Thursday, June 20, 2013

Next Gen Consoles, YouTube, and You: A Bleak Future?

      YouTube is a very central part of today's gaming culture. With hundreds of thousands of YouTuber content creators getting billions of views from millions of passionate gamers. There is a vast multitude of sub-genres within the YouTube gaming community ranging from comedies, tips and tricks, walkthroughs, "Let's Plays",  angry rants, reviews, glitches, advice, montages, and "how to" videos just to name but a few. It goes without saying, although I will go ahead and say it anyway, YouTube... is kind of a big deal. With the gaming world moving onto the next generation of consoles, it begs the question, how will YouTube be affected by this?

      With all three current gen consoles supporting their own versions of YouTube apps, one would assume that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony all realize the importance of YouTube and the benefits of the free publicity it brings their consoles and their games. Or do they? Both Microsoft and Sony are trying to cater to this social video sharing side of the gaming community by integrating versions of video capture cards into their next gen systems along side a suite of video editing and video sharing software. Sony has put a large emphasis on this and has gone so far as to put a "Share" button on the Playstation 4's controller. But there are a few things that neither company are really talking about and that is the level with which these features will be integrated with YouTube, if at all. As a YouTube content producer myself, I find this extremely disconcerting.

 Microsoft hasn't divulged a whole lot of information about how exactly their video recording and sharing will work but the picture below (taken from the official Xbox website) shows the few details we do know about the Xbox One.

     There are a few things to take note of in this official statement by Microsoft. Let's start by analyzing what the statement DOES tell us and what we can infer from these statements. "Amp up your bragging rights with Game DVR by capturing your highlights."  In a world where the choice of words mean everything a lot can be drawn from this one simple sentence, particularly the use of the word "highlights". To me this means that the Xbox One will record footage in much the same fashion as the Playstation 4. Rather than allowing a user to record and keep several hours of game footage, the statement implies that the console will only store a limited amount of footage and will only allow you to choose small clips with which you can share with your friends. It has been stated that the Playstation 4 will only store your last 15 minutes of gameplay and I would go so far as to assume the same will be true for the Xbox One, at least until Microsoft comes out and says otherwise. While this seems a trivial thing to most, you must understand that most YouTube videos are either a series of highlight clips spanning the course of several different games all compiled into one video, or one entire nonstop gameplay that could last several hours (although the average YouTube gaming video is closer to 8 minutes in length). From a YouTube content producer's standpoint, this is simply not conducive of producing entertaining high quality videos.

     For the sake of thought flow we're going to skip down to the bottom of the picture. "*Available for supported games." Both Microsoft and Sony are ultimately leaving the decision up to the game publishers as to whether or not you can actually record and share your game footage. This particular stipulation tends to fall into the grey area of determining who actually owns the game footage. From a legal standpoint, you do not own your own gameplay footage. While the majority of game publishers have contract agreements with several notable YouTube partnerships to allow these YouTube partners to publish game footage online, unpartnered channels, such as my own, are left to the decisions of the legal owner of the game footage. The best example I can give of this is from personal experience. EA has chosen to claim several of my Battlefield 3 gameplay videos. They haven't issued a copyright strike to my channel or forced me to take them down, instead they have placed ads on these videos to earn money off of my work and placed links to the official Battlefield 3 website in my video description. Essentially what all of this means is Microsoft and Sony aren't really looking out for you as an individual. If a game publisher decides they don't want their game to be recorded or shared, then it's their legal right to stop you from doing so.

     Next we'll jump to the topic of streaming from your console. While from the initial onset this may seem like an exciting feature to have, one should first consider a few things. The most obvious thing to examine would be internet speed, after all, the quality of your stream depends solely on the speed of your internet. Slower internet speeds mean lower quality streams. Live streams now that are less than 480p are often ignored by the vast majority of people interested in watching somebody stream themselves playing a video game. Internet speed aside,it is great that Microsoft has managed to partner up with Twitch for their streaming services as that is arguably the most used and feature rich website for streaming video games. 

     Sony has decided to counter Microsoft by allying up with UStream. UStream is a streaming service better known for the "life streaming" and other sorts of activities revolving around webcams and other personal cameras that are able to connect to the internet such as your phone. While I am not personally fully qualified to comment on the capabilities of UStream I do feel it necessary to point out that there is obviously a reason UStream isn't known very well for it's video game streaming. Last note on the topic of streaming, while it is possible to save your entire streaming session for viewing later, uploading directly to YouTube, or downloading so that you may edit the video as you see fit, you must keep in mind that the quality of your stream is dependent on the speed of your internet. If you happen to have a sub-par internet speed, your videos will still be at a less than desirable quality. Put simply, even if you download your live stream, edit it, add a commentary etc., and upload it to YouTube, that video will still resemble a video with less than 240p quality. Videos uploaded to YouTube at a max quality setting of 240p are often ignored because people tend to favor 480p+.

     Rather than quote the next segment I will simply refer you to look at the entire section regarding "Upload Studio". While this application does seem to cover the very basic minimum in regards to producing YouTube gaming commentaries, it would be downright ridiculous to consider this software and the software within the Playstation 4 to be as feature rich as the more commonly used video editing programs frequently used for creating YouTube videos such as Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere, and Adobe After Effects. So already we're looking at yet more reasons why the quality of these videos will suffer, but wait, we're not quite done with this section. It's now time to point out what this section DOESN'T say. It is not mentioned anywhere that you will be able to upload your content to YouTube or even anywhere on the internet outside of your console of choice for that matter. 

     I'm sure some of you YouTubers reading all of this are thinking to yourselves, "why does any of this apply to me? I already have a video game capture card and the necessary editing software to create and upload YouTube videos." This is the part where things get extremely disturbing and nerve rattling. We'll start off with the slightly less than bad news, if you plan on owning Sony's Playstation 4, you just might be in the clear. If you plan on owning an Xbox One, let's just say your future is still rather clouded, and those clouds are some pretty dark, mean, and ominous storm clouds. Both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One have been confirmed to be utilizing HDMI video outputs. The Playstation 4 has also been confirmed to have Analog AV Component and RCA video outputs. Most importantly, both consoles have also been confirmed as using Blu-Ray disc players. Why is this important? Allow me to introduce you to a "feature" of HDMI cable technology known as High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, or HCDP. HCDP is a copyright protection "feature" that is supposed to prevent people from illegally copying Blu-Ray discs. In order for your Blu-Ray player to work, your Blu-Ray disc drive uses this HDCP technology in order to authenticate that there is no video capturing hardware or software between the Blu-Ray payer and your television, kind of like the video game capture card sitting between your console and TV that you use to capture game footage. This is kind of authentication is limited however, it only works through HDMI ports and HDMI cables. 

     YouTube content producers that own a Playstation 3 are likely already well acquainted with this issue and are aware that the current workaround is to record video through the AV analog connection. Likewise, future Playstation 4 owners will be able to use the AV analog output in order to feed the data that is you playing your game, through your capture card and to your television. However, future Xbox One owners may not be so lucky. The only video output that will be located on the Xbox One is HDMI. While it is true that current Xbox 360 owners are able to record through their HDMI port, this is due to one thing. Xbox 360s doesn't use Blu-Ray disc drives, instead they use a now obsolete technology known as "HD DVD". This HD DVD technology was implemented into the Xbox 360 in a manner that basically disabled HDCP while playing video games. Whether or not Microsoft has managed to do the same thing with the Xbox One remains to be seen and all attempts to get clarification on the issue have resulted in non-committal answers such as "We don't have that info at this time. Stay tuned in the coming months for more details". Until we, the consumers, make our voice heard loud and clear on this matter, I highly doubt that either company will truly clarify the details of these game recording and sharing features. More likely, they will just wait and let us figure that all out for ourselves. Which is not an answer I am content with and you shouldn't be either.

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