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Which streaming stick should I buy for Disney+? | Television

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My smart TV is old (Samsung, 2014) so I watch BBC iPlayer on my Now TV box (also old and discontinued). What is the best device for all the popular streaming services including the upcoming Disney+? To my knowledge, it is not yet confirmed if it will be available on my Roku-powered Now TV box. Adnan

You may be in luck, because Disney has just signed a deal with Sky. As a result, Disney+ will be available via Sky from its UK launch on 24 March, to be followed by Now TV in the coming months, says Sky. It’s not clear how many months that means. Perhaps Sky does not know. However, I’d assume it means some time this year, not next.

For those who have not caught up with Disney+, the service was promised in 2017 and launched in the US late last year. The company knows it is a decade late to the film-streaming market pioneered by Netflix in 2010. It can make up for that by making its service available across a wide range of geographies and technologies.

Disney+ will be available via web browsers on PCs, on Android and Apple iOS smartphones and tablets, on Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, on Roku streamers, on Apple TV, the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, and via Google Chromecast.

It will also cover almost all the big smart TV platforms: Roku TV, Android TV, LG’s WebOS and Samsung’s Tizen. In the UK, BT and Virgin Media still appear to be missing, but pretty much every Ask Jack reader should be able to get Disney+ on a device they already own.

Disney is also pricing the service to attract annual signups, with a pre-launch offer of £49.99 (£10 off) if you subscribe on or before 23 March. This includes HD and 4K videos, for which other services may charge extra. It will also let you download movies to watch later.

Disney+ will not initially have the volume of content you can get from Netflix or Amazon Prime. However, Disney’s string of takeovers of Pixar (2006), Marvel (2009), Lucasfilm (2012) and 21st Century Fox (2017) means it makes up in box office appeal what it lacks in depth.

It’s got Star Wars plus The Mandalorian, the Toy Story series and the rest of Pixar’s back catalogue, the Marvel movies and Disney’s studio productions, including a vast library covering everything from the original 1928 Steamboat Willie (Mickey Mouse’s first short film) to several versions of Beauty and the Beast. It’s also going to spend something like $1bn a year on new productions.

There’s no guarantee that Disney+ will be available on every major platform in every country, so you should check before you subscribe. Nonetheless, I expect it will appeal to families with children of all ages. In the long term, it should give Netflix some real competition.

Now TV

The Now TV smart stick
The Now TV smart stick is a popular choice because it’s cheap, but may not support all the services you want. Photograph: Sky

Now TV boxes are based on Roku technology but don’t provide all of Roku’s services. Instead, they are customised for Sky TV viewers, who want to watch Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, and so on. The platform’s attractions are that the boxes are generally quite cheap, and discount coupons let you buy services for a short time rather than paying for annual subscriptions. Sky Sports sells expensive passes that last for a day, a week or a month.

If you use Sky’s streaming services, Now TV is a good choice. You can watch BBC iPlayer and other British catch-up services, plus Netflix and other video services, though not Amazon Prime. If you don’t watch Sky, you’d be better off with a Roku streamer or something similar.

It really depends on how keen you are to get Disney+, how keen you are to buy a new gadget and which other services you need. For example, someone who mainly watches Amazon Prime may lean towards a Fire TV, while the odd bod who subscribes to Apple TV+ may prefer an Apple TV box.

The joy of Roku

A streaming TV
The Roku platform is now built into TVs including Hisense and others. Photograph: Hisense

Roku got started when Netflix decided not to make its own streaming device but gave Roku’s founder – Anthony Wood, a former Netflix vice-president – a $6m investment to create one. Since then, Roku has positioned itself as an independent supplier in a somewhat balkanised market.

It did deals to provide “channels” (apps) for Amazon videos and, more recently, Apple TV+. It also provides a free software development kit that enables anyone to create a channel in a Visual Basic-style scripting language called BrightScript.

In 2014, Roku launched Roku TV, which enabled TV manufacturers to build its system into smart TV sets. These can be updated in much the same way as Roku streaming sticks, and seem to have become popular in the US. Hisense, a Chinese TV manufacturer, launched the first Roku TV in the UK and Europe in November.

Roku hardware is usually cheap because the company makes almost two-thirds of its revenues from CTV (connected TV advertising), not sales of devices. It should also get a cut when Roku owners use their device to subscribe to paid-for channels. More users means more money.

Some Roku devices had voice search and control, and last year Roku launched a skill for Alexa. (Note: needs Roku OS 8.1 or later.) I have not tried it, but if you own an Amazon Echo, Dot or Show etc, your Roku should work with it. However, given that voice commands don’t seem to work all that well on Amazon’s Fire TV, don’t set your expectations too high.

As mentioned, many people will choose a device because it’s connected to or promoted with a service from Amazon, Apple, Google, Sky or whatever. For those who want Netflix and a decent range of services, Roku provides a good baseline at an affordable price. An Amazon Fire TV Stick is a reasonable alternative. Amazon’s Fire OS is a fork of Android and has plenty of apps.

More power?

Nvidia’s new Shield TV
Nvidia’s new Shield TV is the top Android TV box, but there are many cheaper alternatives. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Streaming sticks are tiny computers complete with a processor, memory and an operating system. If you are willing to pay a bit more, you can get one with a faster processor and more memory, which should deliver better performance. Some can also play quite good games. The leading examples include Nvidia’s Shield TV, based on the Android TV platform, and Apple TV.

The basic idea of Android TV – successor to the failed Google TV – is to use Android for streaming. It can be supplied in a set-top box or built into a TV set. Of course, Android apps are designed to work with touch on a smartphone, not with a remote control on a big TV screen, so they must be adapted. Check which apps are available in the Google Play Store for Android TV.

The saving grace is that all Android TV devices support Google Cast, so you can set up streaming from another device and use your smartphone as the controller. Once installed, streams are downloaded directly, just as with a Roku. They are not sent from the originating smartphone, tablet or PC. Some devices also support Google Assistant, which can be handy.

Asus developed the first Android TV in 2014, but the platform has been swamped by dozens of devices from obscure Chinese brands. It’s impossible to say which one might be best. However, you can check for Android 9 (Pie) plus ethernet, HDMI 2 and USB 3 ports, dual-band wifi, 4K video support with H.265 decoding in hardware, more storage, more memory and other familiar computer features. Most of them cost from about £25 to £55 so it’s not a huge risk.

The standout Android TV box is the Nvidia Shield TV, which comes in standard and Pro versions at £149.99 and £199 respectively. Samuel Gibbs, the Guardian’s consumer technology editor, reviewed one a couple of weeks ago and gave it five stars. As he says, the Shield TV is built to last – but it is priced accordingly.

The alternative is to buy cheap streamers for £20-£50 and treat them as disposables. That works for me.

Have you got a question? Email it to [email protected]


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Zuckerberg Says Facebook Will Ban Less Content Post-Election

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Facebook has spent the past few months scrambling to ban Holocaust denial, the QAnon mass delusion, and right-wing extremist groups. To outside observers, it appears the company is finally reckoning with the vast landscape of hate and disinformation it has helped create.

But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently told employees at a companywide meeting the real reason the social network was cracking down: the US presidential election.

In an all-hands conference call with Facebook employees last Thursday, the 36-year-old billionaire said that the company made policy changes to address the unstable situation around the US election and its aftermath. There has been no change in the way the company operates, according to Zuckerberg, who maintains majority shareholder voting power at Facebook.

“Once we’re past these events, and we’ve resolved them peacefully, I wouldn’t expect that we continue to adopt a lot more policies that are restricting of a lot more content,” Zuckerberg said in audio of the conference call obtained by BuzzFeed News.

While observers have speculated that Facebook’s new policies against potentially violent and conspiratorial content could mean that it’s turned a corner — or that the company is preparing for a Biden presidency and possible government regulation — Zuckerberg’s comments are an indication that the new rules are only stopgap measures. The 3 billion people who use at least one Facebook-owned product should not expect more rule changes after the election, Zuckerberg said.

“The basic answer is that this does not reflect a shift in our underlying philosophy or strong support of free expression,” he said. “What it reflects is, in our view, an increased risk of violence and unrest, especially around the elections, and an increased risk of physical harm, especially around the time when we expect COVID vaccines to be approved over the coming months.”

“This does not reflect a shift in our underlying philosophy or strong support of free expression.”

While the social network has created new policies to address health misinformation, violence-inciting militants, and hate, Zuckerberg has not expressed the same kind of candor in public Facebook posts as he has in speeches to his own employees. In September, he provided a general update on the company’s approach to the US election, which was followed this month by a post explaining the changing approach to Holocaust denial content.

He had previously posted a video in August explaining the “operational mistake” of allowing a militant group to exist on the platform in the lead-up to the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But he only published the video, which was made at an August all-hands meeting, after BuzzFeed News reported the contents of his talk and his admission to the company’s failure to act.

On Thursday, he tried to provide more clarity to more than 50,000 workers, some of whom pressed him on why it took so long take action against Holocaust denial. In 2018, Zuckerberg famously said in an interview that while he abhors such rhetoric, Facebook allowed Holocaust denial content because it showed that the company stood for free expression.

“There are a lot of things that I think that people say that are deeply offensive, and that are hurtful or even hateful,” Zuckerberg said. “But you know, where I think that we should draw the line is around when something has the likelihood to contribute to real-world violence or harm. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is a rise in anti-Semitic violence, both in the United States and across the world.”

“There’s an increased risk of these kind of different attacks, especially around this flashpoint around the election,” he added.

Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois reiterated the idea that the changes in polices did not reflect a new approach to the company’s principles.

“We remain committed to free expression while also recognizing the current environment requires clearer guardrails to minimize harm,” she said.

For some, Zuckerberg’s comments may reinforce the charge that the company only makes policy changes when faced with major US events or under press scrutiny. In an explosive internal memo posted last month, fired engineer Sophie Zhang wrote that the company prioritized action in instances of political or electoral misinformation in the US and Western Europe.

“It’s an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention,” she wrote in her note, which was first obtained by BuzzFeed News.

In his talk, Zuckerberg cited non-US and European countries where the company had supposedly taken action to ban certain types of speech to prevent real-world harm.

“We’ve had ongoing work in a number of countries that we consider at risk — countries at risk of ongoing civil conflict, places like Myanmar, or Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia — where the determination that we’ve made alongside human rights groups and local groups on the ground is that a wider band of speech and expression would lead potentially to more incitement of violence or different issues,” he said.

In 2018, United Nations investigators found that Facebook had been culpable and slow to act against hate speech that fueled the genocide of Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority that had lived primarily in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Facebook was also used to organize deadly violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka. Violent rhetoric on the social network is also pushing Ethiopia closer to genocide, according to Vice.

“The idea that this election is the only one that matters is nuts,” said David Kaye, a former UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. “The platform has an enormous and a more significant impact in a lot of places around the world.”

“To say we’re done does not strike me as a plausible response to the possible violence that could be done in the next couple of months or years,” he added.

“To say we’re done does not strike me as a plausible response to the possible violence that could be done in the next couple of months or years.”

In his remarks about the election, Zuckerberg mostly avoided discussion of the company’s decision to limit the spread of an unconfirmed New York Post story about Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, only suggesting that it could have been part of “a big misinformation dump.”

He did, however, comment on the current presidential polling, which favors Biden.

“It looks like potentially Biden’s margin of leading in the polls has increased, which may lead to a result, which is not close, which, could be potentially helpful — if there’s just a decisive victory from someone — that could be helpful for clarity and for not having violence or civil unrest after the election,” Zuckerberg said. Facebook is currently running an online voting information center to tell people that results may not be settled by the end of election night due to the large increase in mail-in voting during the pandemic.

Beyond the election, Zuckerberg addressed other employee concerns, including when they’d be asked to return to the office. While some Facebook content moderator contractors have been required to come back to offices in California and Texas, Facebook’s CEO said it was not a priority for full-time workers and that remote work “was the only responsible thing to do during a pandemic.”

On Monday, the Intercept reported that a Facebook contractor hired by Accenture who had returned to an office in Austin had contracted the novel coronavirus. That person is now in self-quarantine.

When prompted, Zuckerberg also discussed his views on a recent report from a House of Representatives subcommittee on antitrust issues. After noting that he thought Facebook existed in a competitive environment that included Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok, he said that his company would be adopting a policy that prevented employees from discussing antitrust issues on internal forums and messages.

He called a policy at Google that prohibits employees from discussing antitrust issues because of ongoing federal investigations “quite prudent” and noted that Facebook would be taking the same approach.

“Given that, you know, anything that any of you say internally is, of course, available to be subpoenaed or used in any of these investigations, I just think we should make sure that people aren’t just, you know, mouthing off about this and saying things that may reflect inaccurate data, or generally just are kind of incomplete,” he said, minutes after noting how Facebook stood for free expression. “You shouldn’t be emailing about these things and you shouldn’t really be discussing this in non-privileged forums across the company.”


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DOJ Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google Monopoly

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The Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against tech giant Google on Tuesday, arguing the company unlawfully maintains its monopoly over internet search dollars through anticompetitive practices.

For over a year, the DOJ has investigated Google, a company with a market value of $1 trillion and control of over 80% of internet searches in the country.

In a phone call with reporters, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen called Google the “gateway to the internet” and accused it of “exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

The lawsuit was filed jointly with 11 state attorneys general in federal court in Washington, DC.

“Two decades ago, Google became the darling of Silicon Valley as a scrappy
startup with an innovative way to search the emerging internet,” reads the complaint. “That Google is long gone.”

The lawsuit argues that by making itself the preset search engine on Android phones and paying billions to other companies — such as Apple, LG, and Motorola — to ensure it is the default search engine on their products, Google has cut off other competitors from ever having a chance to take a foothold in the market.

“Google no longer competes only on the merits but instead uses its monopoly power – and billions in monopoly profits – to lock up key pathways to search on mobile phones, browsers, and next generation devices, depriving rivals of distribution and scale,” Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement. “The end result is that no one can feasibly challenge Google’s dominance in search and search advertising.”

The European Union has filed repeated antitrust lawsuits against Google since 2010.

In recent years, Google has accounted for 95% of all search queries on mobile devices. The DOJ argues that this stifles innovation and customer choice, but Google says it’s the customers who are choosing.

“Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed,” said a Google spokesperson. “People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

Google has published an extensive response to the DOJ lawsuit, arguing that it is not pre-loaded on many devices and that it plans to fight the case.

“This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers,” it reads. “To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

For months, Barr has publicly spoken about his Google investigation. Rosen announced that Barr chose to focus on Google and other tech companies after “broad bipartisan concerns” were raising during his Senate confirmation hearings about the concentration of tech companies and their power.

President Donald Trump also baselessly accused Google last year of interfering in the 2016 election, tweeting “watch out Google” and “Google should be sued.”

But it’s not just the Trump administration who has been pushing for this. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has led progressive politicians in speaking out about the monopoly of tech companies.

“Two things can be true at the same time: Bill Barr is a corrupt Trump crony who should not be the Attorney General and the Justice Department has the power to pursue a legitimate, long-time coming suit against Google for engaging in anti-competitive, manipulative, and often illegal conduct,” wrote Warren in a Facebook post Monday. “The case against Google is clear and it must move forward without any political interference from AG Barr or Big Tech’s army of lobbyists.”

Accusing social media and tech companies of “bias” or supposed political censorship has been a constant claim of the right, including the president, whose own posts have been repeatedly flagged by Twitter and Facebook for spreading disinformation.

“This case has nothing to do with that subject,” said Rosen. “The antitrust case is very separate from the questions about social media and some other technology issues that are out there about skew or bias.”

The DOJ’s announcement comes just two weeks before the presidential election. But Rosen rejected the suggestion that the lawsuit was rushed out before the election.

“If anything, this is a situation where we might have preferred to be quicker but we wanted to make sure we’ve done the work that’s necessary,” said Rosen.

The last major antitrust lawsuit into a tech monopoly by the DOJ was Microsoft in 1998, the same year Google was founded.

“We could lose the next wave of innovation,” said Rosen, “If that happens, Americans may not get to see the next Google.”


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Qualcomm introduces Radio Access Network chips for 5G infrastructure

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Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm and Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, responds to a question during a panel discussion on 5G wireless broadband technology during the 2018 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 10, 2018.

Steve Marcus | Reuters

Qualcomm on Tuesday announced new chips and software products that the company hopes will give wireless carriers access to cheaper hardware for building out 5G networks than current base stations from companies like Ericsson and Huawei.

Qualcomm stock is up over 43% this year as investors bet that its mobile chips, like the modem in Apple‘s latest iPhones or the processor in Samsung Galaxy phones, stand to benefit from a wave of spending on 5G.

But Qualcomm’s new Radio Access Network chips go on the other side of a 5G connection — instead of being inside a handset, they’re designed to go into the base stations, packed with antennas and chips, that carriers place around cities to deliver internet over cellular connections. The RAN products are Qualcomm’s shot to get a piece of the 5G network infrastructure market, which will be worth over $8 billion this year, according to a Gartner estimate.

Qualcomm won’t actually make any base stations or infrastructure, unlike companies such as Huawei, Ericcsson, or Nokia. Instead, Qualcomm will sell its customers baseband, processing and RF chips combined with software that allow them to build “virtualized radio access” networks in which base station components are built according to specifications that allows them to work together. This could allow carriers to avoid lock-in to a single provider and choose components of a base station on a part-by-part basis. For example, a carrier could buy radios from one provider and processors from Qualcomm.

Qualcomm’s RAN products support several bands of 5G, including the speedy millimeter wave connections that require more base stations and have a fairly short range, and the slower sub-6 millimeter flavor that can be broadcast over wide regions.

“5G enables a very large expansion of the Qualcomm addressable market, because 5G is going everywhere. It’s going to automotive, it’s going everywhere. The networking aspects of 5G comes with that transition,” Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said. “It’s a very small incremental investment and it creates an expansion of the Qualcomm addressable market.”

Amon declined to identify companies planning to use Qualcomm’s RAN product but said the likely customers include existing base-station makers as well as new companies that want to create cellular infrastructure, such as carriers that could end up building their own base stations. Qualcomm’s customers will get engineering samples in 2022.

Open standards

Qualcomm has a history of selling chips for infrastructure back in the ’90s, and it started selling RAN products in 2018, but so far it has focused on “small cells,” or tiny base stations for small numbers of users. Its new products can support “macro” base stations for public networks operated by carriers that have millions of subscribers, Amon said.

Qualcomm’s products are compatible with O-RAN, a standard backed by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Open standard base stations are expected to generate $5 billion in sales per year over the next five years, according to Dell’Oro Group, an industry researcher. Other companies including Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell, and Cisco are also offering base station parts that are compatible with O-RAN, Bloomberg reported last month.

Amon compares the rise of virtualized cellular networks to the growth of cloud computing over the past decade where companies realized that instead of buying and maintaining servers, they could purchase computer processing as a commodity, separating the expensive server hardware from the software.

“The telecom networks have been end-to-end systems. Now with 5G, there is one thing happening parallel which is the transition of networks to full virtualization,” Amon said. “The networks get virtualized, so the radio access networks run on general purpose computers.”

The announcement also marks an American company making substantial investments in the world of cellular infrastructure, which has become a hot international topic as countries like the United States and Australia have eliminated China’s Huawei gear from 5G networks because of what officials say are national security reasons.

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said in an interview in February that the U.S. wants to have 5G infrastructure “done by American firms.” Officials in Congress have also introduced legislation that would fund O-RAN technology development.


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