Category: Current and Future Trends

Why call for the 3.5mm headphone jack to be replaced on mobile devices

Article

Intel Thinks USB-C Should Replace the Headphone Jack | Gizmodo

My Comments

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Intel has raised the possibility that the common 3.5mm headphone jack not exist on a smartphone or similar audio device. Here, they would rather that the USB Type-C connection serve as the phone’s audio connections.

There was a similar outcry when Apple proposed this idea for a newer iPhone design by requiring the use of their proprietary Lightning connection as the audio connection.

The problem is that the 3.5mm phone jack has been established as the common way to connect mobile devices to headphones and audio equipment.

The Intel approach requires the use of the USB Type-C connector which implements standards accepted by all of the industry. It is different to Apple’s approach because the Android and Windows platforms place a high expectation on the concept of “open-frame” computing where there is a preference for hardware and software standards and specifications accepted by many different vendors rather than the one vendor.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

High-end headphones like these noise-cancelling headphones could be powered by your smartphone or laptop

Firstly, there is the USB Audio Device Class which has allowed for USB sound modules and USB DACs to exist without the need to add extra drivers. This can allow for a high-grade digital-analogue converter to be integrated in a high-quality USB headset or supplied as a phone-powered USB sound-module accessory that you plug your high-quality headphones in to.

For headphones, this could lead to ideas like surround-sound processing such as to use hardware to convert Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound to Dolby Headphone surround sound. It could permit the headphones to implement sound processing such as equalisation or echo cancellation so they sound their best in all situations. Even when you speak in to the phone, the newer technology will provide some benefit such as using a microphone array to catch your voice better.

To the same extent, a USB sound module that works with high-grade microphones could open up paths for your smartphone to make good recordings for your podcast or video.

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

You may soon find amplifiers and stereos equipped with a USB Type-C connection on the front so you can play our new smartphone through the speakers

Another path is to use the Multimedia Transport Protocol that operates over the USB connection to play music through your car stereo or home stereo system, using the music system’s control surface to navigate your audio content while the currently-playing music details show up on the music system’s display.

Intel’s idea also investigated the possibility of an analogue-audio connection via the USB Type-C connection to cater to the budget end of the accessories market. This is to allow for headsets and audio adaptors that have no digital-audio functionality to exist.

Another common device class is the USB Human Interface Device Class which is used primarily with mice and keyboards but there is a subset of “called-out” control types that highlight consumer-electronics and business device control applications like transport control or call control. This could open the path for USB headsets and adaptors to have full control for calls and music like the full AV transport-control quota or two-button call control.

The power-supply option that USB Type-C offers allows for the phone to power active-noise-cancelling headphones or headphone amplifiers. Similarly, an audio accessory like a stereo system or an audio adaptor that has a high-capacity battery could provide power to the phone.

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

Bluetooth will still exist as a wireless audio-accessory connection alternative as long as the phone and accessory still work to the established Bluetooth Profiles for their applications.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

This USB audio adaptor could be considered as a way to connect existing headphones to your new smartphone

The idea that we will lose the ability to use our favourite audio systems and headphones that depend on the classic 3.5mm phone jack when we get a newer handset can be nullified when we use a USB sound module for a wired connection to our smartphones. As I mentioned before, those of us who appreciate the high-quality sound could end up benefiting from this kind of accessory especially where it is optimised for that kind of sound. An example of a USB sound-module device that I had dealt with was one that came with the Kingston Hyper-X Cloud II gaming headset that I previously reviewed, which presented itself to Windows as a USB Audio input and output device. If we want the wireless link, we could look for that Bluetooth audio adaptor typically sold with a pair of intra-aural earphones and connect our favourite headphones to this device like I do with the Sony SBH-52.

If this proposition is to work properly, the sound-processing circuitry need also to be power-efficient so you don’t end up draining your smartphone’s battery or depending on external power supplies to use your smartphone. Similarly, other accessory vendors may need to add USB Type-C hub functionality to their accessories like USB battery packs so that these headphones can work while the smartphone is being powered from the battery pack. Or the smartphone vendors may have to concede to having 2 USB Type-C ports on their phones to support USB headphones and USB external power supplies for example.

But whatever happens, this could open another path for innovation to take place when it comes to the supply of accessories for portable audio and video equipment.

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Chromecast to find its way to your hotel room

Article

Chromecast is now getting built into hotel TV systems | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Sonifi

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

The Google Chromecast HDMI dongle is still seen as a way to throw video and audio content to your TV from your Android mobile device or Google Chrome browser with some support for it on an app level for iOS devices. Dedicated Apple users will see something similar going on when they use the Apple TV device and invoke AirPlay to run video content from their iOS device to their TV.

These devices can be used on a hotel room’s TV but there is a lot of difficulty getting them to work with a hotel’s Wi-Fi-based guest-access network. This is typically because most of these guest-access networks require a Web-based authentication routine for your device along with the proper design practice to isolate client devices from being discovered by each other.

Sonifi have answered this problem by developing the SoniCast technology which provides Google Cast (Chromecast streaming) services for a hotel guestroom TV. This requires the client laptop, tablet or smartphone to be connected to the hotel’s guest-access network as if to benefit from Internet access there. There is software in place that allows you to only discover and stream content to the TVs that are in your room or suite so you can’t stream to the TVs in neighbouring rooms.

Initially, a hotel could provision Netflix, Spotify, Hulu or the like by having support for these services on the guestroom TVs thanks to either a Smart TV or a set-top box. This required guests to enter their service credentials using the “pick-and-choose” method of typing in text on a TV – how long does that take to enter a typical email-address and password using that D-pad! These systems would “clear the slate” and log guests out when they check out of the hotel.

But this Chromecast-based solution allows you to keep your credentials for these services on your phone or tablet and the authentication for the services takes place at your device. As well, you are effectively working the online services like your Netflix queues or Spotify playlists using the apps installed on your mobile device.

A question I would like to raise is whether Sonifi will extend the SoniCast platform to work with Apple’s AirPlay streaming platform, Spotify Connect audio streaming or even the DLNA media-controller concept. With Apple, this may be seen as a difficult ask but DLNA and Spotify Connect could add extra value to the SoniCast “BYO media” platform.

At least I see this as a step in the right direction for tight integration between the hotel guestroom’s TV and a guest’s own computing devices.

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USB.org to introduce authentication in to the USB Type-C platform

Article

The USB Type-C connection will now be able to be authenticated irrespective of vendor

The USB Type-C connection will now be able to be authenticated irrespective of vendor

New USB Type-C Authentication spec can stop faulty cables before they do damage | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

USB.org

Press Release (via BusinessWire)

My Comments

Increasingly the USB connection standard has shown up a need to verify or authenticate device connections on a hardware level. Initially Apple had engaged in this practice with their iOS devices that use the Lightning connector to make sure that properly licensed Lightning cables are used with these devices. But there have been other reasons that this kind of authentication is needed.

One of the reasons was the existence of fake charging devices that are typically installed in public locations. These espionage tools look like plug-in AC chargers or “charging bars”  but are really computing devices designed to harvest personal and corporate data from visitors’ smartphones and tablets. The mobile operating systems have been worked to address this problem whether through asking users what role the mobile device plays when it is connected to a host computing device or whether you trust the host device you connect your mobile device to it.

But there has also been concern raised about ultra-cheap USB Type-C cables, typically Type-A adaptor cables, that aren’t wired to standard and could place your laptop, smartphone or tablet at risk of damage. In this case, users want to be sure they are using good-quality properly-designed cables and power-supply equipment so that their devices aren’t at risk of damage.

The USB implementers Forum have established a connection-level authentication protocol for USB Type-C connections. This implements some of the authentication methods used by Apple for their Lightning connection to verify cables along with the ability to verify the devices that are on the other end of a USB Type-C connection.

For example, a traveller could rectify the “fake charger” situation by setting their mobile gadgets only to charge from certified USB Type-C chargers. Similarly, a business can use low-level authentication to verify and approve USB storage devices and modems to the computers under their control are connected to in order to prevent espionage and sabotage. Vehicle builders that supply software updates for their vehicles to rectify cyberattacks on vehicle control units can use this technique as part of their arsenal for authenticating any of these updates delivered to customers via USB sticks.

What needs to be established is that the USB interface chipsets installed on motherboards and other circuit boards need to be able to support this kind of authentication. Similarly, operating systems and device firmware would need to support the low-level authentication in order to reflect the user’s choice or company’s policy and communicate the status concerning USB Type-C devices properly to the end-user.

At least it is an industry-wide effort rather than a vendor-specific effort to verify and authenticate USB devices at the electrical-connection level rather than at higher levels.

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The gaming sub-brand is now considered part of the computing scene

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock - press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock

Most of the personal-computing industry are courting the core gamer as a highly-valuable market. These are typically young male but increasing female players who see computer gaming, especially games played on PCs (Windows-based regular computers), as a hobby and will focus a lot of disposable money towards building that dream performance-focused “gaming-rig” computer.

The personal-computing scene is focusing a lot of attention on this highly-valuable niche, typically by creating a range of computers, parts and accessories that appeal to this demographic. Initially this was looked after by businesses that exclusively court this demographic such as Razer but increasingly companies like Dell, ASUS and Acer are running their own brands or model names that are focused on gaming performance such as Alienware, Republic Of Gaming, and Predator. Lenovo has been the only company not to create a model name or brand for this demographic so for, typically using the Y name as the gaming-focused brand.

Most of these names reflect the traditionally-young-male gaming culture that is focused around playing MMORPGs, first-person shooters and similarly-aggressive games. It is being seen that this group of gamers have a large amount of disposable income to spend on their gaming hobby and is symptomatic of the way the marketing of goods and services is focused on the young.

A lot of these games are very dependent on instantaneous response and most of these computers and peripherals will be expected to yield performance that reduces unnecessary lag when playing these games.

But there is hope for some of these brands targeting female and mature-aged gamers who bite the bullet for engaging in computer games thanks to independent software developers and mobile platforms. It is because these user groups are using mobile platforms like tablets to play various casual games while independent game studios are answering the need to satisfy a market gap that is forgotten by the mainstream games studios and distributors.

AOC has now joined the party by creating the AGON brand which represents monitors and other accessories focused towards core gamers. The brand AGON represents AOC representing their leadership in monitors, Gaming that enhances the latest technology, Outstanding performance for that competitive edge and New standard of gaming. This bas been fulfilled with a range of QHD and 4K monitors that can easily complement that gaming rig with features like improved ergonomics for gameplay, a headset hook, highly-portable design; along with a remote control that makes it easier to switch between display modes for the games you play.

I do see this progressing onwards with every computer-hardware vendor running at least a product line focused on the gamer market with a lot of technical development taking place to squeeze as much performance out of these products. This could be where, for example, laptops, all-in-ones and low-profile desktop computers are equipped with support for external graphics modules or graphics-card cages thanks to the Thunderbolt-3 (USB-C) connection.

Similarly, Microsoft is progressing the idea of games developers being able to write a games title that can play properly on a Windows 10 regular computer or the XBox One gaming console thus allowing for games developers to cater to PC and console gamers at once.

It is showing that computer gaming isn’t just a casual pastime but becoming a serious hobby and the computing industry is having to cater for this.

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Advertising video: Panasonic’s ALL Series speakers and stereos

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Panasonic

Video Playlist

Previous Coverage

Panasonic launches network-capable stereo equipment with full multiroom streaming

My Comments

I had provided some previous coverage about Panasonic’s AllPlay multi-room audio setup which implements Qualcomm’s AllPlay network-based multi-room audio technology. Here, I called out two stereos, the SC-ALL5CD single-piece unit and the SC-PMX100 three-piece system, that can stream broadcast radio and regular CDs that you buy from Amazon or JB Hi-Fi from their own tuners or CD players through AllPlay-compatible multi-room speakers.

Now Panasonic have refreshed their control app for their ALL series speakers and offered a video which shows what the refreshed mobile-platform app can do. It is part of a video playlist that highlights what the Panasonic ALL series stereo equipment and speaker systems are about.

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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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LG to introduce a smartphone that receives DAB digital radio

Articles

LG Stylus 2 DAB+ Android smartphone press photo courtesy of LG

LG Stylus 2 DAB+ Android smartphone

LG’s New Smartphone Can Pick Up Digital Radio | Gizmodo

LG Stylus 2 is the world’s first smartphone to feature DAB | What Hi-Fi

LG’s digital radio smartphone will come to Australia | The Australian

From the horse’s mouth

LG

Press Release

Digital Radio Plus (DAB+ campaign in Australia)

Press Release

My Comments

Most of you may want to listen to radio via your smartphone but the options typically are using one equipped with an FM radio tuner or using an Internet radio app like TuneIn Radio.

The latter option can eat in to your mobile data allowance very quickly and wouldn’t be worth it for those of us who have an entry-level mobile data plan. The former FM-based option denies you access to the AM stations which are still considered a goldmine of information in countries like Australia as well as not assuring you reliable radio reception when you are on the go, which could make it hard to enjoy classical music for example. This is because the headphone cable on personal “Walkman-type” radios including FM-equipped smartphones and Bluetooth adaptors serves as the radio’s FM aerial.

Previously, DAB digital radio in a personal-stereo context was offered in the form of a “Walkman-style” radio with FM and DAB digital radio reception and these radios typically had a small LCD display as their main user interface. They weren’t offered as a “combo” device with a media player of some sort or other functionality and the introduction of DAB-based digital radio was occurring at the same time that Apple effectively took over the personal-audio market with their iPod and iPhone devices.

But LG have raised the bar as smartphone radio is concerned by offering the Stylus 2 smartphone which integrates a DAB+ tuner capable of receiving DAB and DAB+ digital radio stations. These digital-radio standards, especially DAB+, which are being implemented in most of Europe and in Australia offer a highly-robust radio-listening experience. There is also the ability to tune stations by selecting from a list of the stations’ names rather than trying to remember frequencies which also makes the experience very much “part of” the smartphone.

The LG Stylus 2 smartphone will have the expected features of one of today’s Android smartphones and will use a variant of the LG Internet-radio app for station navigation. This phone will be made available in markets where there is an active DAB-based digital radio service like most of Europe, Australia and some of Asia.

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Microsoft makes a step to all-platform online gameplay

Article

Microsoft is stepping towards online gaming's holy grail - a federated cross-platform online gaming experience

Microsoft is stepping towards online gaming’s holy grail – a federated cross-platform online gaming experience

Microsoft will allow Xbox gamers to play against PS4 and PC players } The Verge

Microsoft wants PS4 and Xbox One to connect online | CNet

My Comments

Most core games which have any form of multi-machine multiplayer competition, whether online or across a local network, require all games machines involved in the competition to be on the same platform.

That means that a Windows-based regular-computer user couldn’t play against an XBox or a PS4 console. In a lot of cases, the online component of a game was managed via a platform-specific online-competition platform like PlayStation Network or Steam. In the case of consoles, you had to determine which console platform your friends were using and buy a console commensurate to that platform.

Now Microsoft has raised the question of platform-agnostic multi-machine competition by encouraging their game developers to enable this feature. This is because Microsoft effectively is associated with two platforms i.e. the Windows-based regular computer or PC as a games platform and the XBox family of games consoles. But they are inviting Sony, Nintendo, Apple and others to create the necessary cross-platform bridges to allow this kind of play. This includes allowing a player to discover other players to compete with as well as managing the state of play during a game or tournament.

If this worked, it could allow a person to choose whatever console they wanted to play especially if a title is released across multiple platforms. Similarly, this could allow for options like local-network play, whether peer-to-peer or server-based, including local-online hybrid play such as local tournaments or teams. For games developers, they don’t have to decide whether to set up their own online gaming network if they want cross-platform play.

Another issue that could be highlighted here is the ideal user interface for different game genres including the common user interfaces that the platforms use. The article cited the situation where a regular-computer with its keyboard (W-A-S-D keys) and mouse may have the advantage over a gamepad that typically comes with a console when it comes to playing certain games like first-person shooters or strategy games.

This could be used either to open up the idea of games written to be played across multiple platform types and user interfaces, including those that give players an advantage if they play a part of the game on different devices. On the other hand, there could be the feasibility for games consoles to work with mice and keyboards connected via (preferably) Bluetooth or USB.

What Microsoft is doing is to raise the issue of creating platform-agnostic core game play rather than requiring gamers to be tied to a particular platform.

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Microsoft researches a way to consolidate recordings from multiple recording devices

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Research

Abstract

Detailed article – PDF

My Comments

Sports scoreboard app

Microsoft is working on a way to create better recordings from many smartphones and audio recorders recording the same event

Microsoft has completed some research on how to amalgamate audio recordings of a meeting that were captured by different recording devices to turn out a higher-grade recording that captures the whole of a meeting. It is seen as being the audio equivalent of experiments and projects that aggregate multiple camera views of the same object, or could be seen as a way to create a “Claytons microphone array” using multiple recording devices with their own microphones.

The technique involves the creation of audio fingerprints of each of the recordings in a similar vein to what Shazam and its allies do to “name that song”. But these fingerprints are used to match the timing of each of the recordings to identify what was commonly recorded, allowing for the fact that one could start or stop a recording device earlier or later than another person.

This can lead to TV-grade multi-camera video recordings from a combination of DSLRs, high-end cameras and camcorders used by different users

This can lead to TV-grade multi-camera video recordings from a combination of DSLRs, high-end cameras like this one…

The technology that is assumed to be used in this context are standalone file-based digital notetaker recorders or the audio-recording function incorporated in many a smartphone or tablet typically by virtue of an app. Typically these recorders are recording the same event with integrated microphones and implementing automatic gain control and, in some cases, picking up their “own” background noise.

But you could extend this concept to integrating audio recordings made on legacy media like audio tape using standalone devices, or the soundtracks of video recordings recorded during the same event but are subsequently “dubbed” to audio files to be used in the recording. A good example could be someone who uses a “shoebox” or handheld cassette recorder to make a reliable recording of the meeting using something they are familiar with; or someone videoing the meeting using that trusty old camcorder.

Sony FRD-AX33 4K HandyCam camcorder press picture courtesy of Sony America

… and camcorders like this one of special events.

There are plans to create further research in to this topic to cater for recording music such as when the same concert performance or religious service is recorded by two or more people with equipment of different capabilities.

A good question to raise from the research is how to “time-align” or synchronise a combination of audio and video recordings of the same event that were recorded at the same time with equipment that has different recording capabilities. This is without the need to record synchronisation data on each recording device during production, and allowing for the use of equipment commonly used by consumers, hobbyists / prosumers and small organisations.

The reality that can surface is someone records the event using top-shelf gear yielding excellent audio while others film from different angles using camcorders, digital cameras and smartphones that record not-so-good sound thanks to automatic gain control and average integrated mics, while the good digital cameras and camcorders still implement their excellent optics and sensors to capture good-quality vision.

Once this is worked out, it could then allow a small-time video producer or a business’s or church’s inhouse video team to move towards “big-time” quality by using top-shelf audio gear to catch sound and the use of one or two camcorders operated by different operators to create “TV-studio-grade” multi-camera video.

Who knows whether the idea of post-production audio-level synchronising and “blending” for both conference recordings and small-time video producers.

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Advanced wallpaper images–could this be real?

LG's 4K OLED curved TV press picture courtesy of LG America

These LG 4K OLED TVs could be showing a tasteful wallpaper image while music plays

Increasingly, there is an interest in creating subtle wallpaper-type images and displays that can work effectively in the background whether with or without music.

Most home AV systems, especially those kept in a lounge area include a television or similar display device but if you intend to play audio-only content like music, you end up with a device that becomes useless in these environments. You typically end up with a blank screen which could be put to better use.

But you may want something that is effectively serving as a visual wallpaper that can exist in the background without destroying the flow of the conversation. This is more so if you are intending to play background music and something like a karaoke-style lyrics display or a music video may simply look out of place and end up more as a distraction.

A small cafe

Cafes like this could benefit from advanced video wallpaper displays rather than ordinary television

Businesses will also see this appealing as a merchandising tool for promoting their products and services and community organisations may want to exploit these concepts as a way to “set the mood” prior to running an event or promoting their efforts. Even cafes and bars would value the idea of creating a dynamic visual wallpaper rather than showing ordinary television content to set the ambience.

It is infact something that theatres and cinemas have practiced, typically before the programme session starts or during an interval where they show still images, typically advertising while background music plays.

What is being achieved with existing technologies

The concept has been tackled in various different manners such as DVD / Blu-Ray players, network media players and the like showing a screensaver-style image while audio-only content is being played.

A good example that stays in my mind is a Sony DVD/VHS combo that was used to play music CDs through the TV’s speakers and this unit showed a screen which changed between different colours while the music played. Similarly, some hotel TV systems may show a photograph and a text description of the radio station, or the radio station’s logo if the TV is being used to play a radio station, with better implementations showing the current song’s title or other dynamic information that is obtained from tha station’s RDS or similar datastream. Most regular-computer platforms have the ability to run a screensaver which typically is a pattern or animation that comes in to play when the computer is not being used. Or you could set up some network media players to pick photos up from your DLNA media server and run them as a slideshow while you have music playing from that same media server or another media server.

Static image from Christian playlist video used at church gathering that I cited

Static image from Christian playlist video used at church gathering that I cited

Sometimes, when people put up music on YouTube, they set up a visual wallpaper that accompanies that music. This may typically be a static image that never changes, or an image that may change at some point. A good example of this that I saw during a church get-together hosted at someone’s house was this YouTube “static-screen” video with the top 50 of the newer Christian contemporary praise-and-worship songs as its audio content while a static slide having a picture of a flying dove and “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life” appearing as a text quote at the bottom that picture. This is similar to how some people have created “continuous-music” DVDs which show one or more static images but have music playing. These and similar examples were based on a practice that WPIX-TV in New York City undertook since the 1950s where they showed a Yule Log burning in a fireplace (YouTube) with some classic Christmas carols and songs playing through the TV’s speaker.

How could this be taken further?

Live Wallpaper

There can be better ways to go about this. One would be to take a leaf out of Android’s book and exploit the “Live Wallpapers” concept which can allow you to create customised wallpaper images that can show real-time information or update the display in a dynamic manner. For that matter, Google could extend this concept to the Android TV platform which Sony is supporting for their 4K Smart TVs and Free have based their latest Freebox on. This could be in the form of showing selected pictures from one or more sources such as your photo collection or a stock-photo library, which could apply well to pictures of a city or country or some general pictures.

Cinemagraphs and short video loops

Beach shot

A beach image could be animated with the waves splashing in

A trend that is starting to become real is the concept of “cinemagraphs” which are video loops that appear like an ordinary photo but have subtle movement taking place. An example of this is a picture of someone sitting by the fireplace with the fire’s flames flickering, a Christmas tree with the twinkling lights or a beachside image with the waves rushing in. Even a close-up of someone may have some accidental movements like twitching or lips puckering.

Apple placed a revision in to the iOS 9 camera app which implements “Live Photos” that allows you to grab a short moment of animation just by taking that photo. Facebook and Tumblr even has integrated support for these “Live Photos” to be contributed to a user’s Facebook or Tumblr presence using the latest versions of the social networks’ iOS native-client apps. Third parties have opened up some desktop software and Websites which turn Live Photos in to animated GIFs which can be uploaded to Websites.

Microsoft’s research division is taking a step in the right direction by completing final research on “cliplets” where a short video can be broken in to “layers” with the ability to create separately-programmable loops for different objects in the video.

Enabling programmatic control of advanced wallpaper

Once a particular file type is defined for these kind of photo-video hybrid images to permit the creation of separately addressed video loops, it could be feasible to have these images driven by external properties like the time of day. This can range from one or mroe different text messages appearing under programmatic control to a graphic that is altereted depending on certain conditions.

An example of this could be a hybrid picture of London’s Big Ben showing the current time of day or a beachside image showing a dusk view when it is dusk. This could also allow for one or more text layers to be created to show text like quotes from a “quote library”, current song metadata, current time or weather information and the like. A media player that supports this file type could then show these for a user-defined time period then show another regular image or hybrid image for that time period.

Conclusion

This will become a constant issue as people want to use visual wallpaper on their display screens especially as these screens become increasingly large thanks to 4K UHDTV technology. Here, people may want to look at ways to keep these screens showing something appropriate during social events but not distracting their guests or patrons; or a business wants to keep their clients aware of their special offers.

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