Category: Computer setups

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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Acer advances a Thunderbolt 3 graphics dock for their laptops

Article

Acer unveils its first external mobile GPU dock powered via Thunderbolt 3  | Neowin

My Comments

I had previously covered the issue of using Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 technology to facilitate the design and use of an external graphics module or dock for laptops. This idea was put forward by Sony with the VAIO Z-Series premium Ultrabook and by Alienware through the use of a “card-cage” dock that worked with some of their laptops.  Both these devices illustrated the possibility of allowing for improved graphics on portable or compact equipment, whether through a graphics module that has the graphics chipset integrated in its circuitry or a “card-cage” expansion module that allows you to install one or two desktop graphics cards in to that module.

But the Thunderbolt 3 technology which uses the USB Type-C connector as a physical connection has been known to have the same bandwidth as the PCI Express internal connection used to connect display cards to the motherboard in a regular computer. This appeals because there is no need to reinvent the wheel when designing an external-graphics-module solution for that portable-computing or low-profile computing product.

Now Acer have premiered a Thunderbolt 3 external graphics dock for their laptop products and had demonstrated it working with their Core-M-powered Switch 12.5 convertible laptop. This graphics module implements a NVIDIA GTX-960M graphics chipset in a small dedicated box and adds extra connectivity to the host laptop in the form of 3 extra USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port and the ability to connect to external displays via HDMI or 2 DisplayPort connections. It also exploits the USB 3.1 subsystem by providing the ability to power and charge the host laptop via the USB Type-C connection thanks to a DC power-supply connection on the graphics module itself.

This has been able to show real graphics performance benefits using the 3DMark II theoretical graphics benchmark where the Switch 12.5 came in at 940 on its own graphics chipset and on 4048 when used with this dock.  This device is the first of its kind to have a release price called for it with it costing around EUR€300, but there isn’t an estimated release date.

For Acer, it could be feasible for them to use the same external graphics docks across most, if not all, of their consumer and business laptop range that has the Thunderbolt 3 connection.

The question with the Thunderbolt 3 graphics-module application will arise is whether there will be the ability for one external graphics-module or card-cage module made by one manufacturer to work at their full potential with Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptops offered by other manufacturers.

If so, this could encourage computer manufacturers to use the Thunderbolt 3 technology on their portable, all-in-one or low-profile computers as a graphics-expansion option without needing to offer a graphics dock while computer-peripheral manufacturers can make external graphics solutions such as graphics expansion docks, desktop monitors with integrated graphics subsystems, and the like to work with other computers.

I see this concept appealing in a few ways:

  • An ultraportable computer being able to benefit from discrete graphics when used “at the desk” or “at home” thanks to an external graphics dock. This could open up the ability for a user to have one graphics dock at the office and another at home with these devices serving a “work-home-travel” computer.
  • The possibility of offering an affordable laptop or all-in-one desktop computer to most customers with the ability for these customers to expand their computer’s capabilities to suit their needs thanks to an external graphics module.
  • The ability for gaming-grade or workstation-grade computers that don’t offer much in the way of graphics-upgrade potential like laptops or all-in-ones to be upgraded to multiple-GPU performance and the latest graphics-processor technology thanks to an add-on graphics module or card-cage. In some ways, it could bring the separate-boxes “hi-fi approach” to the concept of improving personal computer equipment.

Once a level playing field is achieved regarding Thundberbolt 3 over USB Type C for graphics docks through the use of open standards, it can lead to the idea of allowing low-profile and portable computers to benefit from high-performance graphics.

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Using Bluetooth audio devices with your laptop computer

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker – another of many Bluetooth speakers with speakerphone functionality

There is an increasing number of Bluetooth-connected wireless audio devices available for  use with smartphones and similar devices. But you may want to use these headsets, audio adaptors, Bluetooth speakers or Bluetooth-integrated audio devices with your laptop instead of those tiny speakers that are the norm for these computers. The best example for the speakers would be the Bose SoundDock speakers, especially the SoundDock 10, due to its good bass response, when used with the Bluetooth adaptor. As well, I ran a test setup with the Motorola DC800 Bluetooth adaptor connected to an older Sony boombox and had the review-sample Fujitsu LH772 laptop being fed through this Bluetooth adaptor.

Similarly, there are those of us who may want to use a Bluetooth headset like the Plantronics BackBeat Pro with a laptop computer so you can roam around the office or home listening to your favourite tunes or podcast or as a contingency measure to avoid missing that important VoIP call.

How a Bluetooth audio setup would function for a laptop

You can achieve these setups with Bluetooth-equipped laptops that run Windows 7, MacOS X Snow Leopard and Linux and newer versions of these operating systems. This is due to the supply of a class driver for the Bluetooth A2DP audio profile  and Hands Free Profile as part of the operating system distributions.

Initial setup

First, you have to set up the Bluetooth A2DP-capable audio device to become discoverable. The method for this is explained in the instructions that come with the device but you typically may have to hold down a setup button to achieve this goal.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

Headphones you can treat your laptop to

Then you have to put the computer in to a “Bluetooth setup” mode in order to annex the device to the operating system. In WIndows 7, you would have to click on “Devices and Printers”, then click “Add Device”.

After you complete these procedures, both the device and the computer start to pair up and identify themselves to each other. The computer would then find and install the A2DP audio-device class drivers that are part of the operating system. In some cases, the class driver may be fetched from Microsoft’s or Apple’s Website. The same thing will also happen with the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Bluetooth Headset Profile when you initially connect a Bluetooth headset, headphone audio adaptor or other device equipped for communications functionality.

Now the Bluetooth audio device is defined as a sound device and some Windows setups may have it run as the default audio device for all of the laptop’s sound output.

Which sound device

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices including the Bluetooth audio device

But you may want to have a split setup so that music and video sound go to the Bluetooth speakers and all of the notification sounds come via the laptop speakers. Here, you would have to set the integrated sound subsystem as the default audio device. Then you would have to set iTunes, Windows Media Player or other media-management software to use the Bluetooth A2DP audio device.

This latter setup may not work well with software like games, the Spotify desktop program or Web browsers where there isn’t an option to specify the sound output device for that application. Here, you would have to specify the Bluetooth audio device as your default audio device to have the soundtrack from video on demand including YouTube videos, or your Spotify playlist coming through that device.

Bluetooth headsets and speakers with speakerphone functionality will cause Windows to purpose the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Headset Profile as a Communications Device and may cause Windows 7 to determine it as a Default Communications Device.

The controls on these Bluetooth devices should map through to the applications’ controls courtesy of operating system support for Bluetooth AVRCP control profile for media navigation and the call-control functionality of the Hands-Free and Headset Profiles. This will apply to applications that currently have the focus for media playback or communications.

Multipoint Operation

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - supports multipoint operation for two devices

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – supports multipoint operation for two devices

An increasing number of communications-capable Bluetooth devices have support for “multipoint” operation where they can work with two different source devices. This function is typically to support people who use two mobile phones such as a “personal” one and a “work” one.

As I discovered when reviewing the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor, I fund that this function can also work with a computer. This can be of use if you are maintaining a playlist or listening to Web content on your laptop.

Here, you have to determine which device is your “priority” device which allows the headset to primarily control that device. This is something you would do either through the device’s setup menu, a desktop or mobile control program or a certain keypress sequence depending on the device. You may be able to at least use the call-control button to answer and end calls when you are using your secondary device. It is a good idea to set the laptop as the priority device when you are playing content from it or are wanting to use a VoIP app that may come across as being rickety.

Conclusion

Once you know what your Bluetooth-capable laptop can do with those Bluetooth audio accessories, you can then let it perform at its best with these devices and they don’t need juhst to be considered for mobile phones anymore.

Updates

This is to reflect newer Bluetooth hardware that I have reviewed along with highlighting the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile used for communications purposes and multipoint operation offered by an increasing number of Bluetooth devices.

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At last Australian small business buying new IT equipment benefits from a tax break

Articles Small businesses - Belgrave shopping strip

Fringe Benefits Tax on all portable devices used for work abolished | SmartCompany

Federal budget 2015: Fringe benefits tax abolished on tablets, laptops and mobile phones | Australian Financial Review

From the horse’s mouth

The Hon. Joe Hockey MP, Treasurer Of The Commonwealth Of Australia

Growing Jobs and Small Business Package Press Release

Relevant Material

Small Business Technology page

Buyers’ Guides

Product Reviews: Laptop, Notebook And Netbook Computers

My Comments

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

A 15″ work-home laptop that is now eligible to be paired with a..

As part of Australian tax law since the late 1980s, companies were required to pay a fringe-benefits tax on non-cash supplementary benefits they gave to their employees. The same situation also ensnared sole-traders who chose to run their businesses as a company and buy capital equipment like vehicles or computers in the company’s name but use it for business and personal / community purposes.

This has caused various tax-compliance quagmires for all businesses but there has been some special treatment for small businesses in relationship to them buying portable computer equipment. Previously, it was seen under fringe-benefits-tax law that if a company gave an employee two computers like a “work-home” laptop and a tablet computer or ultraportable, they could only see one of these devices as FBT-exempt because they did the same function.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

.. tablet computer, “2-in-1” or other ultraportable without FBT risks for small buisness

Now, as part of the 2015 Federal Budget, the Australian Government have installed a tax break for small businesses with an annual turnover of under AUD$2 million by making the supply of all work-related portable electronic device not subject to FBT. This measure, which applies from April 1 2016, would allow for the supply of a regular 15”-17” laptop as a “work-home” computer along with a tablet, “2-in-1” or ultraportable, and a smartphone to an employee and the technology can be used for personal use without dealing with any further red tape.

This, along with a tax deduction for newly-purchased individual assets less than AUD$20,000, has been part of a series of measures that Treasurer Joe Hockey, who has had small-business experience through his family life, that make things easier for start-ups and small businesses.

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Legacy analogue audio to today’s needs–can this be done?

Problem

Linn Sondek LP12

You can bridge the old turntable to today’s digital needs

Most of you will be wanting to link legacy audio media like vinyl or cassette to today’s needs. This will be true for people who have lived through the time period between the 1950s to the 1990s where vinyl records, tapes in the open-reel, 8-track cartridge or cassette form, or newer digital-recording formats like DAT, DCC or MiniDisc were part of one’s music-listening life and you have built up a collection of music on one or more of these formats. On the other hand, you may have started to dabble in the classic audio formats such as participating in the return of vinyl courtesy of the recent “Record Store Day” effort or had shown interest in cassettes courtesy of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” with the Awesome Mix Vol 1 tape (CD at Amazon / JB Hi-Fi, Spotify, MP3 on iTunes / Google Play ) in the Star Lord’s Walkman.

An "on-ramp" digital media adaptor for a network-based multiroom audio setup

An “on-ramp” digital media adaptor for a network-based multiroom audio setup

Similarly, you may find that it is hard to acquire particular recordings or kinds of music on anything other than the aforementioned legacy media. This holds especially true for the “easy-listening” music of the 1950s to the 1970s which has been retroactively dubbed “lounge” or “space-age bachelor-pad” music, or some world or folk music that was turned out through that same era. This leads to you rummaging through second-hand music stores, charity-run thrift stores, eBay and the like for this content and picking it up on records, musicassettes, or similar media.

But there are the new trends like network-based multiroom audio or the ability to copy the music to a file-based audio format to enjoy on your smartphone or via a DLNA-capable home media network. Similarly, you may want to use a computer-based audio-editing program to digitally salvage an old recording before it goes to waste.

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module press image courtesy of Creative Labs

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module – useful for copying old media to your home network

What you want to be able to do is bridge these classic media to the new requirements, whether by operating a turntable to play records through your network-based multiroom system or copying that old open-reel tape to your computer to digitally salvage it and have in a ready-to-play form.

The multiroom system can be catered for through the use of an “on-ramp” module which may also be part of a speaker or network-media-player module. This device takes an incoming audio signal and converts it in to a bitstream that suits the multiroom system it is designed to work with. then presenting it to that system via the home network. Then you use the multiroom system’s control app to select that input and have it play through the speakers.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

A Windows laptop can be used for “digitizing” old irreplaceable media

You could use a USB sound module, PCI sound card or an integrated sound module along with a recording program like Creative Media Toolbox, WavePad or Audacity to record from legacy media to file-based media. These tools have functionality to allow you to “clean up” recordings that had come through below par such as to clean out tape hiss or clicks and pops.

Solution

The classic vinyl record

Turntables that have an integrated preamplifier could be connected directly to equipment that has a line-level input but there is an increasing number of these, typically offered for peanuts, that aren’t really kind to records. These have flimsy construction for both the plinth and the tonearm and use a cheap moving-magnet cartridge. Their “automatics” (mechanisms associated with automatic arm return, automatic stylus cueing (fully-auto setups only) and stylus lift) may not behave properly placing undue pressure on the stylus or even permitting the stylus to drop on a spinning platter rather than the record. This also applies to a lot of USB turntables that are pitched as a way to “dump” records to file-based audio media.

VinylPlay - an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

VinylPlay – an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

There may be exceptions to this rule like an integrated music system like a 1970s-era “music centre” that has a turntable that you trusted with your records and have kept in good running order. Some of these systems, especially a lot of the good-quality music centres, will also have a line output, typically so you can connect an outboard tape deck. On the other hand, you may be able to have a good system modified to obtain a line output.

But you may want to use a good-quality turntable or a turntable that you have trusted with your vinyl for a long time especially when vinyl was the main audio medium. Here, you use a regular hi-fi amplifier or receiver that has a phono input and a tape loop that you customarily hooked up a tape deck to.  Even that old amplifier that used to be in your hi-fi system but you use for the computer or have left in the garage can do the job. On the other hand, you can purchase a dedicated phono preamplifier to do this job. As well, some USB sound modules like the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium HD have an in-house phono stage.

You connect the turntable to the PHONO input on the amplifier and the sound module to that amplifier’s tape output and have the amplifier’s input selector set at PHONO. Here, the amplifier works simply as a phono preamplifier in the context the sound module or multiroom “on-ramp” module.

Tapes, digital media, etc

MiniDisc and cassette decks can also be used to bridge these formats to file-based computer audio or multiroom setups

MiniDisc and cassette decks can also be used to bridge these formats to file-based computer audio or multiroom setups

This is a simpler affair because you can connect the line output (playback output) of these devices directly to a line-level input on the sound module or multiroom “on-ramp” module. Most of the digital decks like that work with DAT, DCC or MiniDisc do expose a digital output which can be connected to the sound module’s digital input. For that matter, some DCC decks like the Philips DCC-900 do use this output even when playing standard cassettes.

In the context of the tape-based formats or MiniDisc, you may use them as a “workspace” when you are doing a recording effort. For example, you may find that these could work well in the “capture” context such as “how long is a length of tape” applying to reliably recording live or radio content. Then you would transfer the content to file-based media for post-production and network playback,

You may find that an amplifier can come in handy if you are feeding multiple sources of this kind to the one sound module or multiroom “on-ramp”. On the other hand, you can get away with a switch-box to select amongst the different sources of this kind. This is because they are typically used as the “switchboard” in a hi-fi system. Here, you connect the sound module up to the amplifier’s record output where you would typically connect up a tape deck to record and could even use an RCA “Y-adaptor” on the same outputs if you are serving a tape deck and the sound module from the same outputs.

Other concerns

You may have to be sure that the equipment you are dealing with is mechanically sound so that it doesn’t damage or destroy irreplaceable media. This is more so if you are playing the legacy media through the setup on a regular basis.

For tape equipment, this may also making sure that the heads are kept clean with an appropriate non-abrasive cleaning tape that is in good condition or, in the case of open-reel or some cassette equipment, using a cotton bud (Q-Tip) soaked in rubbing alcohol (methylated spirits) rubbed across the heads. For turntables, it would also mean that the stylus isn’t chipped or damaged in any other way and is kept clean; and the tonearm is set up properly to follow the record’s groove accurately with the right amount of pressure.

Conclusion

You can bridge the classic music media with today’s audio technology once you are sure that you are dealing with equipment that is in good order and know how to connect it to the modern equipment.

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HDMI for your small organisation’s video display needs

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player connections

Most video peripherals like the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player nowadays have an HDMI connector on them

I have been assisting a small church in their purchase of a newer projector for use through their worship services. Here, I have been steering them towards using equipment that uses HDMI connectivity rather than the 15-pin “VGA” cables. But why am I steering them towards this?

Video peripherals use HDMI as a standard connector

Sony VAIO E-Series mainstream laptop SVE15129CG Left-hand-side connections - Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, USB 3.0, 3.5mm microphone jack, 3.5mm audio output jack and SD and MemoryStick card readers

… as do an increasing number of laptop comptuers

Increasingly every video peripheral ranging from Blu-Ray players and network-media receivers to cable boxes and digital-TV tuners implements HDMI as a “best-case” connector. If the video peripheral had analogue component video connections, it would come with RCA-based YCC connections as that “best-case” analogue connection.

Most of the economy-class data projectors that are in circulation would implement as their best connector an RGB connector in the form of the 15-pin screw-on “VGA” connector that is intended as a baseline connection for computers because a lot of computer monitors use this connection. This is although most computers and monitors are moving towards DVI-D or HDMI connections.

If we are chasing the idea of connecting a laptop for presentations, a Blu-Ray / DVD player for movies or a DVB-T digital-TV tuner for the big news or sports broadcast, we would have to switch between different connection types for the application which can cause a lot of confusion. This is more so with people who haven’t had much experience or can get flustered easily with connecting different AV equipment.

Increased installation flexibility

New desktop comptuer at church

New desktop comptuer at church – something that could benefit from an all-HDMI connection for the projector

One main advantage of an HDMI setup for your video display needs is increased installation flexibility. This is brought on by the audio signal carried in a digital form on the same cable. It is typically to allow the one-cable setup between a video peripheral and a TV with even a surround-sound setup having one cable from the video peripheral to the surround-sound amplifier which can be capable of being a video switcher, then another cable from that surround-sound amplifier going to the TV.

HDMI offers a maximum length of 25 feet / 7.62 metres between two pieces of equipment but there are solutions to cover larger installations. For example, you could use a line-powered active HDMI splitter as a repeater for a length up to 30 metres. Some devices in their own right, like HDMI-capable digital-analogue converters or amplifiers can be repeaters. Or you could use a “Category-5” HDMI balun pair along with Category-5 Ethernet cable for a distance of 330 feet / 100.58 metres between the pieces of equipment.

In these setups, you are running just one cable which passes along the digital representation of high-resolution images and sound between the source device and the display.

Audio setups

HDMI also uses the same cable to pass along a digital representation of the sound along with the high-resolution video signal. This can be a 7.1 surround-sound Dolby Digital or DTS bitstream or a simpler stereo PCM bitstream,

HDIM audio-extractor box setup

What an HDMI audio-extractor box is all about

In a video-presentation setup where you are using a projector, you will also find that the sound system is located either near the video source device like a computer or near the projector. The device that is handy for these situations is an HDMI audio adaptor, known as an HDMI audio extractor or HDMI digital-analogue converter.

Here, these devices connect the HDMI video source to the audio equipment either via an SP/DIF or AES/EBU digital connection; or a stereo line-level analogue connection and pass the sound signal from the video peripheral to the sound system. There is an HDMI output on these devices to connect the device to the display for the “final leg” of the signal’s journey.

Some projectors even have an HDMI audio-adaptor function typically to feed an integrated mono speaker for “quick-setup” arrangements. These will also have a line-out connection in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack so they can be connected to an external sound system that is located up front and can put up a stronger sound.

Here, you could locate this device close to the sound system irrespective of where the display device is located and be able to hear good-quality noise-free sound. One main advantage of this is to be able to keep any unbalanced analogue audio connections as short as possible thus reducing the possibility of unwanted noise getting in to the amplifier which can happen easily with longer unbalanced analogue connections.

Another point of flexibility is HDMI Audio Return Channel. This is relevant to TVs with integrated tuners, multiple HDMI inputs and/or smart-TV functionality where a digital sound stream is sent back from the TV’s own sources to the amplifier to feed the speakers associated with that amplifier.  Here, this also leads to a high-quality sound path between that wall-mounted TV and a more powerful home-theatre setup that is located in a position for easier control.

HDMI-CEC

Yet another point of flexibility that HDMI offers is Consumer Electronics Control. This uses the same HDMI cable as a control cable and, as I have observed, has reduced the need to juggle remote controls to operate a Blu-Ray player for example. For example, it allows the TV to “light up” and select the appropriate input when you are loading a disc in the Blu-Ray player. Similarly, you use the TV’s remote to navigate the disc menu and get the movie underway. When used with a projector and computer that supports it, it could be feasible to use the projector’s remote to page through a presentation or start and stop video content, being seen as a presenter’s dream come true.

This is implemented mainly on higher-end big-name TVs, and most home-theatre amplifiers pitched to the residential-use market along with nearly all home-theatre video peripherals especially Blu-Ray players. Most manufacturers market this feature under their own marketing names like AnyNet (Samsung) or VIERA Link (Panasonic) but will cast a reference to HDMI-CEC in the device’s operating instructions or setup menu. An increasing number of premium-grade HDIM-equipped projectors pitched for home-theatre use also offer this function. Toshiba implements this function in their latest computers “out-of-the-box” and there is an RCAware add-on black box which allows this to work with other computers.

Moving your existing video display setup to HDMI

I would recommend that you move your video-display setup towards HDMI as part of your equipment replacement cycle.

Make sure your equipment has HDMI when you are purchasing or specifying newer projectors and other display equipment. If possible, prefer that the equipment works at 1080p if you are running a lot of video content as more video is captured or mastered in this resolution. Examples of this include Blu-Ray discs, console and PC games, along with consumer and semi-pro still and video cameras that can record in 1080p.

When you improve your playout computer equipment, upgrade the video cards to those that have HDMI outputs or, for portables, use USB DisplayLink adaptors that have HDMI outputs or specify newer equipment with these outputs. This is easy to achieve if you are purchasing current-generation laptop computers as they come with HDMI or DisplayPort connections whether “standard” or of a smaller form-factor. Similarly, current-issue display cards for desktop computers will be expected to have HDMI or DisplayPort connections. In the case of DisplayPort connectors, you would need to use a DisplayPort-HDMI adaptor cable to connect them to HDMI display devices.

As well, it could be a chance to replace DVD players with Blu-Ray players because these have the HDMI output and can show high-resolution video that the connection is known for. Similarly, digital-TV tuners and set-top boxes that you use to receive broadcast TV in your installation should have HDMI connections. If you are wanting to show legacy sources like VHS tapes through your video system, a composite-HDMI adaptor may come in handy. These devices convert the analogue signals from the legacy source such as the video recorder to a digital signal and even upscale them to a higher resolution before passing them along an HDMI cable.

When you revise the installation, make sure you are pulling HDMI cable or, if you use Cat5 or Cat6 cable for the extended cable runs, replace the baluns that you use with other technologies like VGA with those that work with HDMI. As well, the equipment should be connected via HDMI cables. For that matter, the HDMI baluns can be purchased from dedicated electronics stores like Radio Parts, Jaycar or Maplin.

What can be done here?

Integrating HDMI-CEC in more equipment

A projector that is equipped with HDMI-CEC could allow for the use of the remote control as a control surface for connected video peripherals. It can also allow a computer, for example, to cause the projector to be switched on and off as needed. The command set for HDMI-CEC could be extended to exchange status details that are of concern to projector operation like lamp condition and runtime.

As computers are being used as playout equipment in the business location, they could benefit from being HDMI-CEC control-target or control-source equipment. This could be facilitated through hardware and software additions that are provided by more computer and display-subsystem manufacturers. The software could support “page-through” on presentation software or use of the D-toggle on the remote as a virtual mouse. Similarly, a playout computer with HDMI-CEC “control-source” functionality can be able to turn on and turn off display or amplification equipment or provide “master volume” control over the system.

Conclusion

Moving your small business’s or community organisation’s display technology to HDMI can provide for increased flexibility when managing how this equipment acts when playing video material. It would also become simpler to achieve a “best-quality” setup so that your customers, patrons or congregation can see sharper images on the screen.

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Lenovo puts fresh blood in to the Yoga lineup

Articles

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Successors to come to the Lenovo Yoga lineup

Lenovo Refreshes Yoga Series with New Laptops and Tablets | Tom’s Guide

Lenovo’s New Yoga Laptop And Tablets Are All About Touch | Gizmodo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 range

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 targets both Windows and Android | Mashable

Lenovo Announces 8- and 10-inch Yoga Tablet 2 for Windows and Android | Laptop Mag

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro Wants to Be Your Tablet and Big Screen TV | Mashable

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is Thinner and Lighter with Adaptive Software | Laptop Mag

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 Makes Business Flexible | Laptop Mag

My Comments

There has been so much doubt in the concept of the convertible notebook but Lenovo is one of a few who are keeping it alive in the form of the Yoga lineup. This is a lineup of 360-degree convertible computers that fold over on their back to become either a laptop, tablet or something in between.

Recently, I reviewed the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and found that this 13” convertible was capable and able to do many different tasks, whether creating new written content, playing basic games, browsing the Web or watching video content. As well, Lenovo had run some “Yoga Tablets” which had a kickstand which worked in a similar way to how the Yoga laptops worked.

Lenovo has refreshed the Yoga Tablets by adding variants which are delivered with Windows 8.1. These use Intel Atom quad-core “classic microarchitecture” horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM. Their network connectivity is primarily the 802.11n Wi-Fi but some market-specific variants will come with 4G wireless broadband. Secondary storage is in the form of 16Gb SSD for Android variants or 32Gb SSD for Windows variants with add-on storage in the form of a microSD slot. They will come in the choice of an 8” or 10” screen for each operating system. One feature that Lenovo had integrated was a hole in the kickstand to allow it to hang from something like a cup hook in the kitchen.

They also fielded the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro which is the largest Android tablet, clocking in at 13.3”. This also has an integrated pico projector which can comfortably throw a 50” image and has an 8-watt sound system with an integrated bass driver, a feature being pitched at consumer or business use. But its hardware abilities are similar to the Yoga Tablet 2 which has the Atom processor working with 2Gb RAM, along with 32Gb SSD storage and add-on storage abilities courtesy of a microUSB “On The Go” port and a microSD card slot.

The Yoga 3 Pro has an aluminium chassis and a hinge similar to how a metal watchband is constructed. This is to make it easier to fold this 360-degree convertible between a tablet or a laptop or anything in between. It is slimmer than the Yoga 2 Pro and has that same 13.3” screen but the resolution clocks in at 3200×1800 pixels fulfilled by an integrated-graphics subsystem. It runs with Intel Core M-70 horsepower and can work with 8Gb RAM. As well, the maximum storage available is 256Gb SSD like the Yoga 2 Pro review sample along with a “4-in-one” memory card reader. There is the similar connectivity to the Yoga 2 Pro, including 2 USB 3.0 ports, a microHDMI port, a headphone/microphone audio jack as well as a power socket that can become a USB 2.0 port. It runs Windows 8.1 but also comes with Lenovo Harmony software that optimises it for the task in hand.

Business users who like the “work-home” laptop need not fret that they are being left out in the cold. This is because Lenovo have fielded the ThinkPad Yoga 14 which has the Yoga 360-degree convertible abilities but has the ThinkPad credentials like the excellent keyboard, thumbstick and a long battery life. This comes with a 14” Full-HD screen that is serviced with NVIDIA GeForce GTX840M discrete graphics. It has the latest generation Core i5 processor and can work with 8Gb RAM. For secondary storage, it comes with a 1Tb hard disk and has most of the same connectivity as the Yoga 3 Pro, except for a full-size HDMI port.

What I see of this is that Lenovo won’t give up easily on the convertible notebook computer even though a lot of naysayers are running the line that the computing world is just tablets, especially the iPad.

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5-Year Special: Portable Computing is Mainstream

5 Years Special iconThis is the first of a series of posts to celebrate the last five years of the connected lifestyle which has been covered on this Website.

Laptops

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible Ultrabook

Over the last five years, the 15”-17” clamshell-style laptop computer has overtaken the traditional “tower-style” desktop computer as become the preferred computer style for most households.

There are even users, some of whom I know, who will operate these computers in conjunction with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for their primary office-based computing locations while being able to use just its built-in screen, keyboard and mouse for computing while “on-the-road”. In other cases, the laptop bas brought with it the appeal of the dining table or kitchen bench rather than a home office or a desk in the corner of the family room as a workspace due to the ability to stow it away when you are using that space for other activities like meals.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – an example of a mobile workstation

With this class of computer, there has been the rise of “workstation-grade” and “gamer-grade” laptops that are tuned for increased performance, especially with graphics-intensive tasks or even “full-on” games. This has also displaced the desktop workstation computer or “gaming-rig” for these applications and allowed for increased portability when dealing with CAD, multimedia or games.

Windows 8 with its tile-based “Modern” user interface has legitimised the touchscreen as a control surface for the computer and has opened up a plethora of touchscreen-enabled laptop designs. For example, the Sony VAIO Fit 15a that I reviewed last year underscored the concept of adding touch abilities to a 15” mainstream laptop even as I let a friend who works in enterprise IT play with this machine when I had visited him.

This has also led to the arrival of convertible and detachable computer designs that switch between a traditional laptop design and a tablet design. There are even these convertibles that have 13” or, in some cases, 15” screens which may be considered too large for tablet use by one person but are the right size for creating content. In some cases, this size can appeal to those of us who want to let another person have a look at the same content.

The trend has led to a fusion of regular desktop-style computing and mobile computing with some laptops running Android whether standalone or on a dual-boot method. As well, some small tablets are being sold with Windows 8.1 as an operating system and it is being harder to differentiate between mobile and regular-grade computing capabilities.

Mobile computing

One main trend over the past five years has been the arrival of platform-based mobile computing, which was commercialised by Apple with their iPhone platform.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – an up-and-coming Android smartphone

It is where devices like mobile phones and tablets are built around an operating system which has many third-party programmers writing software for these devices. Typically the software is supplied through “app-stores” operated by the company who develops the mobile-computing platform and these “app-stores” are typically one-touch away from the user. The software, which is referred to as “apps”, typically ranges from productivity software like email clients or note-taking software, through utility programs like calculators or unit converters, and mobile front-ends for online services to games for whiling away those train journeys.

Google Play Android app store

Google Play Android app store

If the programmer wants to monetise their creation, they have the ability to sell it through that app-store which has an integrated e-commerce setup, sell modules for that software through “in-app purchasing” where the user can buy the option within the app’s user interface but via the app-store’s storefront or make use of an in-app display advertising setup.

Some of these app-stores or the apps available in them provide access to content-retail services where you could buy music, audiobooks, e-books and videos to enjoy through your device. For example, the e-book has appealed mainly to women who like to read romance fiction without that “tut-tut-tut” from other people about what they are reading.

The performance calbre of these mobile-computing devices is approaching that of the regular computing devices, especially when it comes to playing hardcore games or watching multimedia content. Here, we are seeing mobile devices being equipped with 64-bit ARM-microarchitecture RISC processor units or some Android devices being equipped with IA-64 microarchitecture chips similar to what most laptops are equipped with.

Smartphones

These devices have changed since the arrival of the iPhone with customers being spoilt for choice in device capabilities, operating systems and even screen sizes.

Firstly, you can purchase smartphones with a screen size of up to 6 inches and these are the same size as an advanced-function pocket calculator such as a scientific or financial type. As well, some of the premium smartphones, especially those from the Samsung stable, even implement the OLED display which is a different self-illuminating display technology to the LCD display which requires LED backlighting to illuminate it.

As well, there are smartphones that run Android or Windows Phone operating systems available from many different manufactures. For that matter, the smartphones that are considered “cream of the crop” nowadays are most of the newer Android phones made by Samsung, Sony or HTC.

Tablets

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

The mobile tablet has been made commercially viable thanks to Apple with their iPad lineup. Here, we are now seeing tablets at various different price ranges and screen sizes courtesy if intense competition. Some of these units, when paired with a Bluetooth or USB keyboard have been able to become a viable alternative to “netbook-size” small laptops.

Firstly, I had seen the arrival of the 7”-8” mini-tablet that could be stuffed in to one’s coat pocket. These have appealed as units that can be useful for reference-type applications when you are out and about and have effectively displaced the e-reader as a device.

Secondly, the 10” tablet has become more of a household content-consumption device especially with video but also has served some basic computing tasks like checking email or Web browsing. Apple and Samsung have raised the bar for this product class by improving the display calibre with the former using a high-resolution “Retina” display on their 3rd-generation iPad lineup and the latter offering an AMOLED display on a 10″ mobile tablet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10″ tablet

But, as I said earlier, the tablet and laptop are bridging together as a portable computing solution. This has been brought about with the convertible and detachable computers that can be a tablet one moment or a laptop another moment. Similarly, Intel and Microsoft have pushed the classic desktop microarchitecture and Windows 8 in to the field of the small-sized tablets with chipsets optimised for portable computing and the availability of Windows 8.1 for free with small-screen tablets.

Moble-Platform apps

The mobile platforms have seen a cottage industry of developers write programs or “apps” for these devices that can fit in with our lifestyle. Some of these apps have become mobile “on-ramps” to various online content services like social networks. As well, the e-reader has been displaced by the “e-bookstore” apps written for the mobile platforms so one can use a tablet or smartphone for reading whatever they want to read without worrying.

Recent controversies have arisen regarding how these apps are sold such as the issue of “in-app” sales of downloadable content or virtual currency for games that appeal to children or ad-funded apps that may host advertising that “commercialises” childhood like the sale of toys or junk food. As well there have been issues raised about the quality of apps sold through the app stores with computing “old-timers” relating them to the download sites, bulletin boards and magazine-attached disks of yore.

Wi-Fi an important part of the home network

For that matter, the most important feature of any network, including a home network, is a Wi-Fi wireless-network segment. This has enabled us to do more around the house with laptops, tablets and smartphones yet use cost-effective fixed broadband Internet.

These networks have increased in speed and security courtesy of newer technologies like 802.11n, 802.11ac and use of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The setup procedure has been simplified for these networks courtesy of WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” setup and the upcoming NFC “touch-to-connect” setup technologies.

Increasingly more networked devices are being designed to work primarily or solely with the Wi-Fi network segment because of the “no new wires” concept that this technology provides. This technology also appeals to the mass-market retailer as an easily-saleable “backbone” for the home network even though there are issues with the radio-network performance.

Mi-Fi devices and the portable Wi-Fi network

Another class of device that is becoming popular is the “Mi-Fi” router which is a portable battery-operated Wi-Fi router for a mobile broadband service. These have appealed to those of us who use temporary network setups with Wi-Fi-only tablets and laptops or simply want to run a mobile-only communications setup.

This has also extended to the arrival of portable NAS units that work as extra storage for smartphones, tablets and laptop computers but work as their own access points for these devices. Manufacturers are even pitching them as a way to store video content on the mobile NAS unit and having people like children view the content on their tablets via the small network that is created by these devices.

The next part of this 5th-anniversary series will liook at the concept of “connected” communications and entertainment and how the home network is playing a strong part in these activities.

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In some areas, a court case may be necessary to encourage innovation

Article

US judge makes Avaya give access to maintenance commands on some PBXes | PC World

My Comments

A recent US District Court (New Jersey) ruling was handed down requiring Avaya to expose maintenance commands for their business phone systems after the jury who heard an antitrust case concerning this company found that they unlawfully prevented maintenance access to these systems for their owners or independent third-party service contractors.

This case was about who can perform repair or maintenance work on IT systems especially where they are becoming more software-defined. The article even mentioned that this is heading out beyond the IT scene towards the maintenance of cars, “white-goods” and similar products especially as more of them have their functionality driven by software.

For example, I know of two friends who have had technicians look at their 30-plus-year-old ovens and the technicians have preferred to keep them going rather than replace them with newer ovens. This is because of issues like continual availability of parts for these stoves and the way that they can be repaired.

Here, it was about who can continue to perform service on the equipment concerned and the availability of the equipment’s owner to gain access to independent experts to keep it going. I see this also opening up doors for third-parties to continue to offer innovative software or other solutions that enhance the equipment or shape it to a user’s needs. This will extend to encouraging the implementation of “open-frame” designs for hardware and software which will push forward a culture of a level playing field and, in some cases, a longer service life for equipment.

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Dell puts forward the Inspiron 20-3000 as an entry-level Adaptive All-In-One

Articles

Dell’s new Inspiron 20 is a giant tablet for work and play | Engadget

Dell announces new Inspiron 2-in-1 and All-in-One PCs | Windows Experience Blog

From the horse’s mouth

Dell Inc.

Press Release

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 20-3000 Adaptive All-In-One desktop tablet - Press image courtesy Dell Inc.

Dell Inspiron 20-3000 Adaptive All-In-One desktop tablet

The “adaptive all-in-one” tablet is still persisting as a computer form factor. Previously, I had given this form-factor a fair bit of coverage on this site, including reviewing a Sony VAIO Tap 20 which is the prime example of this class of computer.

What are these computers? These are an 18”-23” tablet computer that run a regular-computer operating system like Windows 8.1 and are able to operate on batteries for around 2.5-6 hours or on AC power. They have a kickstand or desktop pedestal so they can become a desktop computer when used alongside a (typically wireless) keyboard and mouse. I had seen the “adaptive all-in-one” tablet computer as a “lifestyle computer” that can be taken around the house as required and one example of its use that was mentioned was as a gaming tablet.

Dell have even come to the fore with this class of computer by launching the Inspiron 20-3000 at this year’s Computex Taipei. But this unit has been positioned as an entry-level “family computer” or “lifestyle computer” with the use of the Pentium economy-grade quad-core horsepower. As well, it can run on its own battery for six hours. This is compared to most of the other computers in this class which implement the more powerful Intel i3 or i5 processors.

This is an attempt by the regular-computer scene to consider itself relevant in the face of the iPad and similar mobile-platform tablet computers being used along with cloud-hosted “software-as-a-service” options for common computing tasks. But this model could fit in well in the “family house” scenario or as a large-screen “family computer” or “lifestyle computer” intended to be shifted around at a moment’s whim — something you could use for browsing the Web, checking on Facebook, doing basic word processing or viewing multimedia content.

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