Author: simonmackay

Fact-checking now part of the online media-aggregation function

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Google

Expanding Fact Checking at Google (Blog Post)

My Comments

ABC FactCheck – the ABC’s fact-checking resource that is part of their newsroom

Previously, we got our news through newspapers, magazines and radio / TV broadcasters who had invested significant amounts of money or time in journalism efforts. Now the Internet has reduced the friction associated with publishing content – you could set up an easily-viewable Website for very little time and cost and pump it with whatever written, pictorial, audio or video content you can.

Google News – one of the way we are reading our news nowadays

This has allowed for an increase in the amount of news content that is of questionable accuracy and value to be easily made available to people. It is exaggerated by online services such as search and aggregation services of the Google or Buzzfeed ilk and social media of the Facebook ilk being a major “go-to” point, if not the “go-to” point for our news-reading. In some cases, it is thanks to these services using “virtual newspaper” views and “trending-topic” lists to make it easy for one to see what has hit the news.

As well, with traditional media reducing their newsroom budgets which leads to reduction in the number of journalists in a newsroom, it gets to the point where content from online news-aggregation services ends up in the newspapers or traditional media’s online presence.

The fact that news of questionable accuracy or value is creeping in to our conversation space with some saying that it has affected elections and referenda is bringing forward new concepts like “post-truth”, “alternative facts” and “fake news” with these terms part of the lexicon. What is being done about it to allow people to be sure they are getting proper information?

Lately, a few news publishers and broadcasters have instigated “fact-checking” organisations or departments where they verify the authenticity of claims and facts that are coming in to their newsrooms. This has led to stories acquiring “Fact-check” or “Truth-meter” gauges along with copy regarding the veracity of these claims. In some cases, these are also appearing on dedicated Web pages that the news publisher runs.

In a lot of cases, such as Australia’s ABC, these “fact-checking” departments work in concert with another standalone organisation like a university, a government’s election-oversight department or a public-policy organisation. This partnership effectively “sharpens the fact-checking department’s knives” so they can do their job better.

But the question that is facing us is how are we sure that the news item we are about to click on in Google or share in Facebook is kosher or not. Google have taken this further by integrating the results from fact-check organisations in articles listed in the Google News Website or Google News & Weather iOS / Android mobile news apps and calling these “fact-check” results out with a tag. The same feature is also being used on the News search tab when you search for a particular topic. Initially this feature was rolled out in to the US and UK markets but is slowly being rolled out in to other markets like France, Germany, Brazil and Mexico.

Google is also underpinning various fact-check efforts through helping publishers build up their efforts or instigating event-specific efforts like the CrossCheck effort involving 20 French newsrooms thanks to the French presidential election. It is in addition to supporting the First Draft Coalition who helps with assuring the integrity of the news being put up on the Internet. It also includes the use of the Digital Initiative Fund to help newsrooms and others instigate or improve their fact-checking operations.

A question that will also be raised is how to identify the political bias of a particular media outlet and convey that in a search engine. This is something that has been undertaken by the Media Bias / Fact Check Website which is an independently-run source that assesses media coverage of US issues and how biased the media outlet is.

But a situation that needs to appear is the ability for fact-check organisations who implement those “accuracy gauges” to share these metrics as machine-useable metadata that can be interpreted through the rich search interfaces that Google and their ilk provide. Similarly, the provision of this metadata and its interpretation by other search engines or social-media sites can provide a similar advantage. But it would require the use of “news categorisation” metadata relating to news events, locations and the actors who are part of them to make this more feasible.

Similarly, a social network like Facebook could use the fact-checking resources out there to identify where fake news is being spread so that users can be certain if that link they intend to share is questionable or not.

To the same extent, engaging government election-oversight departments like the Australian Electoral Commission, the Federal Election Commission in the USA and the Electoral Commission in the UK in the fact-checking fabric can help with assuring that there are proper and fair elections.  This is more so as these departments perform a strong role in overseeing the campaigns that take place in the lead up to an election and they could use the fact-checking organisations to identify where campaigns are being run with questionable information or in an improper manner.

As part of our research in to a news topic, we could be seeing the fact-checking resources playing an important role in sorting the facts from the spin and conspiracy nonsense.

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HP to introduce virtual-hardware security for Web browsing

Article

HP Elitebook x360 G2 press picture courtesy of HP USA

HP Elitebook x360 G2 – to be equipped for Sure Click

HP hardens EliteBook protection with Sure Click, a browser secured in virtual hardware | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

HP

Press Release

Bromium

Press Release

Video explaining the Bromium micro-virtualisation approach (Click / Tap to play)

My Comments

A very common attack gateway that has been identified for endpoint computing devices, especially regular desktop or laptop computers, is the Web browser. It is because the browser is essentially the “viewport” to the Internet for most reading-based tasks.

But most recent browser versions have implemented software-based “hardening” against the various Internet-based attacks. This is in conjunction with the main desktop operating systems being “hardened” through each and every update and patch automatically applied. These updates facilitate practices like “sandboxing” where software of questionable provenance is effectively corralled in a logical quarantine area with minimal privileges so it doesn’t affect the rest of the system.

HP and Bromium have developed a “virtual hardware” approach where a browsing session can take place in a separate “logical computer”, a concept being driven by the multi-core CPUs that are the hub of today’s computer systems. This can provide improved security by using the hardware approach that is effectively with its own operating system and has the data destroyed at the end of a session. Here, it restricts the effect of malware like ransomware picked up during a “drive-by” download because the software can only run within that separate “logical computer”.

At the moment, this feature is being initially rolled out to the Elitebook x360 G2 convertible business laptop but will trickle out across the next generation of “Elite” premium manageable business computers to be launched in the second half of the year. It will work only with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Google’s open-source Chromium browser at the moment. What I would like to see happen is that this feature is able to be “trickled-down” to HP’s consumer, education and small-business product ranges but in a more “self-service” manner because households, small businesses and volunteer-driven community organisations could equally benefit from this feature.

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Set Windows not to interrupt your presentation or movie

Article

Presentation shown on retractable screen

You don’t really want Windows to throw pop-up notifications during that important business presentation

How to disable notifications while presenting on Windows 10 | Windows Central

My Comments and how to go about this further

Most of us encounter times in our work and personal computing lives where we don’t really like Windows to “pop up” too many notifications while we are concentrating. Situations where this is more so include running a presentation, watching video material, engaging in a videocall or playing games where we really crave the minimum of distractions.

Screenshot of Acorn TV website

.. nor while watching that bit of video-on-demand content on your computer

There are multiple approaches to reducing distractions caused by Windows when it pops up those notifications. These depend on the screen setup you are running with.

One screen

Quiet Hours button on Windows 10

Quiet Hours button in Action Center on Windows 10

Most of you who are using that laptop or convertible 2-in-1 will be using this machine’s screen to view your long-form video or show that presentation to two or three people at the “second-office” café. Or you are using a traditional desktop computer like that “gaming rig” and don’t want Windows to distract you from that game you are playing.

Quiet Hours option - a right click away - Windows 10

Right click on the bubble to pop up this menu

Here, you can enable the “Quiet Hours” function to prevent Windows 8 or 10 from popping up notifications when you don’t want them. This can be enabled using a “button” in the Windows 10 Action Center or by right-clicking on the Windows 10 Action Center bubble at the right-hand corner of the screen then selecting “Turn on Quiet Hours”. This will mute all notifications coming in so you aren’t disturbed.

When you have finished, you then disable “Quiet Hours” by repeating the above process. If you right-click on the Action Center bubble, the option that will show up will be “Turn Off Quiet Hours”.

Two Screens – Duplicated display

Windows 10 - Hide Notifications When Duplicating Screen

Use this option to hide notifications when you have two screens replicating each other

Some of you who have a laptop may connect your computer to the projector or large-screen TV and set it up to “duplicate” the display. This is often seen as a simplified approach to putting things up on the large screen especially if both displays have the same resolution and aspect ratio.

As well, this scenario may please those of us who are using Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Viewer, the Windows Store apps or similar software that doesn’t address displays separately, or are simply working with the Web.

Windows 10 has a dedicated setup for this scenario where if you are duplicating the display, you don’t see any of the notifications appearing on both screens. This is a separately-selectable option in the Notifications And Actions settings screen as “Hide Notifications When I’m Duplicatiing My Screen”.

Two Screens – Extended display

Extended Display setup for a secondary display as a dedicated screen - Windows 7

Extended Display setup – for a secondary display as a dedicated screen – Windows 7

There are those of you who have your computer connected to an external display in the “extend” mode. This may be because you are using presentation software that can separately address the external displays or are using the extended multiple-screen desktop.

In this scenario, you would be having your notifications appear on your setup’s primary screen such as your laptop screen. This is although, in a presentation setup, you would be having the presentation appear on the large screen.

But you may want to be sure that you are not disturbed during the presentation or video content. Here, you can follow the instructions for enabling “Quiet Hours” as described in the “One Screen” context.

Managing your system’s sound

On the other hand, you may not mind the visual notifications on your screen such as when you are watching a video or engaging in a videocall. This may be because you want to make sure you don’t miss that message for example.

But you may want to play things a bit more discreetly and not have chimes or bells associated with incoming messages or error notifications disturb you. This is more so when you have the sound coming through a sound system or a large-screen TV’s speakers, and these sounds at the default volume level can be increasingly annoying to hear.

This situation shows up very strong where the software you are using doesn’t allow you to determine which sound-playback device it should play through and you have to use the Windows “default sound device” typically shared by the system for its notification purposes. This situation applies mainly with Web-based situations, UWP / Modern / Metro apps that you get from the Windows Store or some online-service clients like Spotify.

There is the ability to turn off audible chimes for apps that put up notifications but let them put up the visual notifications. Here, you may have to use the Notifications settings screen and work through each app and turn off the “Play a sound when a notification arrives” option on each app. Then you would have to do this rigmarole again when you want the audio prompts back.

Volume Mixer in Windows 10, similar to other Windows versions

Volume Mixer in Windows – System Sounds are the notification chimes and dings

Here, you can work around this problem by using the Windows Volume Mixer to reduce the System Sounds volume output so that those beeps and chimes don’t come through very loud. You can even slide that volume right down so that those sounds can’t come through at all. If you are using Windows Store apps like some of the Windows 10 clients for the various online video services, you could use “Ear Trumpet” (Free download from Windows Store) which is an advanced volume mixer that works with these apps as well as Desktop (classic) apps as well as integrating with the Windows 10 look and feel.

Ear Trumpet volume mixer app for Windows 10 - manages Windows Store apps

Ear Trumpet volume mixer app for Windows 10 – manages Windows Store apps

What Microsoft could do

Microsoft could support a “notifications profiles” setup in Windows where you can turn off the notifications abilities for particular apps and save these setups as one or more profiles. Here, it could be useful to allow users to create situation-specific profiles such as one to have when watching video content, running a business presentation or going to bed.

It could be implemented also with notifications being assigned “priority” levels so as to allow users not to have “hints-and-tips” or similar unimportant notifications come through at “do-not-disturb” times yet have important notifications come through. For email, messaging and similar software, user could assign priority levels for their contacts so that they don’t miss messages from the contacts that matter like the boss.

The sound-management software in Windows could allow you to create situation-specific sound-level settings like what happened with the Symbian-based Nokia phones. This was where you could create sound-level scenarios for particular situations by varying different sound outputs like ringtone, notification tones and multimedia sounds (music or video playback). This also appeals to other ideals like being able to relegate sound classes like system notifications to particular output devices independent of other sound classes like multimedia and communications.

Conclusion

Once you know how to manage the notifications that pop up in Windows 10’s Notification bar, you can be able to make sure you aren’t distracted by this noise when you want to run that important presentation or watch that favourite Netflix. Similarly, adjusting the sound output of your apps, especially those that are only about notifying, can allow you to achieve that quiet environment while you enjoy music, watch videos or give presentations.

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Wi-Fi TimeSync–to make multichannel Wi-Fi wireless audio real

Article

Wi-Fi might fix wireless speakers this year | The Verge

Wi-Fi for audiophiles: Alliance preps TimeSync certification program | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance – TimeSync

Product Page

Whitepaper (PDF)

My Comments

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Speakers like the Denon HEOS family will benefit from WiFi TimeSync so that they can be used with different manufacturers’ systems

The Wi-Fi Alliance have worked towards a standard for keeping time-sensitive data synchronous on a Wi-Fi network segment. This has become a very difficult situation with networks that rely on packet-based data-transfer technology because you are never sure whether data packets are leaving or arriving at the same time.

The key application case being put forward for Wi-Fi TimeSync is to use Wi-Fi technology to provide multiple-channel audio and video with an open-frame wireless approach for home-entertainment setups.

One implementations seen in this context would be a household starting with the TV’s internal speakers for video sound but moving towards a sound bar and / or external speakers plus a subwoofer located up the front beside the screen. Then they move towards a fully-fledged home theatre setup with rear speakers, using speaker systems from manufacturers they prefer at prices they prefer.

Another implementation would be a single-piece multiroom speaker or single-piece music system. The user then adds one or two extra speakers as their budget allows so they benefit from improved stereo separation. This also comes in to play for a multiple-speaker setup for environments where they want to “spread the sound” such as during a party.

But there are other use cases. One would be to use Wi-Fi in the context of connecting wireless microphones, instrument connections (guitars and electric basses) and wireless monitor setups for recording, broadcast and PA applications. Similarly, video field production would benefit in supporting a wireless link from one or more cameras and audio devices to the one video-production desk or video recording transport; or SMPTE time-synchronisation data can be wirelessly sent amongst multiple AV devices which have their own recording transports like camcorders or audio recorders.

Another use case being put up is showing the same video across multiple displays with a wireless link between the source and the displays. This could benefit automotive, coach and airline applications where the same video content held on a mobile device may be shown on seatback or dropdown screens to the passengers. Similarly, it could be about the use of temporarily-installed displays showing content from one main video system but allowing for “quick setup quick teardown” installation.

They also see this same technology for control and instrumentation applications such as patient monitoring in healthcare applications, industrial automation on the factory floor and, most likely, smart buildings and smart cities. For the smart home, it could be about using multiple temperature sensors to measure indoor room temperature so as to control the HVAC system efficiently.

In these applications, there is a goal to be manufacturer-independent, something that will break a curse associated with current Wi-Fi-based multiroom-audio applications. This is where the multiroom or multichannel functionality will only work with equipment supplied by the vendor or equipped with silicon from the same chipset family.

The Wi-Fi TimeSync standard will be based on the 802.11 Time Measurement standard and will support millisecond-level synchronisation. It will be independent of the baseband (physical-layer) Wi-Fi technology so as to support Wi-Fi segments implementing 802.11n or the newer 802.11ac standards.

A question worth raising is whether access points and routers need to support the Wi-Fi TimeSync standard themselves or if this can be facilitated on existing home or business-grade equipment. Another question that will also be raised is whether the same level of synchronisation can be achieved across a Wi-Fi segment involving multiple access points whatever the backbone. This can also include the common wireless-range-extender scenario that works from an extant wireless-network segment and creates its own wireless-network segment.

Here, it may also be about standards bodies representing the Cat5 Ethernet, HomePlug powerline, MoCA TV-coax and similar wired-network technologies considering higher-level support for packet synchronisation on the media types.

The initial call is that chipset vendors will offer the necessary silicon by end of 2017 for manufacturers to integrate in to their device designs. Then it will take some time for these designs to materialise as equipment like Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers or amplifiers.

What this could lead to an open platform for AV applications which can lead to a breeding ground for innovation and a reduced price point for these devices. Other areas will benefit from using a Wi-Fi wireless network for synchronising real-time data accurately.

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Google demonstrates their Google Home concept during Super Bowl 2017

Part of the experience of watching American Football’s annual ultimate playoff that occurs every February is to see the ads that are run during the commercial breaks. This is because, a company has to stump up at least US$5 million per “spot” to get an ad in front of the USA’s many eyeballs who will be watching the Super Bowl. Here, it is also the time that advertisers pull out the stops to show the most impressive and memorable commercials that could end up being run when they want to extend the campaign further.

Google used this year’s Super Bowl to demonstrate the concept of their Google Home voice-activated home assistant platform competing with Amazon Alexa. But is shows what these voice-operated home assistants are all about. Most of the functionality you will see in this ad will require you to install smart-home devices that control your existing lighting or heating.

Have a look at this if you missed it during this year’s “ad parade”.

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Apple to use the UAC connector as its standard connector for headphones

Articles

Dell A2 Performance USB Headset

Feature headphones with digital functionality will be using UAC as an accessory-side connector for widest compatibility

Relax, Apple isn’t introducing another new connector | The Verge

Apple’s Ultra Accessory Connector dashes any hopes of a USB-C iPhone | The Verge

Apple plans new smaller Ultra Accessory Connector (UAC) for Made-for-iPhone accessories | 9 To 5 Mac

What is UAC? Apple’s new ‘Made for iPhone’ accessory and port explained | Trusted Reviews

My Comments

If you have owned a Nikon digital camera, you may have dealt with the Ultra Accessory Connector (UAC) as a method to tether your camera to your computer for, perhaps, downloading. This would typically be facilitated using a USB to UAC cable that came in the box with your camera.

Apple is resurrecting this connector as part of its MFi (Made For iOS) accessories program for iOS devices. There was a lot of confusion in the computing press regarding this connector because it could be about a different socket existing on a subsequent iPhone or iPad, or devices and accessories not working unless “you get with the program” – be part of the Apple ecosystem.

But the Ultra Accessory Connector is about how its use as an intermediary or accessory-side connector on a pair of headphones. It is being called on because an increasing number of newer smartphones and ultraportable laptops won’t be equipped with the traditional 3.5mm headset jack where you can connect a wired headset.

There is also the same appeal where headphones will have integral digital-analogue audio circuitry and there has to he a way to connect these to your smartphone if you are going the “wired” path. It is something very familiar to those of us who use a USB headset with our computers or a Bluetooth headset or audio adaptor with our smartphones. Here, manufacturers will see better digital-analogue circuitry and / or sound-processing technology such as microphone arrays, accessory-side sound-tuning and active noise cancellation as a way to differentiate their product ranges more effectively and  innovate their products.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - USB plug

It will still be feasible to keep a level playing field for headphones that use USB or other wired digital links.

The approach that is being pushed here is for a headset or pair of headphones to have the UAC connection as an accessory-side connection. Typically this will be as a “lump” on the headphone cable like what is used for remote control or a microphone, which comes apart. On the other hand, the most probable implementation for a pair of traditionally-styled “cans” would be a socket installed on one of the earcups similar to what happens for detachable-cord implementations. The headset would then be supplied with one or more application-specific connection cables that have a UAC-connector on the accessory side and the appropriate connector (Apple Lightning, USB-A, USB-C or 3.5mm phone plug) on the equipment side. There is also a goal to have such cables also available through the aftermarket thanks to accessory suppliers like Belkin.

The UAC connection is meant to facilitate a digital connection that works with USB or Apple Lightning norms along with the standard stereo analogue connection. Here, it means that an accessory cable can exist which has the traditional 3.5mm phone plug on it to allow use with equipment that still maintains this connection. This includes still being able to use the 6.35mm headphone jack adaptor to connect your headpbones to hi-fi equipment or the two-pin airline adaptor to plug in to your aeroplane seat’s in-flight-entertainment connection. It also encompasses the goal with the Apple Lightning and USB-C standards to provide analogue pass-through from equipment-side digital-analogue circuitry to cater for the cheaper headset designs.

In the digital context, this can mean that the sound processing circuitry can present itself to Apple’s iOS devices or “open-frame” USB Audio implementations properly as the equipment expects. Apple still sees this as being important because their newer MacBook laptops are being equipped just with USB-C connections and MacOS is still providing class-driver support for USB-Audio devices. But most other regular-computer and mobile operating systems are providing a similar level of support for USB Audio.

But what needs to happen in both camps is for proper operating-system-level support for audio input and output in both the communications and multimedia contexts, along with accessory-side remote control for call management, media transport control and volume control at least. It may also include the ability to use a basic display on the accessory to show information like current time, incoming calls and messages and media-play details, something that can earn its keep with in-line remote-control accessories.

The UAC connection type can lead to the idea of “feature modules” or “enhancement modules” that add extra functionality to or improve the sound quality of existing UAC headphones. For example, they could offer:

  • a highly-strung DAC circuit as an upgrade path for better sound quality with premium headphones;
  • a Bluetooth adaptor to add Bluetooth wireless functionality to a set of existing wired “cans”;
  • an advanced remote control with display so you can keep your device in your pocket;
  • or an extended-power module which allows you to use external battery packs to obtain long operating times out of your smartphone and advanced headset.

What the UAC connector that Apple is pushing for is the ability to headset manufacturers to continue to work on feature headsets that can work across all of the computing platforms. As well, I also see the UAC connector as a pathway to innovation because manufacturers will be encouraged to work on features that work across all phone platforms. This is more so as we invest in the premium headsets to go with our smartphones and computers so we can listen to music or watch those videos while we are on the train.

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Improved Wi-Fi technologies as the deluxe option for your Internet service

Article

Waoo Smart WiFi kit press picture courtesy of Waoo.dk

Waoo Smart WiFi kit offered in Denmark

Premium Wi-Fi is a growing opportunity for service providers, both to differentiate and to increase ARPU | Videonet.TV

From the horse’s mouth

Waoo (Danish ISP) – (Danish Language / Dansk Sprog)

Smart WiFi – Product Page

Promotional Video –  Click or tap here to play / Klik eller tryk her for at spille

My Comments

Recently, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, some of the major home-network hardware providers offered distributed Wi-Fi network setups which provide a simplified method to improve your home network’s Wi-Fi wireless coverage.

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package – could be offered by your ISP or telco

These have been offered either in a mesh-based setup or as a “router and extender” setup with simplified setup and operation procedures. The mesh setup creates a wireless backbone mesh between each of the “nodes” in such a way that any node can obtain a strong high-throughput signal from two other nodes and there is a failover process where if one node is out-of-action, other nodes can keep the coverage going. On the other hand, a “router and extender” setup works like most of the wireless extenders on the market but implements a simplified setup and roaming experience between the router and extenders.

Some of the distributed Wi-Fi network setups also allow for the use of a wired backbone which can cater for difficult wireless-network situations, multiple building setups or even as a robust high-throughput option.

There has been a need for these setups thanks to increased streaming of video content like Netflix along with heavy use of highly-portable computer devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones. But the typical Wi-Fi setup ends up being compromised by many different situations such as routers being installed at one end of the premises, the use of dense or metallic building materials in our houses and apartments or even “white goods” or metallic furniture like filing cabinets installed in a cluster against interior walls. As well, the existence of multiple Wi-Fi networks in a neighbourhood can make things works.

But there are some telcos, cable-TV providers and Internet service providers are offering distributed wireless setups as an extra-cost option for all of their customers, and / or as “part of the package” for their top-shelf packages. This kind of service is also of interest to other ISPs who are wanting to offer that more value to their customers, and is in response to complaints that customers aren’t benefiting from the headline or contracted bandwidth at their devices especially when they are using the Wi-Fi wireless network.

Examples of this are Singtel in Singapore, and Midco (Midcontinent Communications) in the USA are offering a distributed Wi-FI system as their “premium Wi-Fi” option offered as an extra-cost option while Waoo in Denmark are offering it at no extra cost to subscribers who take up their premium Internet packages that they offer with it available for extra cost for people who subscribe to the cheaper packages.

Here, the distributed Wi-Fi setup would be part of the modem-router normally offered as customer-premises equipment with it being managed and serviced by the ISP.  Some of these setups also have TV set-top boxes that also work as access points or as part of the mesh ecosystem, typically using a wired (MoCA, HomePlug AV500) or wireless backhaul. There may also be the use of dedicated access-point nodes around the premises to provide the extra reach to the other areas.

The ISPs are, at the moment, seeing this as leading towards increased customer satisfaction due to the increased stability and throughput realised at the end devices. It is also seen as being equivalent to cable-TV services where customers rent a PVR-based set-top box, because such customers see this as being better value for money therefore less likely to walk away from the service.

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Two niche video-on-demand providers are starting to show up strong

From the horse’s mouth

Acorn TV – SVOD provider offering the best of British telly to the USA

Native Clients

Mobile: iOS, Android

TVs and Set-top Devices: Apple TV (tvOS), Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV (newer)

SBS On Demand – AVOD provider offering foreign and art-house content to Australian audiences

Native Clients

Mobile: iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle Fire, Windows Phone

Regular Computers: Windows 10

TVs and Set-top Devices: Apple TV (tvOS),  XBox 360, XBox One, PS3, PlayStation 4, Humax, Fetch TV, Telstra TV, Telstra T-Box, Sony Bravia Smart TVs, Android TV, Google TV, Samsung Smart TVs, LG Smart TVs, Panasonic Viera Smart TVs, HBBTV, TCL TV

My Comments

As the mainstream “over-the-top” video-on-demand market becomes saturated with service providers who try to cover all the bases, a few companies are rising up or will rise up to offer an “over-the-top” video-on-demand service that targets a niche audience.

Some of these companies are based on an existing media-publication or distribution platform that already courts that particular niche like a home-video distributorship, a TV broadcaster or a bookstore. Here, I would simply see a niche video-on-demand provider very similar to an art-house cinema or a specialty bookstore.

The different companies provide these services on one or more of the following three business models

  • AVOD (Advertising Video-On-Demand) – advertising-funded with TV commercials run during the show like with traditional TV. It is commonly used with services that started out as “catch-up TV” services offered by TV broadcasters who sell advertising.
  • SVOD (Subscription Video-On-Demand) – funded by users paying a monthly or yearly subscription fee to see all of the content offered by the video-on-demand provider. It is the same kind of business model that Netflix operate on.
  • TVOD (Transactional Video-On-Demand) – viewers pay to have access to a particular movie or series title either on an infinite basis or for a certain time period. It is similar to the video offerings provided by the platform app stores (Apple iTunes, Google Play or Microsoft Store).

These providers may find that the business model that they choose may please the audience that views their content, especially if they are capitalising on their media-distribution heritage. On the other hand, they may have to operate the different business models together such as taking a “freemium” approach with an advertising-funded service but allowing viewers to subscribe to a premium ad-free service.

There are two services I am calling out in this article that are answering to the niche video-on-demand market.

 

Screenshot of Acorn TV website

Acorn TV – the best of British telly in the USA

One of these is Acorn TV, a subscription video-on-demand service that is supplying the best of British telly to the American market. It was based on the Acorn imprint which sold British shows on packaged home-video media (VHS videocassettes and DVD / Blu-Ray discs) in to the USA since 1994. Acorn are even heading towards creating their own content as well as redistributing the content offered by the British TV channels in to the USA. It appeals to British expats who have moved to North America along with Americans who appreciate the high-quality content that British TV is known for.

SBS On Demand Windows 10 platform app

SBS On-Demand (Windows 10 native app) – foreign-language TV in Australia thanks to SBS

The other of these is SBS On Demand, an advertising video-on-demand service that is supplying Australian viewers with foreign and art-house content. This service evolved from a “catch-up TV” service that SBS, a publicly-funded radio and TV service that focused towards Australia’s ethnic communities since the late 70s, ran in conjunction with their free-to-air TV service. Here, they have become the Australian TV outlet for the rising classes of subtitled content like Nordic Noir crime fiction even before such content came on the scene in the UK and USA. SBS still create their own edgy TV content to show on their regular TV service or directly on this on-demand service.

Most of these providers work on traditional content trees with content grouped primarily by the standard content genres with opisodic content listed by series title. But as this class of on-demand video provider evolves,  there will be the curated thematic content groups appearing in their content trees, focusing on particular themes like content classes that underscore the niche very well like the “Golden Age of British Comedy”.

What needs to happen is the ability for those niche video-on-demand content providers not to just represent themselves as just another app in your smart TV’s or mobile device’s app store but to expose the fact that they provide a particular class of content.

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Hyperoptic branches out to providing FTTP to UK housing estates

Article

Hyperoptic Brings 1Gbps FTTP Broadband to its First UK Housing Estate | ISPReview

From the horse’s mouth

Hyperoptic

Press Release

My Comments

Hyperoptic are one of the Internet service / last-mile infrastructure providers operating in the UK who are providing next-generation Internet service to particular communities there in a manner where they compete with established Internet infrastructure providers like Openreach. Here, they have been focusing on apartment towers in most of the UK’s major cities and have even gone as far to provide this service to one of London’s marinas. They were even known to provide “month-by-month” Internet service to people who weren’t likely to be occupying an apartment for the year due to such realities like business placement.

This time, they have broken from their mould by installing FTTP infrastructure and providing next-generation Internet service to a housing estate in Welwyn Garden City, one of London’s commuter towns based in Hertfordshire. The new-build housing estate, known as Bellway at QEII and built where the QEII hospital used to exist, has been established by Bellway homes and consists of traditional standalone homes along with some apartments and “coach houses” (apartments built on top of one or more garages), with the property count coming to 163 premises. The typical price being put up is around GBP£319,995 for a two-bedroom coach house to GBP£484,995 for a four-bedroom house,

But Hyperoptic have put the hand up for the Internet service that will be available at this development by offering the service as a fibre-to-the-premises kind, where they can offer a double-play Internet and landline telephone service. This is a symmetrical service with the Internet connection being up to 1Gbps bandwidth. Here, Bellway have found that access to very-high-speed reliable broadband Internet is considered by potential homebuyers and renters as important as access to good schools and transport infrastructure.

New homeowners will be offered a free trial service of up to 1Gbps Internet and phone service that provides free evening and weekend calls for the first three months. This is compared to the meagre offering of a 20Mbps package offered as the trial package.

With landline phone Broadband only
Bandwidth First 12 months Onwards First 12 months Onwards
20Mb GBP£18 GBP£25 GBP£16 GBP£22
100Mb GBP£28 GBP£38 GBP£26 GBP£35
1Gb GBP£48 GBP£63 GBP£46 GBP£60

Broadband-only consumers will be paying a GBP£40 connection fee, but all users will have a 12 month minimum-term contract and will be supplied with a wireless router for their home network and benefit from unlimited “all-you-can-eat” Internet usage and 24/7 support. Personally, Bellway could come to the party in a better way by offering people buying the new-built homes the ability to have their home wired for Ethernet as a deal-making option for their home-building package, with at least a data socket in the living room and the home office.

This isn’t the only “conventional house” development on a large block of land that is benefiting from Hyperoptic’s fibre-to-the-premises effort. They are looking towards knocking on developers’ doors around the UK and competing against BT, Virgin Media & co to “wire-up” new-build developments of this kind in the UK with fibre-optic Internet.

Here, it is one of the examples of where other companies “go it alone” to provide better Internet service in to neighbourhoods even if the main service provider like NBN or Openreach works at a snail’s pace to provide the same level of service.

Personally, I wouldn’t put it past someone like TPG to approach developers who are building “conventional house” residential developments and offer more than what NBN are willing to provide.

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Dual-device videocalling–how about it?

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TV setups with large screens and powerful sound systems could also appeal to videocalls where many people wish to participate

A reality that is surfacing with online communications platforms is the fact that most of us prefer to operate these platforms from our smartphones or tablets. Typically we are more comfortable with using these devices as our core hubs for managing personal contacts and conversations.

But there are times when we want to use a large screen such as our main TV for group videocalls. Examples of this may include family conversations with loved ones separated by distance, more so during special occasions like birthdays, Thanksgiving or Christmas. In the business context, there is the desire for two or more of us to engage in video conferences with business partners, suppliers, customers or employees separated by distance. For example, a lawyer and their client could be talking with someone who is selling their business as part of assessing the validity of that potential purchase.

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

This is more so when there is that family special moment

But most of the smart-TV and set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to work with the plethora of online-communications platforms that are out there. This is although Skype attempted to get this happening with various smart-TV and set-top platform vendors to allow the smart TV to serve as a Skype-based group videophone once you purchased and connected a Webcam accessory supplied by the manufacturer.

The Skype situation required users to log in to the Skype client on their TV or video device along with buying and installing a camera kit that worked with the TV. This was a case of entering credentials or searching for contacts using a “pick-and-choose” or SMS-style text-entry method which could lead to mistakes. This is compared to where most of us were more comfortable with performing these tasks on our smartphones or tablets because of a touchscreen keyboard or hardware keyboard accessory that made text entry easier.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

An Apple TV or Chromecast that has the software support for and is connected to a Webcam could simplify this process and place the focus on the smartphone as a control surface for videocalls

The goal I am outlining here is for one to be able to use a smart TV or network-connected video peripheral equipped with a Webcam-type camera device, along with their mobile device, all connected to the same home network and Internet connection to establish or continue a videocall on the TV’s large screen. Such a goal would be to implement the large-screen TV with its built-in speakers or connected sound system along with the Webcam as the videocalling-equivalent of the speakerphone we use for group or “conference” telephone calls when multiple people at either end want to participate in the call.

Set-top devices designed to work with platform mobile devices

A very strong reality that is surfacing for interlinking TVs and mobile devices is the use of a network-enabled video peripheral that provides a video link between the mobile device and video peripheral via one’s home network.

One of these devices is the Apple TV which works with iOS devices thanks to Apple AirPlay while the other is the Google Chromecast that works with Android devices. Both of these video devices can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi wireless or Ethernet with the Apple TV offering the latter option out of the box and the Chromecast offering it as an add-on option. As well, the Chromecast’s functionality is being integrated in to various newer smart TVs and video peripherals under the “Google Cast” or “Chromecast” feature name.

Is there a need for this functionality?

As I have said earlier on, the main usage driver for this functionality would be to place a group videocall where multiple people at the one location want to communicate with another . The classic examples would be for families communicating with distant relatives or businesses placing conference calls that involve multiple decision makers with two or more of these participants at one of the locations.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Most of the mobile messaging platforms offer some form of videocalling capability

In most cases, the “over-the-top” communications platforms like Facetime, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are primarily operated using the native mobile client app or the functionality that is part of the mobile platform. This way of managing videocalls appeals to most users because of access to the user’s own contact directory that exists on their device along with the handheld nature of the typical smartphone that appeals to this activity.

It is also worth knowing that some, if not all, of the “over-the-top” communications platforms will offer a “conference call” or “three-way call” function as part of their feature set, extending it to videocalls in at least the business-focused variants. This is where you could have multiple callers from different locations take part in the same conversation. Such setups would typically show the “other” callers as part of a multiple-picture “mosaic” on the screen. Here, the large screen can come in handy with seeing the multiple callers at once.

How is this achieved at the moment?

At the moment, these set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to allow for group videocalling and users would have to invoke screen-mirroring functionality on their mobile devices once they logically associate them with the video endpoint devices. Then they would have to position their mobile device on or in front of the TV so the other side can see your group, something which can be very precarious at times.

How could Apple, Google and co improve on this state of affairs?

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

Should this still be the way to make group videocalls on your Apple TV or Chromecast?

Apple and Google could improve on their AirPlay and Chromecast platforms to provide an andio-video-data feed from the video peripheral to the mobile device using that peripheral. This would work in tandem with a companion Webcam/microphone accessory that can be installed on the TV and connected to the set-top device. For example, Apple could offer a Webcam for the latest generation Apple TV as an “MFi” accessory like they do with the game controllers that enable it to be a games console.

When users associate their mobile devices with a suitably-equipped Apple TV / Chromecast device that supports this enhancement, the communications apps on their phone detect the camera and microphone connected to the video peripheral. The user would then be able to see the camera offered as an alternative camera choice while they are engaged in a videocall, along with the microphone and TV speaker offered as a “speakerphone” option.

What will this entail?

It may require Apple and Google to write mobile endpoint software in to their iOS and Android operating systems to handle the return video feed and the existence of cameras connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast.

Similarly, the tvOS and Chromecast platforms will have to have extra endpoint software written for them while these devices would have to have hardware support for Webcam devices.

At the moment, the latest-generation Apple TV has a USB-C socket on it but this is just serving as a “service” port, but could be opened up as a peripheral port for wired MFi peripherals like a Webcam. Google uses a microUSB port on the Chromecast but this is primarily a power-supply and network-connection port. But they could, again, implement an “expansion module” that provides connectivity to a USB Webcam that is compliant to the USB Video and Audio device classes.

These situations could be answered through a subsequent hardware generation for each of the devices or, if the connections are software-addressable, a major-function firmware update could open up these connections for a camera.

As for application-level support, it may require that the extra camera connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast device be logically enumerated as another camera device by all smartphone apps that exploit the mobile phone’s cameras. The microphone in the camera and the TV’s speakers also would need to be enumerated as another communications-class audio device available to the communications apps. This kind of functionality could be implemented at operating-system level with very little work being asked of from third-party communications software developers.

User privacy can be assured through the same permissions-driven setup implemented in the platform’s app ecosystem that is implemented for access to the mobile device’s own camera and microphone. If users want to see this tightened, it could be feasible to require a separate permissions level for use of external cameras and audio-input devices. But users can simply physically disconnect the Webcam from the video peripheral device when they don’t intend to use it.

An alternative path for app-based connected-TV platforms

There is also an alternative path that smart-TV and set-top vendors could explore. Here, they could implement a universal network-based two-way video protocol that allows the smart TV or set-top device to serve as a large-screen video endpoint for the communications apps.

Similarly, a smart-TV / set-top applications platform could head down the path of using client-side applications that are focused for large-screen communications. This is in a similar vein to what was done for Skype by most smart-TV manufacturers, but the call-setup procedure can be simplified with the user operating their smartphone or tablet as the control surface for managing the call.

This could be invoked through techniques like DIAL (Discovery And Launch) that is used to permit mobile apps to discover large-screen “companion” apps on smart-TV or set-top devices in order to allow users to “throw” what they see on the mobile device to the large screen. As well, the connection to the user’s account could be managed through the use of a session-specific logical token established by the mobile device.

This concept can be taken further through the use of the TV screen as a display surface, typically for communications services’ messaging functions or to show incoming-call notifications.

Conclusion

What we still need to think of is to facilitate “dual-device” videocalling with the popular mobile platforms in order to simplify the task of establishing group videocalls using TVs and other large-screen display devices.

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