had implemented into the phones. Originally, it looked like possibly bad batteries. But, after a replacement with batteries from an entirely different manufacturer, the problem did not go away. Later, the company recalled the devices and remotely disabled the remaining phones in the wild.

With the Galaxy S20, users are reporting a more gradual failure than going up in flames. It is starting with a few scan lines across the screen, followed by an ultimate engulfment, generally into either white or green. From there, the screen is completely useless for viewing but does seem to accept touch commands.

The initial signals of this issue appeared a few months ago, with an owner of a Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G posting a video showing a green tint appearing on his phone over top of a white background. The issue had gotten to this point following some flickering on his screen more than a month earlier. Now, the number of owners is growing, with people taking to online forums like Reddit to discuss the problem. Many have posited theories for what is happening, but one thing is consistent: they all claim to have never dropped or damaged their phones. Currently, the more expensive models seem to be experiencing the issue at greater rates, but all models have seen problems.

For now, everything is speculation, as Samsung has not officially responded to, or recognized the issue as systemic. However, this is the same behavior we saw in 2018 with the Galaxy Note 7. Those devices were eventually banned from trains, planes, and many public spaces, even before Samsung officially responded. In this case, as it is a less damaging situation for the brand, hopefully, Samsung will respond quickly. In past cases of screen issues with phones, companies have simply issued recalls or given free repairs of those screens.

The problem, of course, is that a wide-scale issue like this one indicates that there might be a greater flaw at play. The behavior, as described by users, sounds familiar to those who have worked in the industry for an extended period. It is often associated with laptops, and occurs when the ribbon cable that runs through the hinge and controls the display, gets crimped or damaged in another way. You'll experience lines, unexpected colors, and eventually complete failure.

As the Galaxy S20 devices don't have a hinge, it is not likely to be an identical situation. However, something else could be causing damage to this cable. We have the Galaxy Note 7 history showing that Samsung can have issues with heat. The company also made changes to its heat dispersion system in the current models. Heat could potentially damage the video cable, but so could puncture. If there is something internally that is sharp, motion could cause friction, and the cable could be damaged.

Whatever the cause, Samsung will need to investigate before the problem gets out of control.

Universal is not making future movies exclusive to their platform

posted Sunday Jul 11, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Universal is not making future movies exclusive to their platform

As the streaming video wars have heated up, everyone and their neighbor seem to have tried to get into the business. Some companies without in-house production companies have done well until purchasing those production facilities. The companies with existing content and production, however, seem to have a lot of success in the space: Discovery (Discovery+), Turner and Time Warner (HBO Max), ViacomCBS (Paramount+), Disney and Fox (Disney+ and Hulu), and NBCUniversal (Peacock). But Universal is taking a slightly different approach.

Companies like Disney have begun moving to bring all of its content into their streaming services exclusively. For example, Marvel movies have disappeared from everything from Disney+. However, a pair of announcements from Universal show a hybrid approach. Initially, all future Universal films, starting in 2022, will premiere on the company's Peacock shortly after theatrical releases, as one would expect. But, unlike other companies, this exclusivity will not be permanent.

The second announcement begins where the Peacock exclusivity ends. After Peacock's period ends, all Universal films will move to Amazon Prime Video exclusively. This is clearly a big deal for Amazon, whose service has been working hard to shore up its offerings, including big contracts and studio acquisitions.

The move, however, shows once again that Universal is willing to experiment with different business models for its streaming business. Peacock bucked the trend with its launch offering a freemium model, with some content being available with no fee, but ad-supported. This was a model that Hulu had in its past, when Universal was a major investor. Now, they are bucking the trend again, not forcing exclusivity on its own platform, but instead embracing alternate options.

We'll see in time whether this move helps or hurts both Universal and Peacock. The brand is likely not your first thought when thinking about streaming, and brute force (like Disney's approach) could change that, but also creates some pushback.

Executive Order targets everything from right to repair to ISP prices

posted Sunday Jul 11, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Executive Order targets everything from right to repair to ISP prices

Since the first few days of the Biden Administration, very little had happened. There's been a lot of noise, but no action. That changed on Friday with a sweeping Executive Order targeting nearly every aspect of the tech world. Some aspects might be controversial, some are nearly universally agreed upon, while others are surprising from this administration.

Right to Repair

This is a topic that seems like it would be a non-controversy, as every consumer in the country has wanted it. However, it has been nearly exclusively a partisan issue. That is why it's surprising to see the Biden Administration target the right to repair as part of this EO. If it works, it may become illegal for companies to punish consumers for altering a device that they own without cause.

Apple has long been an opponent of right to repair legislation, as they have made their name being a completely closed ecosystem. In recent models, the company has even included chips to prevent a device from working if an alteration was made without the technician software made available only to Apple techs. Consumers, however, all want this, as it will reduce electronic waste by lowering the cost to repair products. A definite win for us, but puts a major backer of the Administration on public notice.

Broadband Competition

Speaking of lowering pricing by increasing competition, internet service providers. As we have discussed many times before, many consumers only have one choice in ISP. This regional monopoly creates higher prices and lower consumer satisfaction rates. It also doesn't matter to the ISPs, because you have absolutely no choice but to use their service. In recent years, that has begun to change a little. Services like Starlink are getting closer to reality, and 5G home connections are a viable option in some markets.

Even in areas where there are multiple services, like in our area, property owners often make agreements with one service for exclusivity. Avram and I have both discussed living in apartments where the landlord has exclusive agreements with a cable provider, meaning that without Starlink or 5G, you are still locked in. The Friday EO goes after this practice, encouraging the FCC to try to prevent this behavior, protecting users, and hopefully lowering prices.

Net Neutrality

This one is controversial, but not for the reason one might think. Republicans and Democrats alike believe that Net Neutrality rules need to be in place. The difference is in the execution of these rules. Republicans have fought against expanding the role of the FCC, which has no legal jurisdiction over the internet, into implementing and overseeing Net Neutrality rules. They believe that Congress should be responsible for enacting these laws, as it is their legal jurisdiction. Deomcrats believe that the FCC should bypass the lawmaking process and try to enact the rules themselves, jurisdiction or not.

This EO encourages the FCC to put the rules into place. However, the FCC is currently split 2/2, meaning that there is no chance of pulling it off. On the other hand, the Senate and House both would likely have the votes to pass the law tomorrow, making it an easier process.

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