Product Review–Brother HL-L3230CDW Colour LED Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L3230CDW which is their latest iteration of a colour LED-based xerographic printer. These xerographic printers works in a similar manner to a laser printer but uses a row of LEDs rather than a laser steered by moving mirrors to light the imaging drum with what you are printing as part of the printing process.

Brother is positioning the HL-L3230CDW as a follow-on model to their HL-3170CDW colour LED printer and its stablemates. But they are also running this model as a baseline printer for their new colour LED xerographic printing engine. The higher-priced pureplay stablemates based on the new engine also have a colour LCD touchscreen and offer more in the way of walk-up printing options such as working with Brother’s Web Connect online printing subsystem. There are also some colour LED multifunction printers with the fax-equipped models supporting this same Web Connect as well.

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour 1 A4 tray(standard) USB 2.0
LED xerographic 1 sheet multi-purpose tray Ethernet
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Own-access-point Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Auto-Duplex IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support

 

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$329

Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$146 2500
Cyan AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500
Magenta AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500
Yellow AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit – per colour AUD$299 18000
Belt Kit (Colour lasers) AUD$194.50 50000
Waste Toner Bin AUD$43 50000

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer control panel

The control panel on the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

The Brother HL-L3230CDW is able to connect to your computer directly via USB or via your home network using Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n) or Ethernet. This review will be the first product review on HomeNetworking01.info to implement the new Wi-Fi Alliance “generation mumbering” scheme that has just been set in stone when it comes to what kind of connectivity to expect from a Wi-Fi wireless-network device.

There is a small LCD display as well as a D-pad for basic machine setup functionality so you are not expecting much from this printer beyond a baseline print device.

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer toners in place

Toner cartridges and drum units in the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

You have to open a lid to gain access to the toner cartridges. drum units and belt unit. Here, each colour toner cartridge is installed in its drum unit but you separately replace the toner cartridge and the drum unit unlike what happens with HP LaserJet printers.

Here, each of the parts are easy to remove and reinstall which can be of benefit when dealing with paper jams. If you are dealing with a paper jam that occurred around the back of the printer, the fuser rollers are exposed when you open the back panel and release another black plastic panel to rectify the paper jam. This is a risky situation due to these rollers being hot after a print job.

Brother DR-253CL drum and TN-253Y toner cartridge

Toner cartridge and drum unit as separate pieces – installed in a similar manner to Brother monochrome laser printers

A security issue that will always come up regarding dedicated-function devices that connect to your network and the Internet is making sure these devices are kept up-to-date with the latest firmware. This is something I will be paying attention to regarding these devices and writing up about in these product reviews.

Brother integrates in to their print monitor software installed on your computer a software-update monitoring function. If there are new versions of the driver or printer firmware, this program will let you know so you can update this software, whereupon you can update this software. It will lead to the installation of a printer-firmware update tool to install newer firmware.

Paper Handling

The Brother HL-L3230CDW has a standard paper tray for ordinary document paper. But like most of the popularly-priced Brother printers. it has a single-sheet multipurpose feed slot which can be annoying if you are doing things like run a batch of labels or print on special media.

Walk-up functions

Due to its position in the market for its product type as an economy “bare-bones” printer, this printer doesn’t offer walk-up printing from USB, network or online resources.

Computer functions

I have installed the driver software on to my Windows 10 computer from Brother’s official support Website and this installation went according to plan.

As for printing from mobile devices, the Brother HL-L3230CDW can print using Brother’s own iPrint&Scan app. But it supports driver-free printing in the form of Apple’s AirPrint and the Mopria platform as well as supporting Google Cloud Print.

There is support for code-based secure job release but it requires you to enter the pre-determined release code using a “pick-and-choose” method not dissimilar to text entry on a Smart TV or video peripheral using its remote control.

Print speed and quality

If the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer hasn’t been used for a significant amount of time, it would take around 20 seconds to yield the first page of the document from when you send the print job from your computer. If it was recently used, the printer would take around 10 seconds to turn out the first page of the print job. This is something that would be expected for most economy laser printers.

This printer would yield sharp crisp document output even for colour work thus making it suitable for basic office printing including printing of desktop publishing work.

I printed two test photos using Windows 10 Photos app along using the best printing-quality setting available and they came out slightly pale compared with Brother’s recent premium colour laser printer – the HL-L8350CDW. Most of the colours still come out vibrant although it doesn’t handle the flesh tones really well.

Even though I haven’t had the chance to personally test the Brother HL-3170CDW or its stablemates that are based on the second-generation LED xerographic print engine, I had noticed a significant improvement on photo output quality over the generations compared to when I tested the HL-3075CW which used Brother’s first-generation LED xerographic print engine.  What is showing up with the Brother HL-L3230CDW is that it is capable of yielding photo output that is good for ordinary use but not fully presentation-grade.

The Brother HL-L3230CDW’s LED print engine is the second colour LED print engine that Brother designed to implement an automatic duplexer across all of the models. But I have paid some attention to registration shift between the front and back of the same sheet of paper during a double-sided print run. Here, I had noticed a slight vertical shift where the back page was slightly shifted down from the front by a few millimetres. This is something that may be common with most desktop printers equipped with this feature but may be of concern with turning out print jobs like doorknob hangers, luggage tags or the like where you need to cut out a particular shape.

Unlike the premium Brother colour laser printers, the Brother HL-L3230 doesn’t implement a “quick turnaround” approach to automatic duplexing. Rather it seems to work one sheet of paper at a time while doing a double-sided print run.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One feature that Brother could work on with the economy colour LED printers is the registration shift for auto-duplexing. Here, they could make sure that there isn’t any drift between the front and back of the printed page, which can be of benefit for printing special-shaped work. It can also lead towards designing automatic duplexer mechanisms for printers that are paper-agile such as being able to work with smaller paper sizes or thicker paper.

The manual bypass tray could be able to support multiple sheets of paper, which can be of benefit if you are turning out a significant quantity of labels, printed envelopes or other special documents.

Another issue that will be of concern is the cost to replace the drum units when they come up for replacement. This can cause one to consider buying a new printer from the same range rather than replacing the necessary parts. It is more so where the drum units are being rated for fewer pages than the other components.

Another improvement I would like to see regarding this printer is the option to start a firmware update for a network-connected printer from its control panel through the “Machine Info” menu. This could be augmented through a message on the printer’s display to say that new firmware is available like I have seen with some of the multifunction units they offer.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Personally, I would see the Brother HL-L3230CDW as an entry-level casual-use option for a xerographic-based colour printer that is suited for small jobs. This could be something that is a home office or a private “document-preview” printer.

An issue that will be of concern is that if at least one drum unit or the belt unit comes up for replacement at the same time as a toner replacement, it could make us think that this printer is worth replacing rather than the necessary parts. This is a problem that I see being endemic with economy-positioned printers.

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SAT-IP technology to extend to terrestrial and cable TV setups

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Broadcast-LAN setup

This could become the way to distribute cable and terrestrial TV around the home in Europe

AVM

SAT>IP — what is it? (Blog Post relating to DVB-C broadcast-LAN abilities in some AVM FritzBox cable modem routers)

My Comments

In Europe, SAT-IP, properly spelt SAT>IP, has been established as a broadcast-LAN standard for satellite-TV setups. This implements a satellite broadcast-LAN tuner that connects between the satellite dish and your home network, whereupon a a compatible TV or set-top box or a computing device running compatible software “tunes in” and picks up the satellite broadcast.

Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet

A mobile-platform tablet running a SAT-IP client could end up serving as a portable TV for a cable or terrestrial TV setup

At the moment, Panasonic smart TVs pitched to the European market can work with a SAT-IP setup, with Loewe rolling this feature in to their models, but there is a wide range of software including VLC that can work with this setup along with a significant number of set-top boxes.

But this technology is being taken further by extending it to terrestrial and cable TV setups, especially in Germany which has a infrastructure-agnostic policy regarding the distribution of free-to-air and pay TV. That is you could watch Tatort on Das Erste in that country no matter whether you are using the traditional TV antenna, a cable-TV infrastructure or a satellite dish. Some online resources in that country even use the name TV-IP or TV>IP to describe this all-encompassing approach.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

.. as could one of these Windows-based 2-in-1 convertibles

There is still the issue with rented properties and most multi-family developments where there is only one point of entry for the cable-TV service and it becomes more of a hassle to add extra cable-TV outlets around the premises for extra sets. There is also the fact that most of us are using laptops, tablets and smartphones in lieu of the portable TV for doing things like watching “guilty-pleasure” TV around the home.

AVM are releasing Fritz!OS 7 firmware for their Fritz!Box 6490 Cable and Fritz!Box 6590 Cable modem routers that provides a SAT-IP server functionality to extend these devices’ broadcast-LAN abilities, initially facilitated using DLNA. They also are rolling this function to the Fritz!WLAN Repeater DVB-C which is another broadcast-LAN device for cable TV in addition to a Wi-FI repeater.

Once updated, these Fritz!Box cable modem routers and the Fritz!WLAN Repeater DVB-C will present the DVB-C cable-TV and radio signals to any SAT-IP client device or software as if you are using a SAT-IP satellite broadcast-LAN device. I also see this working with those SMATV (shared satellite dish) setups for larger building that repackage satellite TV and terrestrial TV channels as DVB-C-compatible cable-TV channels.

I wouldn’t put it past other broadcast-LAN vendors courting the European market to have their non-satellite devices become SAT-IP servers. But also what needs to happen is that more TV manufacturers to implement SAT-IP-based technologies “out of the box” across their product ranges.

It could appeal to a hassle-free approach to TV-location approach where you have a single entry point for your TV aerial, cable-TV service or satellite dish but you use your home network, be it Wi-Fi 5/6 (802.11ac/ax), HomePlug AV2 or Ethernet, and a SAT-IP compatible broadcast-LAN box to permit you to relocate your TV or add more sets as you please. This is without having to call in a TV-aerial technician to install extra sockets or get the landlord to assent to their installation.

Another factor that would drive SAT-IP or TV-IP further would be to build support for it in to games consoles and similar devices that are expected to be single-box multimedia terminals. Think of devices like the XBox One, PS4, Apple TV and the like, or regular computers running their native operating systems.

But it may be seen as a big ask unless this technology is implemented beyond continental Europe. This is due to the common tech attitude that if a technology isn’t implemented beyond a particular geographic area or isn’t implemented in the USA, it will miss the boat for native operating-system support.

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Amazon Alexa is a native app for Windows 10 PC

Article

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

You can use Amazon Alexa on any Windows 10 computer thanks to a generally-available Microsoft Store app

Control Alexa from your Windows 10 PC | CNet

My Comments

Amazon are releasing a Windows 10 native app that serves as a gateway to their Alexa voice-driven home-assistant ecosystem. Initially this was a very limited release that was preinstalled on certain computer ranges like Lenovo’s Yoga laptop range, but they are making it generally available through the Microsoft Store in the USA. This means you could install it on any Windows 10 desktop, laptop or 2-in-1 rather than having to buy one of the certain computers that come with this function if you want to speak to Alexa through that computer.

It will be targeted for any regular computer that is running Windows 10 as long as it has a microphone and the usual keyboard. There will be the ability to invoke Alexa through a keyboard shortcut or to click / tap the Alexa button within the app. The “Wake On Voice” functionality where you can speak the “Alexa” keyword to invoke Alexa will be available on some supported computers.

At the moment, the Amazon Alexa native app for Windows 10 doesn’t provide the kind of management that its iOS or Android mobile-platform brethren provide. This means that you will have to use the Alexa management Web page to manage the Skills available to your Echo devices or the smart-home ecosystem that they are part of.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

This will make your Windows laptop work a bit like the Amazon Echo

The other question that may be raised by Amazon as part of developing the Alexa app further is whether the Alexa app will provide a visual interface of the “Echo Show” kind for those skills that have visual abilities. It may be seen as a further direction for third-party Alexa-platform devices to answer the Google Assistant (Home) platform.

I would expect that these features will come through in newer versions of this app. Similarly I would expect that this app would be rolled out in to all of the markets that Amazon has established the Alexa / Echo ecosystem in to over time.

The Alexa app is part of a strong effort by the two Seattle-based IT giants to provide a strong partnership between their efforts i.e. the Windows desktop operating system for Microsoft and the Alexa voice-assistant / smart-home ecosystem for Amazon.

This effort was initially represented through the availability of “pathway” skills between Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa assistants. It is with the ability also to provide the necessary abilities to users to interlink their user accounts on each of these services for transparent operation.

It could be seen to be about Microsoft dumping the Cortana assistant’s home-automation roles. Or it could be about Amazon and Microsoft to fuse together their voice-driven assistants in a manner to build a highly-strung Seattle-based voice-driven assistant platform to take on what is being offered by Silicon Valley.

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Being cautious about fake news and misinformation in Australia

Previous Coverage

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote or able to cast your vote without undue influence?

Being aware of fake news in the UK

Fact-checking now part of the online media-aggregation function

Useful Australian-based resources

ABC Fact Check – ran in conjunction with RMIT University

Political Parties

Australian Labor Party (VIC, NSW)

Liberal Party – work as a coalition with National Party (VIC, NSW)

National Party – work as a coalition with Liberal Party (VIC, NSW)

Australian Greens – state branches link from main page

One Nation (Pauline Hanson)

Katter’s Australia Party

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Australian Conservatives

Liberal Democratic Party

United Australia Party

My Comments

Over the next six months, Australia will see some very critical general elections come to pass both on a federal level and in the two most-highly-populated states that host most of that country’s economic and political activity. On October 30 2018, the election writs were recently served in the state of Victoria for its general election to take place on November 24 2018. Then, on the 23 March 2019, New South Wales will expect to go to the polls for its general election. Then the whole country will expect to go to the polls for the federal general election by 18 May 2019.

As these election cycles take place over a relatively short space of time and affecting , there is a high risk that Australians could fall victim to misinformation campaigns. This can subsequently lead to state and federal ballots being cast that steer the country against the grain like what happened in 2016 with the USA voting in Donald Trump as their President and the UK voting to leave the European Union.

Google News - desktop Web view

Look for tags within Google News that describe the context of the story

The issue of fake news and misinformation is being seen as increasingly relevant as we switch away from traditional media towards social media and our smartphones, tablets and computers for our daily news consumption.  This is thanks to the use of online search and news-aggregation services like Google News; or social media like Facebook or Twitter which can be seen by most of us as an “at-a-glance” view of the news.

As well, a significant number of well-known newsrooms are becoming smaller due to the reduced circulation and ratings for their newspaper or radio / TV broadcast thanks to the use of online resources for our news. It can subsequently lead to poor-quality news reporting and presentation with a calibre equivalent to the hourly news bulletin offered by a music-focused radio station. It also leads to various mastheads plagiarising content from other newsrooms that place more value on their reporting.

The availability of low-cost or free no-questions-asked Web and video hosting along with easy-to-use Web-authoring, desktop-publishing and desktop-video platforms make it feasible for most people to create a Web site or online video channel. It has led to an increased number of Websites and video channels that yield propaganda and information that is dressed up as news but with questionable accuracy.

Another factor that has recently been raised in the context of fake news, misinformation and propaganda is the creation and use of deepfake image and audio-visual content. This is where still images, audio or video clips that are in the digital domain are altered to show a falsehood using artificial-intelligence technology in order to convince viewers that they are dealing with original audio-visual resource. The audio content can be made to mimic an actual speaker’s voice and intonation as part of creating a deepfake soundbite or video clip.

It then becomes easy to place fake news, propaganda and misinformation onto easily-accessible Web hosts including YouTube in the case of videos. Then this content would be propagated around the Internet through the likes of Twitter, Facebook or online bulletin boards. It is more so if this content supports our beliefs and enhances the so-called “filter bubble” associated with our beliefs and media use.

There is also the fact that newsrooms without the resources to rigorously scrutinise incoming news could pick this kind of content up and publish or broadcast this content. This can also be magnified with media that engages in tabloid journalism that depends on sensationalism to get the readership or keep listeners and viewers from switching away.

The borderless nature of the Internet makes it easy to set up presence in one jurisdiction to target the citizens of another jurisdiction in a manner to avoid being caught by that jurisdiction’s election-oversight, broadcast-standards or advertising-standards authority. Along with that, a significant number of jurisdictions focus their political-advertising regulation towards the traditional media platforms even though we are making more use of online platforms.

Recently, the Australian Electoral Commission along with the Department of Home Affairs, Australian Federal Police and ASIO have taken action on an Electoral Integrity Assurance Task Force. It was in advance of recent federal byelections such as the Super Saturday byelections, where there was the risk of clandestine foreign interference taking place that could affect the integrity of those polls.

But the issue I am drawing attention to here is the use of social media or other online resources to run fake-news campaigns to sway the populace’s opinion for or against certain politicians. This is exacerbated by the use of under-resourced newsrooms that could get such material seen as credible in the public’s eyes.

But most of Silicon Valley’s online platforms are taking various steps to counter fake news, propaganda and disinformation using these following steps.

Firstly, they are turning off the money-supply tap by keeping their online advertising networks away from sites or apps that spread misinformation.

They also are engaging with various fact-check organisations to identify fake news that is doing the rounds and tuning their search and trending-articles algorithms to bury this kind of content.

Autocomplete list in Google Search Web user interface

Google users can report Autocomplete suggestions that they come across in their search-engine experience/

They are also maintaining a feedback loop with their end-users by allowing them to report fake-news entries in their home page or default view. This includes search results or autocomplete entries in Google’s search-engine user interface. This is facilitated through a “report this” option that is part of the service’s user interface or help pages.

Most of the social networks and online-advertising services are also implementing robust user-account-management and system-security protocols. This includes eliminating or suspending accounts that are used for misinformation. It also includes checking the authenticity of accounts running pages or advertising campaigns that are politically-targeted through methods like street-address verification.

In the case of political content, social networks and online-advertising networks are implementing easily-accessible archives of all political advertising or material that is being published including where the material is being targeted at.

ABC FactCheck – the ABC’s fact-checking resource that is part of their newsroom

Initially these efforts are taking place within the USA but Silicon Valley is rolling them out across the world at varying timeframes and with local adaptations.

Personally, I would still like to see a strong dialogue between the various Social Web, search, online-advertising and other online platforms; and the various government and non-government entities overseeing election and campaign integrity and allied issues. This can be about oversight and standards regarding political communications in the online space along with data security for each stakeholder.

What can you do?

Look for any information that qualifies the kind of story if you are viewing a collection of headlines like a search or news-aggregation site or app. Here you pay attention to tags or other metadata like “satire”, “fact checking” or “news” that describe the context of the story or other attributes.

Most search engines and news-aggregation Websites will show up this information in their desktop or mobile user interface and are being engineered to show a richer set of details. You may find that you have to do something extra like click a “more” icon or dwell on the heading to bring up this extra detail on some user interfaces.

Trust your gut reaction to that claim being shared around social media. You may realise that a claim associated with fake news may be out of touch with reality. Sensationalised or lurid headlines are a usual giveaway, along with missing information or copy that whips up immediate emotional responses from the reader.

Check the host Website or use a search engine like Google to see if the news sources you trust do cover that story. You may come across one or more tools that identify questionable news easily, typically in the form of a plug-in or extension that works with your browser if its functionality can be expanded with these kind of add-ons. It is something that is more established with browsers that run on regular Windows, Mac or Linux computers.

It is also a good idea to check for official press releases or similar material offered “from the horse’s mouth” by the candidates, political parties, government departments or similar organisations themselves. In some cases during elections, some of the candidates may run their own Web sites or they may run a Website that links from the political party’s Website. Here, you will find them on the Websites ran by these organisations and may indicate if you are dealing with a “beat-up” or exaggeration of the facts.

As you do your online research in to a topic, make sure that you are familiar with how the URLs are represented on your browser’s address bar for the various online resources that you visit. Here, be careful if a resource has more than is expected between the “.com”, “.gov.au” or similar domain-name ending and the first “/” leading to the actual online resource.

Kogan Internet table radio

Sometimes the good ol’ radio can be the trusted news source

You may have to rely on getting your news from one or more trusted sources. This would include the online presence offered by these sources. Or it may be about switching on the radio or telly for the news or visiting your local newsagent to get the latest newspaper.

Examples of these are: the ABC (Radio National, Local radio, News Radio, the main TV channel and News 24 TV channel), SBS TV, or the Fairfax newspapers. Some of the music radio stations that are part of a family run by a talk-radio network like the ABC with their ABC Classic FM or Triple J services will have their hourly newscast with news from that network. But be careful when dealing with tabloid journalism or commercial talkback radio because you may be exposed to unnecessary exaggeration or distortion of facts.

As well, use the social-network platform’s or search engine’s reporting functionality to draw attention to fake news, propaganda or misinformation that is being shared or highlighted on that online service. In some cases like reporting inappropriate autocomplete predictions to Google, you may have to use the platform’s help options to hunt for the necessary resources.

Here, as we Australians faces a run of general-election cycles that can be very tantalising for clandestine foreign interference, we have to be on our guard regarding fake news, propaganda and misinformation that could affect the polls.

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UK to make Openreach a legally-separate entity

Article

New UK Regulatory Regime Begins for Legally Separate Openreach | ISP Review

My Comments

Australia, the UK and New Zealand have approached the idea of encouraging telecommunications competition in the fixed-line space by detaching the fixed-line infrastructure from the incumbent telco. In Australia, this was with NBN as effectively a public entity buying this infrastructure from Telstra and Optus, or New Zealand who had Telecom NZ split in to Spark as a telecommunications reseller and Chorus as an infrastructure entity.

The Australian and New Zealand effort had an emphasis on creating greater distance between the incumbent telecoms service reseller and the infrastructure entity with a stronger clear-cut emphasis on the infrastructure entity not favouring the incumbent telecoms reseller.  This was through effective legal separation of these companies in a manner that they couldn’t control each other.

But the UK implemented a similar plan for splitting British Telecom by having the fixed-line infrastructure managed by Openreach and BT being a telecoms reseller. But there wasn’t a strict legal delineation between these two companies and this closeness allowed Openreach to continue to operate in the same manner as BT did when it was the UK’s incumbent telco monopoly. This led to poor-quality service and poorly-maintained infrastructure, with BT Openreach ending up with an Internet-wide nickname of “Openwretch”.

The underinvestment in the infrastructure by Openreach was to satisfy BT’s ends rather than providing a high-quality service that would benefit competing telcos or ISPs using that infrastructure. This also rubbed off on the competitors’ customer base with the reduced service reliability and often happened when new technology was being delivered by Openreach. Let’s not forget issues like “cherry-picking” areas that get fibre-to-the-premises broadband or whether rural areas get decent broadband.

New Ofcom regulations were implemented in the UK with the requirement for Openreach to be a company that is legally separate from BT. This meant that they had their own legal identity (Openreach Limited) with its own board of directors and with its staff working for that company. This is meant to effectively permit its own corporate governance that is independent from BT.

There will be the issue of logically moving the employee base to this new identity including rearranging the pensions arrangement for the staff. Let’s not forget that there will be a strong marketing and PR effort directed towards the stakeholders to “refresh” the Openreach image, perhaps with a new brand.

What is meant to happen is that competing telcos and ISPs will he required to have access to the same technology on the same footing as BT. This will also be underscored by newer tougher minimum quality standards including more fibre-to-the-premises broadband deployment across the UK.

There are newer market dynamics affecting the availability of infrastructure for residential and small/medium-business telecommunications and Internet service in the UK. Here, an increasing number of infrastructure providers like Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and B4RN are providing infrastructure-level competition in various urban and rural areas. This is along with an increasing number of full-fibre installations taking place.

The issues that will crop up include Openreach outbuilding the infrastructure-level competitors in urban areas, especially if they can effectively “possess” a building, street or neighbourhood by having exclusive infrastructure rights to that area. Here, the risk that is being highlighted is the possible market consolidation due to competitors being driven out of business or taken over. I also see this risk affecting ISPs or telcos, especially small-time or boutique operators, who prefer to deal with particular infrastructure providers not being able to operate or being forced to use one of a few providers.

Then there will become the issue of what level of competition is sustainable for the UK’s telecommunications and Internet-service market. It is also a question that can affect any market heads towards or already has infrastructure-level competition for their Internet and telecommunications.

This question can affect ISPs / telcos, end-users, local government and premises owners. A core factor that will come in to play here is what kind of access is granted by an infrastructure provider to retail-level telecommunications / Internet providers on business terms that facilitate competitive operation.

-The factors that come in to play include whether there is an innovation culture where the operators can differentiate themselves on more than just price; and what service price level the market can go below before companies can’t operate profitably. Then there is the issue of whether the UK market really expects a pure-play Internet-only operation from these providers; or a multiple-play operation with fixed-line or mobile telephony, pay-TV or other online services. That also includes the existence of franchised IP-based telephony, pay-TV and other services that will be pitched towards retail-level telcos and ISPs who don’t offer these services.

What I see of the recent activity in making Openreach a company legally-independent from BT is that it is a sign of enabling proper competition for the UK’s telecommunications and Internet services for households and small businesses.

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The first proven retail 5G device comes in the form of a Mi-Fi router

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

Article – From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

NETGEAR Nighthawk® 5G Mobile Hotspot – World’s First Standards-Based Millimeter Wave Mobile 5G Device (Blog Post)

My Comments

There has been a lot of talk about 5G mobile broadband lately with Telstra running consumer trials of this technology in the Gold Coast using 5G “Mi-Fi” devices installed at fixed locations.

Of course, some people are seeing it as an alternative to wireline and fibre next-generation broadband deployments. Here, they are trying to see the technology as an enabler for the “digital nomadic” lifestyle where people live and work while roaming from place to place, keeping in touch with the world with mobile telecommunications technology.

But NETGEAR and AT&T have stepped forward with a production-grade consumer endpoint device as part of a production-grade 5G network being rolled out across the USA. It is typically assumed that the first production-grade consumer endpoint device for a new mobile broadband technology will be a smartphone of some sort or a USB wireless-broadband modem. But this time it is a highly-portable “Mi-Fi” router in the form of a NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot.

Here, it is to use a device that could support high-throughput data transfer arrangements with a network of mobile devices and take advantage of what a production 5G network could offer. As well, the WAN (Internet) aspect of the NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot is based on millimetre-wave technology and is designed according to standards.

Being the first device of its kind, there could be issues with connection reliability because of it implementing technology that is too “cutting-edge”. As more service providers “light up” standards-based 5G networks in more areas and more device manufacturers offer 5G mobile-endpoint devices, it will be the time to show whether 5G can really satisfy mobile-broadband users’ needs or be a competitor to fixed broadband.

I will update this article as NETGEAR and AT&T release more information about this Mi-Fi’s capabilities.

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Third-party Google Assistant smart displays start benefiting from Google Home Hub features

Article

Lenovo Smart Display now to be the same level as the Google Home Hub

Lenovo to Send Out Update to Smart Displays That Has All the Google Home Hub Goodies | Droid Life

Lenovo updates Smart Display with Google Home Hub features | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

New features coming to Smart Display (Oct 22nd) {Forum Post – Press Release)

My Comments

Google recently launched their Home Hub smart display which is a “first-party” effort to offer more that what their Google-Assistant-based third-party smart displays offer.

This included multiroom audio functionality with Google’s Chromecast, Home smart speakers and other similar devices; Live Album display for the Google Photos application; tight integration with the Nest Hello smart doorbell; a dashboard user interface for your compatible Internet-of-Things devices on your home network; amongst other features.

But they have started rolling out extra software code to third-party Smart Display manufacturers to open up these extra features to their Google-based smart-screen devices. The first of these to benefit from this update are the Lenovo Smart Displays which will benefit from a firmware update (version 3.63.43) to be rolled out from October 22nd 2018.

The firmware will be automatically updated in your Lenovo Smart Display and you can check if it is updated through the Settings menu. Here, you have to “swipe up” from the bottom of your Lenovo Smart Display’s screen to expose the Settings icon, which you would tap to bring up the menu.

The question that will surface for others with similar Google-based smart displays like the JBL Link View would be if and when the display’s manufacture will roll out the firmware update for their devices. It is something that is similarly happening with the Android mobile-device platform where the Google first-party devices have that latest software updates and features first while third-party devices end up with the software a few months later. This is ostensibly to allow the device manufacturer to “bake in” their user interface and other features into the package.

But could the Google-based Assistant / Home platform simply end up as the “Android” for voice-driven smart-display devices?

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Why is there an audio driver with your computer’s graphics chipset?

The HDMI and DisplayPort outputs make use of the display audio device driver for sound they send to the external display

Some of you may take stock of what device drivers and software exist on your Windows computer and may find two or more audio device drivers on your computer with one being referred to as an “HDMI” or “Display” audio driver. Such a driver will have a reference to the graphics chipsets that are installed in your computer. Why does this driver exist and how could I take advantage of this setup?

The standard audio setup

Most computers are nowadays equipped with an on-board audio infrastructure of some sort. This was initially a sound card but is nowadays an on-board audio chipset like Realtek or Intel HD Audio. Here, it would have its own digital-analogue audio circuitry and would be serving integrated speakers or audio equipment like computer speakers that are connected to the computer’s own audio jacks.

The better implementations would have an SP/DIF audio output which would serve an outboard digital-analogue converter or digital amplifier. In this case, the audio infrastructure would repackage the sound in to an SP/DIF-compliant form either as a PCM stream or a bitstream supporting Dolby Digital.

In this case, the above-mentioned sound infrastructure would work with its own driver software and be listed as a distinct audio device in Windows. With most of the recent laptops that have sound tuning provided typically by a name-of-respect in the professional-audio or hi-fi scene, this driver also has the software component that is part of this tuning.

HDMI and DisplayPort adds a point of confusion

Windows Sound Control Panel

HDMI output for monitor as a unique audio playback device in Windows

HDMI and DisplayPort display connections have the ability to transport a digital audio stream along with the video stream over the same cable. Therefore, display-chipset and graphics card manufacturers have had to support digital-audio transport for host-computer audio through these connections.

In some early setups, it required that the computer’s sound card or audio chipset expose a digital-audio stream via the HDMI or DisplayPort connection. With graphics cards, this typically required a wired connection between an SP/DIF digital output on a sound card or motherboard audio chipset and a digital input on the graphics card.

But recent implementations used a cost-effective digital-audio processor as part of the graphics infrastructure which simply repackages the digital audio stream from the host computer to a form that can be handled by the display or audio device connected via the HDMI or DisplayPort connection. During the initial setup of an HDMI or DisplayPort connection, it will be about determining what audio codecs, bit-depths and sampling frequencies the connected monitor, TV, home-theatre receiver or other audio-equipped device can handle.

Sony STR-DN1060 home theatre receiver press picture courtesy of Sony America

If you connect your computer to your monitor or TV even via the HDMI connections on one of these home-theatre receivers, you will be using the HDMI audio subsystem and display audio driver as outlined here

This also applies to computers and display setups that use the USB-C port as a “DisplayPort alt” connection like some of the laptops that have come my way for product review. But if you are using a USB-C expansion module that has audio connections, you may find that this device may use a USB-based sound chipset to serve those connections. Typically this chipset will use the USB Audio Device class drivers that are part of the operating system rather than the “display audio” drivers.

If you connect your computer to your display via an HDMI audio device like a home-theatre receiver, soundbar or HDMI audio adaptor, you will find that the audio device will be identified as the sound-output device for the “display audio” device.

In this case, you would see another audio device listed in your computer’s audio device list with a name that references your computer’s graphics chipset like Intel Display Audio or AMD HDMI Audio. The only audio-endpoint device that these drivers refer to are whatever audio device is connected to your computer’s HDMI or DisplayPort connection.

What do I do about the existence of these “display audio” drivers?

If you are trying to rationalise the driver software that exists on your computer, don’t remove the “display audio” or “HDMI audio” drivers associated with your computer’s graphics infrastructure. This is because if you connect a TV, monitor with speakers or home-theatre audio device to your computer via the HDMI or DisplayPort connections and you remove the “display audio” driver, the sound won’t play through devices connected via those connections.

Instead, keep these “display audio” drivers up-to-date as part of updating your computer’s graphics-infrastructure software. Here, it will preserve best compatibility for the communications, games and multimedia software and Websites you run on your computer if you are using audio-capable devices connected via HDMI or DisplayPort along with this audio-capable hardware hanging off these ports.

Also remember that if you are using an audio-capable display device connected via the HDMI or DisplayPort connections, you need to use the “diisplay audio” driver to hear your computer’s or application’s sound through that device. This may require you to have it as a “default sound playback device” for software that doesn’t support audio-device switching like Spotify or Web browsers.

Computer systems with multiple graphics chipsets

Computer systems that implement multiple graphics chipsets may also run multiple “display audio” drivers for each chipset. Here, the audio to be sent via the HDMI or DisplayPort output would be processed by the “display audio” chipset for the currently-used chipset.

Some setups may require you to manually select the “display audio” chipset that you are using when you are directing the sound via your audio-equipped display device. This may especially apply to the use of external graphics modules.

But on the other hand, a multiple-graphics-chipset computer may implement a virtual “display audio” or “HDMI audio” driver that automatically steers sound output to the HDMI or DisplayPort device via the currently-used graphics chipset without you needing to intervene. This kind of driver will be relevant with computers that implement NVIDIA Optimus or similar logic to automatically select the appropriate chipset depending on whether you are after high graphics performance or longer battery runtime.

A solution for “steering” Windows sound output towards the devices you want

You can steer particular applications’ sound through your laptop’s HDMI output using the display audio driver

When I installed the Windows 10 April Update (Build 1803) on my computer, I had found the improved sound-management ability that this operating system update offers can make better use of this arrangement. I chose to create a sound setup to steer multimedia to better sound outputs while keeping the audio prompts that Windows makes during errors towards a lower-quality output and documented how this is done.

Here, the “display audio” driver will earn its keep as a way to allow the speakers in your smart TV, home-theatre setup or audio-equipped monitor connected to your computer’s HDIMO or DisplayPort output to be used only by the software that you want.

There are two situations that this will encompass. One is to have a laptop connected to the large TV or home-theatre setup for some Netflix binge-watching but you rather have Windows sound its notification sounds through the laptop’s own small speakers.

The other is where you use a monitor with not-so-great speakers as your primary display but want music or other multimedia to come out through a better sound system connected to your computer. It also includes desktop computers used in an AV playout role with a projector and PA system conveying the audio-video content to the audience but using a monitor with not-so-great speakers as the operator’s display.

The first situation involving a laptop would have the standard audio driver serving the integrated speakers set up as a “default” sound device while the Web browser or multimedia software uses the display-audio driver as the output device. The second situation using a monitor with not-so-great speakers would have the display-audio driver as the default driver while the Web browser or multimedia software handling the AV content to be played to the audience uses the audio driver associated with the better sound system.

Conclusion

Simply, the “display audio” or “HDMI audio” driver works with your computer’s graphics infrastructure as a separate audio driver to present sound from your computer to an audio-capable monitor or A/V device connected via its DisplayPort or HDMI connections.

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Facebook clamps down on voter-suppression misinformation

Article

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote or able to cast your vote without undue influence?

Facebook Extends Ban On Election Fakery To Include Lies About Voting Requirements | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Expanding Our Policies on Voter Suppression (Press Release)

My Comments

Over recent years, misinformation and fake news has been used as a tool to attack the electoral process in order to steer the vote towards candidates or political parties preferred by powerful interests. This has been demonstrated through the UK Brexit referendum and the the USA Presidential Election in 2016 with out-of-character results emanating from the elections. It has therefore made us more sensitive to the power of misinformation and its use in influencing an election cycle, with most of us looking towards established news outlets for our political news.

Another attack on the electoral process in a democracy is the use of misinformation or intimidation to discourage people from registering on the electoral rolls including updating their electoral-roll details or turning up to vote. This underhand tactic is typically to prevent certain communities from casting votes that would sway the vote away from an area-preferred candidate.

Even Australia, with its compulsory voting and universal suffrage laws, isn’t immune from this kind of activity as demonstrated in the recent federal byelection for the Batman electorate. Here, close to the election day, there was a robocall campaign targeted at older people north of the electorate who were likely to vote in an Australian Labour Party candidate rather than the area-preferred Greens candidate.

But this is a very common trick performed in the USA against minority, student or other voters to prevent them casting votes towards liberal candidates. This manifests in accusations about non-citizens casting votes or the same people casting votes in multiple electorates.

Facebook have taken further action against voter-suppression misinformation by including it in their remit against fake news and misinformation. This action has been taken as part of Silicon Valley’s efforts to work against fake news during the US midterm Congressional elections.

At the moment, this effort applies to information regarding exaggerated identification or procedural requirements concerning enrolment on the electoral rolls or casting your vote. It doesn’t yet apply to reports about conditions at the polling booths like opening hours, overcrowding or violence. Nor does this effort approach the distribution of other misinformation or propaganda to discourage enrolment and voting.

US-based Facebook end-users can use the reporting workflow to report voter-suppression posts to Facebook. This is through the use of an “Incorrect Voting Info” option that you select when reporting posted content to Facebook. Here, it will allow this kind of information to be verified by fact-checkers that are engaged by Facebook, with false content “buried” in the News Feed along with additional relevant content being supplied with the article when people discover it.

This is alongside a constant Facebook effort to detect and remove fake accounts existing on the Facebook platform along with increased political-content transparency across its advertising platforms.

As I have always said, the issue regarding misleading information that influences the election cycle can’t just be handled by social-media and advertising platforms themselves. These platforms need to work alongside the government-run electoral-oversight authorities and similar organisations that work on an international level to exchange the necessary intelligence to effectively identify and take action against electoral fraud and corruption.

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Could a NAS be relevant to console gaming?

QNAP 2-disk NAS

Could a NAS like this QNAP 2-disk NAS – be used as storage for a games console?

The games console that connects to your TV is still relevant to video gaming, especially where the idea is to be able to lean back during gameplay or have a dedicated games machine to use in the living room or recreation room.

The key trends affecting video gaming

Video gaming is becoming a data-thirsty activity where there is emphasis on having a large amount of data being available to the players as they continue to play these games.

Download rather than packaged media

But there are key directions that are affecting video and computer games, especially those targeted towards games consoles. Primarily, they are being made available to download from online storefronts rather than being sold as packaged media or the packaged media is sold as a “get-you-going” option.

A continual supply of extra content available for download

Game players for all game classes are being able to benefit from free or premium downloadable content that is being continually authored by the game studios. This continued availability of extra content is providing for continued playability beyond the first rounds or sessions of the game. In some cases, some studios are even providing time-limited bonus missions or seasonal content in order to keep the players interested.

It extends to most of the games studios working on a high-quality-control regime which includes the supply of frequent updates for each of these games.

Games needing extra data as they go

Sony PS4

Games consoles like the Sony PS4 will need to benefit from extra storage offered by a NAS

More games are requiring extra data as you keep playing them. Typically with games of the “open-world” kind, some strategy games or adventure / role-playing games, this is about loading extra scenery, missions or other data that facilitates further game play. In some cases, you completing a mission in a game brings down extra data.

The best example of this would be Forza Horizon 4 which is set in the UK. Here, players complete race challenges to buy individual cars, or they could buy a property to gain access to further challenges and further vehicles. In some cases, they may have access to so-called “barn-find” cars that are discovered when they visit particular buildings and they have to restore these vehicles so that they can be used as competition vehicles. The game even adds seasonality with particular

USB portable hard disk

These portable USB hard disks are seen as a way to expand storage capacity on a games console

vehicles, areas and challenges available during particular seasons.

What is being done to answer the problem

USB hard disks or aftermarket hard-disk upsizing

But most setups are requiring the connection of USB hard disks to these consoles as a way to offload extra game data from the console’s hard disk. Or third-party repair shops simply upsize games consoles with newer larger-capacity hard disks and solid-state drives to improve performance or create extra storage space.

A problem that will easily surface with USB hard disks or aftermarket hard-disk upsize installations is the maximum capacity that a games console’s firmware can address for any mass-storage device that the console can handle. In the case of USB hard disks, there will be an expectation that these disks are a single logical volume, something that is common with consumer-electronics and similar devices that use USB mass-storage.

What could be done here

Use of network-attached-storage devices

But games-console manufacturers could look towards using network-attached storage devices as another way of storing extra game data. Here, the NAS system could be about “parking” games data if a game isn’t being played including data for missions and levels yet to be played, to share common data across games machines on the same network for multiple-player multiple-machine gameplay.

It could be feasible to share common data between a regular computer and a games console if the data is the same format for both devices. This would appeal to platforms like the XBox One where there is a strong effort to maintain a common codebase and common data between regular computers and games consoles to avoid duplication of effort in a game’s lifecycle. It is important where the goal is to port a game to as many platforms as possible.

Here, this may be about keeping player-specific data like gameplay-specific data or common data like game assets relating to a specific game. But some game assets such as games or premium downloadable content may be particular to a player or console as a way of binding it to a player who had bought the game or DLC or won the bonus content.

The advantage that a NAS can offer is that the NAS simply defines the maximum storage capacity available to the client device such as through an account-specific quota or a maximum volume offered by that device.

The main problem associated with games consoles and NAS units

Onboarding games consoles to NAS units

Integrating a NAS device may be about a difficult path with the use of the SMB data-sharing protocol being supported in these consoles. It will then require users to supply share names and username / password credentials to their consoles to make use of these network shares. In some cases, the player may have to create a player-private user account on the NAS for player-specific data.

An easier path that the games-console industry and NAS vendors could work towards is a simplified provisioning and device-discovery setup protocol. This could allow for the creation and allocation of player-specific and common data space on a NAS device for storing game data over the network.  Such a protocol could be based on the UPnP AV / DLNA protocols for device and content discovery. As well, it could be facilitated on existing equipment through firmware updates or add-on apps for both the NAS and the games consoles.

Other uses

Of course, there is the issue of being able to draw upon one’s own multimedia content library which would be hosted on at least one DLNA-compliant NAS. This could come in to its own with, for example, open-world car-racing games where you can equip your in-game car with a “virtual car radio” that plays audio content from different online or network content sources.

Another direction that may be looked at with higher-performance NAS units of the QNAP or Synology ilk would be to run them as games servers for LAN-based multiplayer multi-machine gaming. The idea may be about a purely local game that is independent of an Internet-hosted online service or it could simply be about creating localised competition elements in addition to the Internet-hosted online competition elements.

Conclusion

A network-attached-storage device can be considered a relevant device for console-based video gaming as an approach towards offloading or backing up video-game data. It can also be used as an approach for sharing common game data amongst multiple consoles or other devices that are playing the same game.

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