What is the “hybrid radio” concept all about?

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – a representative of the current trend towards the “hybrid radio” concept

There is some interest in the concept of “hybrid radio” as a possible trend to affect broadcast radio in the online era.

Regular readers of this site will have seen reviews that I have done of Internet radios. These are radios and audio equipment the can pull in audio content via Internet-radio streams and, in most cases, local broadcast radio delivered via FM, AM and/or DAB+ digital radio. This is in addition to access to various online audio services like Pandora or Spotify or DLNA-capable content hosts on your home network.

The Internet-radio streams may be programs only available via the Internet or simulcasts of radio content broadcast in the radio station’s broadcast area using the traditional methods. They are usually selected through a directory like TuneIn Radio, Radioline or vTuner and their appeal has been to allow access to radio content via devices that only have Internet connection like smartphones, or to provide access to “out-of-area” radio content. This latter factor has a strong appeal for expats, language learners or people with a soft spot for a particular city or country including those of us who like a particular radio talent or programme available in that area but not locally.

It is also being augmented through access to podcasts or on-demand audio through the various Internet-radio directories or through online audio services, with most of the broadcasters making their own podcasts or similar content that they produce.

But there are efforts being taken towards improving the user experience for this class of device, especially where a set is capable of receiving content through traditional broadcast radio and the Internet. The typical user experience is to provide Internet radio as its own “band” or “source” on these devices.

The RadioDNS organisation is behind these “hybrid radio” efforts as a way to make the traditional radio become relevant to the Millennial generation who lives by their iPhones. It is also bringing the Internet radio concept towards automotive use, especially in a simplified manner that keeps the driver’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road as much as possible.

“Single-dial” tuning

One of the goals is to provide a “single dial” approach for locating radio stations. This is where you can see a list of local or overseas broadcasters and the set tunes in to that broadcast using the best method available for that broadcast.

Here, the set would choose the local broadcast medium if its radio tuner determines that the signal is strong enough for reliable reception, otherwise it would choose the Internet stream. It would also take advantage of the “follow this station” functionality in FM-RDS or DAB+ to choose the closest strongest transmitter for that station, something that would be important for national or regional radio networks with many transmitters or local stations that run infill transmitters to cover dead zones in their area..

There will be the ability to search for stations based on certain criteria like location, content genre, or station identifier, a feature that every one of us who uses a DAB/DAB+ digital, RDS-capable FM or Internet radio have benefited from. But this will be augmented by logo-driven browsing where the station’s familiar logo is shown on the set’s display or station logos appear as part of a station list.

The preset-station concept where you have access to your favourite stations at the touch of a button is augmented by the “single-dial” tuning process. Here, each preset-station space, represented by a button or menu list item, would point to a station and when you select that station, the set would choose the best method of receiving it whether broadcast or Internet.

It could then lead towards the idea of grouping radio station presets in order to suit particular users’ station preferences or occasion-based station lists. An example that comes to my mind where this feature would earn its keep is a close friend of mine who had regularly looked after some school children through the school holidays.

Here, the friend personally liked serious radio content like classical music or talk radio from the public-service radio stations. But when these children travelled with her, they listened to the local commercial (private) FM stations that ran pop music because they listened to these broadcasters when they are at home or in the car with their parents. In this situation, it could be feasible to allocate one preset group to the serious radio content and another to the popular-music stations, then call up this group when the children are travelling with the driver.

Such a feature will be considered highly relevant for automotive and portable receivers because these sets are more likely to move between different reception conditions. As well, it leads towards broadcasting and programming approaches that are totally independent of the medium that is being used to carry the broadcast programme.

A rich radio-listening experience

Once you are listening to your favourite programme, the “hybrid radio” experience will be about augmenting what you are listening to.

A news broadcast could be supplied with a written summary of the key items in that bulletin. Similarly, a weather report could benefit from visual information like a map or a chart that shows what the weather will be like over a time period. Even traffic reports could be augmented with maps that show where the traffic jams or closed-off roads are, giving you a fair idea of where possible rat-runs could be taken.

Talkback and other deep-reporting shows could benefit from links to online resources that are relevant to what is being talked about.  It could even be feasible to “throw” contact details like hotline numbers or studio lines to one’s smartphone using one or more methods like a QR code shown on the set’s display.

Let’s not forget that the “hybrid radio” concept can also be about gaining access to these kind of shows in an “on-demand” manner similar to podcasts. This could even allow a person who heard one of these shows to set things up so that future episodes of the show can be saved locally for listening at one’s convenience. If the station primarily syndicates this content from other producers like podcasters or content-producing organisations for their own broadcast, they could then use the “hybrid radio” arrangement to allow listeners to find the shows as on-demand material.

For music radio programmes, there would be the ability to show the details about the song or piece of music currently playing. Some vendors could take this further by implementing a Shazam-style “buy this” option for the current track in conjunction with one or more “download-to-own” music stores, or to replay the song through an “online jukebox” like Spotify.

There is the ability for advertising-driven radio stations to allow their advertisers and sponsors to offer more than the 30-second radio commercial. Here, they could provide weblinks to the advertiser’s online resources so listeners can act on the advertised offers. This can also extend to online couponing or the ability to book one’s place at a concert or music festival that an artist whose song is currently playing is performing at.


The “hybrid radio” concept could be about simplifying access to radio broadcasts in a media-independent manner then allowing listeners to get the best value out of them.

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Voice-driven assistants at risk of nuisance triggering


Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

A problem that showed up with the Amazon Echo’s always-listen behaviour was nuisance triggering for the laughter command

Voice control is no laughing matter | Videonet

My Comments

An issue that has been raised recently is the risk of a voice-driven assistant like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Microsoft’s Cortana being triggered inadvertently and becoming of nuisance value.

This was discovered with Amazon’s Echo devices where you could say “Alexa, laugh” and Alexa would laugh in response. But if this was said in conversation or through audio or video content you had playing in the background, this could come across very creepy. A similar situation was discovered in 2014 with Microsoft’s XBox when there was a voice-search functionality built in to in and you would wake it by saying “XBox on!”, This was aggravated if, for example, a TV commercial from a consumer electronics outlet was playing and the adman announced a special deal on one of these consoles by saying something like “XBox On Special” or “XBox On Saie” which contain this key phrase.

Similarly, we are starting to see “voice-driven search” become a part of consumer electronics and this could become of an annoyance whenever dialogue in a movie or TV show or an adman’s talking in a TV commercial could instigate a search routine during your TV viewing.

But there are some implementations of these voice assistants that don’t start automatically when they hear your “wake phrase” associated with them like “Alexa” or “Hi Siri”. In these cases, you would press a “call” button to make the device ready to listen to you. This typically happens with smartphones, tablets, computers or smart-TV remote controls.

On the other hand, some of the smart speakers like Google Home use a microphone-mute button which you would activate if there is a risk of nuisance triggering. In this mode, the device’s microphone isn’t active until you manually disable it.

Google Home uses a microphone-mute button to control the mic

Personally, I would still like to see some form of manual control offered as the norm for these devices, preferably in the form of a “call” button with a distinct tactile feel when pressed. Then you would see a different light glow or other visual cue when the device is ready to talk to. Here, the user has some form of control over when the device can listen to them thus assuring their privacy.

Here, the article underscored the role of speech as part of a user interface that integrated one of many different interaction types like touch or vision. This then provides different comfort zones that the user can benefit from when using the device and they then rely on what’s comfortable to them.

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YouTube to share fact-checking resources when showing conspiracy videos


YouTube will use Wikipedia to fact-check internet hoaxes | FastCompany

YouTube plans ‘information cues’ to combat hoaxes | Engadget

YouTube will add Wikipedia snippets to conspiracy videos | CNet

My Comments

YouTube home page

YouTube – now also being used to distribute conspiracy theory material

Ever since the mid-1990s when the Internet became common, conspiracy theorists used various Internet resources to push their weird and questionable “facts” upon the public. One of the methods being used of late is to “knock together” videos and run these as a “channel” on the common video sharing platform that is YouTube.

But Google who owns YouTube now announced at the SXSW “geek-fest” in Austin, Texas that they will be providing visual cues on the YouTube interface to highlight fact-checking resources like Wikipedia, everyone’s favourite “argument-settling” online encyclopaedia. These will appear when known conspiracy-theory videos or channels are playing and most likely will accompany the Web-based “regular-computer” experience or the mobile experience.

Wikipedia desktop home page

Wikipedia no being seen as a tool for providing clear facts

It is part of an effort that Silicon Valley is undertaking to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation, something that has become stronger over the last few years due to Facebook and co being used as a vector for spreading this kind of information. Infact, Google’s “news-aggregation” services like Google News (news.google.com) implements tagging of resources that come up regarding a news event and they even call out “fact-check” resources as a way to help with debunking fake news.

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Australian government to investigate the role of Silicon Valley in news and current affairs


Facebook login page

Facebook as a social-media-based news aggregator

Why the ACCC is investigating Facebook and Google’s impact on Australia’s news media | ABC News (Australia)

ACCC targets tech platforms | InnovationAus.com

World watching ACCC inquiry into dominant tech platforms | The Australian (subscription required)

Australia: News and digital platforms inquiry | Advanced Television

My Comments

A question that is being raised this year is the impact that the big technology companies in Silicon Valley, especially Google and Facebook, are having on the global media landscape. This is more so in relationship to established public, private and community media outlets along with the sustainability for these providers to create high-quality news and journalistic content especially in the public-affairs arena.

Google News - desktop Web view

Google News portal

It is being brought about due to the fact that most of us are consuming our news and public-affairs content on our computers, tablets and smartphones aided and abetted through the likes of Google News or Facebook. This can extend to things like use of a Web portal or “news-flash” functionality on a voice-driven assistant.

This week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have commenced an inquiry into Google and Facebook in regards to their impact on Australian news media. Here, it is assessing whether there is real sustainable competition in the media and advertising sectors.

Google Home and similar voice-driven home assistants becoming another part of the media landscape

There is also the kind of effect Silicon Valley is having on media as far as consumers (end-users), advertisers, media providers and content creators are concerned. It also should extend to how this affects civil society and public discourse.

It has been brought about in response to the Nick Xenophon Team placing the inquiry as a condition of their support for the passage of Malcolm Turnbull’s media reforms through the Australian Federal Parliament.

A US-based government-relations expert saw this inquiry as offering a global benchmark regarding how to deal with the power that Silicon Valley has over media and public opinion with a desire for greater transparency between traditional media and the big tech companies.

Toni Bush, executive vice president and global head of government affairs, News Corporation (one of the major traditional-media powerhouses of the world) offered this quote:

“From the EU to India and beyond, concerns are rising about the power and reach of the dominant tech platforms, and they are finally being scrutinised like never before,”

What are the big issues being raised in this inquiry?

One of these is the way Google and Facebook are offering news and information services effectively as information aggregators, This is either in the form of providing search services with Google ending up as a generic trademark for searching for information on the Internet; or social-media sharing in the case of Facebook. Alongside this is the provisioning of online advertising services and platforms for online media providers both large and small. This is infact driven by data which is being seen as the “new oil” of the economy.

A key issue often raised is how both these companies and, to some extent, other Silicon Valley powerhouses are changing the terms of engagement with content providers without prior warning. This is often in the form of a constantly-changing search algorithm or News Feed algorithm; or writing the logic behind various features like Google Accelerated Mobile Pages or Facebook Instant Articles to point the user experience to resources under their direct control rather than the resources under the control of the publisher or content provider. These issues relate to the end user having access to the publisher’s desktop or mobile user experience which conveys that publisher’s branding or provides engagement and monetisation opportunities for the publisher such as subscriptions, advertising or online shopfronts..

This leads to online advertising which is very much the direction of a significant part of most businesses’ advertising budgets. What is being realised is that Google has a strong hand in most of the online search, display and video advertising, whether through operating commonly-used ad networks like Adsense,  Adwords or the Google Display Network; or through providing ad management technology and algorithms to ad networks, advertisers and publishers.

In this case, there are issues relating to ad visibility, end-user experience, brand safety, and effective control over content.

This extends to what is needed to allow a media operator to sustainably continue to provide quality content. It is irrespective of whether they are large or small or operating as a public, private or community effort.

Personally I would like to see it extend to small-time operators such as what represents the blogosphere including podcasters and “YouTubers” being able to create content in a sustainable manner and able to “surface above the water”. This can also include whether traditional media could use material from these sources and attribute and renumerate their authors properly, such as a radio broadcaster syndicating a highly-relevant podcast or a newspaper or magazine engaging a blogger as a freelance columnist.

Other issues that need to be highlighted

I have covered on this site the kind of political influence that can be wielded through online media, advertising and similar services. It is more so where the use of these platforms in the political context is effectively unregulated territory and can happen across different jurisdictions.

One of these issues was use of online advertising platforms to run political advertising during elections or referendums. This can extend to campaign material being posted as editorial content on online resources at the behest of political parties and pressure groups.

Here, most jurisdictions want to maintain oversight of these activity under the context of overseeing political content that could adversely influence an election and the municipal government in Seattle, Washington want to regulate this issue regarding local elections. This can range from issues like attribution of comments and statements in advertising or editorial material through the amount of time the candidates have to reach the electorate to mandatory blackouts or “cooling-off” periods for political advertising before the jurisdiction actually goes to the polls.

Another issue is the politicisation of responses when politically-sensitive questions are being posed to a search engine or a voice-driven assistant of the Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri or Google Assistant kind. Here, the issue with these artificial-intelligence setups is that they could be set up to provide biased answers according to the political agenda that the company behind the search engine, voice-driven assistant or similar service is behind.

Similarly, the issue of online search and social-media services being used to propagate “fake news” or propaganda disguised as news is something that will have to be raised by governments. It has become a key talking point over the past two years in relationship with the British Brexit referendum, the 2016 US Presidential election and other recent general elections in Europe. Here, the question that could be raised is whether Google and Facebook are effectively being “judge, jury and executioner” through their measures  or whether traditional media is able to counter the effective influence of fake news.


What is happening this year is that the issue of how Silicon Valley and its Big Data efforts is able to skew the kind of news and information we get. It also includes whether the Silicon Valley companies need to be seen as another influential media company and what kind if regulation is needed in this scenario.

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Solwise improves on their two-piece mobile router concept

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Pleasure-boats at a marina in Melbourne

4G as an externally-mountable USB modem can bring more reliable mobile broadband in to your boat for a large area of the shoreline

Solwise UK

Product List

All prices here cover the cost of the equipment and include VAT and delivery within the UK

PATRIOT tube-shaped network adaptors

PATRIOT-4G 4G/LTE USB modem (GBP£70.63)

WL-PATRIOT-USB 802.11g/n Wi-Fi USB network adaptor – 5dBi antenna  (GBP£43.81)

Panel network adaptor – highly directional

WL-USB-ODUPANEL-12DB 802.11g/n Wi-Fi USB network adaptor – 12dBi antenna (GBP£40.94)

Travel Router

WL-USBWIFIRPT-3000 USB WiFi Repeater (Travel Router with USB and Ethernet WAN) (GBP£52.98)

Previous Coverage

Solwise offers a two-piece Wi-Fi repeater for caravans and similar applications

My Comments

A use case that Solwise are continually targeting as I have covered before is to be able to bring a reliable Internet connection in to your caravan, campervan / motorhome or boat while you are on holidays or living in these vehicles.

This has been through the approach of a separate USB Wi-Fi network adaptor which can be plugged in to your regular computer and mounted outside your vehicle or craft. This is to work around a common issue with caravans and campervans where the metal housing can attenuate the RF signal necessary for the Wi-Fi connection to work and can be aggravated if you are in a campground or caravan park and are located far from the main facilities buildings where the infrastructure necessary for the venue’s public-access Wi-Fi is located.

Then there is a wireless travel router with a WAN (Internet) connection provided by a USB or Ethernet connection, working in a very similar manner to the typical “Mi-Fi” or travel router where it creates its own network for your devices. Here, you could connect up a Wi-Fi USB network adaptor such as the ones listed above or connect to an Ethernet-based setup such as what Hyperoptic is offering in a few of London’s marinas.

Let’s not forget that they are also offering a 12-volt “cigar-lighter” power adaptor as an accessory for GBP£2.84 that allows you to power the travel router and the USB modem or network adaptor from your vehicle’s or boat’s battery. They are positioning this adaptor for those of us who run our motorhomes, caravans or boats from 12 volts rather than having access to mains-voltage supply.

But Solwise have taken things further by offering a 4G/LTE USB mobile-broadband modem that can work with most of the mobile-broadband services. Compared to the typical “dongle” USB mobile-broadband modem, this device is equipped with a stronger antenna and RF front-end and is designed to be mounted outside your vehicle or craft. For boaties, it is rated at IP66 which could allow it to survive most boating use including heavier seas.

The travel router that Solwise is offering will require a firmware update available for download from their site so you can set it up as a two-piece “Mi-Fi” mobile-broadband router. This has opened up the travel router’s appeal to people living in narrowboats or travelling around in campervans or caravans and avoiding caravan parks.

The PATRIOT “tube” modems and adaptors are designed to be anchored on to the vehicle or craft using various hardware kits available through Solwise. These range from a suction-cup kit suitable for temporary installs through “jubilee clips” or hose clamps that wrap around pipes to U-bolts that can be anchored to mobile TV antenna masts.

The approach outlined here with all this equipment is that you install one of these USB modems or USB Wi-FI network adaptors on the outside of your vehicle or boat. Then you run a 5-metre USB cable to within that vehicle and connect it to the USB-equipped travel router that is listed here. The travel router will create a local network useable by many devices within the vehicle or vessel and share this using 802.11g/n or Ethernet technology.

Here, Solwise are continuing to answer the highly mobile user’s needs for a highly-reliable mobile network setup by using two pieces of equipment connected to each other rather than you buying a Mi-Fi or Wi-Fi range extender which uses its onw RF abilities and not-so-great integral antennas.

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Marantz answers Yamaha with a network CD player of their own

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Marantz ND-8006 network CD player press picture courtesy of Qualifi Pty. Ltd

Marantz’s higher-grade answer to Yamaha’s network CD players in the form of the ND-8006

Marantz UK

ND8006 Network CD Player

Product Page

My Comments

Previously, Yamaha identified a product class in the form of a full-width network CD player which can either play CDs on its own CD transport or network and Internet sources obtained via your home network.

This product has filled a market niche with people with a hi-fi system equipped with an amplifier or receiver that doesn’t have enough line-level inputs for a network media player and a regular CD player. As well, these CD players can allow a person who is upgrading or replacing a CD player to benefit from the extra network-audio-playback functionality by simply swapping out one device.

It was very similar to what had happened in the MiniDisc era of the late 1990s where Sony, Sharp, JVC, Marantz and others offered a CD/MiniDisc deck as part of their product lineup.. Here, these full-width units housed a single-disc or multi-disc CD player and an MD deck in the same housing and you could simply hook these units up to your amplifier’s or receiver’s tape loop for CD or MiniDisc playback or to record to the MiniDiscs. In some cases, I saw these units as effectively “modernising” old stereo equipment by allowing you to add CD and MD functionality in one action. They also appealed to music playout setups for churches, theatres and the like due to being able to occupy one input on the mixing desk for a regular CD or a MiniDisc which appealed for having pre-recorded material “ready to play”.

As well, it was also similar to the popular DVD/VHS combos where these units were a single box that only took up one input on your TV to be able to play DVDs or VHS videocassettes. In a lot of situations through the late 90s and early 2000s, these machines became the preferred way to add access to the new DVDs and the old videotapes when it was time to set up new TV equipment or replace a broken-down video recorder.

Subsequently Yamaha offered a follow-up model to the CD-N500 network CD player in the form of the CD-N301 which omitted USB connectivity but was “Wi-Fi ready”. It was also offered in the black finish as an alternative to the traditional silver finish to complement hi-fi setups that mostly have black-finished equipment.

This year, Marantz have answered Yamaha by offering a high-quality network CD player as part of this year’s hi-fi product lineup. It was as though they were following on the legacy of their CD/MD decks, especially the CM-6200. The ND-8006 offers the high-quality CD playback that Marantz is known for and this applies to regular CDs as well as file-based CDs full of MP3 or WMA audio files. There is also the ability to play from USB Mass-Storage devices with this unit handling all the common audio file types including FLAC.

But it can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet technology and uses this connection for a variety of applications. This includes access to Spotify, Amazon Music, TiDAL and Deezer “online jukeboxes”, and Internet radio via TuneIn Radio in the context of online audio services. You can stream audio content from your Apple devices or iTunes using AirPlay; but can play content held on your DLNA-capable NAS or media server. The Spotify functionality even supports Spotify Connect playback where a Spotify program tied to a Spotify Premium account can effectively become a controller with the music emanating from the Marantz network CD player.

There is some level of functionality as far as the Denon-Marantz HEOS multiroom system is concerned. At least you could set things up to stream a network or online source across multiple HEOS-capable speakers or amplifiers existing on your home network including the amplifier or speakers this CD player is connected to.

Marantz ND-8006 network CD player - rear panel - press picture courtesy of Qualifi Pty. Ltd.

Very comprehensive level of connectivity shown on the back panel

You can use the Marantz ND-8006 network CD player as a high-quality digital-analogue converter for SPDIF PCM sources connected via Toslink optical or RCA coaxial inputs, which would come in handy with a smart TV, set-top box, DVD/Blu-ray player or MiniDisc deck. Or it could serve as a “virtual sound card” for your computer thanks to a USB Type-B input. There is even the ability for this CD player to stream audio content from your Bluetooth-capable smartphone or other device.

The Marantz ND-8006 network CD player is another example of the hi-fi digital-audio equipment where the manufacturer has invested heavily in the playback sound path in both the digital and analogue domains. The digital-filtering job is looked after by the “Marantz Musical Digital Filtering” circuit which was a home-designed circuit optimised for music quality. Then the digital-analouge conversion job is looked after by a ESS9016 Sabre digital-analogue converter circuit.

Let’s not forget that this network CD player can play “master-grade” digital audio files from USB storage or your home network’s DLNA-capable NAS. It also includes the ability to enqueue any of these files for subsequent play when the current one is finished, similar to building up an “Active Queue List” on some MP3 players. It can also convert “master-grade” digital audio presented over an SPDIF digital audio link.

As far as connecting to your equipment is concerned, you have a fixed-level analogue line output along with a variable-level analogue line output. Marantz even suggested using the variable output as a “pre-out” for connecting directly to active speakers (think Bose Acoustimass or B&O Beolab speakers for example) or a power amplifier. There is also SPDIF digital outputs in coaxial and optical form for connecting to a home theatre receiver, digital-analogue converter or digital amplifier based primarily around discrete componentry.

There has also been some investment in the headphone amplifier which caters for those of us who use high-quality headphones for private listening. Like most other full-width hi-fi equipment, this will require the headphones to be equipped with the traditional 6.35mm stereo phone plug.

Although the Marantz ND-8006 network CD player has a price within “premium-equipment” territory, it is more about being able to answer this product class at the premium level. What would need to happen to build out the network CD player as a product class would be to have other value-priced hi-fi names offer these products as part of their lineup.

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British users can benefit from Google Home Voice Calling


Google Home voice calling now works in the UK

Google brings voice calling to Home speakers in the UK | Engadget

My Comments

Last August, Google launched in to the USA and Canada a VoIP-based voice calling feature for their Home smart-speaker platform. This service allowed you to use your voice to call landline and mobile telephones in the USA and Canada and speak to these callers through your Home smart speaker. A limitation that it had was that it was only for outgoing calls and your caller couldn’t identify you through the Caller-ID framework.

It was an attempt by Google to answer Amazon’s “in-network” calling and messaging service that they were delivering to the Alexa platform. Subsequently Amazon answered Google by providing a similar service with an analogue telephony adaptor that connects to your phone line to provide the full gamut of phone functionality through your Echo speakers.

UK FlagNow Google have taken this feature and launched it in the UK so that people who live there have the ability to call landline and mobile numbers based in that territory. How I see this is Google being the first off the mark to offer a VoIP telephony service based around their voice-driven home assistant within the UK.

There, the idea of a household landline telephone is still being kept alive thanks to most of the popular telcos and ISPs running desirable multiple-play TV/telephony/Internet packages at very attractive prices, a similar practice being offered in some European countries especially France. As w

They are also launching this feature in time for Mother’s Day (Mothering Sunday) which is celebrated in March in the UK. Here, they are running a spot special on their coral-coloured Google Home Mini speaker by dropping the price by GBP£10 to GBP£39 until March 12. This is with it being available through most of the UK’s main electrical-store chains like Currys PC World or John Lewis.

The UK as being the first country beyond the USA and Canada to head towards a VoIP platform based around a voice-driven home assistant could be the first “stage” in a race between Google and Amazon to push this feature across the world.

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The trends affecting personal-computer graphics infrastructure


AMD Ryzen CPUs with integrated Vega graphics are great for budget-friendly PC gaming | Windows Central

My Comments

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

Highly-portable computers of the same ilk as the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 will end up with highly-capable graphics infrastructure

A major change that will affect personal-computer graphics subsystems is that those subsystems that have a highly-capable graphics processor “wired-in” on the motherboard will be offering affordable graphics performance for games and multimedia.

One of the reasons is that graphics subsystems that are delivered as an expansion card are becoming very pricey, even ethereally expensive, thanks to the Bitcoin gold rush. This is because the GPUs (graphics processors) on the expansion cards are being used simply as dedicated computational processors that are for mining Bitcoin. This situation is placing higher-performance graphics out of the reach of most home and business computer users who want to benefit from this feature for work or play.

But the reality is that we will be asking our computers’ graphics infrastructure to realise images that have a resolution of 4K or more with high colour depths and dynamic range on at least one screen. There will even be the reality that everyone will be dabbling in games or advanced graphics work at some point in their computing lives and even expecting a highly-portable or highly-compact computer to perform this job.

Integrated graphics processors as powerful as economy discrete graphics infrastructure

One of the directions Intel is taking is to design their own integrated graphics processors that use the host computer’s main RAM memory but have these able to serve with the equivalent performance of a baseline dedicated graphics processor that uses its own memory. It is also taking advantage of the fact that most recent computers are being loaded with at least 4Gb system RAM, if not 8Gb or 16Gb. This is to support power economy when a laptop is powered by its own battery, but these processors can even support some casual gaming or graphics tasks.

Discrete graphics processors on the same chip die as the computer’s main processor

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

This Intel CPU+GPU chipset will be the kind of graphics infrastructure for portable or compact enthusiast-grade or multimedia-grade computers

Another direction that Intel and AMD are taking is to integrate a discrete graphics subsystem on the same chip die (piece of silicon) as the CPU i.e. the computer’s central “brain” to provide “enthusiast-class” or “multimedia-class” graphics in a relatively compact form factor. It is also about not yielding extra heat nor about drawing on too much power. These features are making it appeal towards laptops, all-in-one computers and low-profile desktops such as the ultra-small “Next Unit of Computing” or consumer / small-business desktop computers, where it is desirable to have silent operation and highly-compact housings.

Both CPU vendors are implementing AMD’s Radeon Vega graphics technology on the same die as some of their CPU designs.

Interest in separate-chip discrete graphics infrastructure

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop – the kind of computer that will maintain traditional soldered-on discrete graphics infrastructure

There is still an interest in discrete graphics infrastructure that uses its own silicon but soldered to the motherboard. NVIDIA and AMD, especially the former, are offering this kind of infrastructure as a high-performance option for gaming laptops and compact high-performance desktop systems; along with high-performance motherboards for own-build high-performance computer projects such as “gaming rigs”. The latter case would typify a situation where one would build the computer with one of these motherboards but install a newer better-performing graphics card at a later date.

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

This same option is also being offered as part of the external graphics modules that are being facilitated thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C interface. The appeal of these modules is that a highly-portable or highly-compact computer can benefit from better graphics at a later date thanks to one plugging in one of these modules. Portable-computer users can benefit from the idea of working with high-performance graphics where they use it most but keep the computer lightweight when on the road.

Graphics processor selection in the operating system

For those computers that implement multiple graphics processors, Microsoft making it easier to determine which graphics processor an application is to use with the view of allowing the user to select whether the application should work in a performance or power-economy mode. This feature is destined for the next major iteration of Windows 10.

Here, it avoids the issues associated with NVIDIA Optimus and similar multi-GPU-management technologies where this feature is managed with an awkward user interface. They are even making sure that a user who runs external graphics modules has that same level of control as one who is running a system with two graphics processors on the motherboard.

What I see now is an effort by the computer-hardware industry to make graphics infrastructure for highly-compact or highly-portable computers offer similar levels of performance to baseline or mid-tier graphics infrastructure available to traditional desktop computer setups.

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Microsoft to improve user experience and battery runtime for mobile gaming

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Candy Crush Saga gameplay screen Android

Microsoft researching how games like Candy Crush Saga can work with full enjoyment but not demanding much power

Microsoft Research

RAVEN: Reducing Power Consumption of Mobile Games without Compromising User Experience (Blog Post)

My Comments

A common frustration that we all face when we play video games on a laptop, tablet or smartphone is that these devices run out of battery power after a relatively short amount of playing time. It doesn’t matter whether we use a mobile-optimised graphics infrastructure like what the iPad or our smartphones are equipped with, or a desktop-grade graphics infrastructure like the discrete or integrated graphics chipsets that laptops are kitted out with.

What typically happens in gameplay is that the graphics infrastructure paints multiple frames to create the illusion of movement. But most games tend to show static images for a long time, usually while we are planning the next move in the game. In a lot of cases, some of these situations may use a relatively small area where animation takes place be it to show a move taking place or to show a “barberpole” animation which is a looping animation that exists for effect when no activity takes place.

Microsoft is working on an approach for “painting” the interaction screens in a game so as to avoid the CPU and graphics infrastructure devoting too much effort towards this task. This is a goal to allow a game to be played without consuming too much power and takes advantage of human visual perception for scaling frames needed to make an animation. There is also the concept of predictability for interpreting subsequent animations.

But a lot of the theory behind the research is very similar to how most video-compression codecs and techniques work. Here, these codecs use a “base” frame that acts as a reference and data that describes the animation that takes place relative to that base frame. Then during playback or reception, the software reconstructs the subsequent frames to make the animations that we see.

The research is mainly about an energy-efficient approach to measuring these perceptual differences during interactive gameplay based on the luminance component of a video image. Here, the luminance component of a video image would be equivalent to what you would have seen on a black-and-white TV. This therefore can be assessed without needing to place heavy power demands on the computer’s processing infrastructure.

The knowledge can then be used for designing graphics-handling software for games that are to be played on battery-powered devices, or to allow a “dual-power” approach for Windows, MacOS and Linux games. This is where a game can show a detailed animation with high performance on a laptop connected to AC power but allow it not to show that detailed animation while the computer is on battery power.

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Matthew Hare and Gigaclear to receive FTTH Council Europe award

Article Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

UK fibre operator Gigaclear wins FTTH Council Europe Award | ThinkBroadband

From the horse’s mouth


Gigaclear’s Chief Executive first Brit to receive prestigious FTTH award (Press Release)

FTTH Council Europe

2018 Awards Press Release (PDF)

My Comments

I have given a fair amount of coverage to the effort that Matthew Hare and Gigaclear have undertaken to get the ball rolling for establishing fibre-to-the-premises in a significant area of rural England. Here, the standard for the service was up to a Gigabit per second symmetrical (upload and download) which was above average for consumer-grade broadband and they were even working with Fluidata to open up these networks for competitive service access.

This includes two telephone-based interviews with Matthew Hare regarding how this company is answering the rural-Internet need and providing a real benefit to the various rural communities. From one of these interviews, I had called out in the report how Oxford Country Cottages were selling this connection as a significant amenity for their self-catering holiday cottages. with follow-up communication with that estate’s owners leading to them identifying that they were benefiting from a significant amount of return business due to this feature.

I was regularly identifying issues like people in the rural communities working from home or running a home-based business or practice as a user group that would benefit from the high standards of coverage. It also included the reality that most of the business activity in rural areas was driven by small businesses who would benefit from cloud computing and other similar technologies that also benefit frim this same coverage standard.

As well, I was also calling out the so-called “tree-changers” who a class of residents who have moved from the cities to rural communities in search of that tranquillity associated with country living. Here, these users want to be able to benefit from the same or better standard of Internet connectivity to maintain contact with their family or, perhaps, to run a business of some sort.

Now the FTTH Council Europe have awarded Matthew Hare with an FTTH Individual Award for his effort in using fibre-to-the-premises as a way to bring real broadband to rural areas. As Matthew said:

“It is an honour to be recognised by such an influential industry body. Since 2010, we have been delivering on our quest to connect some of the UK’s hardest to reach communities to reliable, ultrafast broadband. Every day, we see the difference having a reliable internet connection can make to people’s lives and we remain committed to closing the digital divide, ensuring we put an end to rural isolation. This is just the beginning. There is a lot more we aim to achieve with our fibre networks ”

he was underscoring the realities with working with rural areas along with the benefits that these rollout efforts would bring to the communities. He was also highlighting the feasibility of rolling out full-fibre broadband in to relatively-sparse rural areas including hamlets and villages. There is also the fact that if the established operators won’t answer a need, independent operators could end up satisfying that need.

What has happened today for Matthew Hare and Gigaclear could be a ray of encouragement for anyone wanting to provide fibre-to-the-premises broadband in a rural area.

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