Sometimes I wonder about the wholesomeness of the games industry… perhaps this is why it’s called an Xbox (sponsored by Viagra for those that aren’t common achievers and are having problems “getting wood”).
As for Minecraft itself, it’s become far too horribly commercialised for what is essentially a kid’s game. The prompting for people to buy extra packs and add-ons at silly pricing is just wrong.
As we enter the third or fourth week of lockdown (to be honest, I can’t remember – I’ve been working from home since early at least early March), and with a good few more weeks to go (four, maybe even eight), I decided that I’d take some of the money that I’d be spending on commuting and upgrade some more of my home computing kit – particularly my monitor.
I’ve been using a Dell 24″ monitor for the past couple of years – it was something I bought for around £150 and has generally done me well. However, the 2018 15″ MacBook Pro and 2019 16″ MacBook Pro didn’t entirely get on well with it. iTunes/Apple TV would often complain that HDCP wasn’t available and refused to playback any of my 400+ iTunes movies and TV shows. Occasionally the screen would just blank for a few seconds too. I tried USB-C to HDMI cables, the £70 certified Apple adaptor and HDMI 2.0 certified cables – no joy.
I settled on a gaming monitor for the replacement. It may sound strange, but as the MacBook Pro can support higher refresh rates, supports AMD FreeSync for improved frame rates, it made sense. I went for a 27″ BenQ EX2780Q display.
It supports a 144Hz refresh rate (the higher the better), it has a native quad HD resolution which supports the 144Hz refresh rate – but can upscale to 4K resolution at 60Hz. The Mac will only see 2560×1440 – but this is a definitive improvement over 1920×1080 from the Dell. A bigger screen + resolution = more real estate for Terminal and Remote Desktop windows when working.
HDR is also supported, but this is a bit of a strange beast. Even now, HDR is still a bit of a mystery to me. My 60″ 4K TV doesn’t have it, but my iPhone and iPad Pro do (HDR10 and Dolby Vision support). This monitor has HDR support, though it isn’t very specific as to what it will support – though HDR10 on the Xbox One X seems to work just fine. On the Mac – no HDR mode is seemingly supported. But when playing on the Xbox One X, I do seem to notice more vibrant colours than before. There are options to change different HDR settings, but I’ve more or less left them alone and just accepted the defaults.
The monitor comes with a decent sound system built in – with a volume knob within easy reach. In fact, the controls for this monitor are excellent. Especially as it comes with its own remote control. I can change input settings easily – scroll through and make changes in the menu system all without touching the monitor itself. And speaking of inputs – it has support for USB-C, 2 x HDMI 2.0 ports and a DisplayPort. The Mac is hooked up via USB-C and the Xbox One X is connected via HDMI. Two presses on the remote control and I can switch between the Mac and Xbox with ease.
Since using the BenQ monitor – no HDCP problems, no screen blanking – it’s been working perfectly. I think this has been one of the best electronic purchases in recent years (along with the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro) and will keep me going for the next 5 years or so.
The other additions to the the upgrades include the Logitech MX Master 3 mouse. I’m an owner of the MX Master 2S, but found that the battery life wasn’t very good (at least at home) and that the scroll wheel was very noisy/not terribly smooth. The MX Master 3 fixes ALL these problems, and then some. It’s perfect for the Mac – and I’ve been going weeks – not days – with the MX Master 3 without recharging. I’m extraordinarily happy with it. The Apple mouse is being kept because MacBook Pros (and Mac Minis) seem to have real difficulty with wireless mice in firmware mode unless it’s an Apple mouse.
Finally, I bought an Xbox One X. I did own one a few years ago, but found I didn’t play it very much. So it’s a system I had already invested in. With the lockdown and not being able to get outside, I wanted something to stimulate me that wasn’t work related. I also wanted to get a controller that worked with iOS and iPadOS too – and the Xbox controllers will work with them. The Xbox One X is effectively a Windows 10 PC – but you just can’t run Microsofft Word on it. Yet. More games are supporting keyboard and mice – including Fortnite – though as I found out, you really need a USB keyboard and mouse to make it work. The Xbox One X doesn’t support Bluetooth.
It was rather difficult getting the console because everybody else seems to be having the same idea. But it arrived, and set-up was very easy. It sits on my desk opposite the Mac and if I feel the urge to cure people of Freddy Mercury-itis in Two Point Hospital, it’s there:
or futuristic football with cars (Rocket League), I can just jump quickly into a match:
I’ve taken out the Xbox Games Pass Ultimate which, for £10.99/month, gives me access to over 100 games (Rocket League and Two Point Hospital are just two examples). One game that truly stands out as part of the Xbox Games Pass is the wonderful Ori and the Will of the Wisps which is simply one of the most attractive looking and sounding games I’ve ever played:
Even on the easy mode, this is a difficult, difficult game. It’ll keep me occupied for many months to come.
The only other thing I really need to complete my home office (haha – as if the Xbox is part of the office – though one could say it’s a de-stresser) is a webcam. I used to have a Logitech 4K Brio, but sold that about a year ago. Now you can’t buy them for love nor money as everybody is practically working from home now. At least the iPad Pro’s built in camera is useful for video conferencing, so I’m using that as a workaround.
In the beginning there was Netflix. And it was good. Then Amazon Prime Video popped up, and it too was good. Then the main terrestrial, cable and satellite broadcasters got involved too. Then Apple decided to throw its hat into the ring, entering the arena with no back catalogue and just a handful of original titles.
Now a new (but old) kid has arrived and it’s looking to school the old timers on how a streaming service should work. Welcome Disney+ UK.
When Netflix launched, it effectively laid down what other video streaming services would eventually do themselves. Initially offering content from other companies, Netflix started commissioning their own original programs – starting with the excellent Lilyhammer (sic). Netflix added UltraHD content too, but held out for the longest time in offering downloadable content to tables and mobile phones. The honour of offering downloads goes to Amazon’s Prime Video, which like Netflix, started off offering content from others before moving into their own original productions.
Amazon even attempted to put out audio commentaries on original content – but the only title that I can think of is Transparent – and only season 1. Up until Disney+’s launch, no other subscription-based video streaming service offers extra content like deleted scenes, featurettes or audio commentaries like Disney+ offers.
Disney+’s USP (unique selling point) #1
Featurettes – deleted scenes, audio commentaries and BTS documentaries.
Comparing Disney content I’ve purchased via iTunes and on Blu-Ray, the number of featurettes across Disney movies on Disney+ vary. The newer titles feature audio commentaries, though for something like Black Panther which streams in UltraHD (but can only be purchased in iTunes in HD or SD), you only get a handful for extra features – no commentaries, whereas the iTunes edition, features a full audio commentary from director Ryan Coogler.
There are other titles like this – the original Star Wars trilogy, for example, which offers audio commentaries on the iTunes editions, but NOT on Disney+. This disparity means that you still have to buy titles (at a lower resolution, no less) to get all the features. Disney+ is no Criterion Collection. But it could be. It could be. For fans of films, like me, that like to deconstruct movies and see what makes them tick, audio commentaries and featurettes are a staple of movie watching.
But I dislike double dipping, and I dislike having to “own” lower quality material. My beef against Amazon which streams Good Omens in UltraHD but doesn’t offer the physical discs in UltraHD but does feature audio commentaries is still very much a thing. Also: why couldn’t Amazon or BBC Studios make the audio commentaries on Good Omens available via iTunes or Amazon Prime?
Disney+’s USP (unique selling point) #2
The number of available titles.
Disney+’s back catalogue is HUGE. Practically (but not quite) every movie ever released, every cartoon, every TV series, is here. And it’s integrated some of the Fox content it acquired when Disney took over 20th Century Fox a year ago (or so). So that means 30 series of The Simpsons. James Cameron’s Avatar. And interestingly, the movie versions of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian (which I worked on), and when Disney (at the time) didn’t want to continue spending money on the franchise, Fox bought it and made The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – which has now come back to Disney as part of its acquisition.
Star Wars fan?
Disney+ has every film, modern TV show (it’d have been nice to have seen the Nelvana-produced Ewoks and Droids that I remember from the 1980’s, but I’m guessing Disney doesn’t own them and can’t license them for the service) with the exception of Rise of Skywalker, which is due to be released digitally on the 13th April. There’s a LOT of stuff here I’ve not seen, so it’s going to keep me occupied for quite some time.
The biggest addition, however, is the first ever Star Wars live-action TV series: The Mandalorian, featuring the world’s least best kept secret: Baby Yoda (that’s not his real name, of course, it’s actually Raymond Luxury Yacht). You just know that merchandising is going to through the roof. But this is a TV show that is a technological marvel and apparently damn entertaining to boot. So I’m very much looking forward to that.
Again, Disney’s acquisitions have paid off in spades. Here we have practically every film and TV show set in the Marvel universe – with the exception being Spiderman, since Sony are clinging on to the rights for dear life.
Lots of titles presented in UltraHD, and some of them even have audio commentaries! Keep it up, Disney, keep it up!
I count Pixar alongside Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Animation to be the finest animation studios in the world (okay, and Laika Studios and Aardman Animation). Netflix currently has the majority of Studio Ghibi titles on their service, but if you want Pixar – you’ve got the lot. All of it. Including the short films. Again, there is so much here to enjoy and the entire back catalogue of Pixar films are here to enjoy at any time.
So much Disney, it hurts
There is something for everyone here. Absolutely everything. Disney+ is by far the best streaming service I’ve used. It’s well laid out, and on the Apple TV, it performs very well. And logging in was a breeze. I actually set up my account on my 2018 iPad Pro first. When it came to logging in via the Apple TV, I just had to approve the login on the iPad:
And on the iPad:
As I’m also a subscriber to Sky, we get the app on the Sky Q box. However, it is nowhere near as polished as the tvOS/iPadOS/iOS apps. It doesn’t integrate with the rest of the system unlike Netflix, whereas on the Apple ecosystem, it integrates with the Apple TV app and provides a single catalogue of TV and films across Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Channel 5, All 4, etc. – but not Netflix because they’re total spoilsports.
Additionally logging into your Disney+ account on Sky Q box is a poorly thought out, pain in the arse. You’ll need to use your remote control to enter each character of your email address and password. If you use a strong password (generated by a password manager), this is an absolute massive arse ache. It’s as if the app’s User Interface designer just gave up.
Then there’s the lack of UltraHD content. tvOS features content in UltraHD – the Sky Q app (Sky Q is UltraHD capable, as is the Netflix app on it) does not offer any Disney+ content in UltraHD.
I suspect the deal between Comcast (who now own Sky) and Disney was a late one, and the app was somewhat rushed out the door – but it’s a poor performing app. It’s very slow navigating the many options available to you, and combined with the lack of integration and UltraHD makes it a poor cousin to other platforms which Disney+ is available. Maybe in time this will improve – it’s got to – but for now I’d recommend pretty much anything other than the Sky Q app.
Disney+ rating (taking into account cost, catalogue and overall performance based on the tvOS app):
I went to see Top Gear being filmed. Having worked at Dunsfold Park for four years, I got to see both the old and new Top Gear presenting teams come and go and shoot all manner of weird and wonderful stuff. But I had never been part of the studio audience. So I had to find out what it was like.
It’s important to note that I don’t drive. I’ve not passed my driving test. I do not own a car (obviously). So I had to get a taxi from Guildford to Dunsfold Park where I was dropped off at the waiting area. Which had no seating.
After about an hour or so, the buses arrived to take us to the hangar where they shoot the show (literally next door to where I used to work). We were then herded into the studio and spent goodness knows how long standing up and waiting for things to happen. After a decent speech from the show’s executive producer, the filming got underway.
But after all the messing around, and another hour or two had passed – I started to get fed up. I was watching the monitors in the machine room rather than what was happening on the studio floor – particularly when the presenting team of Matt LeBlanc & co. went to the other studio.
When they finished with the first part of filming, they let us out. That’s when I left, got shouted at by a security guard for walking in the road, and went next door to say hello to my former colleagues.
I did, thankfully, behave myself during the interview with Matt Bacon. Though I do pop up occasionally in the background.
All this was back in the day when you could freely move around and not worry about viruses. Now? The studio would be empty. No studio audience. Then again, no filming at all – practically everything has shut down now.
Please can we use third party Bluetooth mice with pre-boot MacBook/MacBook Pros encrypted with FileVault. I’m not happy that only Magic Mouse mice work during this part of the boot process.
Last year I posted a blog which expressed my frustrations with the system recovery process and non-Apple Bluetooth mice. Even with the Logitech Master 2S hooked up via USB, System Recovery would have none of it. That’s when I had to fork out £55 for the Apple Magic Mouse.
Speaking of pre-boot problems, the 2019 MacBook Pro 16″ appears to have issues with Apple’s own (external Bluetooth) Magic Keyboard during pre-boot. When I go to enter my account password to unlock FileVault, more often than not, some key presses aren’t registered in the input form. I have to press them multiple times to get them to register. Sometimes it’s so bad, I have to open the laptop lid to fully expose the built in keyboard and enter it there. That’s works okay – but I’d rather use the external keyboard wherever possible if I’m hooking the machine up to my external monitor. I’m pretty sure my 2018 15″ MacBook Pro didn’t suffer from this problem. Maybe macOS 10.15.4 will resolve the problem?
Not entirely sure how I feel about this one, because streaming video is undoubtedly a luxury versus the need to keep businesses running through video conferencing, voice over IP phone calls, and instant messaging.
The problem is that the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and even Apple have all been asked to reduce the bandwidth or resolution of their streaming services by the European Commission in order to reduce load on Internet Service Providers.
Here in the UK, despite the occasional spike, ISPs have generally stated that they’re able to cope with the extra demand of people streaming video now that social distancing is being put into practice. Yet Netflix has reduced the bitrate for their service to save bandwidth by 25%. The trouble with this is that their service was already very efficient with video compression – and the Premium level gives you the highest quality video (up to Ultra HD). People pay extra for this tier, so is Netflix intended on compensating people for the reduction in bitrate? And especially for those who are also paying extra for top tier ISP performance (G.Fast in particular at 100Mbs or above)?
YouTube is another culprit. I’m paying them £11.99 for the Premium service, and expect to get the highest quality video where available (as well as the removal of adverts – I could just use an ad blocker, but there are a number of creators I want to support and going down this route seems the fairest route).
Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Britbox, BBC iPlayer, UK TV, All 4, ITV Player and Channel 5 On Demand only operate on one tier and you can’t really complain if they reduce the resolution or quality. However, Apple TV+ seems to have gone overboard. This has lead me to cancel my free year-long trial. I was rather enjoying Amazing Stories and Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet – but otherwise there isn’t much other content that interests me, and they don’t offer any extras at all – a good opportunity for Apple to showcase their own iTunes/Apple Extras. But I won’t let the buggers reduce quality to the point of blocky artefacts. Even if I’m not paying for it (and yet they expect people to pay up to $350 for an iPad Pro keyboard/trackpad?!).
And what do you think is going to happen on Tuesday 24th March when Disney+ launches in the UK and other countries in Europe. You bet demand is going to go through the roof that day. Will Disney be joining others in reducing bandwidth or resolution?
And furthermore, what’s happening with the US studios plan on releasing titles that were intended for cinema to be available to rent on streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, etc.? Will those titles – which cost around £15-20 to rent have their bandwidth or resolution restricted? If so, you can bet that piracy is going to outpace the legitimate version – further hurting the film industry.
(While I’m at it – given that practically everybody in the world is now social distancing and staying at home – what’s the point of separate domestic and international release windows for new releases? Why is there still a pre-order for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker in the UK when it’s been released early in the US? Why does the country release window matter anymore? We’re all stuck indoors!)
These companies were asked to reduce bandwidth, not ordered to do so. But I expect there would have been consequences if they had not – that seems the way with the European Commission. I wonder if ISPs had ever been asked about the usage and their plans on monitoring and handling traffic accordingly.
Streaming video is a luxury – yes, but for some this is escapism given the solitary demands of social distancing. And what does the European Commission think of video game streaming, video games that communicate with servers for multiplayer games (Fortnite, for example) – the traffic should be fairly negligible (though I use 50Mbs for Nvidia GeForce NOW which is often significantly more than what my streaming habits consume) – but would the European Commission craack down on that too? What other services or protocols does it want to reduce the use of?
What I strongly object to are web sites that load and then autoplay video in a small window (or even if the video is embedded in the body of the page, autoplaying is bad!) alongside 20 billions adverts. Plus the 50 billion third party calls to external services just to make the bloody site work. Now THAT is a waste of bandwidth.
For my work, I just need voice over IP telephony (Zoom), the occasional online conference where we share screens, SSH access, RDP access, VPN access and your usual web based traffic. Face to face video conferencing is not needed for the most part (I can’t remember the last time I had to use it). I paid for a decent internet connection for the likes of streaming – I should be able to use it for it until such times I can’t afford to do so, or the plan I’m using isn’t available any more. I trust my ISP has the ability to manage the traffic accordingly. And if they asked me to reduce my usage, I would (though there would be some discussion about what I’m paying as a consequence of that). But I dislike the EU interfering without first doing some substantial research first.
I had to pop out to the local Sainsbury’s today to stock up on main meals for the coming week. The local bus service is still running, so I hopped on one with my big Sainsbury’s Bag-For-Life and hoped for the best. The car park was completely full, but in terms of people, it wasn’t that much busier than a regular Saturday shop.
Evidence of stockpiling is very evident in the following areas:
Soup and tinned goods
Most cleaning products
Non-fresh/long life pasta
(Click on the image, but not text part, to expand pictures below)
However, fresh produce was plentiful, as were a lot of other fresh/refrigerator-based items. So I stocked up on bread, sandwich fillings, some ready meals, some toilet supplies (not toilet paper – thankfully because it’s just me at home, I’ve been buying a 9 pack each week since January and have a fairly decent store of them – for now) and some chocolate.
Checkout was painless. I used the Sainsbury’s Smart Shop app on my phone to avoid having to use/touch Sainsbury’s own scanner – and it meant that I could skip the very long queues (both regular checkout and the self-service checkout). It took about a minute to complete – though I did have to get some help as I managed to procure some bleach for the toilet (and one packet of paracetamol (just in case) – I can’t remember what they check you for these days).
At the time of writing, an Amazon Prime Now delivery has actually been accepted (via Amazon’s warehouse – not that of Morrisons) and is the process of being delivered. I attempted to place a delivery order on Tuesday for Wednesday delivery, but Amazon/Morrison’s cancelled the order 2 minutes after it was due to be delivered. Effectively I’m getting more sandwich fillings and enough soda to last about a week – possibly two.
I do hope Sainsbury’s and the other supermarkets ramp up their home deliveries. This is going to be important if there is an official edict to prevent people from leaving their homes. Otherwise people will still need to leave their house at least once a week to go shopping.
Now that the new 2020 iPad Pro has launched alongside a new folio case sporting a full size keyboard and trackpad (an additional £300 on top of the iPad Pro itself, BTW) – what exactly is Apple going to be doing with the MacBook and MacBook Pro lines?
Here’s Apple’s TV ad for the new 2020 iPad Pro:
This also brings up whether the MacBook/MacBook Pro range will be moving over to Apple’s ARM-based A-series chips. Would there be any point now if the iPad Pro is just getting more and more powerful and supports trackpad and Bluetooth pointing devices?
I’d still say that if Apple moves to custom-processors for the MacBook/MacBook Pro and iMac ranges – they’re likely to be AMD-based Zen 2 architecture combining the CPU and GPU on the same silicon. This would retain the x86 compatibility that a lot of us sysadmins require, along with better performance and power usage over Intel’s processors.
Meanwhile, Apple has also launched a new MacBook Air with 10th generation Intel processors – available with a quad core Core i7 – which is exceptional for a device that slim.
So again – what’s happening with the various brands? I realise there are some pretty fundamental differences with macOS and iPadOS – but ultimately will the iPad Pro ever run macOS and combine iPadOS features? For the price of the cover which contains the keyboard and trackpad (I still cannot get over the cost – £300!), you can buy a reasonable PC laptop for not much more money.
This is perhaps the most appropriate headline regarding that £300 keyboard and trackpad (click the image to go to the article):
They came for our toilet rolls, because for some mysterious reason, people are pooping a lot more than they used to. Then they came for our hand sanitisers, because suddenly hygiene is seen to be super important now. Then they came for our pasta, because people suddenly find carbs super attractive.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic is escalating to the point of insanity by the Great Unwashed Public, supermarkets are struggling to keep stock of key foodstuffs and toiletries.
I thought that maybe I should book my regular Saturday morning slot with Sainsbury’s Online and add all my regular, not-at-all-panic-buying quantities of foodstuffs (there’s only me – I don’t need much). Alas, there are absolutely no available slots for at least two weeks. Tesco is the same. Ocado put me into a waiting queue just to get to their home page:
(We do this kind of virtual queueing at work for one client who sells shoes – and at this point of time, nobody is going into a frenzy buying shoes mainly because they’re stuck at home, can’t eat them, sanitise their hands with them (unless they wear shoes on their hands for the next several weeks), or use the shoes to wipe their arse.)
That said, I have plenty of food to keep me going for several weeks, and assuming that the local shops don’t close, there shouldn’t – providing people are sensible (oh please be realistic, Martyn – of course they won’t) then things like bread and tinned something should be fine.
This ain’t Supermarket Sweep, people. It’s not about filling your carts with everything you can find. Just do a normal weekly shop, and nothing should run out as quickly.
You know the ending to The Day The Earth Stood Still in which the alien leaves us a warning to mend our ways? If I were that alien, I’d have had the Earth blown to smithereens. Humans are the worst. (Hopefully the dolphins could facilitate a mass evacuation of dogs, cats, birds and other decent animals before the Earth is destroyed.)