Author: simonmackay

In-vehicle networks

Peugeot intègre le Wi-Fi dans ses véhicules | DegroupNews (French language)

Chrysler confirms in-car Wi-Fi coming next year | Engadget

BMW’s ConnectedDrive brings the whole internet to your car… on EDGE | Engadget

There is a new trend concerning the small network in that the car will have its own IP-based network with a link to the Internet. This has been brought about by manufacturers making WiFi “edge” routers with a 3G wireless link on the Internet side for installation in vehicles. Similarly vehicle builders like BMW, Chrysler and Peugeot are using this feature as a product differentiator in some of their vehicle models.

But what use are these devices?

Primarily these devices provide Internet access to passengers in minivans, limos and the like; and some bus fleets are taking this further for provision of Internet access to their premium routes. Some people may also think that these routers may have the same appeal as the “component-look” car stereo systems of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; where they only appealed to young men who were customising cars and vans in order to impress others.

What could they offer

Like the typical home Internet-edge router, all of these routers offer Ethernet and WiFi for the local network connection, which means that car devices can be directly connected to these Internet gateways. This can lead to online applications being made available to integrated or aftermarket-installed equipment which is being considered as sophisticated as a typical personal computer.

Ethernet port on the car stereo

A car stereo system could have an Ethernet port and support the same kind of network media services as some of the in-home entertainment systems offer. One application could be Internet radio functionality, where the set could have access to the Frontier Platform, Reciva or vTuner Internet-radio directories; and be able to pull in Internet radio from around the globe. An idea that may come to mind is the concept of young men “cruising” along Chapel Street in South Yarra; Campbell Parade in Bondi; Surfers Paradise or other “show-off” streets in Australia or coastal USA with the dance grooves from Heart London’s “Club Classics” program thumping out of the “subs and splits” in their souped-up machines during a special UK long weekend. Another function would be to support the “visual radio” platform that is part of most mobile-phone FM-radio implementations.

Another more interesting application is an in-car DLNA media network. The 3G WiFi router could work as a WiFi client when, in the presence of the home network, cause syncing of content between the home DLNA media network’s server and a hard disk built in to the car stereo. This allows for newly-added music content from the home network and up-to-date podcasts to be available in the car.

Similarly, there could be the ability to play content held on a DLNA-capable WiFi-enabled mobile phone or portable media player through the car speakers. As well, a small NAS like the Thecus N0204 miniNAS which I have mentioned about in this blog could be shoehorned to work from a car’s power supply and become a DLNA-enabled media storage unit for the car.

This functionality can be extended to the back seat in the form of access to newer video content from the home network or access to online video content to the back screens. As well, the vehicle’s music system could work as a DLNA media server for use in providing media at secondary locations like holiday homes or worksites. This would be in conjunction with a DLNA-compliant media player connected by a WiFi segment between the vehicle and the building’s network.

There is more information about how DLNA is investigating implementation of this standard in the automotive context in this white paper (PDF) at their website.

Ethernet connection for navigation systems

The “sat-nav” systems can benefit from Ethernet connectivity for integrated units or WiFi connectivity for portable navigation devices. This could allow for these systems to have up-to-date information about new points of interest as well as another link for receiving real-time traffic information.

The IP feed can work very strongly with real-time information being received from the wireless Internet in order to provide updated traffic information and / or real-time service information for garages, restaurants, motels and the like. This will then allow drivers to make better decisions about their journeys such as alternate runs or use of services. It could cater for “social recommendation” functionality for the roadside services so one can go to where the food’s known to be good for example.

Support for IP-driven vehicle telemetry

The vehicle could have an Internet-based direct link to the garage that the owner has a working relationship with, or to the fleet-management service in the case of a vehicle that is part of an organisation-owned fleet. This link can allow access to historical diagnostic information about the vehicle thus allowing for informed decisions concerning what repair work needs to be taken or whether the vehicle should be pensioned off.

Similarly, there could be the ability to implement vehicle / driver surveillance techniques which can be of benefit to parents of teenage drivers or organisations who need to keep in step with workplace safety or professional-driver regulations.

In some cases like public and community transportation, it may be desireable to have IP-based closed-circuit TV surveillance that streams the vision “back to base” instead of or as well as recording it to a local hard disk. This will also please the police force where officers are in a “first-response” situation and need “many eyes and many brains working together” on an emergency situation.

Electric vehicles (including hybrid-electric vehicles)

These vehicles will typically benefit from network and Internet connectivity in order to permit flexible power management situations like optimised battery charging or vehicle-to-grid setups. They will also benefit from the above-mentioned IP-driven vehicle telemetry so that the user or preferred mechanic knows if the battery is not holding its charge in the same way that it used to, thus knowing when to have it replaced.

What needs to be done

I would prefer the in-vehicle network to be capable of working as its own network with a 3G or similar-technology WWAN as proposed by the vehicle builders in their implementation or as a member of user-selected WiFi LANs in a client / access-point (WDS) role. This can be determined by a list of “preferred” SSID / WPA(2)-PSK combinations held local to the vehicle.

The “Ethernet behind the dash” concept of using Category 5 Ethernet to create a wired LAN amongst in-vehicle subsystems has to be researched, This includes how Category 5 Ethernet can handle the problems associated with an automotive electrical system which is known to be very noisy or prone to surges and spikes such as while the vehicle’s engine is being started.

Once the concept of the automotive local area network is researched properly, there is the ability to use it as a simple data conduit across vehicle systems for all data-transfer applications, not just for Internet surfing by passengers.

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BBC NEWS | UK | Magazine | 10 things you didn’t know about Ceefax

 BBC NEWS | UK | Magazine | 10 things you didn’t know about Ceefax

My comments on Ceefax, Austext (and teletext services) in relationship to the connected home

People, like myself, who watched what was happening with consumer technology through the 1970s and 1980s may have heard of “teletext”. This technology, which was launched by the BBC in 1974 and Channel 7 Australia in 1980, was a text-based information service that was delivered alongside the television picture in the vertical blanking part of the picture.

Typically, it required a suitably-equipped television set or regular television set used alongside a tuner-decoder box and users were able to bring up pages of information through the device’s remote control which had a numeric keypad. Infact, there have been some devices that connected to or were integrated in a computer that allowed the computer to pull off the information from a teletext service.

The common operating practice was, when you pressed the “Text” button, you saw a menu with a list of pages to go to. These typically had a number after them which you keyed in to the remote control when you want to view them. There was also an “up-down” button so you can “flip” through the pages. In a typical setup, you had a page like 101 or 120 as a “news index” with the stories listed like in the Web or on an RSS feed. Then you could key in the page number to view that story.

The system was primarily intended as a tool for providing user-optional text subtitles for hearing-impaired viewers (and people watching TV in noisy environments). But it has become a “preproduction”  showcase of what the Web concept was about. Most often, sports fanatics, especially horse-racing fanatics, used these services to find out what was happening with the sporting fixtures (and which runners to place bets on). In Australia, the Austext service was on televisions installed in TAB betting shops and sports bars. As well, a concept “connected home” in the early 1980s such as one that was established in Milton Keynes had to have a teletext-equipped TV set as part of the equipment that was provided.

One time, I had worked with some friends in helping them follow the New South Wales state election the Austext way. This was through me noting down page numbers for aggregate data and “desired electorates” where their relatives lived. When the TV showed up the pages, it had the latest counts up on the screen for the parties concerned. This was certainly a taste of things to come with following elections on the Web, where you could gain the latest results on Web pages established by media outlets or the state’s electoral offices, sometimes with graphs or coloured maps that reflect these results.

There had been improvements, mainly in the form of “fastext” where you navigate pages using the coloured buttons on the remote control or “TOPtext” where you navigate pages with a DVD menu page experience. But these worked if the TV set was tied in properly with the method of operation.

Some parts of the Web, like the use of RSS feeds and indexes, mimics the classic index pages; and even the news pages and the blogosphere provide the same kind of “fresh updates” that teletext had offered.

This certainly shows that some of the older technologies have laid the foundation for the connected lifestyle.

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RAW Image Support – W7/Media Center 32/64 bit « digitalmediaphile

RAW Image Support – W7/Media Center 32/64 bit « digitalmediaphile

http://www.fastpictureviewer.com/codecs/ 

My comments on these codecs

Barb Bowman (http://digitalmediaphile.wordpress.com) has found a useful resource on this website http://www.fastpictureviewer.com/codecs/ for those of you who want to keep the Windows platform relevant to your high-end digital photography needs.

Here, this site provides downloadable codecs and plugins that work properly with the RAW image files that are part of high-end digital photography. Some of these codecs may work directly with Photoshop for Windows or simply become Explorer codecs for use in thumbnails and Windows Live Photo Gallery.

The main thing I have liked about this is that the codecs don’t cost anything and, from Barb Bowman’s experience, aren’t likely to bog your computer down. This may avoid the need to just use the Apple Mac for your digital-imaging needs.

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Atheros Buys Intellon to Give Wi-Fi a Powerline Backbone – This could be a marriage of convenience for the home network

Atheros Buys Intellon to Give Wi-Fi a Powerline Backbone | GigaOm.com

My comments on this merger

Atheros, who have strong prowess in the WiFi market, have bought Intellon who make a majority of the HomePlug chipsets and reference designs. This merger is one which I see as a marriage of convenience because of HomePlug, whether the 1.0 Turbo or AV variety, exists as a complementary wired network medium to WiFi especially as the home or small-business network is concerned.

I have often blogged about, given advice on and set up home networks consisting of a wireless router and another wireless access point that are interlinked with a HomePlug backbone. Both of these access points (the wireless router’s access point and the extension access point) are on the same WiFi technology and work together to provide an “extended service set” of multiple access points to extend coverage. This marriage of convenience could provide for more of the WiFi access points with integrated HomePlug connectivity; of the ilk of the Solwise PL-85PEW and the Netcomm NP290W. It can also permit more manufacturers to develop routers that support WiFi wireless, HomePlug powerline and Ethernet LANs.

The only problem with many small networks is that the only “no-new-wires” technology that is for use in these networks is WiFi wireless, typically provided by a wireless router’s integrated access point. HomePlug powerline networks are usually forgotten about by most people who are involved with designing, manufacturing or selling small-network hardware.

If this merger encourages wireless-hardware manufacturers to consider supplying HomePlug in their small-network hardware portfolios, it may then improve the take-up of this technology as an alternative to WiFi or simply to complement and improve WiFi networks.

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Is this the new direction for Internet radios?

 Pure Sensia DAB / WiFi radio gains touchscreen, streaming and Facebook

Pure Sensia radio microsite

My comments on this Internet radio

The Pure Sensia DAB / WiFi radio is now demonstrating that the concept of a mobile Internet device is approaching the Internet radio domain. This unit, which is the size of a low-end boom-box and equipped with stereo speakers, will have the usual Internet radio functionality like online access through a portal as well as DAB / FM tuner and access to music held on a DLNA-compatible home media network. But it has the kind of functionality associated with the mobile Internet devices by having access to weather, RSS webfeeds and the ubiquitous Facebook social network. There is even room to expand the functionality through downloaded applications just like you can with most smartphones.

Another thing that impressed me about this Internet radio was the use of an RF link rather than an infrared link for the set’s remote control. One major advantage is that you don’t have to point the remote control at the set to control it. But the main method of operating this radio is through the touchscreen just like you can with the Apple iPhone or iPod Touch; or a well-designed information kiosk. Even the task of adjusting the volume or tuning the FM stations is through a natural interface of you sliding a volume control or FM tuning pointer.

If a manufacturer like Pure can develop an Internet radio that works like an MID, who knows what will happen in the class of connected consumer-electronics devices? Will we end up with more of the converged devices that become more like mobile Internet devices?

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Product Review – TwonkyMedia Manager 1.0

Originally published 23 February 2009 on my original homenetworking01.wordpress.com blog
Updated 20 September 2009 with experience from newer versions of TwonkyMedia Manager

This review of TwonkyMedia Manager is the first review of any hardware or software product that I have done for this blog.

TwonkyMedia Manager is a follow-on program from the classic TwonkyVision UPnP AV / DLNA media server that had been released since 2003/ The server, which has been ported to the major operating systems, has been deployed in many of the respected network-attached storage devices. As well, some consumer-electronics manufacturers include this program with their network media players as a “get-you-going” media server so you can start establishing a DLNA media network with your computer and their product. This program now has a management screen and a built-in media player so it can act as a media “jukebox” program in a similar vein to the likes of iTunes, WinAmp or Windows Media Player.

The TwonkyMedia Manager supports and adheres to the UPnP AV / DLNA “3-box” model of a “media server”, “media controller” and “media renderer”. Even a single-computer setup can work in this manner because the “3-box” model is represented by TwonkyMedia Server being the “media server” and TMMPlayer, which is a separate music-player program started by TwonkyMedia Manager, being the “media player” and the program’s user interface being the “media controller”. The software can discover other UPnP AV (DLNA) media servers and (externally-manageable) UPnP AV media renderers on the same network and allow them to be controlled from the user interface.

This is useful for demonstrating the UPnP AV / DLNA media-control concept or testing out UPnP AV hardware and software, as well as being the media jukebox based on the UPnP AV / DLNA model.

The main limitation about this media-management program is that it doesn’t have integrated facilities for adding media to the media library such as a CD-ripping function. This is because you are meant to use it alongside an existing media management program like Apple iTunes or Windows Media Player which does this job very well.

Instead, you would use the other media management program to add your media to the server. Then you would have to set the media management program(s) to load the media to one or more nominated folders. Then you have TwonkyMedia Server, which is the server function in the TwonkyMedia Manager, serve the media files to the DLNA / UPnP AV Media Network, which are all of the network media client devices on your network that work to these standards, from those nominated directories.

This program would end up being of benefit to those people who use Apple iTunes or other programs that don’t have UPnP AV server functionality as their media “jukebox” program, because they just point the TwonkyMedia Server to the program’s media folder such as the iTunes Music folder as explained further.

Use Experience

I am testing the program on a Windows Vista computer running the Windows Media Player 11 with its Windows Media Server function enabled for DLNA server comparison. The Windows Media Server is a UPnP AV MediaServer program which has been integrated in Windows Media Player 10 and 11 for Windows XP / Vista. The server program was initially available as Windows Media Connect which was a separate free download from Microsoft for Windows XP computers running Windows Media Player 9. Both programs are serving content from the same music and picture folders. so I can make a true comparison between the programs.

The program was slow at the start to know what was in the libraries for the TwonkyMedia Server and the Windows Media Server, but this can be typical in the first run of the program, and I had built up a large music and photo library that was made available to the servers.

I have done a test to find the iTunes library, even though I have iTunes in place but am running Windows Media Player as my media jukebox. Like most UPnP MediaServer programs, you have to find the iTunes Music folder and add that particular folder to the list of folders available to TwonkyMedia Server. This information will be located in the “Advanced” tab in the “Preferences” dialog box in iTunes.

The integrated playlist management is only available if you are using the TwonkyMedia Server as your media server. If you use other UPnP MediaServer programs, you will have to make sure they see the playlists as a hierarchy with each playlist as a collection that is a member of the “Playlists” tree. This is exactly what Windows Media Player 11 does with the playlists.

I have noticed that if the computer isn’t busy, especially with disk-intensive tasks, the program is likely to work properly.

When you add songs, albums or other audio content to the playlist for a UPnP AV MediaRenderer device, including the program’s own TMMPlayer software player, all the songs are added to a “now-playing” list for that device with the currently-playing song emphasised in bold white text and with an arrow at the beginning of the title. The full “album, artist, title” metadata appears in a panel at the top of the list.  To delete a song from the playlist so it doesn’t play, you just press the DEL key. When you want to move a song for earlier or later playback, you just drag the song to the desired position.

When you buy the program for US$39.95 or €29.95, you are licensed to use the program on 3 computers concurrently. This appeals to setups like my review setup which is a desktop computer being a media server and a laptop being a media controller. Similarly, you could run a laptop as a controller for an HTPC serving the content and playing through a home theatre setup, running TwonkyMedia Manager.

I have done a playback test using a laptop with a desktop, each running these programs and the desktop computer being the media server. The tests are being done this way to determine how TwonkyMedia Manager performs in all of the roles and with other UPnP AV MediaServers. Another reason is because I don’t have ready access to a hardware network media player that works to the UPnP AV or DLNA standards.

The first test involved the laptop being used as a remote controller according to UPnP AV Control Point / DLNA Media Controller standards. It went according to plan, with the metadata about the currently-playing song being displayed on the media-controller laptop, but not on the desktop which was playing the song. This would be similar to using PlugPlayer or iMediaSuite on your iPhone or iPod Touch; or your Nokia N-Series phone to control the music playing out on your computer via the wireless network.

I have set the laptop up as a remote digital media renderer and it goes to plan, but TMMPlayer doesn’t show the metadata of what it is currently playing when it is under remote control. I had tried a “track skip” at the laptop (which is the media renderer) and it didn’t move to the next track in the media queue immediately.

This version of the program has gateway support for Internet radio, YouTube video and Flickr photo support. But there are some limitations on how this is run. For YouTube, there isn’t an option to monitor your channel subscriptions, which can be of benefit if you make use of YouTube channels. The Internet radio option can be of benefit if your UPnP digital media hardware doesn’t have native support for Internet-radio functionality.

Advantages

This program has the ability to work as a “push and play” console if any UPnP AV MediaRenderer device can support being a network-controlled MediaRenderer device. This definitely can come in handy with network media adaptors that are controllable only by you viewing the attached TV screen and working a remote control or with devices like electronic picture frames that have a flimsy remote control.

This same ability can put TwonkyMedia Manager in a better league than Apple iTunes, Windows Media Player, WinAmp and other computer-based music players. Here, one could have the computer like a laptop or netbook be simply a music selector while a NAS box and a network media adaptor like the Roku SoundBridge can do the work of playing out the music.

Another key advantage is the software’s light footprint on the system’s resources. This may be of benefit if you are putting an older computer to use as a media server and you don’t have much in the way of memory or CPU power available on that computer. Similarly, this may appeal to those of us who want to install the program on a netbook or low-end ex-business laptop simply for use as a network media controller. Watch out there, Sonos!

Limitations

TwonkyMedia Server doesn’t support “browse by keyword” for photographs, but can support “search by keyword”. This function can be useful where the tags that are part of Windows (Live) Photo Gallery are used as another “folder tree” for indexing photos. Examples of this would include indexing car pictures by marque and model, even if you go to many car shows; or indexing travel pictures by town and landmark even if you travel a lot at different times.

The inbuilt TMMPlayer MediaRenderer program has a tendency to “give up” early if it doesn’t get the music file in time. The problem is more common if TwonkyMedia Manager is being operated on a busy computer and could be rectified by the use of a user-variable maximum timeout control that is similar to what is provided in most e-mail programs for their server connections.

Another common limitation with this program is that the highly-publicised “album-art” function runs very slowly and doesn’t respond with all UPnP AV MediaServers. This same functionality only works with the art being part of an MP3 file, rather than what Windows Media or other codecs do in handling album art. In the TwonkyForum websites, this functionality was not looked upon in a favourable light because of not being able to find content quickly.

Nice to have

The TwonkyMedia Manager could support a “jukebox” mode where it can be feasible to add songs to a playlist from a server’s content list but not delete or move them, especially from remote control points. The same mode can support dual-tiered playlists so that there could be a “background music” playlist that is played sequentially or randomly but when someone selects a song, this song is added to the “primary” playlist which is then immediately played. These modes, which would be useful during parties, could be achieved through a “master control point” which can manage the media-renderer device(s) and remote control points working through the “master control point”.

Another “nice to have” function would be to allow one to view the contents of one server while another server is already streaming content. This would be more important on networks where there are multiple MediaServers.

It would also be worth providing a component-based installation routine where one can just install the “manager” software so they can prepare a laptop or netbook as a media control point. This would avoid memory or hard disk space being used for media-server functionality on a computer that wouldn’t necessarily be doing that job.

The online services could support “push off a link” functionality where if you select a YouTube, Flickr photostream or audio-stream link on the Web, you could “push” the YouTube video, photostream or audio-stream to a UPnP digital media renderer.

Summary

Although I am reviewing a 1.0 version of the software, it certainly is capable of fulfilling all the UPnP AV functionality it is meant to do and is a must-have for any Windows XP or Vista user who wants to have all of this functionality on their computer.

Update – 20 September 2009

There have been some improvements and new features added to TwonkyMedia Manager since this version was reviewed. Some of the features include “follow-me” play where you can push content that is already playing on one UPnP AV device to another UPnP AV device from the point that you left off at; and a text chat function for use between multiple TwonkyMedia Manager installations. As well, one can set up a subset of an already-playing playlist and have that playing on another UPnP AV device or TwonkyMedia Manager installation.

The newer versions have allowed for “browse by keyword” including keyword trees but this function isn’t fully polished yet. The main limitation is that it doesn’t handle comma-punctuated keywords such as “explained names” like “Jon, Joan’s brother” or “place addresses” as keywords like “Dudley Street, Melbourne”. Here, the comma is seen as a delimiter between two keywords and separate keyword buckets are created for each side of the comma.

As far as online services go, YouTube and Flickr photostream functionality has been added to TwonkyMedia Manager. In the case of YouTube, you can play your favourite videos or videos from selected “new-video” and “top-video” lists. I have tested this functionality by pulling up the viral “JK wedding entrance dance” video through TwonkyMedia Manager after marking the video and another video showing an enactment of the same dance by Channel 7 Australia’s “Dancing With The Stars”.  There isn’t support for access to user-subscribed YouTube channels at the moment.

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thinkbroadband :: European Commission introduces broadband funding guidelines

 thinkbroadband :: European Commission introduces broadband funding guidelines

European Commission Broadband Funding Guidelines – PDF document (English) (Français) (Deutsch)

My comments and summary of this document

The European Commission’s goal in this document is to provide 100% high-speed broadband service to every European citizen – broadband to he just like regular telephone or electricity service. They are to put EUR 1.02bn to European Agricultural Fund For Rural Development with part of this money for equipping rural areas with high-speed broadband “hot and cold running Internet”. As well, member countries are pitching money towards deploying very high speed Internet services (fibre-optic Internet) into populated areas.

The activities covered in the guidelines may typically be equipment and backhaul “pipeline” to provide broadband Internet to remote population centres in the case of basic broadband provision or equipment and works to provide next-generation broadband to areas that aren’t worth it due to sparse population or poorer neighbourhoods that are less likely to pay for the service.

What to be done to qualify for State aid

New basic-broadband services

  • Proper geographical analysis of Internet service in all areas to identify white and grey areas
  • Open tender process for providing the State-underpinned services or infrastructure
  • Most economically advantageous offer (best value for money) to be preferred for providing the service
  • Technology-neutral service so that a provider can use their choice of wireline, terrestrial wireless, satellite wireless or mobile wireless technologies or provide a mix of the technologies
  • Use of existing infrastructure (ducts, poles, black fibre, etc) preferred without favouring existing incumbent operators.
  • Wholesale access to be preferred so that fair and equitable retail Internet access can be provided to customers from multiple providers
  • Prices to be benchmarked to assess real competitiveness
  • Support for a claw-back mechanism if there is over-compensation

New next-generation broadband services

Preference to pure competition such as access to ducts, black fibre or bitstream by competing operators; or support for differing topologies like point-to-point or point-to-multipoint

This could include providing for the use of trenches caused by renovation works for existing services like electricity, gas or water.

What hasn’t been covered

One major gap that exists in these guidelines, especially as far as unbundled services or next-generation broadband services is concerned is privately-owned multi-tenancy developments like shopping centres or blocks of flats.

In these places, a property owner or management committee could permit only a particular operator to lay infrastructure in their building and prohibit competing providers from laying their infrastructure in the same building. There isn’t provision for measures that preclude this kind of behaviour that denies tenants or unit owners access to infrastructurally-competitive Internet service.

Conclusion

This document should be looked at and considered by governments and telecommunications regulators when they prepare frameworks for next-generation telecommunications and Internet services.

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802.11n – now ratified as a standard

IEEE finally approves 802.11n | The Register (UK)

802.11n: Ratified at last | Wi-Fi Planet

IEEE Ratifies 802.11n | WiFi Networking News

The Fine Points of Optional Wi-Fi 802.11n Certification | Wi-Fi Networking News

My Comments On This Evolution Of The Standard

Ever since 802.11n came about as a wireless standard, the equipment that was working to the standard was working to a draft version of the standard. This may have been acceptable for networks which weren’t critical to a business’s operations, because of the doubt associated with last-minute changes that could affect hardware compatibility. In some cases, this could also mean that an 802.11n segment may not work properly unless the equipment was based on the same chipset.

Now that the standard is final, enterprises can become confident about deploying 802.11n wireless network segments with cost-effective heterogenous equipment setups. As well, the cost of establishing an 802.11n wireless-network segment will reduce now that manufacturers can confidently sell more equipment at varying price ranges.

Existing 802.11n draft-standard segments

But what does this mean for networks based around existing 802.11n draft-standard hardware? Could they work properly with final-standard hardware with as much as draft-standard hardware being “flashed” to final-standard specifications. The compatibility issue raised in this question has been through the new revisions being declared optional rather than mandatory.

Support for single-stream 802.11n devices

The most popular benefit of the new standard would be the ability to support single-stream 802.11n station devices. This concept allows a device to have one transceiver rather than the two or three that is part of the standard. It is mainly brought about because of a need to have battery-operated devices like smartphones and VoIP WiFi handsets as part of the 802.11n wireless network and the single-stream 802.11n network adaptors can fulfil this need without draining the device’s battery too quickly.

The access points can provide full bandwidth to these single-stream devices without forfeiting bandwidth to other devices simply through the use of one dedicated stream for each of the devices. It then may be like providing the wireless equivalent of a “switched” Ethernet connection or ADSL-based broadband connection to this class of devices.

This factor has been improved with the ability for access points to be tested for three streams. This may allow for access points and routers to be differentiated on wireless-network performance levels as well as functionality levels.

Conclusion

The goal has been achieved for 802.11n to be a real wireless-network standard that complements the high-throughput Internet services and the multimedia networks of today.

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IFA Internationaler Funkaustellung 2009 Comments

The Internationaler Funkaustellung series of trade shows held in Berlin are considered in the industry to be the biggest consumer-electronics trade show. This is even though the show used to be a two-yearly event. In my opinion, the shows are mainly used for launching equipment destined for the European and Asian markets such as PAL-system video equipment or equipment that works on 240V 50Hz AC current; whereas the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January is typically for launching equipment destined for North America.

Second year with appliances as part of the show

This year has been the second year that the Internationaler Funkaustellung has exhibited kitchen and laundry appliances. There is more show space dedicated to these products and an increasing amount of space has been allocated to companies selling “smallgoods” – benchtop appliances, floor care, personal care and the like. One of the main focal representative classes of device have been the so-called lifestyle appliances led by the espresso machines.

The main trend has been for the market to be driven by people replacing worn-out inefficient appliances with better, more energy-efficient appliances that suit their needs. It is mainly working on the industry’s premise of users gaining approximately 10 years of service out of the typical home appliance.

This issue also includes interest in the built-in appliances as an alternative to freestanding appliances. This may be a personal comment but It might be worth noting that the European market aren’t in to “pushing down” older appliances to secondary service such as “beer fridges”. This may be due to such things as proactive take-back and recycle programs existing in those countries as well as higher energy costs. Other interesting facts to know about this class of goods is that more appliance makers are relying on electronic circuitry rather than electromechanical means like bimetallic-strip thermostats / timers or motor-driven timers to control the appliances.

Building Automation (HVAC, security systems, “smart home”, “smart grid”)

The home-automation sector which encompasses HVAC (heating and air-conditioning) and building security hasn’t gained strength in the IFA even though there is the energy-efficient “smart-grid” impetus lurking around the corner. The main problem with this is that there ISN’T A COMMON PLATFORM for this application.

Dominance of large-screen HDTV sets

The key product of this year’s IFA was the flat-panel large-screen high-definition TV set. These have been made more cost-effective due to an oversupply of LCD screen modules because business doesn’t want to spend on LCD panels and notebooks because of the financial downturn.

More customers wore interested in large-screen lounge-room sets because of the increased activity towards digital HDTV in Europe. This was encompassing countries that were switching off analogue TV service and going “all-digital” and / or new high-definition channels “lighting up” as well as an increasing amount of HD content being produced. This has also led to a strong replacement-set market, but are older sets still being connected to set-top boxes and “pushed down” to secondary roles?

One main trend being observed was the design of LED-backlit LCD screens leading to energy efficiency and high contrast ratio compared to cold-cathode-fluorescent backlit LCD screens. There has been a fair bit of activity concerning 3D HDTV which was being promoted by the major Japanese firms, especially Sony and Panasonic. Most of the equipment was primarily prototypes showing “known-quantity” content.

As for online connectivity, the main driver for this was access to online-supplied information and entertainment in the lounge room. This has usually manifested in TVs having Ethernet sockets and software that is part of a “widget platform” and / or DLNA-compliant media playback ability. It is also being extended to BluRay players that work with BD-Live interactive content. In this case, Samsung integrated a YouTube front-end in to their BluRay player while Sony ran with two WiFi-enabled BluRay players that can be part of the DLNA Home Media Network. The fact that BD-Live compatible BluRay players are being equipped with DLNA or other network applications is to permit people who own flatscreen HDTVs that don’t have network connectivity to connect these sets to the home network and the Internet.

Mobile Internet Devices

There has been some activity on the Mobile Internet Device front even though the smartphone industry is competing with this class of device. Toshiba had released the JournE touchscreen MID while SMIT released the MID-560 Android-driven unit which works in a similar manner to Clarion’s ClarionMIND portable navigation device / MID. A Chinese outfit called Optima had introduced the Maemo MID which was driven by a Chinese-built Linux distribution. This one raised the stakes by providing integrated 3G WWAN abilities, which could appeal to carriers who want these as a way of reducing subscriber “churn”.

Conclusion

There may not be much in the way of home-network and IT hardware appearing at the Internationaler Funkaustellung this year but most of the endpoint devices are actually appearing in the consumer electronics devices like the flatscreen TVs.

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Feature Article – DLNA Network Media Series: The three-box DLNA network model

This is an advanced way of setting up a DLNA Home Media Network and requires a network media player to be able to be controlled by other devices on the same network.

It is a function integral to DLNA 1.5 compatible devices and is part of TwonkyMedia Manager (which I have reviewed here) since it started. Now it will be an integral part of Windows 7 where you can select “Play To” to have music playing on another device that you have specified. There will be many handheld terminals that have this functionality, either as part of the operating system or as add-on software.

The three boxes in this DLNA media network

Three are three logical units in this equation

Media Server

This holds media files or references to media streams and is typically represented by Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyMedia Server which is part of TwonkyMedia Manager which I have reviewed in this blog. Also, in a PC-less solution, it can be a network-attached storage or music server device.

Media Control Point

This is primarily a software program or hardware device that can find material on any Media Servers on the home network and allow the user to “push” the content to any Media Render device on the network.

Media Renderer

The Media Renderer is similar to a UPnP-capable Media Player except that it can accept instructions via the home network to play particular media files or streams.

Typically this setup is represented by three boxes but a device can have two or three of the functions built in to its housing. An example of this is the TwonkyMedia Manager program or the PlugPlayer DLNA controller for the iPhone or any of the recent Nokia N-Series mobile phones. Here, the program has a built-in software media renderer function as well as a software media server function and control point.

UPnP AV 3-box model

What can you do

Put the netbook or another computer to good use as a media controller

An idea that would appeal to many geeks and media enthusiasts is to load a program like TwonkyMedia Manager 1.2 on to a netbook or subnotebook computer and use this computer as a remote media controller for the DLNA Home Media Network. This could mean that you could bring up pictures and video on a DLNA-capable TV or electronic picture frame using this terminal. This would end up being much easier than finding the remote control for the TV and working through an unwieldy user interface.

As well, handheld devices like smartphones, mobile Internet devices or PDAs that are equipped with WiFi functionality can work as a remote control, whether natively (in the case of phones like most of the Nokia N-Series phones) or through a software program available through their standard Web channels.

Similarly, you could use your office PC to show merchandising videos / images on your DLNA-equipped TVs and picture frames in the shop’s public space rather than going around to each TV or picture frame to bring up the right merchandising material.

Use of AV network media adaptors for music or other audio content

Typically, an AV network media adaptor like the D-Link DSM-320 or the Zyxel DMA-1100P typically doesn’t have any form of display on it. Instead it requires the user to control it using the remote control while using the attached TV as its display. This wouldn’t equate very well if you intend to play music rather than show pictures or videos using the device. Here, these devices can be managed by having the music playlists pushed to them without need for the attached television to be on.

“Follow Me”, “Party Mode” and other advanced playback techniques

Some of the DLNA media controllers allow for advanced playback techniques where program material can be “pushed” to other Media Renderer devices from a particular point in the track. This can allow for “follow-me” playback where the content which was already playing on one device is played on another user-specified device with the content stopping at the previous device; or “party mode” where content is broadcast to a group of devices. The last mode may have problems due to the data-oriented network protocols not being able to work well in supporting synchronous playback from one source.

Similarly, there could be other playback techniques like exhibiting different pictures from the same cluster on different screens.

Portable devices being part of the DLNA digital media network

Another application for this kind of operation is for a digital camera or mobile phone to “push” digital images held on that device to DLNA-compliant TV screens or picture frames. This would typically work well for “there-and-then” showing of pictures and videos taken with the device rather than downloading of pictures to a network-attached storage device.

Similarly a mobile phone or MP3 player could “push” digital music held therein to better speakers via a digital media adaptor.

The main issues and hurdles

Is the playback device able to be controlled by the home network

Not all DLNA-capable playback equipment is capable of supporting “3-box” push-mode operation at the moment. Typically, most DLNA equipment from the big names that was issued over the last two years, especially televisions and network media adaptors and home theatre receivers will support this functionality “out of the box” or through a firmware update that the customer does. Some existing equipment may support the functionality through a customer-performed firmware update or may do so out of the box. One of the best references for this capability is this list in the TwonkyForum discussion board run by TwonkyMedia, in relation to TwonkyMedia Manager.

Is the playback device set up to be controlled by the home network

Another thing to look for with playback devices is whether the function is enabled even though the device has the function. This may be looked at in the form of a Settings menu option in the Network Settings Menu or similar menu which may be labeled “Digital Media Renderer Mode”, “DLNA Remote Control”, “Network Media Control” or something similar. If this mode is set to on, the device can respond to DLNA requests.

Some devices have the function disabled in the default factory setup while others may allow this kind of control by default.

Conclusion

Once you have this issue worked out, you can then use a handheld device, computer or dedicated remote controller to cause media to play on other home network devices.

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