Internationaler Funkaustellung 2014–Part 2

IFA LogoThe second part of this series about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2014 covers the consumer AV, wearable technology and home automation technologies that were being premiered at this trade fair.

Consumer AV

TVs with advanced display tech

Samsung Curved OLED 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung curved OLED 4K UHDTV

There has been consistent activity with TVs that implement advanced display technology. Primarily, this has come about with more of the 4K ultra-high-definition TV sets with some of the sets with this resolution crossing the EUR€1000 price barrier for the European market and sets having a minimum screen size of 42” while most come in at the popular screen sizes of 55” and 65”.

An increasing number of manufacturers are pushing through with curved screens and the 21:9 screen aspect ratio which mimics the experience one would gain from watching a movie at the cinema. Alongside this is for the Korean names to field TVs that use OLED technology on their screens.

Firstly, Samsung have fielded a 40” UHDTV alongside the UE105S9W which is their 105” 21:9 curved screen model. They also are exploiting the “Connect One” connection box which is a way of assuring future-proof design for their sets. This has been integrated in sets based on the HU8590 chassis but is ready-to-add for their other current-issue 4K UHD TV designs. They were also fielding the curved TVs based on the 8000 Series design

LG have run with a range of curved OLED 4K Ultra HDTVs with a screen size of 65” or 75”. These implement a 4-colour OLED display technology which uses a white element in each pixel to show the white part of the picture rather than “constructing” the white part.

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV

Panasonic are working on the improved picture quality and are running the AX630 4K TV design with a 40” model at EUR€899, a 48” model at EUR€1199 and a 55” model at EUR€1499. The sets based on this design have the HDMI 2.0 connectivity and H.265 / HEVC decoding but eschew the local-dimming improvement. They also run an extra-cost 4K TV design as the AX900 which comes in the 55” and 65” screen sizes and tick the boxes for HDMI 2.0 connectivity, H.265 support and local dimming.

Sony were pushing the quality angle with improvement on sound and extended dynamic range for the pictures, along with the Edge LED illumination feature. Their key model they were running was the S90 series which is a curved 4K UHDTV that sports the Triluminos technology and is available as either 65” or 75”.

Loewe, with TVs that are best described in German as “eine Superdeutschefernseher” have it that all newly-released models will be equipped with 4K resolution save for a 32” model. These will appear in 3 new ranges and have HDMI 2.0 connectivity and support for H.265 HEVC codecs. Thiey will implement DVB tuners that work with signals regular aerial (antenna), a satellite dish or cable-TV infrastructure and implement quick channel-change.

Thomson, the European TV name, are running with the Series Z 4K sets which are available as the Z7 (65” and 42” screens) and the Z8 (85”, 55” and 49” screens) variants. These have support also for HBBTV and Miracast mobile-phone playback.

Haier were showing the H6600 4K UHDTV range (42” to 65” screen sizes) with the 42” for less than EUR€600 and the 65” for EUR€1300 for 65”. These implement a simple design and use HDMI 1.4 connectivity. There is also the M7000 4K UHDTV range with screen sizes of 40”, 48”, and 55”. This design runs Android 4.2.2 and has access to Google Play, support for an add-in Webcam, and comes with a QWERTY remote control,

They will also implement an upgrade box for their TVs just like what Samsung did with their Evolution Box, satisfying a reality with the way TVs are used.

A Hong-Kong-based TV firm called Chanhong have shown curved OLED 4K TVs which are driven by Android technology. These are available at 55” for EUR€1700 or as 65” and 79” sizes. There is also a fiat-screen design known as the C5500 with the 42” selling for EUR€500 and the 65” selling for EUR€800. This one also implements Android technology and uses HDMI 2.0 connectivity.

Philips Android-driven curved 4K UHDTV press image courtesy of Philips

Philips Android-driven curved 4K UHDTV

Philips even ran for the title of the first Android-driven curved TV, which comes in with a screen size of 55” at EUR€2390. This also implements the Ambilight feature that Philips is known for to augment the viewing experience.

Smart TV and multiscreen

The Smart TV experience is being driven on the HBBTV broadcast-Internet interactive TV technology that is being premiered in Europe and, to some extent, Australia.

Technisat were working on the “Watchmii” personal-TV experience which I would suspect is a content-recommendation service.

Platform-based “smart-TV” technologies that don’t require the manufacturers to “reinvent the wheel” were coming to light. Here, Philips was implementing Android-based Smart TVs that have access to the apps on the Google Play Store while LG was pushing the idea of implementing WebOS on their Smart TV designs.

Qualcomm are intending to use the AllJoyn and AlSeen standards to make TVs operate with smartphones and tablets.

Audio technology

Wireless speakers and multiroom audio

Harman-Kardon Omni 10 Black multiroom speaker and smartphone press picture courtesy of Harman International

Harman-Kardon Omni 10 multiroom wireless speaker

The wireless speakers, some of which work with your Wi-Fi home network or as a Bluetooth speaker for your smartphone, are showing up as a very distinct product category. The innovation that is taking place here is the ability to wirelessly link two or more speakers together either to cover more sound space during a party or to provide a stereo pair with the proper desireable stereo separation. Some of the multi-room setups even make it feasible to adjust the volume for that speaker locally to your taste. These systems are being seen as an attempt to encroach on Sonos’s territory when it comes to multi-room multi-speaker wireless audio setups.

Harman-Kardon Omni 20 Black multiroom speaker press picture courtesy of Harman International

Harman-Kardon Omni 20 multiroom speaker

Another trend is that an increasing number of the portable Bluetooth speakers that have rechargeable battery packs in them are even able to work as external battery packs for mobile devices. This can help with them providing that bit extra of power on the go.

Yamaha have advanced a 3-piece elegant Bluetooth speaker and a single-piece Bluetooth speaker that creates a lightshow when playing music.

Philips SW-500M Spotify multiroom speaker press image courtesy of Philips

Philips SW-500M Spotify multiroom speaker

MTX, known for their beefy car-audio technology have advanced some wireless speakers along with some Street Audio earphones. One of these is the iT1 which implements a 6-amplifier, 6-speaker and 2 bass speaker arrangement and uses Wi-Fi with DLNA and AirPlay connectivity. They also fielded the iWa225 which is an in-wall Bluetooth amplifier for use with build-in speakers and supports multiroom mode using 2 of the same amplifiers.

Braven are cottoning on to the multiroom idea with their Vibe system. As well, LG are answering Sonos with their Music Flow multi-room audio setup.

Lenco are running with a multiroom setup which users single-piece speakers that are controlled by an iOS or Android app and are able to work with master-grade audio files. This system, which connects to an existing Wi-Fi small network segment, consists of the Playlink 6 speaker, Playlink 4 small portable speaker, and the Connect box which connects to an existing sound system.

Pure have refreshed their Jongo speaker lineup as the X Series speakers and implemented the Imagination Technologies Caskeid multiroom transmission technology. This technology works with multiroom setups or separate stereo speakers using the existing Wi-Fi network and the “Bluetooth Caskeid” variant provides a single Bluetooth A2DP on-ramp to the Caskeid system. These speakers are now available in white, grey or black finishes.

Harman-Kardon have fielded the Omni multi-room setup which is based around the Omni 10 or Omni 20 wireless speakers. These work on the existing Wi-Fi home network, have an Bluetooth A2DP on-ramp function and also work with 96khz 24-bit master-grade audio streams. A brace of these speakers can be set up to be a stereo pair or five of them can be set up to provide 5-channel surround sound. Harman-Kardon also offer the Esquire portable Bluetooth speaker that is so “stylish yet cool” like the well-dressed gentleman. This unit, which also can be an external battery pack, wouldn’t look out of place in his elegant briefcase.

Philips are running a Wi-Fi-based multiroom speaker setup that, again, works with the existing Wi-Fi home network but also has Spotify Connect functionality. There is the SW750 which has one tweeter and one woofer per channel and the SW700 which has one full-range speaker per channel. They also have fielded a Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t have trouble with multiple Bluetooth source devices. This one uses 1 tweeter and 1 woofer per channel along with the use of passive radiators to improve the sound.

Headphones and earphones

Sony MDR-1ADAC digital headphones with integrated DAC press image courtesy of Sony

Sony MDR-1ADAC digital headphones with integrated DAC

The headphone scene is being advanced here with improved headphone and earphone designs as we listen to more audio content on the road. It is becoming more acceptable for one to were large “cans” when they are on the street or in public transport because of better sound quality. This is being advanced with some headphones even implementing multi-transducer “two-way” designs.

For example, Sony have put forward the MDR-1ADAC headphones with integrated digital-analogue converter along with the PHA-3AC portable DAC for use with existing “cans”. These work with some of the new Sony Walkman digital audio players, the new XPeria smartphones, Apple iOS devices or regular computers as digital headphones and yield master-grade digital audio reproduction.

As well, Sennheiser are fielding headphones that are intended to “snap at” what Beats offers for ultra-cool bass-rich headphones.

Other Hi-Fi sound trends

Technics R1 Reference hi-fi system press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Technics R1 hi-fi system symbolising the return of the hi-fi brand

One main trend that is being pushed in hi-fi design is inherent support for “master-grade”  file-based digital audio with FLAC and similar files that are worked at 24 bits and greater than 96 kHz sampling rates.

Panasonic have resurrected the Technics hi-fi brand to the consumer market through them fielding two music systems. One of these is the R1 Reference System which is based around the SE-R1 stereo power amplifier with those classic power-level meters and XLR connectors that aren’t out of place on a PA system. This beast of an amplifier drives the SB-R1 3-way floor-standing speakers and is fed by the SU-R1 network audio player / control amplifier that uses separate power-supply paths for the analogue and digital signal paths.

Technics C700 hi-fi system with SL-C700 CD player press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Technics C700 hi-fi system with CD player

They also had shown the C700 music system which consists of a stereo amplifier, network audio player and 2-way bookshelf speakers. Users can also buy an optional SL-C700 CD player which has highly-strung digital-analogue conversion circuitry. These systems have been designed by Michiko Ogawa who is a Japanese jazz pianist and sound engineer and is part of the new “Rediscover Music” ethos that Technics is bringing back.

Pioneer X-HM82 3-piece network-capable music system press picture courtesy of Pioneer

Pioneer X-HM82 3-piece music system with XC-HM82 network-capable CD receiver

Pioneer have brought in hi-fi network media players that can work high-resolution files and yield high-quality sound from regular music files and streams. They also brought in the XC-HM82 network CD receiver which plays CDs, broadcast and Internet radio, Spotify, music from your home network via either DLNA or AirPlay as well as Bluetooth A2DP music from your mobile devices. This is available as a variant with support for DAB+ digital broadcast radio and is available either as a standalone component for use with speakers that you like or as one of two music systems. The first one – the X-HM82 comes with 2-way bookshelf speakers equipped with a 12cm glass-fibre woofer and 25mm dome tweeter and finshed in that piano-black lacquer.  The second one comes with similar speakers that have a cheaper look and similar-sized drivers.

Pioneer N-70 network media player press picture courtesy of Pioneer

Pioneer N-70 network media player

As well they have brought in a pair of DLNA-capable Blu-Ray players with Dolby Atmos support (BDP-LX88 and BDP-LX58) along with the SC-LX88 Atmos-capable AV receiver. The BDP-LX58 even comes with a pair of XLR balanced-audio connectors along with the RCA connectors as stereo-output options so this can tie in with PA systems or high-end audio amplifiers. Their Compact Components range of micro hi-fi systems has been refreshed and now comes with a network media player and a USB DAC. In addition to this, they also have released the N-70 network media player that has hi-fi credentials and pulls music from online music services or the home network’s NAS unit using DLNA.

Pioneer have also improved the Bluetooth functionality in their latest iterations of their Bluetooth-capable car audio equipment to support the reality of multiple-phone use. This is especially to cater for the “work phone and home phone” users.

Photography

The IFA consumer-electronics show in Berlin clashes with the subsequent Photokina photography show that is held in Cologne so I won’t go in to much detail here about the cameras.

A key trend is for more DSLR cameras and camcorders to be able to take video footage at 4K UHDTV resolution.

Another trend being pushed on to the European market is for some cameras to be able to upload or play via Wi-Fi. This provides for direct access to Dropbox, Facebook and co along with the ability to support a level of DLNA compatibility.

Of course, Canon and Nikon field new or refreshed iterations of their system cameras and DSLRs

Sony have brought the NEX series of cameras to Europe along with refreshed versions of their smartphone “lens-camera” devices. One of these even works with their E-mount interchangeable lenses.

Polaroid has made the IFA the chance to launch their Socialmatic “online” camera to the European market. This camera has the ability to work with a smartphone to upload pictures to the Social Web and a variant has been launched to maintain the same “look” as their iconic 1000 / One-Step series of SX-70 platform instant-picture cameras launched in the 1970s. This include an LCD screen that mimics the look of the original cameras’ viewfinder windows but shows iconic images like the smiley face.

Personal Tech

Wearables

The Northern Autumn (Fall) is intending to become the season for a battle between manufacturers to present the best smartwatch on the block.

Samsung Gear Live Black Android Wear smartwatch press image courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Gear Live Android Wear smartwatch

Here, there is an increasing number of  smartwatches that are driven by Android Wear, some of which are round. As well, there is an increasing number of models that are priced to be affordable for most along with the hybrid smartwatches that have the traditional quartz movement that drives actual hands along with an extra control / display surface integrated in the face for smartphone integration. As well, Samsung is one of the first to introduce a standalone smartwatch that isn’t dependent on a smartphone for most of its functionality.

Samsung Gear S smartwatch (him on bike) press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Gear S standalone smartwatch suitable for bike riding

This watch, known as the Gear S smartwatch, has the ability to work as a smartphone or can work alongside an existing smartphone. It is based on the Tizen operating system and implements 3G communication for the cellular link. As well, the Gear S uses Samsung’s iconic Super AMOLED display technology but the display is curved, effectively to “wrap with your wrist”.

Samsung Gear S smartwatch (her with smartphone) press picture courtesy of Samsung

The Gear S can look just as elegant – a sign of what is to be expected of smartwatches

They also released the Gear Live watch which works on the Android Wear platform yet has the Super AMOLED display that Samsung is behind. As well, Samsung are snapping at Oculus Rift by issuing a pair of goggles known as the Galaxy VR.

LG are intending to launch an AMOLED-equipped successor to the Android Wear driven G Watch along with the G Watch R which is intended to sell in October. ASUS are running an Android Wear smartwatch which could be affordable for most with a price tag of EUR€170-200 along with the ZenWatch which is a customisable Android Wear smartwatch that oozes with style and is equipped with an AMOLED display.

Sony’s SmartWatch 3 is their third iteration of the Smartwatch range and is intended to be based on Android Wear. This is also to be run alongside the Smartband Talk which is a fitness band with hands-free telephony functionality for your smartphone along with a battery-saving e-ink screen.

Samsung Gear VR goggles press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Gear VR goggles to snap at the Oculus Rift goggles

The Cogito Classic smartwatch has the real moving hands to tell the current time but a display underneath the hands and on the clock face for notifications. This is part of the new breed of hybrid smartwatch (real hands that tell the time, display the shows messages or LED that indicates status, buttons or multi-function crown for controlling the smartphone. One question is whether these watches could set themselves from your smartphone and the time references that it has like the mobile towers. This includes adjusting themselves to daylight-saving time as it comes in to effect or adjusting themselves to the new time zone that you travel in to.

Home automation and security

There are a few key trends affecting home automation and security. One is having appliances link to your smartphone by Bluetooth Smart technology or your home network and work on the “app-cessory” model. This is where they gain functionality by you using a manufacturer-developed app that you draw down from your mobile platform’s app store, with this app being an enhanced display and control surface.

An example of this is the Oral B (Braun) Bluetooth-linked electric toothbrush that analyses your teeth-cleaning process and suggests better ways to do it.

A few “do-it-yourself” home-automation systems have come on the scene. One of these is the DigitalStrom home-automation system uses the AC wiring and  looks like Lego blocks. This is app-controlled and supports scene-driven or event-driven behavour and is easy to expand. Similarly, Devolo have put their foot in the door for home automation with an app-driven appliance module and contact sensor. Thomson are fielding the THOMBox which is another home-automation system that uses a computer, tablet or smartphone as the control surface.

Saeco GranBaristo Avanti espresso machine press picture courtesy of Philips

Saeco GranBaristo Avanti automatic espresso machine represents the new direction of appliance user-interface design with mobile-device app-cessory control and high-resolution display

Another trend is for appliances to have an easy efficient safe hygienic design, One of these factors also includes major appliances and coffee machines being equipped with colour LCD graphic displays rather than a monochrome low-resolution LCD display or alphanumeric display. This has picked up from where an increasing number of multi-function printers are being equipped with colour LCD touchscreen displays. This is also augmented by the above-mentioned “app-cessory” enhanced control method where your smartphone or tablet serves as a control or display surface with access to extra functionality. In some cases, some of the conventional or microwave ovens have the ability to allow you to download recipes to them to manage the cooking process for that recipe.

For example, Bosch have established the Home Connect web-assisted platform for their appliances. For example, they have a fridge that lets you you see what is there by viewing your tablet while the door’s closed. This is achieved with two cameras that do the task of photographing what’s there after you close the door before the light turns off.

Similarly, Whirlpool / Bauknecht have designed a cooking hob that is an information dashboard for the connected home when it is not cooking food. This would show  remaining time for processes like oven cooking or dish / clothes washing cycles, along with recipes based on what’s in the fridge and information from social network feeds, etc.

Siemens even fielded the iQ700 appliance platform with a multifunction oven that has a “lift-up” control panel with storage behind. This is part of a similar “Home Connect” portal, and their dishwasher even supports assisted operation.

Dyson joins the robot vacuum party by offering a unit with a 360-degree-vision camera and the ability to locate itself based on where your furniture and other items are in the room. It also uses tank-style tracks to move between surface types along with Dyson’s well-known motor technology.

Philips have even worked on the Hue Beyond “tuneable” LED lighting system which is managed the “app-cessory” way but can be adjusted minutely.

Conclusion

This is showing how the IFA 2014 is reinforcing the concept of personal computing in the lifestyle space such as with watches, music systems and even appliances.

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UK to benefit from Naked FTTC broadband

Article

Naked fibre to the cabinet may be on the way from Openreach | ThinkBroadband

My Comments

AVM FRITZ!Box 3490 - Press photo courtesy AVM

AVM Fritzbox 3490 – an example of a VDSL2 modem that could be part of the naked VDSL2 service offered in the UK

I have written up an article about broadband Internet options available for those of us who use the mobile phone as the main voice telephone. Here, I was highlighting the kind of options that are available without you needing to pay line rental to an incumbent voice-telephony carrier and highlighted services like FTTP fibre-optic Internet or cable-modem broadband service which are hosted on separate infrastructure.

But I also highlighted the concept of “naked DSL” or “dry-loop DSL” which is a DSL service using your phone carrier’s wires but you don’t have a local voice telephone service a.k.a a “dial-tone” service. A lot of countries offer this as a service option for most DSL-service packages but the United Kingdom doesn’t offer that kind of service at all.

Things are to change for the UK with Openreach offering the “naked DSL” option for people who sign up to VDSL2-based “fibre-to-the-cabinet” next-generation broadband. They will maintain the subscriber’s circuit from the FTTC street cabinet to the exchange just for line testing or if a subsequent subscriber wants to sign up to a full service with the legacy voice telephone component.

But this is a service that is considered a proposal but should really be available for UK households who start out “mobile only” or want to use that second line that was created for the fax or for someone’s independent telephony needs for their fibre-copper next-generation broadband needs.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2014–Part 1

IFA LogoThe Internationaler Funkaustellung trade fair that happens in Berlin is seen as a launch point for consumer electronics and home appliances being sold primarily in to the European market but also covering to some extent the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Ocieania markets. Typically what is launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during January may be premiered in Europe during this show.

Personal and home computing

Laptops, notebooks and tablets

ASUS Eeebook X205TA 11" notebook courtesy of ASUS

ASUS Eeebook X205TA – an example of the new cheap Windows notebooks that are appearing

There are two main trends affecting the laptop computer and tablet computer here that you couldn’t really have them as separate product classes. One is an increased proliferation of the detachable and convertible classes of products that become either tablets or laptop computers at any one moment. The other is the available of 11” Windows notebook computers at really low prices to compete with the Chromebook products that run the Google ChromeOS operating system.

As far as the cheap-end laptop is concerned, ASUS, HP and others have been pushing products in this class with ASUS drawing on the EeePC “netbook” heritage with their specimen that has an 11.6” screen, an Intel Bay Trail Atom processor, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb solid-state storage.

Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro detachable notebook press image courtesy of Toshiba

Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro detachable notebook

The convertibles and detachables are coming strongly in the 13” screen size with Toshiba fielding the Satellite Click 2 Pro P30W detachable Ultrabook and the Dell Latitude 13 7000 for the detachable form factor. Acer have shown up with a 13” “flip-down” convertible in the form of the Aspire R13. The 13” screen size is still perceived as a size to keep with this product class because of a larger screen that can be good as a large “sharable” tablet and the keyboard comfortably large enough for typing up large chunks of copy while you deal with a compact portable computer.

Other trends affecting this space include laptops having 4K UHDTV resolution screens which have been brought on by the concept of the Apple Retina display in the MacBook lineup. This is making the concept of high-dot-per-inch displays become the norm in this class of computer which will put pressure on software developers and Webmasters to cater to these screens.

An example of this is the Toshiba Kira 102 13.3” Ultrabook which sports an Intel i7 processor and 256Gb SSD along with a touchscreen resolution of 2560×1440. Let’s not forget that Toshiba were refreshing the popular Satellite L Series of 15” and 17” laptops with them having either Intel or AMD processors.

The tablets are becoming available either as Windows 8.1 units or as Android 4.4 KitKat units. Here, I have had to class tablets with the laptops because they are being positioned as a competitor to the small laptop as a personal computing device although some people could position them more as media-consumption devices. This has been made easier with Microsoft licensing Windows 8.1 at no cost for the small tablet devices.

As well, it was a time when Microsoft was premiering the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet but, really a detachable notebook. Samsung has used this show to promote the Galaxy Tab S which is the first tablet to implement an OLED screen, causing it to be more lightweight as well as show pictures with increased contrast and brilliance.

Sony used this show to premiere the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact which is their “coat-pocket” tablet. As well, they have premiered their PocketBook Android-driven e-ink readers which also includes a 13” model that is pitched at CAD and architectural use. This one also is able to connect to a computer to serve as a Wacom-compliant graphics tablet.  Thomson fielded the THBK-1-1- which is capable of booting between Android or Windows 8.1. Acer was also running a Windows-based 8” tablet in the form of the Atom-powered Iconia Tab 8W.

Peripherals

As for desktop monitors, the 4K resolution is appearing in the premium end of this product class. LG fielded a curved ultrawide 4K unit with a 34” 21:9  screen, along with the 31” Digital Cinema 4K monitor and a 24” gamer-grade monitor.

Smartphones

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge press image courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge – a new trend for smartphone displays with the wraparound display

The key trends for the smartphones include moving towards the 5”-6” 16:9 screen size with the display size hitting the golden maximum for the product class. This is where the product is similar in size to a larger highly-functional pocket calculator where it has a large screen yet it is comfortable to hold in one hand and operate with the other. It has been underscored by the so-called “phablet” class of smartphone with the large 6” displays and having that “golden maximum”.

We are also seeing more stylish designs for the premium models along with upscaling of the devices’ processor, camera and similar abilities.

Samsung were pushing their premium Galaxy line at this show. The headline products were the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini and Galaxy Note Edge with screen edges that wrap over side of phone and exposes software-determined options,

Alcatel were exhibiting their One Touch smartphone which uses e-ink as a battery-saving display technology. HTC also exhibited the Desire 820 which was the first Android smartphone to implement a 64-bit ARM processor. This may impact software development for the Android platform because of a requirement to compile 64-bit packages of the apps to take full advantage of this processor’s abilities.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – the latest iteration of the phone that started the phablet phenomenon

Companies that are normally dormant when it comes to handheld devices are surfacing with smartphone products of their own. Examples of these include Acer launching their “Leap” smartphone range along with Lenovo launching their Vibe smartphones with some of the products being pitched at the “selfie” culture.

The phablets are emerging in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which is the latest iteration of the Galaxy Note lineup that opened up this product class. Sony answered with the Z3 product range while LG fielded the G3 Stylus 5.5” Android phablet.

As for the emerging markets, Technisat were promoting a dual-SIM Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean smartphone with Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth and FM radio. This runs on a 1500mAH battery with 512Mb RAM and 4Gb main storage at EUR€115.99. LG were running the L Fino and L Bello 3G smartphones for these markets.

The home network

Two main trends that are affecting connectivity on the home network are 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline connectivity.

More of the current-issue broadband routers are being equipped with 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity with more concurrent wireless streams this allowing for increa

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of Devolo

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (Continental Schuko plug)

sed Wi-Fi throughput. For that matter, we are seeing such equipment in the order of the AC1900 specification with three radio streams.

Examples of this include TP-Link’s Archer C9 performance broadband router and the NETGEAR NightHawk X4 with the four-stream AC2350 802.11ac Wi-Fi.  As well, TP-Link also fielded the RE200 AC750 dual-band wireless range extender.

As for HomePlug AV2 with its MIMO abilities, Devolo have released their kit for this specification as the dLAN 1200+ which requires the power outlets to be compliant to the Continental “Schuko” plugs at each end of the connection. These have a filtered Continental “Schuko” mains socket in them so you don’t forfeit the AC socket you used for your HomePlug AV2 connection, along with a Gigabit Ethernet socket for your network connection. There are even plans for Devolo to release local-specific variants of this kit for other European countries like UK and France. TP-Link are fielding the PA8030 HomePlug AV2 SISO (two-wire) adaptor which has a Gigabit 3-port Ethernet switch.

There have been a few “Mi-Fi” routers with 4G LTE WAN technology at the IFA 2014. One of these is the NETGEAR Aircard 785 Hotspot which also has a dual-band Wi-Fi LAN connection. TP-Link has fielded a the M7350 Mi-Fi which also works as an SD-card file server.

In the next part of the series, I will be covering the consumer AV technology, the wearables and home appliances technologies.

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Cumbria to benefit from fibre-optic rural Internet

Articles

Fibre GarDen to Start Community FTTP Broadband “Big Dig” in Cumbria | ISPReview.co.uk

From the horse’s mouth

Digital Dales

Product Page

My Comments

Yorkshire Dales By Kreuzschnabel (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Two Yorkshire Dales villages near Cumbria to benefit from real broadband

Another independent rural-broadband campaign is taking place in England to provide fibre-to-the-premises broadband in to some rural communities. This time it is being facilitated by Digital Dales and is to serve Garsdale and Dentdale in Cumbria, just north of the Yorkshire Dales. It, along with Gigaclear’s efforts, seen to be the only two non-BT rural broadband project to be taking place in the UK.

Digital Dales, which is a community-owned cooperative, have raised enough money to commence construction of this infrastructure on the 5th October 2014. In the early days, this enablement project had a bumpy start and was riddled with uncertainty. The funds have been sourced from the Rural Community Broadband Fund which provides money to facilitate real broadband in the country areas, along with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Sustainable Development Fund.

They had achieved the go-ahead for landowners’ properties to have the fibre-optic cable pass through them and the operation will be described as a “Big Dig”.

Once the infrastructure is in place and the service is live, householders will expect to pay GBP£30 / month for 30Mbps or GBP£50 / month for 100Mbps bandwidth. These services will comes with free basic landline telephone service, but the householders can upgrade their phone service to the same standard as BT for GBP£2 – £3 per month extra.

Personally, I would see this as effectively “lighting up” the villages with real broadband which could benefit small businesses, professionals who work from home, the tourism industry amongst other users. It could even allow Garsdale and Dentdale to become more attractive to live in for “tree-changers” as the availability of next-generation broadband is being used to assess a community’s liveability.

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Wi-Fi Direct to implement task-specific improvements

Articles

Wi-Fi group acts to simplify peer-to-peer video, printing and other tasks | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

WI-Fi Alliance

Press Release

My Comments

A current limitation that faces anyone who uses Wi-Fi Direct peer-to-peer networking is that the users have to face many steps to take advantages of the devices they connect to. This typically includes being able to discover the device, what it does and how it can do it, such as printing abilities or display resolution. In the case of Miracast-capable displays, this may also include “opening up” the input associated with the Miracast functionality to have the computer’s display on that display screen.

The Wi-Fi Alliance have revised the Wi-Fi Direct specifications to provide task-focused operation with the equivalent of class drivers. This is although there are standards like the UPnP Device Control Protocols out there to enable this functionality and this revision is to specifically enable “one-touch” access to the device’s function.

At the moment, the Alliance have defined four specifications:

  • Wi-FI Direct Send – for sending and receiving content with minimal user interaction
  • Wi-Fi Direct Print – to print quickly from mobile device with minimal interaction
  • Wi-Fi Direct for DLNA – to make it quick to discover DLNA-capable resources like the wireless speakers to play content through these devices
  • Miracast – to allow for screen mirroring and use of an external display

A good question is whether these task-focused specifications only reflect on setups that implement the peer-to-peer connectivity offered by Wi-Fi Direct or whether they could extend to Wi-Fi LANs such as when you use a Mi-Fi device or home network.

At the moment, the new abilities can be applied to existing devices through the use of newer firmware versions because these abilities are offered on a software level rather than through newer hardware requirements. As well, Samsung and other Android vendors could integrate the NFC ability and the Wi-Fi Direct Send functionality to provide a platform-wide implementation of the “S Beam” file-sharing functionality.

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Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

Article

Microsoft’s Universal Keyboard has an Android home button, no Windows logo in sight  | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Hardware

Universal Mobile Keyboard Product Page

Press Release

Video clip

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard press image courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

Microsoft have designed a Bluetooth keyboard that is intended for use with smartphones and tablets that run on the three main mobile platforms: Android, iOS and Windows 8. This is to cater for a reality where people may operate different computer devices on different platforms.

Microsoft have achieved a universal layout with platform-specific keys for Android and iOS, like the Command (snowflake) key that the Apple platforms need. The Windows or Android modes could work with devices like games consoles or Smart TVs that implement Bluetooth Human Interface Device Profile in the context of a full keyboard for text entry. What could this mean for using your smart TV’s social-network or content-search functionality without “hunt-and-peck” operation.

But you can select between the different operating systems and keyboard layouts using a three-position hardware switch. As well, the keyboard remembers Bluetooth pairings with 3 devices of the different platforms.There is even a rest for your tablet or smartphone so you can see what you are typing and this works as a lid for the keyboard.

Of course, it can run from its own battery for 6 months but can allow you to quickly charge the keyboard to gain 8 hours extra runtime.

But most of us who use keyboards with tablets typically head for those keyboards that are integrated in a case for the tablet and Microsoft could do better to offer this as a case for most 10” tablets.

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Setting up a “his-and-hers” computing environment

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

A large laptop that is commonly used in a “his-and-hers” computing environment

A common situation that I face when providing IT support for couples, families and similar households is providing a level of individual operation for each user who uses shared computer equipment. A typical situation is a couple who have desktop, laptop or tablet computers that they share with each other or a family who maintains the “family” computer that is used also by the children.

On the other hand, you may make sure each of you have your own computing devices that are set up with your own operating environments. This is more so with tablets or other ultra-portable computer equipment where you want to effectively “take it with you”.

But there is a goal where each person may want to “keep their space their space”. That is to have their preferred operating environment with their preferred user-interface customisations (wallpaper, button styling, etc), preferred email client, preferred Web bookmarks and other parameters maintained while they operate the equipment. As well, they may want to keep their communications with their social community private or prevent confusion with your communications. This is even though both or all of you will have the same relatives and friends that you maintain regular contact with.

Most of you may operate on a trust-based environment where you will want to know the passwords to each other’s accounts simply as a symbol of “our love for each other has nothing to hide”. This may not be applicable for those of you who are running or working in a business where confidentiality concerning business data is so important.

How do computer operating environments handle this?

Regular computers

Create multiple Microsoft.com accounts on your Windows 8 computer to achieve a unique user experience across all of your Windows 8 computers

Create multiple Microsoft.com accounts on your Windows 8 computer to achieve a unique user experience across all of your Windows 8 computers

Most “regular-computer” operating environments such as Windows, MacOS X and Linux allow multiple individual accounts to be created. These accounts support their own username and password and allow the computer to open up to a desktop environment that is personalised for each of the users. You even have concepts like separate user folders, desktop wallpapers and themes, or, in some cases, email clients that are peculiar to each user.

This functionality has been baked in to the “regular-computer” operating environment due to the fact that these machines are used by different employees in the workplace or are used to work with data that is confidential to a particular user.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Copy your Windows 8 user experience to that secondary convertible Ultrabook

Windows 8 even takes this further by allowing you to create a Microsoft.com login account that you can take between different computers. Here, this allows you to use the same user credentials which will lead you to your same user environment on the different computers. For example, you could share use of different computer types such as a 15” mainstream laptop or an all-in-one desktop that lives at home and an Ultrabook or detachable tablet that you use while travelling or maintain as an “around the house” computer for example.

Last but not least Google implemented multiple-account operation on the ChromeOS platform which then adds most of the cheap Chromebooks to the list of devices that can support “his and hers” computing. This is through a blind update (version 37.0.2062.119) that should be in your Chromebook by 6 September 2014.

Mobile computing devices (tablets)

The tablet, typically the 10” tablet like the Apple iPad, is very much the only device that runs any mobile operating environment which ends up being shared by a couple or family.

Recent iterations of Android installed on tablets can support this kind of operation. This has been introduced to support “privileged operation environments” in the workplace. The same also holds true for tablets that are powered with the Windows 8 operating system.

The only tablet device that doesn’t support a true “his-and-hers” environment is the Apple iPad. This is bound to one Apple ID account, which affects use of the iTunes Store, the App Store and other Apple-provided apps and services. The passcode on these devices doesn’t even provide separate or unique login environments on these devices.

Email, Social Networks and Instant Messaging

Windows Live Mail client-based email interface

Windows Live Mail – an example of a client-based email interface

If these services are operated via a Web-based user interface, they can support “his-and-hers” operation as long as each user logs out of their account at the end of each session. This is more critical if both of you use the same provider.

Some client-side environments like email clients may allow you to have different sets of account credentials tied to particular system user accounts. But some other clients like a few mobile-platform or entry-level desktop clients or most social-network clients won’t allow you to keep service login parameters peculiar to a system user account. Here, you may have to log out of your account at the end of each session. As well, some client-side email programs may maintain only one address book or contact list that is available to all users.

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking "Log Out" in Settings

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking “Log Out” in Settings

On the other hand, you may be able to preserve separate email or social-network accounts by using a separate client-side program for each login. This may limit your ability to use application-driven functionality like “share this via email”. On the other hand, you could always have a practice of each user logging in to the client with their credentials for the duration of their session.

Cloud-based online storage

Most “cloud-based” online storage services like Dropbox can support different logins for each user and you can tie these different logins to a particular device-based login for most regular-computing platforms like Windows. But you can’t have two different service logins associated with one computer login unless you use premium or “business” variants of their services.

But you can create a “household” folder in these services which is shared by all of you, simply by having one account-holder create a folder and invite the other account-holders to have full access rights to that folder. The only limitation with this is that if a friend or relative outside the household wants to share resources with all of the household, they have to invite each Dropbox account to the folder they want to share.

NAS units

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

NAS units like the WD MyCloud EX2 can work well in a “his-and-hers” computing environment

You can create individual storage accounts on your network-attached storage to allow each member of your household to store their data on their own space in the network-attached-storage unit. Here, you also use the “public” spaces on the NAS to store and share data that is of common interest but doesn’t have a perceived disclosure risk like your file-based AV collection or, if the data is confidential to you both, you could create a private share that you grant the other accounts access to.

The multiple account feature would tie in well with the remote-access or “cloud” features that an increasing number of NAS units like the WD MyCloud EX2 are equipped with. This will maintain the “private data pools” and allow the remote access to these resources.

Some of you may want to use two or three different NAS units connected to the network so you can keep individual units as personal data stores, which may be of importance if each of you run your own enterprise or you want to set up a NAS for the teenager or young adult about to leave the “family nest”.

What can you do to achieve “his-and-hers” computing

Some of you may decide to have a one or more smaller devices that you personally use, like iPads or work-home computers but you may then have to identify devices that you want to operate on a shared basis like larger tablets, laptops or desktops. Here, you can set these up with separate accounts so you can have a unique operation experience for each of you.

If you have equipment that runs Windows 8 or newer variants of that operating system, you could then set up personal Microsoft.com accounts for each of you and use these to log in to your equipment, personalising the operating environment as you see fit. As well, if you are using programs that don’t “switch users” as you change accounts or can’t “switch users” with a program, get in to the habit of logging out when you have finished.

When managing your contacts, you may have to copy your “common” contacts between each others’ contact lists on your email and other messaging clients and keep these up-to-date as each contact changes their details.

Conclusion

Once you know how to set up a “his-and-hers” computing environment, you can be sure that you have the ability to share devices yet know how to keep your working environments “as you like it”.

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More action to link guests’ own content to the hotel-room TV

Article

Guestroom TVs invite new content streaming options for guests | HotelManagement.net

My Comments

In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne – HDMI connection

The hotel industry is having to face a strong reality with guests “bringing their own content” on their own devices when they use their room as a “home away from home”. This is not just due to content stored on a smartphone, tablet or laptop but access to audio-on-demand and video-on-demand streaming services like Spotify or Netflix.

Some further action is taking place to bridge the guests’ own content to the hotel-room TV. Initially this was achieved through us connecting our smartphones, tablets or laptop computers to these TVs via an AV connection panel or box or, in some cases, directly to the TV. This has been because these connections have been seen as more “surefire” and likely to work.

But another firm have implemented a smartphone dock that links the TV to the mobile device and its content collection.through the use of a Bluetooth signal, but may be implementing MHL as its device connection for the phone. There is an increased likelihood that this would work with the “open-frame” mobile devices that operate on Android or Windows Phone 8. As well, they are trying to push the smart TV concept beyond the home TV towards the hotel room which I would see as a logical extension for this class of product.

Personally, I would like to see the hotel industry court technologies that are based on established wireless-link standards like Bluetooth A2DP for audio content or Miracast / Wi-Fi Direct for audio-video content. Even ideas like using AirPlay and DLNA with a room-specific Wi-Fi local network could be implemented in a similar vein to what has worked for a lot of the wireless speakers.

I would like to see companies involved in hotel guestroom AV technology look at what is going on at the Consumer Electronics Show or Internationaler Funkaustellung to see the trends that are affecting consumer audio-visual technology so they know how they can make the hotel room or serviced apartment that “home away from home”.

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Product Review–Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook which is Lenovo’s latest in its lineup of Yoga 360-degree convertible notebooks. This convertible notebook is a 13” portable-typewriter-size unit in a similar vein to the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible, with the idea of a screen and keyboard that is comfortably large for creating a significant amount of written content but also appeals as a large-screen tablet.

There is a baseline package which comes with the Intel i5 processor, 4Gb RAM, and 128Gb solid-state drive which is packaged in a 1960s-era orange housing (feelin’ groovy), along with a premium package that has an Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive which is packaged in a silver-grey housing. These product variants are available through the retail sector. But you purchase a package which has the Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive but fashioned in the orange housing directly from Lenovo’s online storefront.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Price
– this configuration
RRP
Form factor Convertible – 360-degree hinge
Processor Intel i5-4210U CPU extra cost:
Intel i7-4500 CPU
RAM 4Gb RAM
extra cost
8Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128Gb solid-state drive,
extra cost:
256Gb solid-state drive
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4400 integrated display Display memory in discrete options
Screen 13” widescreen touchscreen
(3200×1800)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD integrated audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Home Theater tuning
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or wireless broadband
Connectivity USB 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video Micro HDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Expansion
Authentication and Security Fingerprint readers, TPM
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - tablet view

As a tablet

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro is a 360-degree convertible notebook that has the keyboard swing behind the screen to become a tablet. This also allows for setups like a “viewer” setup with the screen at a convenient angle but the keyboard not jutting out or even as a “tent” setup with the hinge at the top of the screen like a table tent-card. This mechanism has been able to operate smoothly with the display changing quickly and responsively.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - image-viewer view

As a viewer

It has the rubberised feel on the outside and on the palm rest with a distinct non-rubber feel for the actual keys and trackpad area. This make the computer so much easier to operate by touch.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - as a tent card

As a tent card

The base-model Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro comes in that bright orange colour that was a well-favoured colour for cars, appliances, furniture upholstery or interior design through the 1960s “Flower Power” era. The premium model with the higher specifications comes in a silver-grey colour. But people can order a higher-specified model with that bright-orange colour when they buy the computer directly from Lenovo’s online store.

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro does keep its cool properly due to a ventilation grille installed between the hinges. This can be uncomfortable to use when you are operating it as a tablet and holding it like a book.

User Interface

Like most computers that have the 13.3” screen size, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro has a keyboard that is comfortably large for fast touch-typing and creating of large amounts of written content. It does feel shallow but you can still have the proper tactile feedback to adequately touch-type.

The trackpad is still very responsive but could have hardware override especially if you are touch-typing quickly and use the touchscreen and / or an external mouse to navigate the user interface.

All the supplementary controls are located on the right edge of the computer with buttons for just the volume control and to turn the computer on and off as required. Personally, I would like the on-off button to be easier to identify by feel and this could be preferably a larger button.

Audio and Video

The Lenovo Yogo 2 Pro’s display was very responsive and true to colour when watching online videos but the desktop experience on the high resolution display is stymied by the way most current-generation desktop operating systems like Windows handle high-pixel-density displays. This is where they make the text smaller and, in some cases, harder to read.

The sound does come through clearly for most voice based content when you are listening close to the computer but if you want to get more out of the music or good game effects, I would suggest that you use headphones or external speakers.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook Right-hand side - Power switch, Volume buttons, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 port

Right-hand side – Power switch, Volume buttons, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 port

There is a USB port on each side of the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro with one of each type allow for a common reality where one could be using a wired mouse and something like a USB external hard disk to offload extra data while travelling.

The model I am reviewing came with 256Gb of solid-state storage which was quick and responsive. The cheapest model has a 128Gb solid-state drive which would work well just for documents that you create but you may have toe eventually need a USB external hard disk. This is augmented by an SD card reader which comes in handy with your digital camera when you want to quickly download your pictures to take them further.

Battery run-time

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook left-hand side - power connection, USB 3.0 port, microHDMI socket, SDXC card reader

Left-hand side – power connection, USB 3.0 port, microHDMI socket, SDXC card reader

For a highly-portable computer, I am able to complete most regular computing tasks like text editing and Web browsing on the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro without finding I am out of “juice”. Some tasks like continual gaming or video watching may place a bit more strain on the batteries here.

Other usage notes

From my observation with different people, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro has yielded different levels of interest. This ranged from a perception of it being too heavy to something that appeals as a flexible large secondary computer.

For example, it has been seen to be heavier than other devices that some people are used to using as secondary or companion computer devices like the Apple iPad. Conversely, a friend of mine whom I stay with liked the idea of the 13” convertible form-factor with it able to be a large easy-to-see tablet or something to type copy on.

But the Yoga 360-degree convertible design has piqued some curiosity because of the way it operates causing the system to be a tablet or a laptop computer.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There is always the problem with the 13” ultraportable laptops being a bit too pricey compared to other computers of smaller or larger screen sizes. This is although they are likely to be considered as secondary computers for those of us who use desktops or larger laptops. The Lenovo still doesn’t change the fact here when it comes to the price of these computers.

Lenovo could offer a step-up model with the Intel i5 processor, 4Gb RAM and a 256Gb solid-state drive and / or offer an entry-level model of the Yoga 2 Pro with the Intel i3 processor for those of us who see it more as the secondary portable computer. It could also be the beginning of a run of colourful convertible notebooks that appeal to the idea of a highly personal computing experience.

Conclusion

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook rear view

Rear view – feelin’ groovy orange

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro computer would still come in to its own as a valid option for a secondary computer to create content on even though you have a larger “at-home” desktop or laptop computer, or as a large-screen tablet. Even the entry-level model is worth considering for those of us who value them in this way but want to save money.

The 360-degree convertible mechanism would be of value for those of us who value a convertible or detachable computer that is simple and hassle-free to switch between operation modes. This is especially important for those of us with limited dexterity  or are easily confused.

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MoCA wireless access point–at least

Article

MoCA 2.0 WiFi Adapter Announced. Good Luck Getting One  | SmallNetBuilder

My Comments

Teleste has premiered the first wireless access point / Ethernet switch that can work with the MoCA TV-coaxial-cable network backbone.

In a nutshell, MoCA is based purely on 75-ohm TV coaxial cable used in cable-TV distribution systems and TV-aerial (antenna) installations. It is totally different to the older 10Base2 coaxial Ethernet system because it is not dependent on the cable being properly terminated with resistors at each end, rather catering for the norm with these setups which commonly have sockets with nothing plugged in them, perhaps to cater for portable or transportable TVs.

It has an 802.11ac access point and an Ethernet switch but is intended to refresh on a previous MoCA-Ethernet bridge that the same company offered. The common question is where are they available to consumers who have an established MoCA backbone? It is because Teleste only sell these devices to cable-TV installers to onsell to their customers.

For MoCA to work properly, there needs to be an increased retail availability of hardware like MoCA-Ethernet adaptors and access points. This is so that customers who have established TV-aerial or cable-TV infrastructure in their homes or offices can make use of this as a wired no-new-wires network backbone.

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