simonmackay Archive

Epson has an A3-capable EcoTank printer that ticks all the boxes

Article Epson EcoTank WorkForce ET-16500 Multifunction A3+ printer product picture courtesy of Epson Australia

Epson Launches First Double-Sided A3+ 4-In-1 Inkjet EcoTank Printer | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Epson Australia

EcoTank WorkForce ET-16500 A3+ Multifunction Printer

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Epson have previously released a range of piezo inkjet printers that implement their own continuous-inking system. This feature, known as EcoTank, has large-capacity tanks installed on the side of the printer and you add more ink to the machine’s ink supply by topping up these tanks from bottles of ink that Epson makes available. Here, the idea is to do away with the need to frequently replace ink cartridges when they run out.

But now they have refreshed this product lineup with all but two of the low-end models being equipped with auto-duplex printing. They have now taken things further by releasing the ET-16500 EcoTank multifunction which prints both sides on A3, Ledger or Tabloid paper and scans both sides of an original that is of any of these paper sizes.

This printer, which sells in Australia for AUD$1599 also offers the expected multifunction abilities like copying or G3 PSTN colour fax functionality. It also supports Google Cloud Print and can work with the Epson Connect Web / mobile printing subsystem, with it connected to your home or small-business network using 802.11g/n Wi-Fi or Ethernet technology.

It can turn out print jobs at a rate of 18 pages per minute according to the ISO standard and has two 250-sheet trays to hold the paper.  As well, the inks and printing system that Epson use are intended to give a quality equivalent to most laser printers. Let’s not forget that the ink tanks in this model are ultra-high-capacity to allow for increased printing of A3 or similar paper sizes. Some of these features may tempt you to buy the printer and see it serve as your organisation’s small office-based printing press.

But there are certain questions regarding output-tray or ink-tank capacities along wiht the time to print both sides of a page which can call out the issue of having this machine serve as that small-run printing press. On the other hand, you could simply focus the Epson towards signage, short print runs and the like as part of your promotion strategy especially where it has the high-capacity ink tanks and the EcoTank continuous-inking system.

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Dell takes a leaf out of Detroit’s book with their budget gaming laptops

Articles

Dell G7 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell G Series laptops – to be the “pony cars” of the gaming laptop scene

Dell’s new G series laptops pair gaming specs with a cheap plastic chassis | The Verge

Dell rebrands Inspiron gaming laptops to G Series, serves up four new models | Digital Trends

Dell’s G Series laptops are priced for every gamer | PC World

Dell’s Renamed Low-Cost Gaming Laptops are Thinner and Faster Than Before | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Ford Mustang fastback at car show

Dell used the same approach as Ford did in the 1960s with the original Mustang

During the heyday of the “good cars” that was represented through the 1960s and 1970s, the major vehicle builders worked on various ways to approach younger drivers who were after something that was special.

One of these was to offer a “pony car” which was a specifically-designed sporty-styled two-door car that had a wide range of power, trim and other options yet had a base model that was affordable to this class of buyer. Another was to place in to the product lineup for a standard family-car model a two-door coupe and / or a “sports sedan” / “sports saloon” that is a derivative of that standard family car and built on that same chassis but known under an exciting name with examples being the Holden Monaro or the Plymouth Duster. This would be available as something that young people could want to have when they are after something impressive.

Both these approaches were made feasible through the use of commonly-produced parts rather than special parts for most of the variants or option classes. As well, there was the option for vehicle builders to run with variants that are a bit more special such as racing-homologation specials as well as providing “up-sell” options for customers to vary their cars with.

The various laptop computer manufacturers are trying to work on a product class that can emulate what was achieved with these cars. Here, it is to achieve a range of affordable high-performance computers that can appeal to young buyers who want to play the latest “enthusiast-grade” games on.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop – to be superseded by the Dell G Series

One of the steps that has taken place was to offer a high-performance “gaming-grade” variant of a standard laptop model like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop, one of which I had reviewed. This approach is similar to offering the “Sport” or “GT” variant of a common family-car model, where the vehicle is equipped with a performance-tuned powertrain like the Ford Falcon GT cars.

But Dell have come very closer to the mark associated with either the “pony cars” or the sporty-styled vehicles derived from the standard family-car model with the release of the Inspiron G series of affordable gamer-grade laptops. Here, they released the G3, G5 and G7 models with baseline models being equipped with traditional hard disks and small RAM amounts. But these were built on a very similar construction to the affordable mainstream laptops.

These models are intended to replace the Inspiron 15 Gaming series of performance laptops and it shows that they want to cater to the young gamers who may not afford the high-end gaming-focused models. As well, the G Series name tag is intended to replace the Inspiron nametag due to its association with Dell’s mainstream consumer laptop products which takes the “thunder” out of owning a special product. This is similar to the situation I called out earlier with sporty vehicles that are derivatives of family-car models having their own nameplate.

The G3, which is considered the entry-level model, comes with a 15” or a 17” Full-HD screen and is available in a black or blue finish with the 15” model also available in white. It also has a standard USB-C connection with Thunderbolt 3 as an extra-cost “upsell” option along with Bluetooth 5 connectivity. This computer is the thinnest of the series but doesn’t have as much ventilation as the others.

The G5 which is the step-up model, is a thicker unit with rear-facing ventilation and is finished in black or red. This, like the G7 is equipped with Thunderbolt 3 for an external graphics module along with Bluetooth 4 and has the ability for one to buy a fingerprint scanner as an option. Also it comes only with a 15” screen available in 4K or Full HD resolution.

The G7 is the top-shelf model totally optimised for performance. This is a thicker unit with increased ventilation and implements high-clocked CPU and RAM that is tuned for performance. It has similar connectivity to the G5 along with similar display technology and is the only computer in the lineup to implement the highly-powerful Intel Core i9 CPU that was launched as the high-performance laptop CPU as part of the latest Coffee Lake lineup.

All the computers will be implementing the latest Coffee Lake lineup of Intel high-performance Core CPUs, being the Core i5-8300HQ or Core i7-8750H processors depending on the specification. In the case of the high-performance G7, the Intel Core i9-8950HQ CPU will be offered as an option for high performance.

They all use standalone NVIDIA graphics processors to paint the picture on the display with a choice between the GeForce GTX1060 with Max-Q, the GeForce GTX1050Ti or the GeForce GTX1050. What is interesting about the GeForce GTX1060 with Max-Q is that it is designed to run with reduced power consumption and thermal output, thus allowing it to run cool in slim notebooks and do away with fans. But the limitation here is that the computer doesn’t have the same kind of graphics performance compared to a fully-fledged GeForce GTX1060 setup which would be deployed in the larger gaming laptops.

Lower-tier packages will run with mechanical hard drives while the better packages will offer use of hybrid hard disks (increased solid-state cache), solid-state drives or dual-drive setups with the system drive (C drive with operating system) being a solid-state device and data being held on a 1Tb hard disk known as the D drive.

I would see these machines serving as a high-performance solo computer for people like college / university students who want to work with high-end games or put their foot in to advanced graphics work. As well, I wouldn’t put it past Lenovo, HP and others to run with budget-priced high-performance gaming laptops in order to compete with Dell in courting this market segment.

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Should I buy a laptop with integral mobile-broadband modem?

Article

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

Is it worth it to consider integrated mobile-broadband modems in your next laptop purchase

Why you might (and might not) want a PC with LTE | Windows Central

My Comments

A trend that will be affecting portable computers will be the rise of laptops and notebooks that are equipped with an integrated mobile-broadband modem.

Previously this was a feature associated with premium business-grade laptops as an extra-cost option, but this is being encouraged as a product differentiator for a larger range of portable computers targeted at consumers and small businesses. The key feature callout will be that the computer is equipped with LTE connectivity and this feature has been brought along thanks to Windows 10 and the “Always Connected PC” vision.

Initially such computers will authenticate to the mobile network with a standard SIM card installed in a reader somewhere on the computer’s chassis. But newer designs will move towards an eSIM module integrated in the computer which provides for “over-the-air” provisioning by the telco or their agent.

Why this trend?

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

No need to use a Mi-Fi to obtain Internet on the road with your laptop if you have an integrated mobile-broadband modem but some situations may be better served with these devices

There is the feasibility of a secure connection anywhere within reach of mobile networks. It is something you may not benefit from when using a lot of legacy-configured public-access Wi-Fi networks.

As well, you avoid the need to set up Wi-Fi or USB tethering on your smartphone or tablet, or to use a “Mi-Fi” mobile-broadband router. Similarly, you shouldn’t need to worry about draining your battery in your “Mi-Fi” router or smartphone to keep the connection alive.

You also benefit from a faster link between the modem and the computer which is important for setups implementing LTE, because a lot of USB mobile-broadband modems don’t implement the newer variants of the USB standard. There is also the fact that an integral mobile-broadband modem design allows for a larger mobile-broadband antenna to be integrated in the laptop computer, rather than having to design a small mobile-broadband antenna to keep a relatively-compact product design for that “Mi-Fi”, USB modem stick or smartphone.

The laptop’s battery shouldn’t be affected in this case thanks to Windows 10 implementing “data-saver” and battery-management logic. There is also the fact that Windows 10 will implement a class driver and authentication software within the operating system’s code so you don’t need to run any extra software to get on board with mobile broadband.

There are some disadvantages with this approach

One of these is that the host computer may be fixed with the “current” technology and may not be able to take advantages of newer technologies or wavebands that the telco you subscribe to offers.

This can be an issue with the pending 5G mobile-broadband standards or Australian telcos like Telstra exploiting lower wavebands in the mobile spectrum with the goal to assure greater coverage in Australia’s larger rural areas but yield high data throughput. But if the mobile-broadband modem operates on a “software-defined” approach where it can work with extra subsequently-available firmware that can adapt to these situations, it may not be an issue.

Old caravan outside a house

They may not work optimumly in one of these metal-clad caravans

Another factor is the integrated-modem approach may not work properly in some usage scenarios where you have a strong signal in certain areas but a weak signal in other areas. This can be of concern for those of us who want to use our computing equipment in a post-1950s caravan or a campervan / motorhome with the vehicle’s housing being predominantly metal which can reduce radio throughput.

In these situations, you may have to use a USB modem on a long USB cable run or use a “Mi-Fi” router with some situations calling for the “two-piece” approach put forward by Solwise.

Another situation you may need to think of is whether you are intending to use multiple mobile devices on the road with the one mobile-hroadband service. Here, you may find that a “Mi-Fi” router set up as the hub of a mobile local-area network may be a better answer to your needs. This is more so if you are running many devices like mobile NAS units, Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers or Wi-Fi-capable digital cameras along with tablets that may not be equipped with mobile broadband.

Of course you will need to use a pre-paid or post-paid mobile broadband service that is provisioned in a manner compatible with your computer. In these cases, such services would be offered as a “SIM-only” or “existing-device” package where you aren’t buying a device under any form of subsidy.

Telcos can easily answer this through the provision of starter prepaid plans offered as part of the package when you buy your computer or by allowing the Windows Store that is part of Windows 10 to work as their agent. Of course you can front up to their bricks-and-mortar outlet to buy a “SIM-only” or “existing-device” prepaid plan for your computer.

On the other hand, most of the telcos will allow you to annex your new integrated modem to your post-paid mobile plan. This will be an important approach for those telcos who are offering a “shared-data” or “family” plan or underscore value for money with these plans.

What to look for

SIM card

Make sure that the SIM card fits your mobile-broadband-equipped laptop or that your service provider supports an eSIM for suitably-equipped laptops

You may have to be sure that your mobile-broadband-equipped laptop is able to connect with the mobile-broadband service that you want to use. Firstly you will have to pay attention to whatever SIM type your computer uses for authentication to the service that you choose.  That will be the kind of information you will have to supply to your mobile-broadband carrier when you are buying mobile-broadband service, or wish to buy other mobile-broadband devices which are “SIM-compatible” with your laptop with a view to moving our service amongst these devices.

As well, you would need to make sure your laptop does work “across the board” with all of the mobile-broadband services that you intend to yous. For example, if you wish to use a service like Telstra that prides itself on extensive coverage in rural areas, you may need to be sure that the mobile broadband modem can cover the lower ends of the spectrum used by this carrier. Another example would be to use it in a range of countries which work on different mobile-broadband frequencies.

People who run a post-paid mobile account should look towards being able to annex the data service used by the laptop’s integrated modem with their account. This can assure them of “many eggs in one basket” with the advantages such as paying through one bill and benefiting from deals that exploit this fact. As well, some providers may operate a deal with multiple SIMs for one number and underscore this for eSIM setups.

Conclusion

Here, it depends on your needs whether paying the extra expense for a laptop configuration with an integral mobile-broadband modem is worth it for you.

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What is the new HEIF image file format about?

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

An iPhone or iPad running iOS 11 has native support for the HEIF image file format

A new image file format has started to surface over the last few years but it is based on a different approach to storing image files.

This file format, known as the HEIF or High Efficiency Image Format, is designed and managed by the MPEG group who have defined a lot of commonly-used video formats. It is being seen by some as the “still-image version of HEVC” with HEVC being the video codec used for 4K UHDTV video files. But it uses HEVC as the preferred codec for image files and will provide support for newer and better image codecs, including newer codecs offering lossless image compression in a similar vein to what FLAC offers for audio files.

Unlike JPEG and the other image files that have existed before it, HEIF is seen as a “container file” for multiple image and other objects rather than just one image file and some associated metadata. As well, the HEIF file format and the HEVC codec are designed to take advantage of today’s powerful computing hardware integrated in our devices.

The primary rule here for HEIF is that it is a container file format speci

Simple concept view of the HEIF image file format

fically for collections of still images. It is not really about replacing one of the video container file formats like MP4 or MKV which are specifically used primarily for video footage.

What will this mean?

One HEIF file could contain a collection of image files such as “mapping images” to improve image playback in certain situations. It can also contain the images taken during a “burst” shot where the camera takes a rapid sequence of images. This can also apply with image bracketing where you take a sequence of shots at different exposure, focus or other camera settings to identify an ideal image setup or create an advanced composite photograph.

This leads to HEIF dumping GIF as the carrier for animated images that are often provided on the Web. Here, you could use software to identify a sequence of images to be played like a video, including having them repeat in a loop thanks to the addition of in-file metadata. This emulates what the Apple Live Photos function was about with iOS and can allow users to create high-quality animations, cinemagraphs (still photos with a small discreet looping animation) or slide-shows in the one HEIF file.

HEIF uses the same codec associated with 4K UHDTV for digital photos

There is also the ability to store non-image objects like text, audio or video in an HEIF file along with the images which can lead to a lot of things. For example, you could set a smartphone to take a still and short video clip at the same time like with Apple Live Photos or you could have images with text or audio notes. On the other hand, you could attach “stamps”, text and emoji to a series of photos that will be sent as an email or message like what is often done with the “stories” features in some of the social networks. In some ways it could be seen as a way to package vector-graphics images with a “compatibility” or “preview” bitmap image.

The HEIF format will also support non-destructive metadata-based editing where this editing is carried out using metadata that describes rectangular crops or image rotations. This is so you could revise an edit at a later time or obtain another edit from the same master image.

It also leads to the use of “derived images” which are the results of one of these edits or image compositions like an HDR or stitched-together panorama image. These can be generated at the time the file is opened or can be created by the editing or image management software and inserted in the HEIF file with the original images. Such a concept could also extend to the rendering and creation of a video object that is inserted in the HEIF file.

HEIF makes better use of advanced photo options offered by advanced cameras

Here, having a derived image or video inserted in the HEIF file can benefit situations where the playback or server setup doesn’t have enough computing power to create an edit or composition of acceptable quality in an acceptable timeframe. Similarly, it could answer situations where the software used either at the production/editing, serving or playback devices does a superlative job of rendering the edits or compositions.

The file format even provides alternative viewing options for the same resource. For example, a user could see a wide-angle panorama image based on a series of shots as either a wide-aspect-ration image or a looping video sequence representing the camera panning across the scene.

What kind of support exists for the HEIF format?

At the moment, Apple’s iOS 11, tvOS 11 (Apple TV) and MacOS High Sierra provide native support for the HEIF format. The new iPhone and iPad provide hardware-level support for the HEVC codec that is part of this format and the iOS 11 platform along with the iCloud service provides inherent exporting of these images for email and other services not implementing this format.

Microsoft is intending to integrate HEIF in to Windows 10 from the Spring Creators Update onwards. As well, Google is intending to bake it in to the “P” version of Android which is their next feature version of that mobile platform.

As for dedicated devices like digital cameras, TVs and printers; there isn’t any native support for HEIF due to it being a relatively new image format. But most likely this will come about through newer devices or devices acquiring newer software.

Let’s not forget that newer image player and editing / management software that is continually maintained will be able to work with these files. The various online services like Dropbox, Apple iCloud or Facebook are or will be offering differing levels of HEIF image-file support the the evolution of their platform. Depending on the service, this will be to hold the files “as-is” or to export and display them in a “best-case” format.

There will be some compatibility issues with hardware and software that doesn’t support this format. This may be rectified with operating systems, image editing / management software or online services that offer HEIF file-conversion abilities. Such software will need to export particular images or derivative images in an HEIF file as a JPEG image for stills or a GIF, MP4 or QuickTime MOV file for timed sequences, animations and similar material.

In the context of DLNA-based media servers, it may be about a similar approach to an online service where the media server has to be able to export original or derived images from one of these files held on a NAS as a JPEG still image or a GIF or MP4 video file where appropriate.

Conclusion

As the container-based HEIF image format comes on to the scene as the possible replacement for JPEG and GIF image files, it could be about an image file format that shows promise for both the snapshooter or the advanced photographer.

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What is the “hybrid radio” concept all about?

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Single-dial” tuning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rich radio-listening experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Voice-driven assistants at risk of nuisance triggering

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

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

Voice control is no laughing matter | Videonet

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YouTube to share fact-checking resources when showing conspiracy videos

Articles

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

YouTube plans ‘information cues’ to combat hoaxes | Engadget

YouTube will add Wikipedia snippets to conspiracy videos | CNet

My Comments

YouTube home page

YouTube – now also being used to distribute conspiracy theory material

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

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

Wikipedia desktop home page

Wikipedia no being seen as a tool for providing clear facts

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

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

Articles

Facebook login page

Facebook as a social-media-based news aggregator

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

ACCC targets tech platforms | InnovationAus.com

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

Australia: News and digital platforms inquiry | Advanced Television

My Comments

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

Google News - desktop Web view

Google News portal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the big issues being raised in this inquiry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other issues that need to be highlighted

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Solwise improves on their two-piece mobile router concept

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Pleasure-boats at a marina in Melbourne

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

Solwise UK

Product List

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

PATRIOT tube-shaped network adaptors

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

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

Panel network adaptor – highly directional

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

Travel Router

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

Previous Coverage

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marantz answers Yamaha with a network CD player of their own

Article – From the horse’s mouth

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

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

Marantz UK

ND8006 Network CD Player

Product Page

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very comprehensive level of connectivity shown on the back panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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