Commentary Archive

USB hubs and dedicated-function devices–issues that may be of concern

There are many of the USB hubs that allow multiple USB devices to be connected to the one USB port. As well, some devices like external hard disks and keyboards are being equipped with their own USB hubs.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer USB walk-up socket

USB sockets on printers like this Brother colour laser won’t easily support USB hub operation even if they have a use case for that application

The use of a USB hub is also used as an approach for creating multiple-function USB peripheral devices. Similarly, a device with multiple USB sockets for connecting peripheral devices would have the socket collection seen as a “root hub” if one controller chipset looks after that socket collection. It can also appeal to dedicated-function devices like routers, NAS devices, home entertainment or automotive infotainment setups offered in the aftermarket context where the manufacturer sees these devices as the hub of a system of devices.

USB hubs are divided between the “bus-powered” types powered by the host device and the “self-powered” types that have their own power-supply. The latter type can be a USB device like a printer or external hard disk that has its own power supply or a “bus-powered” USB hub that has a DC input socket for a power supply so it can become a “self-powered” hub.

Belkin USB hub

A typical USB hub which may cause problems with concurrently running multiple devices from a dedicated-function device

The idea of implementing a USB hub with a dedicated-function device can have a strong appeal with a variety of device types and combinations. For example, a router would implement a USB port for connecting a USB Mass-Storage Device like an external hard disk so it can become its own file server but also see this port for use with a USB mobile-broadband modem as a failover Internet-connection option. Or a business-grade printer which supports PIN-protected “secure job release” may use a keypad compliant to USB Human-Interface-Device specifications connected to its USB port which facilitates “walk-up” printing from a USB memory key. Even a Smart TV or set-top box may use the one USB port for viewing files from one or more Mass-Storage devices and / or work with a Webcam and a software client to be a group videophone terminal.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

USB sockets on consumer-electronics equipment may not properly support USB hubs

To the same extent, this could be about a setup involving a multifunction peripheral device. An example of this would be a USB keyboard with an integrated pointing device like a trackpad, trackball or thumbstick being connected to a games console or set-top box, with this setup allowing for the pointing device serving to navigate the user interface while the keyboard answers text-entry needs.

A problem that can occur with using USB hubs or hub-equipped USB peripherals with dedicated-function devices like printers, NAS devices or consumer-AV equipment is that such devices may not handle USB hubs consistently. For example, a USB keyboard that has a hub function may not be properly detected by a set-top box or games console.

This can happen due to a power limit placed on the host’s USB port, which can affect many devices connected behind a bus-powered USB hub. Or a very common reality is that the firmware for most dedicated-function devices is written to expect a single USB device having only one function to be connected to the device’s USB port.

What needs to happen is for a dedicated-function device to identify and enumerate each and every USB peripheral device it can properly support that is connected to its USB port whether directly or via a hub. This would be based on how much power is comfortably available across the USB bus whether provided by the host or downstream self-powered USB hubs. It is in addition to the device classes that are supported by the host device to fulfil its functions.

I previously touched on this issue in relationship to USB storage devices that contain multiple logical volumes being handled by dedicated-function devices. This was to address a USB memory key or external hard disk partitioned to multiple logical volumes, a multiple-slot memory-card adaptor presenting each slot as its own drive letter or devices that have fixed storage and removeable storage. There, I was raising how a printer or a stereo system with USB recording and playback could handles these USB devices properly.

Then the device may need to communicate error conditions concerning these setups. One of these would be a insufficient-power condition where there isn’t enough power available to comfortably run all the devices connected to the USB port via the hub. This may be with situations like external hard disks connected to the host device via a bus-powered hub along with other peripherals or a self-powered hub that degrades to bus-powered operation due to its “wall-wart” AC adaptor falling out of the power outlet or burning out. Here, such a status may be indicated through a flashing light on a limited-interface device like a router or a USB “too many devices” or “not enough power” message on devices that have displays.

If the USB bus exists with the hub in place but none of the connected devices are supported by the host’s firmware, you could see an error message with “unsupported devices” or “charging only” appear on the device. Otherwise, all supported devices would then be identified and enumerated no matter where they exist in the USB chain.

In this kind of situation, there would be an emphasis on using class-driver software for the various USB Device Classes that are relevant to the device’s functionality although there are some situations like USB modems may call for device-specific software support.

What would be essential for the USB hub or multifunction device to work properly with a dedicated-function device is that the device’s firmware has to support the USB Hub device class, including providing proper and consistent error handling. To the same extent, AC-powered devices like printers or home-entertainment equipment would need to provide a power output at its USB ports equivalent to what is offered with a regular desktop computer’s USB ports.

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How do I see the state of play with network-based multiroom audio?

Definitive Technologies W-Series multiroom soundbar – an example of one of these network multiroom speakers

Increasingly everyone in the consumer audio-visual industry are releasing multiroom audio platforms that work across a small network to share audio content through your house.

This typically is used as a way for these vendors to “bind” most of their network-capable audio-video products having them serve as an endpoint for music around the house. For some manufacturers, this functionality is seen as a way to differentiate their consumer-electronics product ranges.

Key functions offered by most network-based multiroom audio platforms

Each unit in a network-based multiroom audio platform can be one of many AV device classes. These cam be: a speaker system that plays out the audio content; an adaptor device that plays the audio content through another sound system that has its own amplification and speakers; or a network-capable amplifier that connects to a set of speakers.

The adaptor devices are often promoted as a way to bring an existing hi-fi in to the context of a multiroom audio setup, but you could use computer speakers or a 1980s-era boombox for the same effect. Similarly, network-capable amplifiers may be seen as a way to get existing speakers as part of a multiroom audio setup.

There are different variations on the theme with soundbars that are connected to a TV, or receivers and stereo systems that are capable of acting in their own right as a sound system but can be part of these multiroom setups, or subwoofers that connect to the home network but exist to add some “kick” to the sound played by other speakers in the setup.

These work on the premise of the speakers existing on the same logical network of a “home / small-business” network setup. That is where

  • the network is connected to one router that typically gives it access to Internet service,
  • Wi-Fi wireless segments are set up according to the WPA-Personal (shared passphrase) arrangement
  • members of a network are not isolated and can easily discover each other
  • and you are not using a Web-based login page to use the network.

This Def Tech device is an “on-ramp” digital media adaptor for a network-based multiroom audio setup

The speakers can be set up as members of a logical group that typically represents a room, with the ability to have multiple logical speaker groups on the same logical network. Under normal operation, all speakers of that group play the same audio stream synchronously. As well, the hardware and software works together to avoid jitter and other problems associated with moving synchronous time-dependent audio content across packet-based networks.

Some platforms allow the creation of a multichannel group where a speaker or speakers play a channel of a stereo or multichannel soundmix. Here, you could have one speaker play the left channel of a stereo soundmix while another speaker plays the right channel of that stereo mix. This has led to the creation of surround-sound setups with a soundbar or surround-capable stereo receiver playing the front channels of a surround soundmix while wireless speakers look after the surround channels and low-frequency effects of that mix.

Let’s not forget that some systems have the ability to use certain speakers to handle particular frequency ranges of the audio stream. The obvious case is to bring in a wireless subwoofer to provide that bit of extra bass punch to the music. But it could be to use full-range speaker systems with improved bass response to complement speakers that don’t have that kind of bass response. In this case, the full-range speaker may be allow frequency-level adjustability and you could set things up so that it puts more of its power behind the bass while the other speakers provide stronger localised treble response.

Yamaha R-N402 Natural Sound Network Stereo Receiver press picture courtesy of Yamaha Australia

Yamaha R-N402 Network Stereo Receiver – a MusicCast-based example of a stereo component that cam stream its own sources to a network multiroom system or play content from an online or multiroom source

You can adjust the sound levels for each output device individually or adjust them all as a group, The individual approach can appeal to “party-mode” arrangements where different speakers are in different rooms and is of benefit where you can adjust the sound level on the device itself; but the group approach comes in handy with multiple speakers in one room such as a multichannel setup.

All of these setups use a mobile-platform app supplied by the platform vendor as the control surface. But some of them allow some form of elementary control like programme selection or sound-level adjustment through controls on the device or its remote control. Let’s not forget that an increasing number of these platforms are being supported by interfaces for one or more voice-driven home assistants so you can tell Amazon Alexa to adjust the volume or play a particular source through the system.

Most of these platforms allow a device to have integrated programme sources or input connections for external equipment and stream what’s playing through these sources or inputs through one or more other speakers. The applications put forward include to play the TV sound from a connected TV in the living room through a speaker in the kitchen or to have the music on a CD playing on the stereo system’s CD player coming through a speaker in the bedroom.

A party context for this feature could include connecting an audio adaptor with a line-level input to the DJ’s mixer output in parallel with his PA amplifier and speakers serving the dance-floor area. Then you “extend” the party sound that the DJ creates in to the other rooms using other wireless speakers / audio adaptors based on that same platform with each output device working at a level appropriate to the area each speaker or adaptor-equipped sound system is used in. Here, the multiroom audio setup can make it easy to provide “right-sized” amplification for other areas at the venue.

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

The Denon HEOS multiroom speakers – a typical example of network-based multiroom devices

Increasingly, most of these platforms are being geared towards taking advantage of your home network to reproduce master-grade audio content recorded at the different speakers. Initially this was to cater towards file-based audio content sourced from online “download-to-own” music storefronts who cater to audiophiles but is catering towards high-quality streaming-music services. It also is a way to stream audio content from analogue sources such as your vinyl record collection across your home network without losing sound quality in the process.

The current limitations with these systems

The multiroom-audio platforms are created by the audio-equipment manufacturers or, in some cases, the companies who are behind the hardware chipsets used in these devices. Only one platform, namely DTS PlayFi, is created by a company who isn’t developing particular chipsets or equipment.

Here, this leads effectively to balkanisation of the network-based multiroom audio marketplace where you have to be sure all your equipment is part of one platform for it to work correctly. You may be able to work around this problem through connecting one unit from one platform to another unit belonging to another platform using a line-level, digital or Bluetooth connection, then juggling between two different mobile-platform apps to control the system.

What needs to happen?

As this product function evolves, there needs to be room to improve.

Firstly, there needs to be the ability for one to establish a network-based multiroom setup using devices based on different platforms. This would require creating and maintaining industry-wide standards and specifications under an umbrella “multiroom AV platform” that all the manufacturers can implement, in a similar way to HDMI-CEC equipment control via HDMI. The Wi-Fi Alliance have taken steps towards this by developing Wi-Fi TimeSync as a standards-based approach towards achieving audio synchronisation across Wi-Fi-based devices. Qualcomm is wanting to push the AllPlay

It would also be about identifying and creating multichannel audio setups that can work appropriately. In the case of a stereo setup, this would require the speakers to have the same output level and frequency response for a proper stereo pair. A surround setup would work with speakers that are part of a “pair” in the Front, Surround or Back (7.1 setups) having the same output level and frequency response. To the same extent, it could be about adding a subwoofer to speakers that can only handle the middle and higher frequencies.

Manufacturers also have to underscore whether these systems can work across any network segment types present in a home network including handling networks that are comprised of multiple segments. This can cater to wireless networks implementing either an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone, or one of the newer distributed-Wi-Fi networks. A few multiroom audio platforms have achieved this goal through the supply of equipment, typically stereo systems and adaptor devices, that uses Ethernet connectivity as well as Wi-Fi connectivity.

There is also the issue of allowing for network-based multiroom audio setups to have a high number of endpoint devices even on a typical home network. Here it is about how much can be handled across the typical network’s bandwidth especially if the network and devices implement up-to-date high-bandwidth technology.

This is important if one considers implementing one or more multichannel groups or use wireless subwoofers in every group for that bit of extra bass. It also is important where someone may want to run two or more logical groups at once with each logical group running the same or a different local or online content source.

Some manufacturers may determine device limits based on the number of logical groups that can be created. But I would still like to do away with placing an artificial ceiling on how large one can have their multiroom audio setup, with the only limit being the effective bandwidth available to the home network.

Conclusion

The network-based multiroom audio technology is showing some signs of maturity but a lot more effort needs to take place to assure a level playing field for consumers who want to implement such setups.

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The trends affecting personal-computer graphics infrastructure

Article

AMD Ryzen CPUs with integrated Vega graphics are great for budget-friendly PC gaming | Windows Central

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

Highly-portable computers of the same ilk as the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 will end up with highly-capable graphics infrastructure

A major change that will affect personal-computer graphics subsystems is that those subsystems that have a highly-capable graphics processor “wired-in” on the motherboard will be offering affordable graphics performance for games and multimedia.

One of the reasons is that graphics subsystems that are delivered as an expansion card are becoming very pricey, even ethereally expensive, thanks to the Bitcoin gold rush. This is because the GPUs (graphics processors) on the expansion cards are being used simply as dedicated computational processors that are for mining Bitcoin. This situation is placing higher-performance graphics out of the reach of most home and business computer users who want to benefit from this feature for work or play.

But the reality is that we will be asking our computers’ graphics infrastructure to realise images that have a resolution of 4K or more with high colour depths and dynamic range on at least one screen. There will even be the reality that everyone will be dabbling in games or advanced graphics work at some point in their computing lives and even expecting a highly-portable or highly-compact computer to perform this job.

Integrated graphics processors as powerful as economy discrete graphics infrastructure

One of the directions Intel is taking is to design their own integrated graphics processors that use the host computer’s main RAM memory but have these able to serve with the equivalent performance of a baseline dedicated graphics processor that uses its own memory. It is also taking advantage of the fact that most recent computers are being loaded with at least 4Gb system RAM, if not 8Gb or 16Gb. This is to support power economy when a laptop is powered by its own battery, but these processors can even support some casual gaming or graphics tasks.

Discrete graphics processors on the same chip die as the computer’s main processor

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

This Intel CPU+GPU chipset will be the kind of graphics infrastructure for portable or compact enthusiast-grade or multimedia-grade computers

Another direction that Intel and AMD are taking is to integrate a discrete graphics subsystem on the same chip die (piece of silicon) as the CPU i.e. the computer’s central “brain” to provide “enthusiast-class” or “multimedia-class” graphics in a relatively compact form factor. It is also about not yielding extra heat nor about drawing on too much power. These features are making it appeal towards laptops, all-in-one computers and low-profile desktops such as the ultra-small “Next Unit of Computing” or consumer / small-business desktop computers, where it is desirable to have silent operation and highly-compact housings.

Both CPU vendors are implementing AMD’s Radeon Vega graphics technology on the same die as some of their CPU designs.

Interest in separate-chip discrete graphics infrastructure

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop – the kind of computer that will maintain traditional soldered-on discrete graphics infrastructure

There is still an interest in discrete graphics infrastructure that uses its own silicon but soldered to the motherboard. NVIDIA and AMD, especially the former, are offering this kind of infrastructure as a high-performance option for gaming laptops and compact high-performance desktop systems; along with high-performance motherboards for own-build high-performance computer projects such as “gaming rigs”. The latter case would typify a situation where one would build the computer with one of these motherboards but install a newer better-performing graphics card at a later date.

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

This same option is also being offered as part of the external graphics modules that are being facilitated thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C interface. The appeal of these modules is that a highly-portable or highly-compact computer can benefit from better graphics at a later date thanks to one plugging in one of these modules. Portable-computer users can benefit from the idea of working with high-performance graphics where they use it most but keep the computer lightweight when on the road.

Graphics processor selection in the operating system

For those computers that implement multiple graphics processors, Microsoft making it easier to determine which graphics processor an application is to use with the view of allowing the user to select whether the application should work in a performance or power-economy mode. This feature is destined for the next major iteration of Windows 10.

Here, it avoids the issues associated with NVIDIA Optimus and similar multi-GPU-management technologies where this feature is managed with an awkward user interface. They are even making sure that a user who runs external graphics modules has that same level of control as one who is running a system with two graphics processors on the motherboard.

What I see now is an effort by the computer-hardware industry to make graphics infrastructure for highly-compact or highly-portable computers offer similar levels of performance to baseline or mid-tier graphics infrastructure available to traditional desktop computer setups.

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Delivery-consignment storage to be part of the floorplan

House in Toorak

How is online delivery going to be handled securely when no-one’s at home?

Most of us who buy goods on the Internet are likely to run in to situations where they miss a parcel delivery due to, for example, no-one being at home. This includes situations with families that have teenagers that arrive home earlier than the parents and it is desirable that adults sign for packages that have been delivered.

This can also extend to situations where you need to have a courier collect goods from your place, something I have had to do every time I have finished with review-sample products where I return them to the distributor or PR agency. But it would also apply when you have to return unwanted merchandise to an online retailer or send faulty equipment to a workshop to be repaired, or simply to use a messenger service to run printed documents from your home office to a business partner. Here, you have to make sure someone you trust is at home looking after the consignment until the courier arrives to collect it.

Intercom panel with codepad

These systems may need to be modified to support secure unattended parcel delivery

There has been recent Internet discussion about the Amazon Key product which is a smart-lock ecosystem that allows Amazon couriers to drop off your orders inside your home after you confirm with them that they have your order. The constant issue that was raised was the fact that courier could wander around your home unsupervised after they drop off the order, thus being a threat to your privacy and home security.

But this may raise certain architectural requirements and possibilities to cater for the rise of online deliveries. These requirements and possibilities are about creating secure on-premises storage for these consignments that have been delivered or are to be collected by a courier while you are absent. It is also about making sure that the courier cannot enter your home unsupervised under the guise of dropping off or picking up a consignment.

They will affect how homes are designed whether as a new-build development or as a renovation effort and will affect how apartment blocks and similar developments are designed. It is very similar to the use of specially-installed lock-boxes to keep front-gate or meter-box keys that are only opened by the utility’s meter reader with a special master key when they read your utility-service meter.

Architectural requirements

One of these could be a cabinet or small storeroom located towards the front of your home and used primarily for storage of delivered goods. Of course, you may use these spaces to store items like clean-up tools or solid fuel. Some householders may see a garage or a shed also serve this same purpose.

An alternative would be to implement a small vestibule or porch enclosure with an inner front door and outer front door, Here, these spaces would be secured with a smart lock or access-control system that ties in with secure consignment-drop-off arrangements like what Amazon proposes.

In the case of a vestibule, the inner entry door that leads to the rest of the house would be secured under the control of the household and not be part of these arrangements. This also applies to arrangements where the vestibule opens to other rooms like a home office.

Apartment block in Elwood

Multi-dwelling units like apartment blocks may have to have luggage-locker storage facilities for unattended parcels

For multi-dwelling developments, this could be achieved through the use of a storage facility similar to a cluster of luggage lockers. Here, one or more lockers are shared amongst different apartments on an as-needed basis. In these buildings, they would be located close to or within the mail-room or as a separate storeroom. For those buildings that have multiple entry vestibules for different apartment clusters, it may be plausible to have a group of parcel-delivery lockers in each vestibule.

If your property has a front gate that is normally locked, you may have to use a smart lock or access-control system compliant with the abovementioned secure consignment drop-off arrangements on that gate.

Security requirements for these spaces

All these arrangements would be dependent on a smart lock or access-control system that ties in with the couriers’ or online-delivery platforms’ ecosystems and would be used when you aren’t at home. Such systems would be dependent on consignment numbers that are part of consignment notes or delivery dockets, along with the recipient being notified by the courier of the pending delivery.

But you would be able to have access to these spaces using your own code, card or access token held on your smartphone as expected for all smart-lock setups.

Integration with the courier’s workflow

Such setups would require the household to register them with an online-shopping platform or a courier / messenger platform operated by the incumbent post-office or an industry association. Here, the household would notify whereabouts the secure storage space is on their property

Product delivery

Typically, when you receive a delivery, the courier would ring the doorbell and find that no-one is at home. Or the door is answered by a child and the standing arrangement regarding the chain of custody for deliveries is for the parcel to be received and signed for by a responsible adult.

In this situation, the courier would have to enter details on their handheld terminal about no-one being home. You would then be contacted by email, text messaging or a similar platform regarding the pending delivery and then you use the platform’s companion mobile app or Website to authorise the drop-off of your consignment in the safe storage space.

Then the courier would receive a one-shot authority code which they use to unlock the storage space so they can lodge your parcel there. Once they have delivered the parcel, you would be notified that the parcel is waiting for collection. You would then use your keycode to open up that space to collect your goods when you arrive.

Product collection

There are also times where we require a courier to collect goods from us. This can be situations ranging from returned merchandise, through equipment being collected for repairs, to sending goods out as gifts. In these situations, a responsible adult may not be home to hand over the item and you don’t want to wait around at home or co-ordinate a pickup time for the consignment.

Here, you would organise the consignment paperwork with the courier or the recipient organisation if they are organising the pickup. As part of this, you would receive a consignment number as part of the consignment note, returned-merchandise authorisation or similar document.

Then you would place the goods in the storage space and make sure this is locked. Subsequently you would enter the consignment number in to the smart lock or platform app on your phone or computer. This consignment number works as a one-shot authority code for the courier to open the secure storage space.

When the courier arrives to collect the consignment, they would enter the consignment number in the smart lock to open the storage space in order to collect the goods. Once they have collected the goods, they then lock up the storage space before heading onwards with the consignment. You would then be notified that they have collected the consignment, with the ability to track that parcel as it is on its way.

Issues that need to be raised

Access to a competitive online-retail or parcel-delivery marketplace

It can be easy to bind an unattended-delivery secure-storage platform to an incumbent postal service (including a courier service owned by or a partner with one of these services), or a dominant online retailer like Amazon.

This ends up as a way for the incumbent postal service or dominant online retailer to effectively “own” the online-retail or parcel-delivery marketplace by providing more infrastructure exclusive to their platform. It can also expose antitrust / competitive-access issues where other courier firms or online retailers can’t gain access to self-service unattended-delivery arrangements.

This issue can be answered either through an app-based approach that works with the smart-home / Internet-of-Things ecosystem to interlink with IT systems associated with the goods-delivery industry; or a common platform adopted by the courier / messenger and online-retail industry that integrates unattended-delivery storage as part of the workflow.

Similarly, these systems need to have a level of flexibility such as being able to work with multiple smart locks on the one property. This would be to facilitate a locked gate and / or two or more storage spaces such as a trunk-style cabinet for small items and a larger storeroom for larger consignments; or to provide a private storage space for each dwelling on that property such as a house converted to apartments.

Conclusion

The online retail marketplace has brought about a discussion regarding management and secure storage of consignments that are delivered to unattended addresses.

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Audio–Video Newscasts On Demand–Could this be real

Kogan Internet table radio

Traditional radio and TV broadcasters could augment their newscasts by having them on-demand

A question that can be raised in the online era is whether radio and TV broadcasters need to place their latest newscasts “on demand” alongside running them at the appointed times.

This is to encourage us to find relevance for traditional broadcast media in an age where the preferred source for information and entertainment is from online media services including social media. It is also about finding ways where traditional public-service and commercial broadcast media can maintain their influence in an age where Silicon Valley is obtaining more clout.

The typical newscast situation as it stands

What typically happens with radio is that most stations will ordinarily run a short-form newscast of up to five minutes long on the hour. Some of them even run an additional newscast on the half-hour during the breakfast programme as people are getting ready for work. It doesn’t matter whether the radio station serves as an informer like the talk-based stations or as an entertainer like music-based stations. Some stations who don’t have their own news-gathering team usually syndicate another station’s short-form newscasts to keep their listeners up to date with the news.

For TV, the traditional broadcasters, especially free-to-air broadcasters, frequently run regular short-form news updates, commonly known as “newsbreaks”, inserted between programmes or during commercial breaks. They are typically used to announce breaking news or updated news items or provide a succinct overview of what’s going on. This is in addition to the main long-form half-hour news bulletins run during breakfast, midday, early afternoon, early evening (which is TV’s prime time) and late evening.

Some of these stations may run dedicated newsbreaks focused on particular themes like local weather or financial / business news. The TV stations who advertise on local radio during the afternoon drive-time programme are more likely to run an audio equivalent of a newsbreak as their commercial for that daypart in order to create public interest for their main evening news bulletin.

Let’s not forget that all these broadcasters will run newsflashes, even interrupting regular programming, when there is significant breaking news.

The current way we consume media

But we are living in an environment where we rely on on-demand entertainment like Spotify, podcasts, Netflix and catch-up TV services. We even end up in an environment where sports is the only reason for watching or listening to linear real-time broadcast content. Similarly, some of us use PVRs to record TV shows and may find ourselves with “banked up” TV-show collections on these devices especially if we travel or not watch any TV for a while.

But most radio and TV stations’ Websites provide news clips for each of the news items that occur through the day, more as a way to allow people to learn more about particular events or share them on blogs or the Social Web. This is based on the “portal” idea that was started when the Web cam in to the mainstream and these broadcasters wanted to augment their daily broadcasts with a Web-based newspaper.

How can radio and TV news fit in with today’s media habits?

Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar platforms could be used to summon the latest news

But having the latest radio and TV news available in an on-demand context can earn its keep with a significant number of use cases.

For example, a short-form newscast like a radio news bulletin or TV “newsbreak” could earn its keep with a voice-driven home assistant where you could ask for the latest news. In this case, you could say “Hi Alexa, what is the latest news from the ABC?” and you would hear the latest local ABC Radio newscast together with the ABC’s newscast signature tune we have loved. If you are dealing with a voice-driven home-assistant device equipped with a screen like Amazon Echo Home, you could ask the voice assistant for the latest news from a TV station like the Seven Network whereupon you would see the latest newsbreak. In those situations where you have separate short-form newscasts for finance, sport, weather and other topics, it could be feasible to ask the voice assistant for one of these newscasts.

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Even a device like Amazon Echo Show could run the latest TV “newsbreak”

Similarly, a podcast or music player app could support the insertion of short-form news bulletins between podcasts or between tracks after a certain time has passed. A TV network having the latest newsbreaks online through their catch-up TV services or through YouTube can allow users to “pull up” short-form news content as required.

There could be the ability to draw down that long-form prime-time TV news bulletin via a “catch-up” TV service so one can catch up with the day’s news at a time they see fit. Even offering an audio-only version of one of these bulletins could earn its keep with a range of users like vision-impaired people or drivers.

What can broadcasters do?

Most broadcasters and networks don’t have to do anything with the news content that they make available through their channels. They simply have to keep the recordings of short-form and long-form news bulletins available and indexed according to time of publication.

Radio stations can even record the bulletins that are not normally recorded like traffic bulletins to provide an experience similar to what Blaupunkt achieved with their Traffic Information Memo feature on some of their 1990s-era car radios. This was where the car radio would operate in a standby mode for three hours when the car is parked and record traffic bulletins as they come through from the last-tuned radio source. It relied upon established standards commonplace in Europe for providing machine-to-machine signalling for these broadcasts, namely the RDS system. Then the driver would be able to press a blue “TIM” button to hear the last four traffic bulletins that were recorded.

This can be facilitated in a manner similar to what happens with podcasts where the latest content is available through an RSS Webfeed. Most talk stations would be familiar with this practice when they make their shows available as podcasts or for syndication to other stations. But they also need to keep their “branding” alive with these newscasts like maintaining the use of their news signature tunes at the start of each bulletin so people know they are dealing with their favourite broadcasters. Let’s not forget that a single URL should then be used to provide a Weblink to the latest news bulletin for the various voice-driven-home-assistant skills, mobile apps and the like to locate that resource.

The idea could be augmented by having a standard metadata flag for RSS Webfeeds containing audio or video content like podcasts that represents the fact that the feeds are news bulletins. Here, it could allow “podcatcher” and similar software to treat them as a news bulletin then retain and play just the latest newscast. As well, if the software has always-live Internet access, it could make sure it’s always up to date with the latest news bulletins that the user wants.

As well, broadcasters and allied organisations can create “skills” for voice-driven home assistants along with “channels” for on-demand video services. It can extend to linking them to standard application-programming interfaces to facilitate “news-on-demand” apps and services.

There has been some investigation by online media providers, especially those who have advertising in their business model to permit free or freemium access like Spotify or YouTube to allow the insertion of newscasts in online-advertising spaces. Similarly, providing it as an optional service or “channel” on a streaming service is being seen as a way to add value to these services.

But this kind of application especially where newscasts are inserted in to a playlist could be seen as heretical by the Millennial generation who want to break away from traditional broadcast media and the methods they use. This is although having the latest radio and TV newscasts on demand through various mechanisms is really about mass customisation.

Conclusion

What will be required of traditional radio and TV broadcasters who maintain a strong profile with their newscasts is to “think outside the box” with how they are used. This means being able to take them further and integrate them with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant & co; or effectively have them as part of “custom-content” strategies.

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Video peripherals increasingly offering audio-output abilities

Article

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

Newer iterations of the XBox One to have connectivity for WISA-compliant speakers

Wireless speaker support could be coming to Xbox One consoles | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing trend for video-peripheral devices like set-top boxes and games consoles is to offer an ability to connect speakers or headphones directly to these devices even though these devices are normally seen as video source devices. This goes against the conventional wisdom of a TV, soundbar and / or home-theatre receiver serving as the audio destination device for a home AV setup.

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

But what of Smart TVs being able to pass audio to these devices?

For example, Humax are offering a Bluetooth A2DP audio output on their premium PVRs so that the soundtrack from whatever you are watching on the PVR’s “current” tuner or hard disk can be fed through a Bluetooth headset or speaker. Just lately, Microsoft partnered up with the WISA Association to provide wireless-speaker output through WISA-compliant speakers from subsequent XBox games-console designs.

Let’s not forget that some soundbars and audio amplifiers are equipped with one HDMI-ARC connection for the TV and don’t add a video source to the home AV setup. The same situation also encompasses a large number of popularly-priced DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that only have one HDMI-ARC connection for the host TV as the only way to connect video equipment to these systems.

The limitation that is being shown up here is that you can’t stream the soundtrack of video content through the speakers or headphones connected through these devices’ Bluetooth or wireless-speaker outputs unless you are viewing the content hosted by the device itself. Or you may find it difficult to watch what you want yet hear it in the manner that suits the situation such as via headphones or a better speaker setup.

This is very similar to the old practice of connecting a video recorder’s audio output to a hi-fi amplifier to pipe the sound from either a TV broadcast or a videotape through the better-sounding hi-fi speakers.  There were even some video recorders that had their own headphone amplifiers or users simply connected them to hi-fi amplifiers or similar devices with integrated headphone outputs in order to add private or late-night listening abilities to that TV which wasn’t equipped with a headphone output. In that case, you only had access to the video recorder’s tuner or its tape transport through the hi-fi system with the video recorder offering some advantages over what was integrated in that old TV.

It may not be seen as a limitation except if a video peripheral connected to the TV or the TV’s own abilities provide content different to what is available in the “speaker-ability”-equipped video peripheral.

But what can be done to improve upon this reality would be for TV and video-peripheral manufacturers to answer this trend in an improved way.

Use of HDMI-ARC input functionality for host-TV audio

One way would be for the video-peripheral vendors who provide this kind of Bluetooth / WISA or similar “speaker output” ability to implement HDMI-ARC connectivity on their device’s HDMI output socket. It is very similar to the approach used by a popularly-priced DVD or Blu-Ray home-theatre system which only has one HDMI socket,

This means that if the device is connected to the ARC-capable HDMI socket on the TV, it can stream the sound from the TV’s own tuner, “connected-TV” functionality or video peripherals connected to the other HDMI inputs on the TV through this device’s “speaker output”.

Here, you may have to use the device’s controller to select “TV audio” to hear the sound associated with the TV’s sources through the Bluetooth speaker for example. But some TVs that implement this system properly may offer an “audio output” option on the audio menu so you can direct the sound to the audio-capable device by selecting that device rather than the TV’s internal speakers.

The TV to support multiple HDMI-ARC video peripherals

A TV could also implement HDMI-ARC across multiple HDMI sockets to cater for multiple video peripherals that support this functionality. It would come in to its own where different video peripherals use different connection methods for audio devices or you use a soundbar or home theatre setup equipped with a single HDMI connection alongside one of these video peripherals.

Here, you would have the ability to direct the sound to one or more of the HDMI-ARC devices instead of or in addition to the integral speakers.

The first application that one may think of would be to provide late-night private listening using a pair of Bluetooth headphones connected to a cable box, or to switch to WISA-capable speakers connected to a newer XBOX rather than hear the sound through the TV’s speakers. On the other hand, the setup could allow the concurrent operation of multiple audio outputs such as to use a Bluetooth headset connected via a cable box and run at an independent volume level for someone who is hard of hearing while everyone else in the room hears the TV content through the TV’s or home-theatre’s speakers.

In both situations, it would be desirable to hear whatever source is connected to the TV such as a Blu-Ray player or a network media player through the Bluetooth headphones connected via the Bluetooth-capable cable TV box.

How should the digital audio be delivered?

A question that can be raised is how the digital audio is to be delivered to the different HDMI-ARC devices.

This can affect whether to run a stereo or surround soundmix for the content’s soundtrack; whether the soundtrack should be delivered as a Dolby Digital / DTS bitstream that the HDMI-ARC audio device decodes or as a PCM bitstream already decoded by the TV or source video peripheral; or simply whether to stay within the “CD/DAT-quality” digital parameters (16 bit 44.1kHz or 48kHz sampling rate) or allow “master-grade” digital parameters (24 bit 96kHz or 192kHz sampling rate).

This situation may be determined by the destination audio device’s abilities such as whether it can decode Dolby Digital or DTS audio or if it can handle digital audio at “master-grade” bitrates. Similarly, it may also be about achieving a common specification for all of the connected devices, including whether and how to concurrently provide multiple audio streams for the same content such as to offer a two-channel soundmix and a multichannel soundmix.

This can lead to situations like supplying multiple soundmixes of a kind via HDMI-ARC in order to make situations like multilingual audio, audio description or selectable commentary work well for different viewers. Similarly, it could be feasible to offer a “surround via headphones” binaural soundmix like Dolby Headphone to Bluetooth headsets connected to a cable box while offering a full surround soundmix through a multiple-speaker home theatre setup.

Conclusion

What will eventually be raised is what can be achieved at a common baseline specification, including issues of processing power and HDMI bandwidth that the setup can handle. This is especially if a device like a games console or set-top box is working as a content source and audio sink while the TV works as an audio “hub”.

It is more so where we are expecting that flat-screen TV, especially one installed in a secondary lounge area, being required to become an AV hub for all of the video peripherals that are connected to it.

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How about enabling multilingual search in the main search engines

There are those of us who are proficient in two or more languages or are wanting to become so. This is due to countries like Canada, Belgium or Switzerland or even parts of countries like the South West USA that are inherently or officially multilingual.

It also extends to societies that maintain a multicultural character; as well as people who are setting themselves about to learn languages in addition to their native one. In some societies, a desire to work across multiple languages has been enhanced through activities like the increased viewership of subtitled foreign-language film and TV content like European thrillers or Nordic Noir; or particular cultures bestowing attention to particular countries such as the gamer culture’s obsession with Japan being known for manga / anime and fast cars.

The current problem

But using Google or similar search engines may become awkward for those of us who are or want to be multilingual. Typically, you have to know a concept in a particular language if you want to see the results in resources based in that language and you only see those resources. But if you are multilingual, you may want to see the resources in the languages you are familiar with, even if you type the search terms in one of the languages you are familiar with.

What needs to happen is for a search engine to implement “on-the-fly” translation of search phrases from one source language to a multiplicity of user-chosen target languages. Then the search engine would show the resources that are natively written in the target languages.

At the moment, most search engines can work across dialects of the same language such as to understand American or British English, showing resources in either dialect.

Questions that can be raised concerning this idea would be to assure a grammatically-accurate translation of the source search terms, including where there are multiple equivalents specific to that language.

Handling language peculiarities

There are situations where source and target languages maintain particular peculiarities when referring to some concepts or objects.

An example of this would be a reference to the lightweight commercial vehicles which are described as a van if they are enclosed or a pickup truck in most of the English-speaking world or a “ute” in Australia and New Zealand in the case of those with an open tray. But the French refer to these vehicles as either a “camionnette” or a “fourgonnette” while the Germans would use “Lieferwagen”, “Kastenwagen” or “Transporter” for a van for example.

Similarly, there are loanwords that are used across multiple languages to mean the same thing although some languages like French cut back on the use of these loanwords to maintain language purity. It may be preferred to use the loanwords or the language-specific equivalents or both as search terms for searching within a particular language. The same issue can also apply to proper nouns where there isn’t a language-specific equivalent such as place names, trademarks or business names.

There is also the issue with some Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese which use different writing styles. This can cause problems if search terms are provided in one writing style but you are confident in using the other writing styles offered by that language and want to see resources offered in those styles.

Handling multilingual resources

As for showing results, some Web resources, typically resources written by organisations in or targeting multi-lingual areas, tend to provide resources in multiple languages. This practice has been encouraged in Europe since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty which underscores the Single European Market under the banner of the “Are you ready for 1992”. This approach may be through a translation process that the author implements as part of their editorial workflow or some end-users simply “pipe” the resource through a site-wide machine-translation resource when they view the site.

A situation that can come up with some multilingual Websites is that the site carries more comprehensive information in the site’s native language or a few other languages than in the other languages. Or if the site is targeted to multiple countries like all of the European Union’s resources, the translations may be deeply localised such as to refer to governmental workflows specific to that country.

A search engine could allow the user to set preferences for multilingual searches such as preferred languages and / or language priority. This would mean that the user would see the results from resources written in the languages they specify; along with the ability to have certain languages appear first. The language priority could be fixed by the user or be determined by the search engine if the user supplies the search expression in a language-specific form. But if a resource carries translations, the user could see results from that resource in the highest-priority translation first plus a reference to their other chosen translations.

Similarly, a search engine could compare the amount of information that is available in multilingual versions of the same resource to identify language peculiarity or content richness.

User preferences concerning multilingual search

A search engine that implements individual user preferences such as being linked to a user account could implement a set of preferences for multilingual search.

This could be through a list of languages that the user knows so as to prioritise resources in those languages. Similarly, a user could determine whether to place a multilingual resource’s native language as a higher priority over the translations.

Providing a multilingual results list

A multilingual results list could have each native language as a sorting or grouping factor when ordering the results. It may also allow results that come from a multilingual resource to be identified as appearing in the chosen languages.

To cater for multilingual resources where there is a differing level of comprehensiveness amongst the languages. the user interface could identify which languages have more comprehensive results. It can also be used to call out translations that underscore area-specific terminology or colloquialisms.

Catering to language learners

Some users who are learning a language may want a multilingual search interface to provide features conducive to this task.

This may include the ability to show their “home” language under foreign-language headlines in a search list using a different typeface so they can build their vocabulary up for example. Some user interfaces like the traditional mouse-based interface or a touch-based interface that allows the user to dwell for more options may allow for a “pop-up” or similar translation. This can also apply to languages that implement an intermediary phonetic script along with one or more different written scripts.

An augmentation that can work with text-to-speech setups may allow for the user to have all or part of a foreign language read aloud. This could permit them to hear how the word is pronounced in the context of the sentence.

Conclusion

What needs to be provided with a multilingual search option is to accept searches in multiple languages and to show resources that are native to different languages in a search-results page.

It also includes dealing with multilingual resources including resources that are focused towards a few languages along with supporting a multilingual user’s preferences.

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iTunes downgrade to permit tethered iOS app deployment–Apple could do better here

Article

iTunes Store

iTunes losing its ability to install software to iOS devices from version 12.7 onwards

Apple Releases New iTunes 12.7, What You Should Know | AppleToolbox.com

My Comments

An issue that will face iOS device users who make use of the iTunes desktop media-management applications is that starting from iTunes 12.7 onwards, they won’t be able to upload iOS apps from their regular computer to their iOS mobile device in a tethered manner using this software. This is in addition to omitting the iOS App Store from the iTunes Store shopfront integrated in iTunes. It is also part of a direction that Apple is enforcing with iOS where you manage your iPhone or iPad from its screen and update its software “over the air”.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Apple could still provide desktop management of their iOS devices through separately downloadable software

Tethering is where you connect a computing device that can normally function alone to another computing device, typically a regular computer, by a wired connection. This is typically to allow a smartphone to be a modem for a regular computer or to transfer data stored on one device to the other device. In this case, it is to transfer iOS apps stored on your regular computer running macOS or Windows to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that you have connected to the computer.

But there are people who use a Mac or Windows regular computer to deploy iOS software to iPhones and iPads. For example, in your business or household, you may want to deploy the same app to multiple iOS devices and want to save bandwidth by caching the app to your regular computer’s hard disk then deploying the same app by tethering each iOS device to your regular computer. As well, some of us may use this as a way to get around a dodgy Internet connection by downloading to a laptop used at a location with known-to-be-good Internet service then deploying where it’s more convenient.

Apple offered a make-do update for iTunes by offering the iTunes 12.6.3 software. This has the feature set associated with iTunes 12.6 including access to the iOS App Store and tethered app deployment for iOS devices. But it has under-hood improvements which allow it to work with iOS devices that are running iOS 11 or newer versions. This is alongside iTunes 12.7 which is focused as a media-management tool and iTunes media storefront.

Personally, I would like to see Apple approach this situation in a better manner for both the Mac OS and Windows operating systems. This would be in the form of a separately-installable “iOS-desktop-manager” program that provides add-on functionality to either the Mac OS operating system for Macintosh computers or to the iTunes Windows port. It would at least provide desktop access to the iOS App Store along with tethered app deployment for iOS devices.

As well, the “iOS-desktop-manager” program could provide device backup and management abilities so you could do things like backup an iPhone or reset a faltering iPod Touch. This is more so where the Wi-Fi or wireless-broadband modem in an iOS device or its network connection can be a point of failure and it isn’t realistic to restore from an iCloud backup if the iOS device’s Wi-Fi is so slow or intermittent.  Similarly, using something like your local backup infrastructure such as your NAS or a USB external hard disk of your own means that you aren’t necessarily ceding control of your mobile-created data to others, something that can be of importance when it comes to privacy.

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Europeans could compete with Silicon Valley when offering online services

Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsVery often I have read articles from European sources about the Silicon Valley companies not respecting European values like privacy. This ends up with the European Commission taking legal action against the powerful Silicon Valley tech kings like Facebook or Google, ending up with placing requirements or levying fines on these companies.

But what can Europe also do to resolve these issues?

They could encourage European-based companies to work on Internet services like Web-search, social networking, file storage and the like that compete with what Silicon Valley offers. But what they offer can be about services that respect European personal and business values like democracy, privacy and transparency.

There has been some success in this field in the aerospace industry with Airbus rising up to challenge Boeing. This was more evident with Airbus releasing the A380 high-capacity double-decker long-haul jet and Boeing offering the 787 Dreamliner jet that was focused on saving energy. Let’s not forget the rise of Arianespace in France who established a competing space program to what NASA offered.

But why are the Europeans concerned about Silicon Valley’s behaviour? Part of it is to do with Continental Europe’s darkest time in modern history where there was the rise of the Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin dictatorships, underscored by Hitler’s Germany taking over significant areas in France and Eastern Europe before the Second World War. This was followed up with the Cold War where most of Eastern Europe was effectively a group of communist dictatorships loyal to the Soviet Union. In both these situations, the affected countries were run as police states where their national security services were conducting mass surveillance at the behest of the country’s dictator.

There are a few of these businesses putting themselves on the map. Of course we known that Spotify, the main worldwide online jukebox, is based in Sweden. But Sweden, the land of ABBA, Volvo, IKEA, Electrolux and  Assa Abloy, also has CloudMe, a cloud-based file-storage service on their soil. It is also alongside SoundCloud, the go-to audio-content server for Internet-based talent, which is based in Germany. The French also put their foot in the IoT space with a smart lock retrofit kit that has Web management with its server based in France.

A few search engines are setting up shop in Europe with Unbubble.eu (German) and StartPage (Dutch) metasearch engines in operation and Qwant and Findx search engines that create their own indexes. But the gaps that I have noticed here is the existence of a social network or display ad platform that are based in Europe and support the European personal and business values.

There are also the issues associated with competing heavily against the Silicon Valley giants, such as establishing presence in the European or global market and defining your brand. Here, they would have to identify those people and businesses in Europe and the world who place emphasis on the distinct European values and know how to effectively compete against the established brands.

The European Commission could help companies competing with the Silicon Valley IT establishment by providing information and other aid along with providing a list of European-based companies who can compete with this establishment. They could also underpin research and development efforts for these companies who want to innovate in a competitive field. It can also include the ability for multiple companies in the IT, consumer-electronics and allied fields to work towards establishing services that can have a stronger market presence and compete effectively with Silicon Valley.

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Supporting hubs and repeaters in the Thunderbolt 3 standard

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port on Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

The same connector being used for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C may lead to confusion in more sophisticated setups

Increasingly Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 very-high-speed data connection standard has come on the scene as a product differentiator for computer products.

This standard works over the USB-C physical connection, thus allowing for a logical Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C data transfer setup.

But USB-C, like the preceding USB connection standards allows for a “tree-like” connection from the host computer device. This is facilitated through self-powered or bus-powered hubs which allow multiple device to be effectively connected to the same physical connection on the host computer or previous hub, subject to certain conditions like power budget.

On the other hand, the Thunderbolt connections can only be connected in a “daisy-chain” manner where only one device can be connected to another. This is also limited by the fact that you can only have six devices connected in a Thunderbolt data bus.

A situation that can easily crop up with the Thunderbolt 3 connection is the fact that there could be an expectation to run a connection setup for multiple devices in a “tree-like” approach. This is along with an expectation to have more than six devices on a Thunderbolt 3 data bus. It is aggravated through some of the devices that have their own power supplies being expected to be USB hubs along with these devices being equipped with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connections.

The classic example would be a Thunderbolt 3 RAID direct-attached-storage array along with an external GPU module and, perhaps, a Thunderbolt 3 dock (expansion module) as part of a workstation setup.

But there can be the desire to hang off more than six Thunderbolt 3 devices or establish a “tree-like” approach. This can happen where there is a desire to connect multiple storage or interface devices or you are dealing with low-tier Thunderbolt 3 devices that only have the one connection for the host computer.

In the audio recording studio environment, the Thunderbolt 3 connection can appeal with analogue-digital interfaces or digital mixers where there is the desire to connect many microphones, musical instruments and speakers to a digital-audio workstation. This can extend to the video sphere with ultra-high-definition cameras connected to a suitable AV interface for digital video production.

Similarly, Thunderbolt 3 offering support for a virtual “PCI Express” card bus may appeal to computing users running with multiple “card-cage” devices like the external graphics modules. Here, it may be about increased input-output abilities or working with high-performance graphics cards. Such a setup will become relevant with portable, all-in-one and small-form-factor desktop computers which don’t have the necessary support for the traditional interface cards that were the norm for regular computers.

A situation that can easily crop up with these devices is attempts to connect Thunderbolt 3 peripherals to other USB-C connections on upstream peripherals. This can lead to error messages and the whole setup not performing as expected.

What needs to be looked at is an extension to the Thunderbolt 3 specification to cater towards different bus layouts. This is more so to allow a peripheral to effectively reiterate one or more Thunderbolt 3 buses as if it is the equivalent of an Ethernet switch. It can also lead to the possibility of implementing active repeaters for a Thunderbolt 3 connection, something that could appeal to longer connection runs like the obvious stage-based applications.

It could be simply facilitated through a hardware-software device class for this specification that addresses “hub and repeater” behaviour. This can also include the ability for these devices to work as USB-C hubs including support for different power-supply paths and power budgets for the Power Delivery device class.

The same issue also includes a requirement for the host computer to identify where each Thunderbolt 3 peripheral is and map the bandwidth in a similar way to a city’s road system.

But it will be something that Intel will have to approach when they revise Thunderbolt 3.

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