XBox (Games)

Microsoft Puts Minecraft Boss In Charge of Xbox Games (theverge.com) 50

Microsoft is promoting its Minecraft boss to the head of the company's games studios. "Matt Booty's new role sees him oversee Microsoft Studios, second only to Microsoft's games chief Phil Spencer," reports The Verge. "Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella previously promoted Phil Spencer from head of Xbox to a new role overseeing all games, associated hardware, and game strategy." From the report: Spencer reports directly to Nadella, with Booty now reporting directly to Spencer. GamesBeat reports that Booty's new role will see Microsoft devoting more resources to its games business. Booty will be looking after Microsoft's relationships with 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Rare, Turn 10 Studios, and Global Publishing. Booty first joined Microsoft back in 2010, and helped launch games for Windows phones. He's also helped develop Xbox Live Arcade, and oversaw Minecraft maker Mojang after Microsoft acquired the company for $2.5 billion back in 2014.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Music

Japan's Latest Sensation is a Cryptocurrency Pop Group (engadget.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: If you're starting a pop group in Japan, where giant rosters and virtual superstars are par for the course, how do you stand out? By tying yourself to something trendy -- and in 2018, that means cryptocurrency. Meet Kasotsuka Shojo (Virtual Currency Girls), a J-pop group where each of the eight girls represents one of the larger digital monetary formats. Yes, you're supposed to cheer for bitcoin or swoon over ethereum (what, no litecoin?). The group played its first concert on January 12th, and naturally you had to pay in cryptocurrency to be one of the few members of the general public to get in. The group's first single, "The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me," warns listeners about the perils of fraud and extols the virtues of good online security.
"It isn't clear how French maid outfits symbolize cryptocurrency or blockchain technology," notes Quartz, "but they're popular costumes in Japan's anime and cosplay circles."
Television

Is There a Warning in 'Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams'? (gizmodo.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes io9: That signature feeling feeling of queasy, slow-burning tumult comes through in Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, which originally aired in the UK last September, but is making its American premiere on Amazon Prime this Friday, January 12. The breadth of interpretations across the show's 10 episodes is the real draw for Electric Dreams. One episode will be set in something meant to recognizably stand in for the real world while others are trippy explorations into realities that could never exist. Unfortunately, Electric Dreams' episodes don't just vary in aesthetics; they vary wildly in quality, too...

When Electric Dreams fires on all cylinders, it energizes these short story adaptations by drilling down into the minutiae of how science fiction concepts would alter our everyday existences in real life. The series' common theme is how scientific and technological advancement shears the soul away from our bodies...Electric Dreams' most important task is to show both new viewers and conversant fans why Dick's oeuvre matters, which is hard in a world where we're eerily close to some of his fictional realities...

We're so busy trying to ground ourselves amid constant change that it can be hard to pull out and see society's sweeping shifts. In the '50s and beyond, Dick's science fiction writing mapped out the darker corners of where hi-speed techno-fetishes could take us. For all its unevenness, Electric Dreams adapts his work to show us where we are, relative to his prognostications. If you feel weirded out while watching, that just means the show is doing its job.

Japan

Japanese Console Market Grows For the First Time In 11 Years (kotaku.com) 34

According to Famitsu, hardware sales in Japan experienced a huge spike in 2017 compared to the previous year. In 2016, Japanese hardware sales were 117.05 billion yen ($1.05 billion), while in 2017, they jumped to 202.37 billion yen ($1.81 billion). Kotaku reports: Software sales also increased: in 2016, they were 182.4 billion yen ($1.63 billion) and the following year, they were 189.3 billion yen ($1.69 billion). A big part of this increase is due to the Nintendo Switch's brisk hardware sales. The PS4 has also continued to churn out steady numbers. The last time the Japanese gaming market saw an uptick was in 2006, when the Nintendo DS Lite, the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 launched.
AI

French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI (bbc.com) 51

dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"
It's funny.  Laugh.

Apparently, People Say 'Thank You' To Self-Driving Pizza Delivery Vehicles (technologyreview.com) 261

An anonymous reader shares a report: Last summer, Ford worked with Domino's Pizza on a test in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it delivered pizza to randomly chosen customers in a self-driving Ford Fusion hybrid. An operator was inside the car, and a regular human-driven car trailed behind, videotaping the drive. Customers had to approach the car and enter a number on a touch screen on the side of the vehicle to get their pizza. Speaking at CES, the annual consumer electronics show, in Las Vegas this week, Jim Farley, Fordâ(TM)s executive vice president, acknowledged that the idea sounds silly, "but we learned so freaking much," he said. Apparently, most people say "thank you" to the car after getting their pizza.
Piracy

Studios Sue Dragon Box in Latest Crackdown on Streaming Devices (variety.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: Netflix and Amazon joined with the major studios on Wednesday in a lawsuit against Dragon Box, as the studios continue their crackdown on streaming devices. The suit accuses Dragon Box of facilitating piracy by making it easy for customers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows. Some of the films available are still in theaters, including Disney's "Coco," the suit alleges. Dragon Box has advertised the product as a means to avoid paying for authorized subscription services, the complaint alleges, quoting marketing material that encourages users to "Get rid of your premium channels ... [and] Stop paying for Netflix and Hulu." The same studios filed a similar complaint in October against TickBox, another device that enables users to watch streaming content. Both TickBox and Dragon Box make use of Kodi add-ons, a third-party software application.
Patents

TiVo Sues Comcast Again, Alleging Operator's X1 Infringes Eight Patents (variety.com) 57

TiVo's Rovi subsidiary on Wednesday filed two lawsuits in federal district courts, alleging Comcast's X1 platform infringes eight TiVo-owned patents. "That includes technology covering pausing and resuming shows on different devices; restarting live programming in progress; certain advanced DVR recording features; and advanced search and voice functionality," reports Variety. From the report: A Comcast spokeswoman said the company will "aggressively defend" itself. "Comcast engineers independently created our X1 products and services, and through its litigation campaign against Comcast, Rovi seeks to charge Comcast and its customers for technology Rovi didn't create," the Comcast rep said in a statement. "Rovi's attempt to extract these unfounded payments for its aging and increasingly obsolete patent portfolio has failed to date."

TiVo's legal action comes after entertainment-tech vendor Rovi (which acquired the DVR company in 2016 and adopted the TiVo name) sued Comcast and its set-top suppliers in April 2016, alleging infringement of 14 patents. In November 2017, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that Comcast infringed two Rovi patents -- with the cable operator prevailing on most of the patents at issue. However, because one of the TiVo patents Comcast was found to have violated covered cloud-based DVR functions, the cable operator disabled that feature for X1 customers. Comcast is appealing the ITC ruling.

Businesses

Pandora CEO Roger Lynch Wants To Create the Podcast Genome Project (variety.com) 19

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: Pandora's new CEO Roger Lynch has big plans for podcasts: Lynch told Variety on the sidelines of CES in Las Vegas Thursday that he wants to create "the equivalent of the podcast genome project" as the company plans to add many more podcasts to its catalog. Lynch, who joined Pandora as president and CEO in September, said that the company is working on a deep integration of podcasts that will allow users of the service to easily browse and discover new shows. Describing these efforts as a kind of podcast genome project is a nod to Pandora's Music Genome Project -- a massive database of dozens of musical attributes for every single song in the company's music library that is being used to compile stations and aid discovery. Pandora is also looking to offer podcasters monetization options that will be superior to the current state of podcast advertising. Currently, many podcasters still rely on ads that they read themselves on air, Lynch said. "It is not the most effective advertising model."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Bitcoin Conference Stops Accepting BTC Due To High Fees (bitcoin.com) 135

An anonymous reader shares a report: Next week the popular cryptocurrency event, The North American Bitcoin Conference (TNABC) will be hosted in downtown Miami at the James L Knight Center, January 18-19. However, bitcoin proponents got some unfortunate news this week as the event organizers have announced they have stopped accepting bitcoin payments for conference tickets due to network fees and congestion. Bitcoin settlement times, and the fee market associated with transactions, have become a hot topic these days as on-chain fees have risen to $30-60 per transaction. These issues have made it extremely difficult for businesses to operate, and many merchants have stopped accepting bitcoin for services and goods altogether.
XBox (Games)

Xbox One Adds New Achievement, Do Not Disturb Features In Previous Update (gamespot.com) 38

A Preview alpha build is now available for some Xbox One users who take part in the Insiders Program, which allows players to test out new system and game features before they go live to the public. This build contains several new features, such as the Next Achievements feature and a Do Not Disturb feature. GameSpot reports: The biggest addition coming for Xbox Insiders is the Next Achievements feature in the guide. Now, those who test new features and games from Xbox One will be able sort a cross-games list of upcoming Achievements. This way, you can easily see which Achievements you're closest to and quickly launch the game to achieve them. You can also sort your Achievements by how rare they are.

There are also a few tweaks to social settings. A Do Not Disturb online status is coming, which will suppress notifications and let your friends know you're unavailable at the moment. Comments on community posts are also getting an adjustment, and soon you'll be able to peek at the most recent comment and see who has liked your comments. The Narrator is also now able to read large amounts of text.

Graphics

Nvidia's GeForce Now Windows App Transforms Your Cheap Laptop Into a Gaming PC (theverge.com) 100

The GeForce Now game streaming service that Nvidia announced for the Mac last year is finally coming to Windows PCs. According to their website, the service lets you stream high-resolution games from your PC to your Mac or Windows PC that may or may not have the power to run the games natively. Starting this week, beta users of the GeForce Now Mac client will be able to install and run the Windows app. Tom Warren reports via The Verge: I got a chance to play with an early beta of the GeForce Now service on a $400 Windows PC at CES today. My biggest concerns about game streaming services are latency and internet connections, but Nvidia had the service setup using a 50mbps connection on the Wynn hotel's Wi-Fi. I didn't notice a single issue, and it honestly felt like I was playing Player Unknown's Battlegrounds directly on the cheap laptop in front of me. If I actually tried to play the game locally, it would be impossible as the game was barely rendering at all or at 2fps. Nvidia is streaming these games from seven datacenters across the US, and some located in Europe. I was playing in a Las Vegas casino from a server located in Los Angeles, and Nvidia tells me it's aiming to keep latency under 30ms for most customers. There's obviously going to be some big exceptions here, especially if you don't live near a datacenter or your internet connectivity isn't reliable. The game streaming works by dedicating a GPU to each customer, so performance and frame rates should be pretty solid. Nvidia is also importing Steam game collections into the GeForce Now service for Windows, making it even more intriguing for PC gamers who are interested in playing their collection on the go on a laptop that wouldn't normally handle such games.
Media

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Media Streaming Device? 206

The network card died on Thelasko's smart TV -- and rather than spend $65 on a new one, they're considering buying a nice, simple streaming box. I am running a Rygel server on my PC, but rarely use it... I primarily only watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube for streaming, and am wondering what Slashdot users have found to be the best option. I'm considering Roku or Chromecast because they are well known and supported. However, I have heard a lot of news about Kodi devices being more hackable.
AppleTV? Amazon Fire TV? The Emtec GEM Box? Building your own from a Raspberry Pi? Leave your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

What's the best media streaming device?
Communications

SoundCloud Refutes Decreasing Audio Quality, Cites Standard Testing (billboard.com) 60

cordovaCon83 writes: NestHQ published an article today noting that online streaming service Soundcloud has implemented the Opus codec for its archive of music and started streaming at 64kbps instead of its prior 128kbps streams. Opus has been touted as a more efficient codec than the aging MP3 codec. Whether this will have a major effect on audio fidelity remains to be seen, as well as whether such a move will affect the already ailing music service's business. UPDATE: SoundCloud tells Billboard that this swap in codecs is nothing new and is part of frequent tests it runs with its audio -- just as other streaming services do regularly. "We always appreciate feedback, but these reports are inaccurate," a SoundCloud spokesperson told Billboard in a statement. "SoundCloud has not altered its approach to audio quality. We have been using the Opus codec (among others) since 2016, and we regularly test different combinations of encoding and streaming to offer listeners a quality experience on any device. Furthermore, we store all content from creators at its originally uploaded quality level so we can continually adapt to advances in encoding and playback."
Businesses

Jimmy Iovine To Leave Apple Music in August: Report (billboard.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Look for Jimmy Iovine to leave Apple Music in August. The former Interscope CEO joined Apple in 2014 after selling Beats, the the music service and electronics business that he and Dr. Dre co-founded, to the tech giant for $3 billion. It is believed his departure is timed to his Apple shares fully vesting, sources tell Billboard. Iovine's ties to Apple go back to 2003 when he first met Apple founder Steve Jobs and exec Eddy Cue, and was a key proponent of Apple's iTunes and iPod. Apple Music, Apple's subscription streaming service, has expanded to more than 30 million paying subscribers since its June 2015 launch. That success is, in part, due to Iovine's focus on content, including developing original programming.
Businesses

Spotify Files To Go Public (bloomberg.com) 24

According to Bloomberg, Spotify filed to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, "in the highest-profile test yet of a technique that lets companies list shares without raising money through a traditional stock offering." From the report: With steady cash from more than 60 million paying subscribers, the world's largest paid music-streaming service doesn't need more funding. Instead of an initial public offering, it's trying a direct listing, which essentially lets private stakeholders start trading their shares on a public exchange. That avoids underwriting fees and restrictions on stock sales by current owners, and doesn't dilute the holdings of executives and investors. Spotify, which has been valued at about $15 billion, would be the most prominent company by far to attempt a direct listing, a method that until now has been used by small issuers and real estate investment trusts. It would also be a first for the New York Stock Exchange, which has sought permission from the Securities & Exchange Commission to change its rules for the occasion.
XBox (Games)

Kinect Is Really Dead Now, Basically (gamespot.com) 110

Microsoft has confirmed that it is no longer producing the Kinect adapter that is needed to connect the Kinect to an Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or other Windows device. This comes after Microsoft announced in October 2017 that it was killing off the Xbox One's Kinect camera. GameSpot reports: "After careful consideration, we decided to stop manufacturing the Xbox Kinect Adapter to focus attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming accessories across Xbox One and Windows 10," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon. The representative declined to say if Microsoft would ever bring Kinect back. However, the company confirmed that the adapter "will no longer be available" to purchase.
The Courts

Spotify Hit With $1.6 Billion Copyright Lawsuit (spin.com) 132

The Wixen Music Publishing company, which administers song compositions by Tom Petty, Dan Auerbach, Rivers Cuomo, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, and others, has hit Spotify with a copyright lawsuit seeking $1.6 billion in damages. The publishing company filed the lawsuit on December 29, alleging the streaming giant is using Petty's "Free Fallin" and tens of thousands of other songs without license or compensation. SPIN reports: Back in September, Wixen objected to a $43 million settlement Spotify had arranged over another class action lawsuit brought by David Lowery (of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven) and Melissa Ferrick, stating it was "procedurally and substantively unfair to Settlement Class Members because it prevents meaningful participation by rights holders and offers them an unfair dollar amount in light of Spotify's ongoing, willful copyright infringement of their works." A judge has yet to rule on that settlement, and in the meantime, Wixen has moved to file its own lawsuit, which purports "as much as 21 percent of the 30 million songs on Spotify are unlicensed," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Spotify brazenly disregards United States Copyright law and has committed willful, ongoing copyright infringement," the complaint reads. "Wixen notified Spotify that it had neither obtained a direct or compulsory mechanical license for the use of the Works. For these reasons and the foregoing, Wixen is entitled to the maximum statutory relief."

Businesses

People Are Using PornHub To Stream 'Hamilton' and 'Zootopia' (qz.com) 92

An anonymous reader shares a report: There's more on PornHub than pornography. People are using the streaming-video site -- a sort of YouTube for pornography where users can upload and watch adult videos -- to stream pirated copies of high-profile titles like the Broadway musical Hamilton and Disney's animated movie Zootopia. Where YouTube has been fighting for years to keep pornography off its site, PornHub now finds itself in the position of having to purge its platform of videos that are decidedly safe for work. The full, 75-minute first act of the historical, Tony Award-winning play, Hamilton -- with its original cast, including creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda -- is on PornHub, one Twitter user discovered. As the most sought after ticket in town, the play just set a new high-water mark (paywall) for Broadway after taking in $3.8 million at the box office for the week ending Dec. 24.

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