Product Review–Brother P-Touch P900W label printer

I am reviewing the Brother PT-P900W Wi-Fi-capable label printer which is the latest in the range of labellers based on Brother’s P-Touch thermal-print labelling system. This uses the same “drop-in” label-tape cassettes as the rest of the P-Touch labellers such as the TZe-261 wide white tape that came with this machine.

There is a premium variant called the PT-P950NW which implements extra connectivity options. These come in the form of integrated Ethernet connectivity so you don’t need to use a Wi-Fi link to use it as a network label printer, USB host connectivity to work with USB-connected barcode scanners and similar devices along with the ability to work with an optional Bluetooth interface that only works with Bluetooth barcode scanners.

Users can also purchase a rechargeable battery pack if they want to run it on battery power and this charges with the supplied AC adaptor. As well, you can also purchase a serial adaptor to work with input devices like scales or barcode scanners that implement traditional serial connections.

But the piece de resistance that Brother puts forward is a touch-panel kit with LCD display that allows the machine to be purposed as a task-specific label writer. This includes the ability to work with pre-defined label templates or where you may have to enter numeric data.

This unit is part of Brother’s P-Touch thermal labelling system which uses TZ-series label cassettes and came with the TZe-261 label cassette which had a wide writing space.Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

 

Recommended Retail Prices

The Brother P-Touch label printers

PT-P900W
– Wi-Fi, USB to computer, serial connection
RRP: AUD$699
PT-P950NW
– Ethernet, Wi-Fi, USB to computer, USB host, serial connection, optional Bluetooth
RRP: AUD$899

Optional accessories

Serial Adaptor
– connect to scales or barcode scanner with RS232C (DB9) connection
AUD$29.00
Bluetooth Interface for PT-P950NW
– connect to Bluetooth-capable barcode scanner
AUD$149.00
Rechargeable Battery Base AUD$99.00
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery AUD$199.00
Touch Panel for PT-P950NW
– converts to standalone solution-specific label writer
AUD$199.00

The label printer itself

How you load the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

How you load the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

The Brother PT-P900 family of printers has a similar look to Brother’s latest business inkjet printers like the MFC-J5720DW inkjet multifunction thanks to the black housing with the rounded edges and flat top reminiscent of some 1950s-era home appliances. But it is easy to load and unload thanks to a lid that opens to reveal where the label cassette is.

Previously, I ran the Brother PT-P900W as a printer connected to my computer and it has worked as expected with the software installing properly after I had downloaded it from Brother’s Website. It also was a chance for all the P-Touch Editor software that was on my computer to be updated, which would represent a situation if you have one or more other P-Touch labellers that are customarily hooked up to your computer or on your network.

The Brother PT-P900W implements a highly-sophisticated network functionality for its Wi-Fi network. Here, it can work with 802.11g/n networks but needs you to set it up for a network that doesn’t implement WPS-based “push-to-setup” connectivity on its router or access point – thankfully most “Mi-Fi” portable Wi-FI routers can answer this call if you are setting up a mobile wireless network.

This unit can also be set up to work with WPA2-Enterprise wireless-network segments found in larger businesses where there is individual user-based login to the network. But you may have to upload EAP-TLS certificates to the device from a regular computer. As well, it is future-proof in that it supports IPv6 in a dual-stack form.

Brother PT-P900W label printer connected to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone

This smartphone is connected to the Brother PT-P900W label printer via the home network while the label printer is being its own access point

I set the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer with my home network’s Wi-Fi segment and it worked properly, both with my phone connected to the home network and to the unit’s own Wireless Direct access point.

The supplied Brother P-Touch Windows software is very flexible when it comes to printing needs and it can allow you to “gang” multiple Brother PT-P900W / PT-P950NW label printers with the same labelling tape for “round-robin” multiple-machine printing jobs. This can help with dealing with intense jobs like a stocktake or large delivery for example.

As expected for devices based on the Brother P-Touch system, the output quality was very crisp and I had found that the TZe-261 label tape that came with the review unit could answer most labelling needs. This is more so if you, for example, make use of two lines for your labels.

Other people’s opinions

Brother PT-P900W label printer turning out a label

Brother PT-P900W label printer turning out a label

I brought the Brother P-Touch P900W label printer out to the church I worship God at in order to demonstrate it to a friend there who works as an electrician and obtain his opinion on this device. I used it along with my smartphone to turn out a label and he noticed that the machine turned out the label which he wanted to use on one of the mixing desk’s faders very quickly and clearly. It didn’t take long for the Brother labeller and my smartphone to set up together and I was able to have the label turned out very quickly.

But he noticed that this machine looked a bit bulky and mentioned to me that he wouldn’t find it suitable for regular portable “on-the-go” use. He reckoned that it would work well for office-based applications and occasional transportable use.

Limitations and Points for Improvement

Personally, I would like to see a manual override between Wireless Direct and Wi-Fi infrastructure operating modes, which can come in handy if you want the unit to start quickly or to deal with difficult situations.

Similarly, I would like to allow for mobile-based app-driven Wi-Fi setup similar to a lot of Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers and similar devices are set up. This is where you can have the opportunity to select Wireless Direct, connect your mobile device to the label writer’s Wireless Direct network, and use a mobile app to upload your infrastructure wireless-network segment’s parameters to the printer.

The WPS “push-to-setup” functionality could also be extended to client-device setup so you can enrol your “open-frame” mobile device to the Brother labeller’s Wireless Direct network at the touch of a button.

The baseline unit in this family could implement a USB Type A socket for barcode labellers and other data-input devices that use USB because this connection standard is being seen as the way to connect peripheral devices. This could be extended to having the machines recognise the standard USB keyboard or, in the case of the Bluetooth interface, Bluetooth keyboards as an input device so they can quickly be purposed as a label writer

Conclusion

Personally, I would see the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W and PT-950NW label printers not as being for use on the road but as a tool for office-based workflow labelling with a regular computer or mobile device such as a smartphone, especially where the mobile device is likely to be used frequently as an input tool. Examples of this could be inventory control for the “reserves” at the back of a shop; or in a kitchen to keep control of foodstuffs and their expiry dates.

This is whereas the Brother P-Touch PT-E550WVP handheld heavy-duty label writer can earn its keep in the back of a tradesman’s van for on-site labelling.

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FLAC–now the audio filetype for archival use

Naim NDS network audio player

This high-end Naim NDS network audio player is an example of equipment that can handle the lossless FLAC file type

If you work with audio content, whether to “rip” CDs to the hard disk or home network, or record speech or music content for audio projects, you may have been dealing with various compressed filetypes like MP3 or AAC as your main recording format.

But most of these filetypes work on a lossy principle where data is effectively lost and when the file is played back, the software reconstitutes that file to make it something to listen to. Now an open-source file format has been released to allow for lossless compression of audio content.

This recently-issued format, known as FLAC or Free Lossless Audio Codec, has answered many audio technicians’ prayers because the sound is encoded in a manner as to prevent the loss of audio content through recording or playback. This is in a similar manner to how a ZIP or RAR “file-of-files” is prepared in order to conserve disk space or bandwidth. You still have the advantage of a compressed file not taking up too much storage space or transmission bandwidth. Being an open-source free codec, it means that audio applications can implement this codec without the need to pay royalties to particular organisations and there are very few other encumbrances on that codec.

FLAC re-rip of CD

FLAC – a better archival format

One of the best analogies that I came across for using FLAC in the audio-archival context is that it is like if you are a wine collector and you purchase a premium wine-cellar to keep your collection. Here, the wine-cellar is keeping the wine collection at an ideal temperature and humidity for long-term storage. But when you want to serve that drop at the dinner party, you have the bottle sitting on the sideboard and resting until it is at the ideal serving temperature.

Previously this required a user to download and install a FLAC codec on their computer to be able to record, play or edit these files. Then the Linux and Android operating systems had native support for this filetype built in to tie operating system and various audio applications provided application-level support for working with these files. Similarly, high-end sound cards and USB DACs furnished this codec as part of their software. Now Windows 10 has provided native support for FLAC files including ripping CDs to these files.

How can I use FLAC in my audio workflow

Creating your digital-audio content

If you use a computer or a file-based digital-audio recorder (including some digital mixers) to record audio content, make sure that you record as a PCM form like a WAV or AIFF file; or as a FLAC file. You may find that some equipment like a lot of the digital mixers with integrated USB recording abilities may only work with USB hard disks or solid-state drives that use high-speed data transfer if you have them record to WAV or similar files.

Then you use an audio editor like Audacity, NCH WavePad, or Rogue Amoeba’s Fission; or an audio converter program like NCH Switch, dbPowerAmp or Foobar2000 to convert the WAV or AIFF file in to a FLAC file. You may find that some video converters may offer audio-to-audio conversion for the FLAC file.

dbPoweramp Music Converter - one of the audio converters worth using out there

dbPoweramp Music Converter – one of the audio converters worth using out there

You could do this to your audio file once you have that file in “master-ready” condition – you have edited it and applied any audio transformations to that file to get it sounding right and it is ready to distribute. On the other hand, you could also create a “raw” FLAC file from the WAV or AIFF you have recorded before you perform any of the editing and audio transformation work. In this situation, you then use this “raw” file as your reference file if you needed to approach the editing in another way.

Even if you are salvaging audio content from legacy media like LPs, open-reel tapes or cassettes, you can still use FLAC as your audio filetype for these efforts. Here, you can use theses FLAC files simply as the digital archive for this media.

As you create or edit a FLAC file, you can add metadata about the content you recorded to that file and, like with MP3 files, that data which describes the song title, performer, genre, album and other attributes stays with that file. This will work properly with smartphones or media players that play these files; along with DLNA media servers that distribute these files across small networks – these servers can index them and have them found according to the metadata that describes the content.

Distributing your FLAC-based audio content

When you distribute your content, you can then use the FLAC file as your source file – you could simply copy that file if you are targeting newer FLAC-compatible  “open-frame” equipment like Android or Windows 10 smartphones or Windows computers, or convert to MP3, AAC or Apple Lossless for Apple and other equipment that doesn’t support FLAC. Similarly, most current-issue DLNA-capable NAS units can work from FLAC files especially if you have FLAC-capable playback equipment on the network.

The FLAC file is also useful as a “master” audio file if you are creating an Audio CD because it is a compressed audio file that has has the same audio qualities as a PCM WAV or AIFF file. Similarly, you may have to convert the FLAC to a WAV or AIFF if you are importing it in to a video editing program for use as part of your video project’s soundtrack.

Conclusion

Once you use FLAC as your main file type for audio recording and editing or simply convert legacy audio files to FLAC, you are then ending up with a digital-audio file that can be used as an archival or distribution-master form.

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Avoiding a mess-up with your small business’s or community organisation’s IT

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

Make sure you know where you stand with your small business’s or community organisation’s IT software and services

A very common situation that can come about with a small business that is starting out or a community organisation that is running with a handful of core volunteers is that you can end up with a messy information-technology situation.

Typically this happens because the people who are behind the organisation typically buy the hardware, software and services out of their own pocket, assuming that the organisation is running on the “smell of an oily rag” with very minimal funds. This situation affects organisations in the religious, charitable or voluntary sector where they want to spend as little on office-related or capital expenses as possible so the money that comes in is focused on the organisation’s raison d’etre.

What can happen especially with software is that the it ends up being licensed in the name of the contributor or volunteer while a service like Web-site hosting and domain-name renewal is paid out of a member’s or volunteer’s personal funds and managed in the name of that member.

Then you can end up with issues like software piracy and non-compliance or a service being paid for by someone who has left the organisation then you don’t know where that service is going or whom the computer software should be in the name of. You also have the issue of where the organisation legally stands when it come to using the service and this can also place the continuity of that service in doubt.

Do you know the organisation’s legal entity?

Here, you have to know how the business or organisation is legally referred to and represented. This includes a business, company or other legal name that represents the organisation as well as its trading or other “public-facing” name. Typically, the organisation’s legal name may be written out in any stationery associated with its bank account.

Software

Make sure that any software that the organisation uses is bought in the name of the organisation, If someone wants to donate a program to the organisation, they need to either donate the program’s value to the organisation as cash through the normal paths like a church’s offering plate or basket. Or they could buy the software as an unencumbered package using their funds and hand the software package over to the organisation.

Some “buy and download” software providers may allow you to register a copy of the software in one name while allowing you to pay using a credit card or PayPal account in a different name. This measure is typically provided to allow one to give the software as a personal gift.

Services

Increasingly business IT is being focused towards the purchasing of services like Web hosting, domain names and the like, with a an increasing amount of IT functions like software suites being sold “as a service”. Typically this involves someone having to pay for the service on a regular basis.

Payment for the services

What these organisations can do is to maintain a business debit card based on a major payment-card platform and drawing from the organisation’s funds. The organisation adopts strict usage and accounting procedures with establishing payments using this card and uses it primarily for paying for business services that can only be paid with a major payment card. On the other hand, they could make sure that the service they want to engage can accept a standing direct-debit order as the payment method. Anyone who wishes to donate the cost of a service could do so through a cash payment to the organisation in the usual payment path.

Whose name is the service under?

As for these services, make sure that they are registered or set up in the name of the organisation. For example, a domain name’s WHOIS data must reflect the name of the organisation and whoever is in executive position. For organisations who have a home as their office, it may be better to supply a mailing address like a PO box or a mail-drop; or use the shopfront’s address as a mailing address if they do operate a long-term physical shopfront.

Login details and user accounts

All login details like usernames and passwords associated with these services have to be known to authorised personnel currently in that organisation. This could be achieved through either a paper document or electronic-form document file that is on a USB memory key which has to be kept in safe storage on the organisation’s premises like a safe. Here, you could use a “secure” USB memory key which uses encryption and password security for this purpose and keep the password for that in a separate envelope. This list of passwords needs to be updated every time these passwords are changed and they should be changed regularly such as whenever people leave the organisation.

You may find that it is better to use multiple user accounts for these services so you can add and remove users easily and allow these users to determine their login parameters. The multiple-user-account setup also gives you the benefit of limiting what privileges a user’s account has, so that the privileges reflect the expected job function for the account-holder But the administrator password for these services needs to be kept on the above-mentioned organisational password list that is to be kept in safe storage.

Similarly, you may find that the multiple-user-account setup that a service uses may work with single-sign-on so that the credentials are verified with a third-party platform like Microsoft.com, Google or Facebook with the service receiving the “all-clear” in the form of a token. This may be OK to pursue if the employee or volunteer agrees to using the account associated with one of these platforms as part of single sign-on.

Conclusion

Once your small business or community organisation has their software and services properly under their own umbrella, they can make sure that they know where it stands through the life of the software and services rather than dealing with a dog’s breakfast.

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Assistance Journal–Dealing with a laptop’s Wi-Fi that failed after a Windows 10 upgrade

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

If you find that your computer doesn’t work as it should after an operating-system upgrade, check for newer device drivers from the system’s manufacturer

I had become part of a “men’s shed” community which encourages men to get together and engage in meaningful activities while being a chance for them to open up to each other easily. Here, it became a point where I could “put my skills on the table” and one of the men came to me about an underperforming laptop.

After I had gone through and removed some bloatware and updated the display-card driver on that laptop, the man approached me about this same notebook not connecting to his home network’s Wi-Fi segment since he upgraded it to Windows 10 as part of Microsoft’s free-upgrade program. I had noticed that it could connect to other Wi-Fi networks including the community’s own Wi-Fi network but he mentioned that it wouldn’t list his home network’s ESSID at all.

Subsequently I came around to his home to see the problem for myself and noticed that my Android phone could see the home network’s SSID but not this laptop. I used Windows Device Manager, part of the Windows operating system, to identify what kind of Wi-Fi adaptor was being used in that laptop and had previously researched this problem as something that could be driver-related.

Windows 10 Device Manager

Device Manager – a catalogue of all of the hardware in your computer

After that, I had hunted down a newer device driver for the Wi-Fi adaptor from the computer manufacturer’s Website and downloaded it to the computer. Then I ran the updated driver’s installation program and, after this update was performed and the computer restarted, Windows 10 properly listed the home network’s Wi-FI ESSID. I selected that SSID then used the WPS “push-to-connect” function to fully connect the laptop to the home network and it worked properly.

I even completed an Internet-connection “acid test” of having the client load a social-network session and check that it reflected the latest activity. By loading a site that is frequently updated with changing information, it avoids the Web browser loading material held in its cache which can be common with a site that doesn’t change frequently which makes me think that the Internet connection is working properly.

If you find that something like your computer’s Wi-Fi functionality misbehaves after an operating system upgrade, identify the kind of device performing the function using Windows Device Manager or a similar tool. Then track down the latest driver software from the computer’s, adaptor’s or chipset’s manufacturer and install that software. Typically this can fix the problem once and for all or make the hardware work better with the operating system.

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Using audio-editor software to salvage legacy media

Linn Sondek LP12

You may want to get those old familiar records on to your computer to play on your home network

A task that you will want to do is to record content held on vinyl, cassettes and other legacy media to your computer. This may be to copy it to a CD or have as audio files that you can play on a computer, mobile device or through your home network. It is a task you will end up doing either for family-memory recordings or recorded material where there isn’t a chance of it being reissued on modern audio formats.

What do you need?

Here, you will need to use an audio-interface device such as a sound card or sound module to connect the turntable or tape player to the computer; along with an audio-editing program which records the sound and allows you to edit these recordings.

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module press image courtesy of Creative Labs

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module – useful for copying old media to your home network

Audio-interface devices need to be equipped with line-level input connections so you can connect them to an amplifier’s tape-recorder connections or to a source device like a tape deck that has these kind of connections. On the device’s side you will typically have a 3.5mm stereo audio phone jack that is typically highlighted in green or marked LINE IN or some better sound modules may be equipped with a pair of RCA sockets that are similarly marked.

If you are using a laptop computer, an “all-in-one” computer or a small desktop computer, it is a good idea to purchase a sound module that connects via USB, Thunderbolt or similar connectivity technology and use that as your audio-interface device because most of these computers don’t implement line-level input connections on their integrated sound hardware. Similarly, a dedicated sound card may work wonders for sound quality and computer stability if you are using a traditional desktop computer that can be outfitted with standard expansion cards.

Audacity audio-editor software recording

Audacity – a typical and common audio-editor program

One common software tool is the open-source Audacity program which is highly capable advanced tool but may take a bit of time learning. On the other hand, there is NCH’s Wavepad which comes across as a “free-for-personal-use” program for basic tasks or you can buy a fully-function program for under $100. This one does provide an interface that you can easily get a grip of for most editing tasks. It is also worth noting that you may have ended up with an audio-editor program if you bought an audio-interface device for your computer like a USB sound module; or it may have been bundled with a comprehensive multimedia package or perhaps your computer.

How do I go about this?

Create a software monitor path using your audio-editing software

Here, you create a “confidence monitoring” path to be sure that the sound that you want to record is getting from the source device to the software. This can be useful if you want to hear the source coming through that software or as a troubleshooting tool.

Audacity - audio inputs

Audio inputs on Audacity

Select the “recording device” or “source input” that your source device or amplifier is connected to directly on the audio-editor software. Typically this refers to the actual jack on the sound-card or sound-module that your source device is connected to. Then you select the “playback output” or “playback device” directly on audio-editor software if the software allows you to do so.

Audacity - audio outputs

Audacity – audio outputs

If you use a hi-fi amplifier with a “tape-monitor” switch, connect the sound module’s audio input and output to the amplifier’s tape input and output connections. Then you select the source you want to record using the input selector and enable the tape-monitor function on the amplifier if you want the monitoring ability.

Some highly-sophisticated amplifiers have the ability to select which audio source is recorded by a connected tape deck such as through a “record select” switch, or there are amplifiers and receivers that have two tape loops but have a “dubbing” switch that determines how the sound flows between those connections. In the former situation, you may have to set the “record select” switch to the appropriate input and in the latter situation, you may have to select “Source” on the tape-dubbing switch unless you are recording from a tape deck connected to the other tape loop, where you would select that recording device using the tape-dubbing switch.

For the software, you would have to select the sound-module audio input connected to the tape output as the recording device and the sound-module audio output connected to the amp’s tape input as the playback device. Then you would have to enable software monitoring, also known as “software playthrough” in the audio-editing software to verify that the sound is coming through. On the other hand, modern Windows operating systems have the “Listen” tab in the Recording Devices Properties dialog box to allow you to “listen” to the source through your computer’s default audio-output device or an audio output device of your choosing, again useful for verifying your setup.

Setting recording level and parameters

Most of the software will have a level meter but this may require you to enable a “monitor” function on the software to see the meter in action. It is also the time where you can troubleshoot any connection problems.

VU meters on Philips DCC-900 in play mode

VU meters that indicate playback output level

If you are playing a a recording on a playback device equipped with VU meters that show the output level during play, check these meters for audio output coming from that recording. As well, if the equipment uses an adjustable level for its line-level outputs, adjust this control to at least 75% or 80% of its maximum level. Then you use the software’s level meters to determine the recording level, making sure you allow a bit of headroom on the meters. On the other hand, you may try adjusting the software’s recording level to maximum and winding back the source equipment’s output-level control to achieve the right signal level if the source equipment is connected directly to the audio-capture device.

As well, you set the digital-recording parameters to 16 bit quantisation and 44.1 kHz sampling rate for all legacy recording media if you use an analogue signal path. Also set up the recording parameters to record in stereo unless the recording was recording from a mono source or recorded with mono equipment, whereupon you set the parameters for mono recording. Using 44.1 kHz sampling rate works properly for burning to CD, or you could use 48 kHz if you are working towards using the material in a video project, but you can use either

You may find that using one of the audio filter functions on your amplifier like a “subsonic filter” may come in handy when recording vinyl for example. Similarly, using the Dolby noise-reduction function on your cassette deck may benefit the transfer process for a suitably-recorded tape.

Assuring proper computer performance

It may be a good idea to make sure that as few applications and tasks are running on your computer before you commence recording. This is because you need to dedicate your computer’s processor and RAM resources to the recording task and make sure that it will record reliably and properly.

This may involve closing email clients, games, office applications and Web sessions before you commence the recording session. Then, while you are recording, you make sure you aren’t using any other app on the computer that is doing the recording.

For laptops, it may be better to have them connected to AC power so that the recording session isn’t destroyed due to the battery dying. Sometimes, you may have to set your computer’s power-usage behaviour to “full-on” or “high-performance” for your recording job so that it doesn’t go to sleep during recording.

Recording

When you are ready to record, start the software recording then start your legacy media playing. Once the recording is complete, make sure that you save the sound file or project depending on the software so you don’t lose the recorded sound.

Use your turntable's cueing lever or button to lower the arm when you start playing that record

Use your turntable’s cueing lever or button to lower the arm when you start playing that record

If you are recording from vinyl using a manual or semi-automatic turntable, use the cueing function if it has one to lower the stylus to the record rather than actually lifting the arm on. It is typically represented by a lever at or near the arm’s pivot or some turntables have a button on the front of the base or near the front edge. This will protect the stylus from being chipped and avoids unnecessary loud clicks.

What you will end up with is a large WAV or AIFF uncompressed PCM file for the whole recording or a side of the recording if you record different files for each side or program.

Changing the media during recording

If you have to attend to the medium such as to change sides on a record or tape, you could pause the software’s recording function before you turn the record or tape over. This has all of the album recorded as one file and may be found to reduce glitches.

On the other hand, you may want to stop and save the recording before you attend to the medium then start recording the other side to a new file. This can work well with most studio recordings which are centred around individual tracks or where each side represents a logical part in the recording.

Some audio-editing programs support a silence-based automatic pause or stop function so as to have the recording stop when the source material hits the end of the side.

Editing

Most such software offers the ability to edit a recording that you have made. This can range from simple “cut-and-splice” editing such as to split a recording in to multiple files, combine two recordings in to one recording or remove unwanted noise from a recording.  Anyone who has worked with open-reel tapes or MiniDisc will be familiar with these editing techniques. Your first recording will be a time to become familiar with how your software implements these editing techniques and the way you perform them.

Audacity and some other audio-editing tools allow you also to “mark up” a recording file with index markers kept as a separate file or as part of a logical “project” file. This may be used to facilitate exporting of the file as individual tracks, but allow you to use the effects to adjust the sound across the whole of the audio recording. On the other hand, you may use the cut-and-splice editing techniques to break up the audio files in to individual tracks.

These audio-editor programs also offer the ability to adjust the sound of the recordings courtesy of built-in “effects” or audio-processing routines. There are the elementary effects like equalisation (tone adjustment) or dynamic-range compression but a lot of the programs offer routines geared towards this activity like audio-level normalising, noise-removal and speed adjustment (handy for tapes that have been recorded on portable equipment with half-dead batteries or using a turntable that is only capable of working at 33rpm and 45rpm to work with 78s).

A good practice is to save your recording when you get your editing perfect. Sometimes you may want to save the recording as a copy if you are trying an edit or effect out so you don’t ruin your original recording or a successful edit or effect treatment. This may be an important practice as you become familiar with your editing software and will be of value if you are trying to “bring out” poorly-recorded material like cassette recordings made using portable recorders with their integrated microphones.

Editing techniques for legacy media transfer

A good editing technique would be to trim off silence at the start and end of the whole recording and excess silence that has existed between sides or programs of that recording.  For example, some recordings especially those that are on a tape have a longer silent period before the end of the side to preserve a logical program break but have extra space available on the medium for that side.

You could also be removing unnecessary clicks and pops, especially those that are loud and are typically of equipment being started or stopped.

As well, you use the normalising function to bring the tracks’ peak volumes louder but preserve any dynamic range that exists in the recordings. You may have to set up channel-independent normalisation if you have recorded form most consumer-focused equipment because there is a tendency to make one of the stereo channels stronger than the other.

Similarly, the amplify function can come in handy for those recordings that have come through very weak but this is simply about multiplying the volume in that recording and can lead to clipping and distortion if you aren’t careful.

Various filter and equalisation function can be of use to remove unwanted noise such as tape hiss or vinyl rumble. Here, you may have to save a “reference” version of your file and toy around with these filters if you are trying to remove the noise.

Exporting

Most audio-editing software allows you to export the audio content in to different file formats like MP3, FLAC, WMA or AAC compressed forms or a WAV or AIFF uncompressed form. Some of the programs even allow you to “burn” an audio CD from the files you create thanks to an integral CD-burning software engine.

If you use another program to burn audio CDs, make sure that you export your audio content to WAV or AIFF uncompressed PCM files with one file per track. These are the best-quality audio files you can work with when you are targeting these CDs.

Most exporting procedures also allow you to add metadata to CDs as CD-Text data or to files as integral ID3 data. Here, fill in as much metadata as you can about the recording and assign genres particular to the recording’s content. It is important when you copy the files to your DLNA media server or smartphone, or make use of CD-Text when you burn CDs.

Then, you can get away with exporting your legacy-media salvage effort to FLAC files which are a lossless file being handled by most good-quality audio equipment. Similarly, you could export the recording to a 320kbps MP3 file if you want widest compatibility with older MP3-playing equipment.

Conclusion

Once you use a suitably-capable audio interface device connected to your hi-fi equipment along with audio-editing software, you can use your computer as a tool for recording LPs that won’t ever be released anymore or salvaging family memories thus having them on your home network.

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Showing photos on the large screen in your dual-screen setup

You may want to show pictures from a laptop to a big TV screen

You may want to show pictures from a laptop to a big TV screen

You have ended up with a collection of photos on your computer that you want to show using the video projector or large-screen TV. This may be like having that carousel of slides ready to show on the old slide projector – here you had this collection of slides ready after you came back from that trip or event.

This situation can apply to a range of use cases such as:

  • A person who is previewing pictures they have taken on a large screen so you can assess them in a better manner
  • Returning travellers who want to show their relatives or friends pictures they have taken during their travels
  • Businesses showing pictures of their latest products or pictures from a trade show
  • Churches who are showing their congregations the photos taken during outreach or missionary events

You may think that your presentation, AV-playout, worship-lyrics-projection or similar software may do the job for you but this will typically involve copying or importing each and every photo to a presentation and creating a presentation file which can be very inefficient. This is more so if you have had the images properly edited and sequenced so they are in a ready-to-show manner on another computer, then transferred them to the computer you are showing them with using some form of removeable media.

Similarly, you may be going through the pictures that you just took with your digital camera then imported to your computer and want to use the large screen such as your home or hotel-room TV so you can assess them more critically.

What do you need to be sure of

Windows folder with pictures in numerical sequence

Pictures in numerical sequence in known folder

The pictures, which are of a bitmap format that your computer’s  operating system can handle directly like JPEG or PNG, need to be kept in a known folder anywhere on your computer’s file system. This means that they can exist on your computer’s hard disk, on an optical disc that you or someone else “burned”, on a USB memory stick or an SD card such as what you took out of your camera. In some cases, it can also extend to online storage services if they are in sync and you are using native software to integrate them as part of the file system. As well, this may apply to your camera or smartphone if you have “tethered” it to the computer using a USB cable and it works to PTP requirements.

Photos on your camera's memory card

Pictures on your digital camera’s memory card or downloaded from your camera will be numbered in this order

The pictures will also be in a known numerical sequence. If they came off a digital camera or mobile phone, they will have a file name with a number that increases with every shutter-click. If you have edited them or had images from other sources, you will most likely make sure they are numbered to reflect the order in which they are shown as highlighted in the illustration.

What I refer to as the “large screen” in these instructions is a projector or a large-screen TV/monitor connected to your computer as a secondary display and what you want your pictures to be shown on. This display has to be configured to “extend” your computer’s main operating screen which I refer to as the “computer screen”.

Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 with Windows Photo Viewer

Here, you use Windows Photo Viewer which comes standard with Windows from version 7 onwards. This program can run a slide show based on image files without taking up too much computer resources/

  1. Open the folder where the pictures that you want to show are located
  2. Open the first picture in the folder or the first picture you want to show in the case of a large collection with Windows Photo Viewer 

    Image in Windows Photo Viewer

    First image of the collection opened in Windows Photo Viewer

  3. Click Play or press F11 to have the picture full screen on the computer’s screen. This will also start the pictures automatically advancing
  4. Pause this slide-show by right-clicking the currently-showing image and selecting Pause
  5. Press “Windows”-“Shift”-“Right Arrow” together to throw the image to the projector or large screen. This step is important or you won’t have it on that big screen.
  6. To manually advance the pictures, press the right arrow key to go forward or the left arrow key to go back. This option is useful when you are showing the pictures to accompany a presentation in order to avoid them being “out of sync” with the presenter, or if you are going through a collection of images like what you just took.
    When you have finished, press ESC on the keyboard to close the program
  7. To automatically advance the pictures, right-click the picture on the large screen and click Play or press F11 (auto advance). This is the option best used for images to be shown in the background.
    Image on screen

    One of the pictures now up on the screen after you follow this procedure

    You have the ability to vary the slide show will appear by clicking on “Shuffle” to have the slides shown in random order (useful when showing as background “wallpaper”) or to vary how long they stay on the screen by clicking the “Slow”, “Medium” or “Fast” options.
    Press “Windows” to regain control if you want to use the computer during an automatic slide-show. You will also see a square “picture” icon in the Taskbar on your computer screen, which is an indicator that Windows Photo Viewer is running.
    To stop, click on that “picture” icon that represents Windows Photo Viewer and press ESC on the keyboard

Once you know how to quickly run a slide show with a pre-edited collection of images and using software that doesn’t require you to “prepare” them for showing, you can make use of the large screen more easily to show those photos.

This article will be updated as I gain more knowledge on how to use other cost-effective or supplied software in other platforms to quickly show a bunch of image files on the large screen without having to prepare a presentation.

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Why do I represent the Naim NDX network media player as the poster child for top-notch home-network-based audio?

Naim NDS network audio player

The Naim NDX and NDS network media players are an example of what high-end network-based audio is about

There are pieces of equipment out there that I have seen in action doing their job effectively and even demonstrating what their application is all about. In some of these cases, I may highlight the device and use them as a “poster child” for that application where I would use a photograph that I have taken of it to represent a piece of equipment that fulfils the application I am talking about. The device I am talking about in this example is the Naim NDX which is a high-end audiophile network media player made by one of the British names-of-respect when it comes to high-grade hi-fi sound.

I have heard the Naim NDX network media player and its subsequent model, the NDS Reference Network Media Player in action whenever I have attended the Chester Group’s Australian Audio & AV Shows and this unit was one of the first devices that showed that music content delivered via a home network can be about high-quality top-notch sound.

The first time I had heard this unit in action was at the 2011 show hosted at the Marriott Hotel in Melbourne. Here, this unit was connected to a demonstration network and playing Alan Parsons Project “Eye In The Sky” which was held on a Seagate GoFlex Home NAS and totally underscored for me the fact that you can use a standards-based NAS and top-notch equipment for file-based music.

Previous to that show, I wrote “Serious About Music With DLNA” which underscored how the premium hi-fi names were implementing UPnP AV / DLNA technology to play out music held on your home network and the Naim NDX illustrated what this was about. This was a class of hi-fi equipment manufacturer who wouldn’t be ready to touch online or network-based audio setups unless they were totally sure that these setups were about top-notch crystal-clear sound.

Subsequently, I attended the 2013 show held at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel and had heard this same unit in action but working from a Naim UnitiServe music server which could be described as a “ripping NAS”. The photograph that represents this unit was taken during this occasion while it was playing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” recording from that media server.

But what is the Naim NDX network media player about that draws my attention?

This British-designed unit is totally designed by Naim to their ultimate hi-fi design standards with an emphasis on hardware upgradeability. For example, it is designed to obtain its power from Naim’s highly-strung specially-designed power-supply systems that are optimised to provide strong clean power to their components, but has its own power supply built to the same standard. The NDS “reference” model is even designed that it is only powered from one of these power supplies. The signal path that transitions between the digital form and the line-level analogue form is built around circuitry that would be equivalent to what would be in one of Naim’s standalone digital-analogue converter units.

Personally, this same device ticks my requirements for a piece of network-based audio equipment. One of these is that it can work on an Ethernet network segment including a HomePlug AV segment thanks to an Ethernet connection on the back, as well as a Wi-Fi wireless network segment. This is to have it work with FLAC, WAV or similar audio files representing 24-bit 96kHz “master-grade” recordings that exist on your home network. As well, the Naim NDX can discover music content on any UPnP AV / DLNA media server on your home network, something I have seen this unit do very well when I saw it in action at the Australian Audio and AV Shows. This unit satisfies the need for gapless playback for most codecs especially the lossless codecs so can handle most classical-music, live-concert or concept-album tasks. It also underscores the fact that the unit does handle the FLAC files very well and I have illustrated it as a “poster child” for the FLAC digital audio format. This is about placing importance on standards-based “open-frame” setup for network-based audio distribution.

The NDX also can “pull in” Internet radio content from your home network thanks to support for the vTuner Internet-radio directory. It can also support Spotify Connect and the new Tidal online music service that is pitched for hi-fi listening.

It is worth knowing that the Naim NDX network media player can work as a digital-analogue converter for CD transports, TV set-top boxes, MiniDisc decks and the like thanks to three SP/DIF connections – one in the form of an RCA coaxial connection, another in the form of a BNC coaxial connection and the third in the form of an optical connection. There is also a front-mounted “walk-up” USB socket so you can play a USB hard disk or memory key, or an iOS device full of music through the NDX. This also has the ability to accept content streamed from a Bluetooth-capable smartphone with support for the aptX Bluetooth-streaming codec.

There is a BNC coaxial digital output to connect the Naim NDX to a digital amplifier, DAC or digital recorder but the line-level analogue connections are available as a pair of RCA sockets and a DIN socket.

I have done some further research on this piece of equipment and had found that it had been rated very well by Gramophone, the UK’s classical-music magazine, and “Enjoy The Music”, an American audiophile Website

It is also worth noting that the Naim NDX has been used as the “hase design” for all of that company’s network-capable audio equipment like the Uniti network CD receivers. These network CD receivers were one of many devices of this class that I called out as representatives of the high-quality network CD receiver that, when used with a pair of high-quality speakers, could represent a three-piece system of a high standard for that apartment, office

I have similarly called out the Naim DAC-V1 USB digital-analogue converter as an example of a top-notch hi-fi DAC that is expected to work with FLAC audio files when I mentioned that Windows 10 was to have native support for these files. This use case was again highlighted at one if the Australian Audio and AV shows with this device serving as the sound module for an HP Elitebook 2560P and it ready to play through a pair of top-notch bookshelf speakers via a power amplifier from the same stable.

It is another example where file-based audio content including “ripping” CDs or salvaging legacy media to network-based storage is considered a viable music content source that can be played using top-notch audio equipment.

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A competitive market stirs up fibre broadband in Spain

Articles

Bullfight

Like a good bullfight, the market for next-generation fibre-optic broadband in Spain is very hot and competitive
image credit: Bullfight, Spain via free images (license)

Spain approves new wholesale fibre market regulation | Fibre Systems

Spain smashes UK in fiber rollouts | PPC Blog

FTTH drives Spanish broadband | Broadband TV News

My Comments

The Spanish government recently stirred up the bullfight that represents the next-generation fibre-optic broadband market there.

Here, the CNMC who are the Spanish telecoms regulators “let the bulls out” by requiring Telefonica, the incumbent ex-PTT telco, to provide wholesale access to their fibre-to-the-premises network. There are only 66 locations that won’t require this wholesale access because they have three or more companies offering infrastructure-level competition using their own FTTP or HFC DOCSIS 3.0 cable-modem infrastructure.

The wholesale connectivity was to be in the form of “virtual unbundled local access” for the fibre connectivity along with wholesale access to copper infrastructure. But there was also a requirement that Telefonica had to allow competing service providers access to the “pits, pipes and poles” so that competing infrastructure providers can lay their infrastructure across the sun-drenched land that is Spain.

There was an increased take up of fibre-optic broadband service with 3.1 million home and other networks across the country connected to this technology by end of 2015. Movistar, Telefonica’s retail ISP brand had taken up 71.3% of these connections. This is while Orange (France Télécom) and Vodafone are providing the two other major alternatives. But the bulls kept running at the furious pace with no slowdown in connections thanks to this competition.

What has been achieved by the CNMC is wholesale unbundled access to the copper and fibre last-mile / “to-the-door” infrastructure along with allowing competitors to use the “pits, poles and pipes” to lay their infrastructure. But for this to work, there needs to be continual market surveillance to assure a thriving and competitive market across the country by keeping tabs on company mergers and acquisitions in this field.

For Spain, a question that needs to be raised is whether the Balearic “pleasure islands” like Ibiza (Café Del Mar) and Majorca have access to this kind of competitive service for their broadband Internet needs?

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Congress attempts to restore competition to telephony and Internet in the USA

Article

Eshoo Pushes Bill to Prevent Protectionist State Broadband Laws | Broadband News & DSL Reports

My Comments

AT&T Touch-Tone phone - image courtesy of CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

Is the US telecommunications industry heading back to the days of these phones?

An issue that I have been regularly covering is the reduction of competitive telephony and broadband service in the USA. This is thanks to incumbent “Baby Bell” telcos and cable-TV companies effectively paying state governments to pass legislation to proAhibit local governments from setting up their own broadband infrastructure to compete with these established providers.

The FCC had attempted to use its federal mandate to override these laws but these efforts were being struck down thanks to litigation instigated by these established companies. Again this was leading towards a telecommunications and Internet-service environment that is reminiscent of the “Ma Bell” era, with the price-gouging, poor customer service and onerous terms and conditions.

But Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents the Silicon-Valley area in the House of Representatives, had submitted a bill to Congress in order to assure the provision of infrastructure-level competition by local governments and communities. Here, this law – the Community Broadband Act of 2016 (PDF) would prohibit state governments from passing the telco-funded legislation that proscribes this infrastructure.

There is some doubt about the proposed legislation becoming law thanks to the US Congress also being subjected to lobbying and graft from big-business interests including the telecommunications and cable-TV cartels. But most of the US’s consumer-advocacy groups are behind the law in order to defend a competitive telecommunications and Internet market.

One major quote that was called out was the fact that the current situation is placing rural communities at a disadvantage because the “Baby Bells” or cable-TV companies wouldn’t either roll out decent-standard broadband or people in those areas would be paying monopoly prices for poor service.

As I have said before, the telecommunications and Internet-service market in the USA would need to be under strong surveillance in the context of antitrust and competition issues. This would include control over company mergers and acquisitions; and even the issue of whether legal action similar to what was initiated in 1974 with “Ma Bell” needs to take place with Comcast, AT&T and co.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

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Allowing for niche SVOD providers to exist

Google Play Android app store

App stores like Google Play could be the place to set up shop as a boutique SVOD provider

An issue that will face the subscription video-on-demand market will be the existence of niche players. These are boutique SVOD providers that provide current and back-catalogue content that focus on particular tastes and interests. Examples of these could include a provider who runs European, Asian or other foreign films in to English-speaking markets; a specialist in art-house cinema, documentary movies or low-budget fare of the 60s and 70s that was run at a “flea-pit” cinema or drive-in, or even an extension of a Christian bookstore chain that runs Christian movies.

This is similar to how home video evolved through the early days where video content providers worked with particular vertical markets even though the major film studios saw this new distribution medium as too risky. This allowed, for example, the low-budget independent content to gain more of a foothold with some of the names listed in these movies’ credits to head towards bigger better-paid gigs.

Very hard to compete in the successful mainstream SVOD world

Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix – the sign of a saturated SVOD marketplace

What has been noticed recently is that only a few mainstream SVOD providers that “cover all the bases” can exist in one market at one time. This was recently exemplified when QuickFlix fell of the tree because they were trying to pitch the Australian market against Netflix, Presto and Stan. Similarly, the SVOD model has been proven to be successful as this article from Advanced Television shows, underscoring concepts like increased perceived value and customers signing up with multiple SVOD services.

From my experience with Netflix, I had noticed that the subscription video-on-demand services were able to come across in an exciting manner especially with their user interface. For example, they offered a recommendation engine which allows you to discover content you may be interested in; along with a carousel-style user interface that encourages browsing.

Ability to divide the niche genre in to sub-genres

A niche SVOD provider would be able to license particular kinds of video content that serve their niche and even break this content collection down in to multiple sub-genres. Examples of these could include the Australian “Ozsploitation” movies that could be part of the “grind-house” low-budget movie niche; or there could be a Christian SVOD provider offering the “testimony” movies as a separate class of movie. Or a foreign-language provider could run language-focused genres like, for example, a European provider running the Nordic-noir content as a distinct class of content.

Ability to sell the content in other forms

Inspector Morse DVD box set

Collectable optical-disc box sets could still be sold by niche SVOD providers

A situation that can easily give the niche SVOD provider an edge over the traditional SVOD provider of the Netflix ilk is that they could work directly with studios and distributors servicing that niche, typically indie studios, to take the content further.

For example, they can offer “download-to-view” or “download-to-own” as a content-acquisition option along with the streaming option. This can be facilitated through the use of the SCSA Vidity secure-content-delivery mechanism. Similarly, the niche SVOD provider, especially if they work alongside a bookstore, video store or similar outlet, could allow for online or “click-and-collect” selling of content on physical media like Blu-Ray Discs. This is becoming more so as the niche bookstores and “collectable” DVD stores are still hanging on even though there is a reduction in the number of mainstream content stores in the “bricks-and-mortar” form.

Specialised information including playlists

The specialist nature also has the ability for a niche SVOD provider to supply more detailed material about the content or even offer themed playlists that viewers can work through. Such playlists could be created based on an occasion like an anniversary or awards ceremony that affects the niche; or even films based in a particular location.

But what would these providers need to do to put themselves on the map?

As well as acquiring the necessary server space on optimised servers around the world and licensing the catalogue of movies and TV shows to have available, they would need to work on making Web and platform apps available to gain access to this content.

Apple TV and Chromecast – a foot in the door

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

An Apple TV device could be a foot in the door for niche SVOD providers courting iOS users

Some platforms, namely the iOS and Android mobile platforms support streaming to the large-screen TV via a home network thanks to the Apple TV and Chromecast devices that connect to your regular TV. This may dodge a problem associated with catering to most of the smart-TV platforms where the content provider may have to be allied with the platform’s vendor or approved by that vendor to get the content app in their app store. It is because the user interface can be focused on the iOS or Android devices with the app “throwing” the stream from the SVOD service to the Apple TV or Chromecast device.

But some Web-based platforms may be able to work with the big screen thanks to Apple TV (in the case of MacOS or iOS) or Chromecast (in the case of Android, Chrome OS or any operating system with the Chrome browser). In some of these cases, you may be able to have it that the video content goes “full screen” while it is playing.

Platforms that would succeed for app-based approaches

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

XBox One – the games console / multimedia box accessible to niche SVOD providers

The platforms that I see as working well for niche SVOD providers would be the Android and Windows 10 platforms due to being able to show a larger variety of content without the risk of being removed from the platform’s app store. Similarly, the Android TV platform supported by the Freebox mini 4K set-top box, some of the newer Sony smart TVs and the NVIDIA Shield games console; the XBox One games console or the Kodi open-source set-top-box platform could be seen as TV-based platforms that facilitate niche SVOD providers.

Bringing new customers on board

Another issue that needs to be raised is that the onboarding experience for new subscribers has to be simplified. This may involve a Web-based or app-based experience including the ability to allow TV-based or set-top-based apps to cater to multiple users and accounts. It may also involve whether the niche SVOD provider has to implement social sign-on, perhaps as an option, where one can use a social network’s user interface to sign on to the service.

This could be facilitated through the initial onboarding experience being facilitated with a secure Web-based user experience where the user ends up creating their own account and setting up a subscription plan. Then they log in to the mobile-based or TV-based user experience with this account that they created in order to enjoy the content.

Promoting the service

To reach out to the audience base that would value the content, the potential niche SVOD provider would need to run advertising and PR campaigns focused on that audience class. They may also be discovered through feature-app functionality provided by the different app stores, especially where the app store creates thematic app lists to expose particular content to particular users.

In this case, the blurb that the niche SVOD provider supplies to the app stores for their platform apps needs to mention the kind of audience that the SVOD provider is intending to reach. This includes using the keywords that best describe that audience and the sub-genres that the content is classed to.

Conclusion

When a subscription-video-on-demand service market becomes saturated, it may have to be the time to create this new medium’s equivalent of a specialist bookstore, art-house cinema or specialist video store. This also means that there has to be the ability to utilise different ways to nurture the enthusiasts who are willing to spend more on this kind of content.

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Buying that piece of computer hardware or software? Shop around

Most of us can easily prefer to buy a piece of computer hardware or software but may not be aware of bargains that may be of interest.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Spend a bit of time researching the equipment or software to obtain the best deal you can

In some cases, you may think that buying online is the only path to a bargain. But the bricks-and-mortar path may yield some possible bargains. For example, a friend told me how they were able to purchase a desktop-security package from an electrical retailer and were able to score a USB hard disk as part of the package. This may be because the “bricks-and-mortar” shops along with the distributors are wanting to keep people interested in purchasing packaged goods rather than a download-only deal for computer software.

Here, you may find that a game may offer multiple extras that may cost more if you buy it and the extras separately. Similarly, a piece of software may be sold as a multiple-user package and these packages may yield better value for money when you end up adding two or more computers in to the equation.

What if it breaks down?

New desktop comptuer at church

Research and bargaining has paid off in obtaining a good deal on this computer

When you are buying computer hardware, consumer electronics or similar goods, you will need to think of what kind of support do you get if the item breaks down. Here, you would need to pay attention to the warranty offered and where you can drop the goods off for repair. A multiple-year warranty is considered essential for most computer goods and consumer electronics. Similarly, you may have to be sure about being able to know where there is a service agent within reasonable transport distance from where you live or whether you can simply drop the system off at the retailer that you bought it from to seek any repairs.

You may have to present competitive offers for equipment or software of the same standard in order to have the retailers respond with better offers. This is a practice that has worked when I helped a church with getting the right deal for a computer. I had determined a minimum standard for a future-proof computer and specified a few different systems matching that standard and two other men shopped around and received better offers for a system of that standard including a system that was specified with a solid-state drive.

Another advantage of buying within your own country is that you are protected by your country’s consumer-protection laws a.k.a. “lemon laws”. Here, you have the weight of these laws behind you if you find that the goods are not up to standard. For example, there were a few times where I had suggested to people who had hard disks, DVD burners and other parts fail in their relatively-new computers to have these parts replaced at no cost to them.

The trick here is to be able to shop around through both the online and “bricks-and-mortar” channels, including independent dealers, so you can track down the best value hardware or software deals.

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Why is there interest in Internet-assisted in-home healthcare

There is a strong interest in using Internet-based connectivity as a tool for facilitating in-home healthcare.

Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter

A Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter in action

This involves the use of a mix of sensor types that are typically used to observe a patient along with the use of regular, mobile and other computing devices to process and present this information to the carers and to the medical professionals. It also includes implementing voice and video telephony to allow medical professionals to communicate with the patient without the need to frequently travel to where they live.

Why the interest?

Ageing at home

This is where a senior citizen is able to live independently at their home as much as possible but have supporting care from relatives, friends and professional carers.

tablet computer used as part of in-home telemedicine setup

A tablet used as part of an in-home telemedicine setup

One of the reasons driving “ageing at home” is the fact that the generation of people born through World War II and the post-war Baby Boomers will be entering their senior years which will place strong demands on health care and welfare facilities that cater to this group of people.

Another is that an increasing number of aged-care facilities have been associated with substandard quality of care“I don’t want to end up in the nursing home”.  This is brought about with more of us being aware of this level of care either through observing how those we have known in our life’s journey that were looked after in those facilities were being treated, or hearing about instances of substandard care in the media such as the infamous “kerosene bath” incident that hit the news in Australia in the early 2000s.

This has also been driven by the trend towards health-care deinstitutionalisation affecting geriatric and palliative care where there isn’t a desire to rely on large facilities for this kind of care.

Other healthcare needs

Increasingly hospitals are looking towards “hospital in the home” or similar programs as a way to provide ongoing care for convalescent patients and those with illnesses that require long-term attention. Here, the care associated with what would typically be provided in a hospital, typically nursing-focused procedures, would be offered at the patient’s home but with visiting nurses, doctors and allied staff.

Even obstetric care is also affected by this trend, with an increased preference for minimal hands-on professional care for low-risk mothers when they go in to labour. Similarly, low-risk psychiatric care is being delivered at home thanks to telecommunications-based technologies.

The advantages that are being put forward for this kind of care is that the patient can stay in the familiar surroundings of their home and, again, has been underscored by the concept of deinstitutionalisation in healthcare. Governments and others also see it as a cost-saving because they can focus a hospital’s beds towards those needing acute care.

The rural community are seeing an application for this kind of technology so as to avoid the need for frequent long-distance travel which would be of importance when it comes to specialised or advanced healthcare.

How is the kind of healthcare delivered?

Here, the focus is on observational healthcare where medical professionals can assess the situation based on either the data that is collected or through communications with the patient. In some cases, it may be based on an event-driven principle where the professional is alerted if the situation goes beyond certain limits.

This is facilitated through the concept of “telemedicine” where the data is conveyed through an Internet connection and has been facilitated through various technologies.

One of these is “machine vision” where one or more cost-effective high-resolution cameras feeds images in to a platform-based computer which runs software that recognises and interprets these images for medical use. One application that was put forward was to observe a patient’s pulse using a camera that observed the brightness of one’s face as the heart beats. Another application is to use a smartphone’s or tablet’s camera to read fluid-analysis strips as part of assessing urine or blood while an app in that device interprets this information rather than a person comparing what is seen on the strip against a chart.

Another of these is the implementation of common communications technologies like Bluetooth, Zigbee or Wi-Fi in sensor devices. This can lead towards the existence of cost-effective sensor devices that can work with existing computer devices with a minimal need for extra hardware, while these devices can use cost-effective software to interpret and present this information. This has led to startup companies and tech innovators developing devices like “wandering-alert” socks that work with Bluetooth and apps.

What needs to be done?

An issue that will affect in-home telehealth is where device manufacturers and health providers legally stand when it comes to providing these services.

One of the questions that is being raised is the use of non-medical sensor devices for medical applications. One of the scenarios is the use of a general wellness device like a fitness band or a wellness-focused thermometer as a medical sensor for clinical purposes. Another scenario would be the use of a “non-wellness” sensor like a security system’s PIR and door sensors, a home-automation sensor, or a smartphone’s camera for medical-observation purposes with these devices feeding their data to software running on a platform-based computing device.

These questions are being examined by the US’s Food and Drug Administration with respect to wellness-focused devices serving as medical devices in this context. But implementing home automation and security in this context may require a case-by-case assessment based on the actual installation and would only work with geriatric, psychiatric or allied situations where observational healthcare is the order of the day.

Similarly, software that uses devices like cameras for medical reasons like “machine vision” may have to be certified by medical-device authorities to be sure that the software provides accurate results no matter the input device. In the case of software that uses cameras, there would be a requirement for a minimum resolution for the camera to turn out consistently accurate results.

Conclusion

Once the issues that affect the provision of Internet-assisted in-home health care are identified and worked out, then it could be feasible for the home to be a place to deliver continual health care.

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Plex moves towards PVR functionality

Article

Thecus N5810PRO Small Business NAS press photo courtesy of Thecus

Plex gets closer to turning a NAS in to a PVR once coupled with a HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN device

IFA 2016: Plex live TV recording comes to Australia | Sydney Morning Herald

From the horse’s mouth

Plex

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My Comments

Previously I had covered the idea of a NAS being a PVR that records your favourite TV shows. This is whether it works alongside a dedicated USB or broadcast-LAN tuner device or a fully-fledged set-top device.

Recently, Plex was pushed as a “polished” media server for computers or NAS devices. This meant that it could show supplementary information about the movies or music you have on your PC-based media server or NAS if you used client-side apps on your TV or video peripheral.

But this software’s functionality has been extended to include PVR where it can record TV shows off the air and on to your media server or NAS. At the moment, it only works with the HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN TV tuners as its signal source and uses Gracenote as its source for the electronic programme guide. This means that the functionality is offered as part of the PlexPASS subscription program.

It seems to me that this feature could be destined for the servers that run the desktop operating systems but a good question to raise is if the DVR functionality will come about for NAS units because these would appeal more to those of us who run them as a media server. But personally, I would prefer that all of the platforms that Plex Media Server is written for have the upgrade for DVR recording.

To the same extent, it could also be about using a NAS as a “gateway” for a broadcast-LAN device when it comes to viewing live TV content on a tablet, laptop or similar computing device.

At least it is a different approach towards using a NAS and a broadcast-LAN device to perform PVR duties using your home network.

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