Author: simonmackay

ISPs another vector for tech-support scams

Article

Tech support scams target victims via their ISP | BBC News

Fraudsters impersonate victims’ ISPs in new tech support scam | Graham Cluley Blog

My Comments

Previously, as I have known from close friends’ experiences, there have been the fake tech-support phone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or another major software vendor. This was with me congratulating a person who wasn’t computer-literate immediately hanging up on one of these calls along with someone else asking another of these scammers for their Australian Business Number (equivalent to a VAT number in Europe).

These scams have evolved to a pop-up message pretending to be from one of the major software firms but asking them to call a number listed on that message. Typically this comes in the form of a virus or pirated-software alert as the message and some of these messages even appear on the lock screen that you normally enter your password.

Now the messages are appearing to come from ISPs, typically the ones who have most of the Internet business in the US, UK and Canada. But this is about the ISP detecting malware on the customer’s system with a requirement to call a fake customer-support number.

In this case, they identify a customer’s ISP based on a “spy pixel” ad on a site infected with malware or a “malvertisement”. The ads are typically served through large ad networks offering low-risk advertising products. This is used to identify the customer’s “outside” or WAN IP address which effectively is the same for all computers accessing the Internet from the same router.

Here, most residential and small-business Internet services have this IP address automatically determined upon login or at regular intervals and is obtained from a pool of known IP addresses that were assigned to that ISP to give to their customers. There is logic in the malware used to identify which ISP a customer is with based which IP address pool the IP address is a member of.

In these cases, call the ISP using the number they have provided you for technical support: typically written on their own Website which you should type in the URL for; written on any documents that you receive from them like accounts or brochures, as part of doing business with them; or by looking them up in the phone book. As well, don’t give any account numbers or personally-identifiable information to unsolicited approaches for technical support that you are not sure about.

But in all cases, you are most likely to initiate the call for personal or business tech support yourself when you need this support because you know your computer and network and how these systems perform. Typically you will approach one of the computer experts in your community, your workplace’s IT department if they have one, or your computer supplier for knowledge or assistance.

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What will Bluetooth 5 be about

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Press Release

My Comments

Bluetooth are to release the 5th major version of their wireless personal-network specification by between late 2016 to early 2017. But what will this offer?

This is more about increasing broadcast capacity, data bandwidth and operational range for Internet of Things applications while working with the unlicensed 2.4GHz ISM waveband. The extended range will be seen in the smart-home context as reaching beyond the walls of a typical house while there is the improved operational robustness affecting this class of application.

One of the key benefits is to reduce the need for “device + app” setup for Internet-of-Things setup. This typically requires that you go to the mobile platform’s app store to download a special “enablement” app for your Internet-Of-Things device to your smartphone or tablet and then logically associate that device with your mobile device before you can benefit from that device. This applies also to “beacon” setups where the venue has to develop a mobile-platform app to make sense of the beacons that they use for indoor navigation / location setups.

The question that could be raised is whether this will lead towards a “Web-app” setup where beacons and Internet-of-Things devices will run their own mobile Web pages for showing data about themselves or their current status. Similarly, could this also lead to the creation of a platform-detecting “interface page” which leads people to install mobile-platform apps from the correct mobile-platform app store.

There will also be the question about assuring the privacy and data security for end-users and their mobile client devices so as to prevent Bluetooth 5 beacons and IoT devices from being a malware-distribution vector. Here, it may be about implementing a “trust-based” system which is based on factors like suppliers, venues, software developers and the like. Similarly, it may be more valuable to have this kind of setup based around “pull-based” content acquisition where the end-user is involved in the process of acquiring the data rather than the data being automatically delivered to the end-user’s mobile device.

There are other use cases that can take advantage of this large data capacity in the context of beacons and the Internet Of Things especially if the “device+app” setup is still maintained. One of these would be to allow field-based software and data maintenance where a new Webpage or firmware could be supplied to a Bluetooth 5 IoT device from a mobile client. Similarly, you could upload and download operational data between the IoT device and a mobile client or portable computer with building security, data-logging or smartwatches being a key application. For example, it could be a simple and quick task to deploy a rich watch-face or app to a smartwatch while syncing data like contacts-lists and health data to your smartphone at the same time.

The Bluetooth 5 technology will benefit the smart-home, enterprise and industrial applications. Some of the use cases being called out in the form of indoor navigation for airports and shopping centres, asset or warehouse-inventory tracking, improved emergency response like the “enhanced 911” service that benefits mobile-phone users along with the ability to assist visually-impaired people around the cities. An advertising-based application may involve a beacon-type device at an event being used to provide further information like a PDF or HTML “e-brochure” hosted on that device.

Like with every evolution of the Bluetooth standard, this will require newer Bluetooth 5.0 compliant hardware on the client device and this will typically be provided with newer client devices after mid-2017. Regular computers could be upgraded to this standard thanks to USB Bluetooth modules which could be seen as a way to upgrade Windows laptops, 2-in-1s or tablets. This also applies to some embedded devices that provide some form of “after-the-fact” functionality upgrading like the Yale and Lockwood smart deadbolts that use a wireless-connectivity module for smart-home functionality.

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Bone-conductivity technology rises in the common space once again

Article

Check out these cool sunglasses with built-in bone conducting headphones | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Zungle

Kickstarter campaign

Video – click or tap to play

My Comments

In the early 1980s, an electronics company tried out a common application for bone-conductivity personal audio technology by selling to a mail-order gadget-supply company and to Radio Shack (Tandy) an AM/FM stereo headphone radio that implemented this technology. This radio, known as the “Bone Fone” and powered by 4 AA batteries, dropped around your neck like a shawl and used bone-conductivity technology to bring your favourite broadcast’s audio to your ears.  You were able to hear your music privately through the sound being transduced through your neck clavicle bone to your ears.

It was found to be heavy but the technology has resurfaced in another application that would be seen to be popular. This time it is a pair of sunglasses that use an integrated Bluetooth headset that exploits this technology. These Zungle Panther sunglasses, modelled on the Oakley Frogskins, don’t require you to wear headphones or an earbud to hear your music or caller due to this technology. Rather they use your skull bone as the transducing surface.

These glasses link to your smartphone using Bluetooth 4.1 technology as a way to save battery runtime for both devices. They also implement a jog wheel to allow you to control audio playback as well as implementing a noise-cancelling microphone when you make and take calls or ask something of Siri, Google Now or Cortana.

For their power, the bone-conducting Zungle Panther glasses implement a 300mAh battery that uses the same microUSB charging connectivity as most of the current Bluetooth headsets.

Because of what they do, they may be considered to be bulky like a set of 3D glasses used for watching a 3D movie at the cinema but they weigh in at 45g. They were found to earn their keep for cyclists and other road users who want to keep their ears open to hear for traffic.

There is actually a Kickstarter campaign to get the bone-conductivity glasses idea off the ground with a starting price of US$99.

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BT raises the bar for a carrier-supplied modem router

Article BT brand identity Enquiries about this image can be made to the BT Group Newsroom on its 24-hour number: 020 7356 5369. From outside the UK, dial +44 20 7356 5369. News releases and images can be accessed at the BT web site: http://www.bt.com/newscentre.

UK ISP BT Launches New Smart Hub Wireless Broadband Router | ISP Review

My Comments

BT have offered new consumer-premises equipment that has raised the bar for Wi-Fi performance that has been said to be “beyond ordinary”.

Typically a carrier-supplied modem router has been designed as a low-cost item to provide to new customers who are taking on Internet service through that carrier. This typically had customers purchase modem routers with better specifications from anywhere that sold computer equipment with some of these devices having improved throughput or Wi-Fi reception.

But BT’s latest DSL modem router which is now known as the Smart Hub but could have been known as the Home Hub 6 has circuitry that places its Wi-Fi performance on a par with the better retail DSL modem routers. This circuitry is driven by some highly-strung up-to-date Broadcom processors (Broadcom 63137. 4366 and 43602). It also implements 7 antennas to set up a 3×3 802.11g/n MIMO Wi-Fi segment (up to 217Mbps) on the 2.4GHz band and a 4×4 802.11a/n/ac MIMO Wi-Fi segment (up to 1700Mbps) on the 5GHz band.

This modem router implements a “smart-tune” logic to set itself up for the optimum operating frequency for both the bands when it is set up along with other “smart-scan” logic to keep the Wi-Fi segment working in an optimum manner. There is also extra filtering circuitry added to the Wi-Fi circuitry to deal with overloading from radio activity on the neighbouring wavebands, which is said to happen with UK 4G mobile-broadband deployments.

This kind of technology was causing BT to rate the Smart Hub as the UK’s strongest carrier-supplied Wi-Fi router and I personally see this as appealing to other carriers like Telstra who want to choose the kind of equipment to provide to their customers.

Of course, it has up-to-date Gigabit Ethernet LAN as a four-port switch along with ADSL2+ / VDSL2 modem on the WAN (Internet) side. From what I have read, I am not sure if this modem also offers an Ethernet WAN connection for FTTP or G.Fast (next-generation DSL used for some fibre-copper networks) broadband deployments that implement a separate modem. Similarly, if this modem router implemented a field-programmable “software modem” for its DSL modem, there could be the ability for it to be updated to work with G.Fast technology expected to be used with fibre-copper deployments.

There was also some reference to the BT Smart Hub being compact enough to fit through most of the letterbox slots installed in most UK front doors, with a view of the device being supplied to customers without them needing to be present. But my question about this is whether the size that is quoted is for the unit itself or the unit when it is packed in its box with all its accessories and cables.

BT does sell the Smart Hub for GBP£50 with VAT inclusive or you can have it for free if you choose to “roll over” your BT Infinity Internet service contract or start a new BT Infinity service. Stumping up that £50 for this modem router and setting it up as an access point for your existing wireless router could come a long way as something to extend Wi-Fi coverage or simply “ramp up” an existing home network’s Wi-Fi performance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you need to be sure of

Windows folder with pictures in numerical sequence

Pictures in numerical sequence in known folder

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

Photos on your camera's memory card

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

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

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

Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 with Windows Photo Viewer

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

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

    Image in Windows Photo Viewer

    First image of the collection opened in Windows Photo Viewer

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

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

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

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

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

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A USB expansion dock that complements the latest high-end ultraportable computers

Article – From the horse’s mouth Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

Minix

Neo C USB Multiport Adaptor

Product Page

Canohm (Australian distributor for Minix)

Press Release

Purchase here (AUD$119)

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga 900 - stand mode press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga 900 – can benefit from the Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor

Minix, a computer manufacturer based in Hong Kong, has released a USB Type-C expansion module that has the same calibre as most of the current-issue ultraportable computers that it is targeted for.

The Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor has a high-quality metal finish to complement the Apple MacBook 12, the latest HP Spectre and most of the high-end Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s that have the USB Type-C connector.  There are three different finishes available to match the finishes that the MacBook 12 is available in – a “space grey”, silver or gold finish.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

Available with HDMI for the current and latest displays

It has 2 USB 3.0 Type-A connections along with a card reader for SD and microSD memory cards which come in handy with your Android mobile phone or digital camera’s “film”.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

.. or VGA for older displays and projectors

There is also a Gigabit Ethernet socket so that you can connect your ultraportable to a wired Cat5 Ethernet or HomePlug powerline network. But this requires you to download and install a software driver for the network-adaptor functionality to work – the operating-system vendors and the USB-IF need to define a class driver for network adaptors.

The device comes in two variants – one with a VGA connector that works to Full HD resolution and can earn its keep with that economy data projector; and one with an HDMI connector that works to 4K HDR resolution which I would consider more “future proof”. Of course, you can connect your ultraportable’s charger or a USB-C peripheral to the USB-C socket on this expansion module.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

You can connect your Ethernet or HomePlug network to your laptop here

You have to connect your laptop’s USB-C charger to this device rather than run it just from your laptop if you are using it to connect a large USB storage device like a USB hard disk or USB optical drive to that laptop.

One of the use cases that Minix were pitching included the ability to fill in your ultraportable’s missing functions and connections. This is important where an increasing number of these computers omit connections like USB Type-A ports, video ports or SD card slots in order to preserve their slimline look and lightweight build. In some cases, your computer may have an SD card slot but it may have malfunctioned and you still need SD-card capabilities for something like your digital camera. The small size and lightweight design of this expansion dock may allow you to stuff it in your briefcase.

Another use case that has been highlighted is using the Minix Neo-C as part of creating your “primary” workstation at your home or your office. It is a practice that I have noticed a lot of people do when they want to use a laptop or ultraportable computer as their main or sole “regular-platform” computer. Here, you connect a full-size keyboard, mouse, large monitor and, perhaps, a USB external hard disk or optical drive to the laptop computer and set up a dual-screen computing arrangement when you work at that workstation. This device simplifies the connectivity procedure and requirements down to one cable that you connect and disconnect from your laptop computer while all the peripherals are connected to the expansion dock.

There are a few reasons why I like the Minix Neo-C USB-C expansion dock. One of these is that it is presented in a manner that complements all of the current-issue premium ultraportable computers. This is more so where the manufacturers are placing equal importance on the looks of these computers to convey the position that these computers are pitched for. Another of these is that it has enough connectors to suit most applications whether to deal with the MacBook 12 that has no other connections or to provide extra connectivity for computers that already have other connections. Similarly the small size can go well for those of us who want to have a small expansion dock in our laptop bag or briefcase to connect to an external monitor or wired network segment or add that USB peripheral.

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Dealing with the bloatware that comes with your computer

Article

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Being able to keep stock of the software that comes with your laptop or all-in-one computer can prevent unwanted conduits to your data.

Windows PC makers hang customers out to dry with flawed crapware updaters | PC World

My Comments

A common issue with laptop and all-in-one computers sold through the popular retail channels is the supply of “bloatware” or “crapware” with these computers. This is typically low-value software including trial or demo packages that are pre-installed on consumer-grade computers but doesn’t necessarily include drivers or manufacturer-supplied software that enables the particular features that the computer has. I have covered this issue before in relationship to the Superfish software that Lenovo had furnished with some of their consumer-focused laptops.

This can also apply to software delivered on a CD-ROM with retail-pack system parts, peripheral devices or consumer-electronics devices like digital cameras or keyboards. Some of the software is ostensibly supplied as a way to give the customer a “foot in the door” when it comes to a particular function or computing task, which tends to apply to trial versions of desktop security software or entry-level video editors and DVD / Blu-Ray playback software.

This wouldn’t necessarily happen with computer systems supplied to big businesses or contractor-supplied equipment because it is easier for these customer groups to call for a standard operating environment when they purchase their technology. Similarly, the traditional desktop computers that are built and sold be independent computer stores and dedicated computer-store chains aren’t as likely to be full of the “bloatware”.

The key issue that has been raised is the poor quality-assurance that occurs when it comes to supplying and maintaining this software. Here, there isn’t a secure path for software delivery especially whenever the software is updated or upgraded to a paid-up premium version. The software can be substituted by a man-in-the-middle attack that can be easily facilitated on an unsecured public-access Wi-Fi network. As well, there isn’t any way to verify the authenticity of the software updates, whether it is the software intended to be or actually delivered as part of the update.

This is part of the culture associated with the low-value software that the OEMs are paid to deliver with the systems that they sell to consumers and small businesses, but can affect the device drivers and functionality-enablement software.

Respected software names like Microsoft and Apple implement a secure delivery path for both server-to-device delivery and backend data transfer. As well, they implement a digitally-signed manifest (“shopping list” of files to be substituted in an update) and digitally-verified software files so that the programs can’t be altered surreptitiously.

Dell and Lenovo implement a TLS secure path for the software-manifest delivery while Lenovo implements a digitally-signed software manifest. But these policies are not applied across a manufacturer’s product line.

What can we do?

The best practice for consumers, small businesses and community organisations to do is to “strip back” the bloatware that isn’t being used. Most such software can be uninstalled through the “Programs and Features” option in the Windows Control Panel or through the uninstall routine in the software. Preferably, they should keep just the drivers and functionality software on their system.

On the other hand, they could facilitate a supervised semi-automatic software update for the OEM-supplied software and do this on their home or small-business network. If they are using any of the third-party software that has been provisioned by the OEM, it may be a better idea to visit the software developer’s Website and draw down newer versions of that software from there.

What is needed for OEM-supplied software update processes

If an OEM wishes to provision extra software with a computer, peripheral or consumer-electronics device; they need to make sure that this software is of high-quality, and respects customers’ security, privacy and data sovereignty wishes.

This includes a secure software-maintenance policy such as:

  • a secure software-delivery path with latest standards and protocols between the device and the software-provisioning servers and the software distribution backbone
  • digitally-signed software files and update manifests with verification occurring before and after delivery

Third-party software developers who wish to package software with a computer systems should be required to maintain this software to the same standard as what would be expected if they sold the software to customers themselves or through a traditional retailer. This includes allowing a person to upgrade from an OEM version to a premium version or instigate a subscription through their storefront rather the OEM’s storefront.

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Belkin offers a USB-C car charger that ticks the boxes for that standard

Article

Belkin USB-C Car Charger press picture courtesy of Belkin

Belkin USB-C car charger – works tightly to USB expectations to make sure your gadgets work properly

Belkin’s new USB-C car charger will intelligently charge your phones and tablets | Android Central

From the horse’s mouth

Belkin

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Belkin have launched a USB-C car charger that can charge up one of the newer smartphones, tablets or ultraportable laptops that are powered through the USB Type-C connector, which is becoming the trend for today’s portable computing equipment. This also comes in handy if a passenger wants to use that tablet or 2-in-1 during that car journey without compromising the device’s battery runtime.  Think of activities like being on the Internet or even viewing online video material to while away the journey would be considered risky for your 2-in-1’s battery.

One may think that the Belkin USB-C car charger that plugs in to the cigar-lighter socket in the car and sells for US$50 is too expensive for this class of device but there is more to it to assure that the device it is connected to is properly and safely powered so it lasts a long time.

This car charger implements advanced universal-supply circuitry to stabilise its output current, which prevents the power surges associated with starting up the engine from getting to the equipment it supplies. As well, this circuitry matches the power supply to the equipment’s needs to prevent any risk of damage the that equipment.

It is also compliant to USB-PD to assure proper power supply to one of the new smartphones, tablets or ultraportable computers and can supply a load of up to 27 watts. The requirement for power supplies and cables to be compliant to this standard has come about because of the market’s awareness of substandard USB cables and power supplies placing the expensive personal-computing and communications devices we have at risk of damage. Here, Amazon have tightened their rules regarding the purchasing of USB accessories where they won’t procure these accessories for sale through their channels unless they are certified compliant by USB-IF.

The supplied cable which has a USB Type-C connector on each end has a length of 4 feet or 1.2 metres which would reach from the dashboard to the back seat of most cars or the first row of seats in a vehicle with multiple rows of seats. Of course, you could use it with existing smartphones and tablets when you use a USB Type-C adaptor cable – a USB-C to Micro USB cable for most Android and Windows devices or a USB-C to female USB-A cable along with an Apple Lightning cable or an Apple USB-C to Lightning cable for your iOS devices.

This USB-C car adaptor could earn its keep with powering or charging the newly-released portable computing equipment on a long journey so you have enough power to use it at the destination.

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Vizio to equip their latest soundbars with Google Cast Audio

Article

Google Cast will come stock on Vizio’s new soundbars | Android Authority

Vizio takes on Sonos with Google Cast-friendly soundbars | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Vizio

Product Page

Blog Post

Press Release

My Comments

Increasingly Google is encouraging companies involved in consumer audio-video to integrate Google Chromecast audio or video functionality in to their devices. This avoids the need to purchase and install a Chromecast dongle to benefit from audio and video streaming from online services.

Sonifi brought this concept in to the hotel scene so you can lie on your hotel-room bed and watch Netflix managed by your Android phone while Vizio, Sony and Philips are implementing it in to their TVs. Google even implements this concept in to their Google Fiber TV set-top boxes so that you don’t need a Chromecast dongle for this functionality. But Vizio has taken things further with Google Cast for Audio by offering this functionality in their latest range of sound bars.

Typically, you may think that a company may offer this function just to one soundbar or speaker base in their lineup but Vizio has offered it across the board for their up-and-coming SmartCast soundbars. These will work as Google Cast Audio devices where they can play online audio sources like Pandora or Spotify rather than being a “soundbar + Chromecast” device that adds Chromecast to your TV.

One article sees these soundbars as an answer to the Sonos multi-room sound system and nothing is further from the truth thanks to Google’s latest Chromecast software. Here, you could gang these speakers together in a “party mode” or have them playing different programs in a similar way to what you can do with Sonos. Let’s not forget that you can have something like Spotify or Pandora playing and the music isn’t interrupted if a call comes in or one of your phone’s apps throws a notification signal. It also means that the ringtone or the notification sounds don’t blast through your Google Cast setup’s speakers.

As for the price, the cheapest unit, which is a 38” 3.0 setup costs US$180 while the most expensive models being the 45” 5.1 setup that comes with surround speakers and a slim subwoofer runs for US$500.

Who knows who will launch the first stereo or home-theatre receiver or stereo system that has integral Google Cast functionality or if an existing multiroom audio platform will end up with Google Cast integrated in to it.

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Google makes an app that makes animated GIFs out of Apple Live Photos

Articles

Google’s Motion Stills app lets you create the best-looking GIFs on the web | ZDNet

Motion Stills, la nouvelle appli de Google qui transforme vos Live Photos en Gif animés | O1Net.com (French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Google Research

Blog Post

Download from iTunes App Store (iOS)

My Comments

Google Motion Stills "before and after" demonstration output image - press image courtesy of Google Research

Google Motion Stills “before and after” demonstration output image – filmed from a car

Previously, I wrote an article about creating “visual wallpaper” for your electronic display including the creation of “cinemagraphs” which are still photos with a small amount of background animation. This was being made feasible by Apple’s Live Photos feature that came to iOS 9 where you could take a photo with a key still image but having a small amount of motion.

The Live Photos concept was restricted to the Apple platform and the social networks that hosted any Apple Live Photos typically either had to present a still or turn them in to animated GIFs.

Google have answered this problem through an editing and conversion tool called Google Motion Stills which allows you to shoehorn an Apple Live Photo to something that appeals as well as being able to export it as an animated GIF image. The software has integrated video stabilisation logic that comes in to play in keeping a still background but allowing certain parts to move. But it can also “smooth out” panoramas including images shot from a moving vehicle. The Motion Stills software also has the ability to optimise short videos to create video loops or cinemagraphs that appear infinite.

All this functionality is based on Google’s research through the creation of their Google Photos software where they could do things like create animations from photo bursts uploaded to that service. This also includes their effort with stabilising videos uploaded by users to YouTube where a lot of amateur video tends to be very shaky.

The software has to export to animated GIF images because this file format has become the defacto standard for short silent video clips and these GIF files can be used anywhere image files are used. Of course, the animations can be saved as QuickTime movies which would work with most other video-editing software, especially that which is in the Apple world.

…. only if we can get animated GIFs to work with DLNA-capable smart TVs

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