The UpStream

Ninja is jumping ship, moving from Twitch to Microsoft's Mixer

posted Friday Aug 2, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Ninja is jumping ship, moving from Twitch to Microsoft's Mixer

Over the past few years, videogame streaming has become big business. The household name is certainly Twitch, and for good reason: it is the brand that brought the idea into the mainstream and currently houses the majority of the big-name streamers. It also has the financial might of Amazon after a $970 million acquisition. Since the acquisition, many have tried and no one has succeeded to take on the market leader, but that is about to change.

Microsoft purchased Beam, a Twitch competitor, in 2016. After renaming the service to Mixer, the company has quietly been making the service better, integrating it directly into Windows 10 and Xbox One and adding additional ways to financially support streamers. However, the company has had some trouble bringing in strong viewership on streams other than their own, including their E3 announcements. Microsoft has really needed a big name to join the Mixer community, and that happened this week.

The closest to a household name for streamers themselves is definitely Ninja. Ninja rose to fame in the early days of Fortnite, solidifying himself as one of the main faces of the game. He has even been hired as a spokesperson for various products in the gaming realm. This week, he announced that he is leaving Twitch and will be moving exclusively to streaming on Microsoft Mixer, effective immediately.

In just 2 days of streaming on the platform, Ninja has over a half million followers and more than 3 million unique views of his streams. If Ninja is not already the top streamer on Mixer, he will be within just a few days at this rate. That will be in part because of huge promotion by Microsoft. On the Xbox One dashboard, there is an advertisement for Ninja on Mixer. Microsoft is also making it free to subscribe to Ninja for the first month, giving you 22 emoticons and more. As Mixer streamers ourselves, for F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, PLuGHiTz Live Presents, and FIRST Looks, it is nice to see Microsoft putting some real weight behind the platform.

Google begins testing subscription service for Android apps and games

posted Friday Aug 2, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Google begins testing subscription service for Android apps and games

If you haven't noticed over the past few years, subscription services are all the rage. That's because guaranteed recurring revenue is far better for a company's stability than peaks and valleys of individual product sales. Many companies in a variety of industries have begun implementing this business model, from Netflix's primary business to Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass. Google has a collection of subscription services, including YouTube Premium, the ad-free version of YouTube.

This week, word of a new subscription service from the company hit, later confirmed by Google. This new service, dubbed Google Play Pass, is an app subscription for Android which will give you "access (to) hundreds of premium apps and games." The service is priced at $4.99 per month, for those who have been included in the test group.

This service is almost certainly in direct response to the recently announced Apple Arcade, a service that will provide "over 100 groundbreaking new games." With Apple having a very similar service, Google needed to make this move. In addition to the competition, Android has consistently had an issue with revenue available for app developers. In every study conducted, Android owners are less likely or less willing to spend money on apps than iPhone owners are. It is one of the main reasons why paid apps, such as games, release on iPhone first so that they can generate revenue from Apple owners. The monthly revenue from Google Play Pass will be shared with publishers, based on the amount of time their app is used.

While Apple's service will launch this Fall, Google's service is just in testing, with no public market plan. It's always possible that any of the details of the service could change, including the pricing, app availability, etc. They could also abandon the plan entirely, though that is not likely.

Regal Cinemas launches unlimited movie subscription nationwide

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Regal Cinemas launches unlimited movie subscription nationwide

Earlier this month, struggling movie theater subscription service MoviePass shut down operations, theoretically temporarily. For months, we have said that the only way that a service like MoviePass could only succeed if it was directly run by a theater chain, or in partnership with a chain. This was a move that MoviePass never made, which meant that they were paying retail price for the tickets, which makes it impossible to be profitable unless subscribers never use the service at all. Whether MoviePass will return from their hiatus is yet to be seen.

Seizing the opportunity, Regal Cinemas has officially announced their long-rumored subscription plan: Regal Unlimited. The new plan varies from its predecessors by creating three tiers, based on the theaters available to watch movies. Unlimited will cost $18 per month and will be available at the smallest number of theaters - about 200. Unlimited Plus will run $21 per month and will be available at about 400 theaters. Unlimited All Access will run $23.50 per month and will be available in about 550 theaters - the entire Regal family.

While the theaters may be limited, the movies won't be. You will get unlimited movie tickets and no blackout dates. The tickets, however, are restricted to standard showings and will require an upgrade fee if you want to see a movie in IMAX, ScreenX, etc. In addition to your tickets, Regal Unlimited subscribers will get 10% off of all food and non-alcoholic concessions, plus free popcorn and soda for your birthday.

There is an important caveat, though. This subscription is a contract for 12 months, meaning that if you sign up, you are agreeing to pay for a full year of the subscription. You are also not allowed to downgrade your subscription during your first year. You can, however, upgrade your subscription in that time. If you want to use a theater above your subscription grade, you can also pay an additional fee per ticket. There is also an online booking fee of $0.50. This means that you'll more than likely be paying more per month for your subscription than the advertised price.

Attorney General Barr says tech firms can and must break encryption

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Attorney General Barr says tech firms can and must break encryption

The topic of encryption may seem simple, but in reality, there are a lot of nuances involved. At first look, the idea of encryption is all about protecting your data from prying eyes. It's what makes things like authentication and banking systems possible, protecting your passwords, personal data, and transaction history. It is also the basis for blockchain, the technology changing how digital audit trails are maintained.

There are some who see encryption as a threat to everything from advertising research to national security. There are certainly some legitimate issues when it comes to legal challenges. For example, there was the San Bernadino case, where Apple refused to decrypt a device that locked because of a police officer's mistake. The government believed the phone held important information about the attack, but Apple's dedication was to its users.

A month ago, the US followed Australia's lead by discussing a law requiring a back door into encryption. Now, they are upping their campaign against strong security, with a visit by Attorney General William Barr to a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University. In his remarks, he said,

There have been enough dogmatic pronouncements that lawful access simply cannot be done. It can be, and it must be.

This is likely just the beginning of a public "hearts and minds" type campaign to win approval from the general public. Without the support of the public, there is little to no chance of getting a law that puts their privacy at risk through the legislature. However, it is important to remember that this is exactly what it will do. As was Apple's argument, once you create a back door, it exists. Period. The government will argue that they can keep the details of that security bypass protected, but you only have to look at WikiLeaks to know that is far from the case.

The key will leak, and all legally encrypted data in the country will be decryptable and available to everyone. This idea is simply one that allows the government to access your data without your permission. It is a law that punishes the law-abiding public and will do nothing to change what data is available to law enforcement when needed. Criminals, by definition, don't follow the law, and will not use legally encryption services. They will, instead, use services that don't implement a back door for law enforcement, designed specifically for the dark web. Therefore, the only data that will be available to law enforcement will be yours, and the government knows that.

Why choose a team when you can go for the Big O?

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The biggest decision of every videogame console generation is which platform to choose? Do you go with the whimsey of Nintendo, the general use of Xbox, or the exclusive games of PlayStation? Fortunately, custom PC builder Origin has made it so that you could theoretically skip the choice with the Big O gaming rig. This beast includes a full gaming PC, an Xbox One X, a PlayStation 4, and a Nintendo Switch.

The Xbox and PlayStation implementations are special, as they actually conform to the consoles' original but abandoned specs, with no optical drives. To compensate, Origin added 2TB SSDs to each console. In addition to opening up the hardware, they also liquid-cooled both consoles within the case. The Switch works very differently since the hardware works very differently. Rather than opening up the console, losing the portability, the standard docking station is what is built into the box.

As for the gaming PC, it is a real beast. It features an Intel Core i9-9900K processor, an NVIDIA TITAN RTX graphics card, 64GB of RAM, 2 Samsung 2TB SSDs, plus a 14TB Seagate hard drive. Of course, the PC also features the same liquid cooling treatment that the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro received. More than the other two, this aspect of the build is definitely in need of liquid cooling.

If you're excited to crack open your wallet and get one for yourself, there's some bad news. This build was done as a celebration of the company's 10th anniversary and not as a sellable product. It's not terribly surprising, considering the legal challenges from Microsoft and Sony regarding the consoles being opened, plus the immense cost of integrating all of these unrelated pieces of hardware together. If you want something similar, you're going to have to build it yourself.

Sprint's spiral is almost over as DoJ approves T-Mobile merger

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Sprint's spiral is almost over as DoJ approves T-Mobile merger

The story of Sprint has been long and often tragic. That saga could be coming to an end, however, as the Department of Justice has approved the purchase of Sprint by T-Mobile USA. The FCC has already approved the merger. At this point, the only thing standing in the way of the $26.5 billion deal is a lawsuit filed by a dozen attorneys general claiming that the merger would reduce competition and raise prices.

The agreement with the DoJ will likely help alleviate some of the fears of these state representatives. While the combination of the #3 and #4 would reduce the number of current carriers, a new challenger has appeared in the form of DISH Network. The company has purchased spectrum in several auctions, with rumors circulating that the company planned to launch its own wireless network, but that has never come to fruition. This deal, however, brings the rumors to fruition, with DISH purchasing Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint prepaid from Sprint.

In addition to purchasing existing customers, in the form of the prepaid brands, DISH has also made some promises of their own. Between now and 2023, the company has promised to build out a 5G network that will cover 70 percent of the population. They will also gain access to T-Mobile's networks for 7 years, which will allow them to continue to operate the existing prepaid business, and even begin building out their own service in the short term. T-Mobile has also made promises, including holding pricing for both the Sprint and T-Mobile sides of the merger steady for at least 3 years. In addition, everyone involved promises to allow phone unlocking following a pretty liberal set of rules.

Ironically, this merger will leave T-Mobile in a familiar position, and one that began the downfall of the Sprint brand nearly 15 years ago. T-Mobile's current network is 5G, 4G LTE, and 3G and voice on GSM, while Sprint's network structure is 5G, 4G LTE, and 3G and voice on CDMA. This means that T-Mobile will have to maintain two competing networks for many of Sprint's existing users, while some Sprint phones (like iPhone) will be able to be migrated seamlessly. T-Mobile has experience with this, as their purchase of MetroPCS came along with CDMA technology (the PCS in MetroPCS), which they eventually retired.

Sprint's similar situation did not go as well. In 2005, the company purchased Nextel. Calling it a merger of equals, the two companies became Sprint Nextel, and both networks were maintained. At the time, Sprint was running entirely on CDMA, while Nextel was running on a completely incompatible system called iDEN. Sprint was an entirely digital network, while Nextel was entirely analog. This mistake cost the company dearly, causing network quality issues for both networks, ultimately damaging the brand image of Sprint, from which it never really recovered. The Nextel network was eventually retired, dinging the image even more.

At the dawn of 4G technology, the company wanted to get out ahead of the trend. Since the current network was based on CDMA, they decided to continue down that path, supporting the 4G WiMax standard. While Sprint was first with 4G, they bet on the wrong horse, meaning that they couldn't make any agreements with the other network for 4G roaming, nor could they participate in shared towers and repeaters. Eventually, they had to abandon the WiMax network and build a second 4G infrastructure, this time supporting the LTE standard, based on GSM technology.

So, while dueling networks caused Sprint's current troubles, T-Mobile's experience supporting and retiring Metro's CDMA network suggests that this could ultimately work in everyone's favor. However, it is far from a sure thing, and could still be shot down by the collection of states still fighting.

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