Category: Network Media Devices

Multiroom to be another common feature for smart speakers

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo – to become another online multiroom audio system

Amazon Echo multiroom audio not far off, report says | CNet

My Comments

A feature that is showing up with the “smart speakers” that are part of the various voice-driven home assistant platforms is the ability for multiple speakers of the same platform to work as a multiroom system. This is where the same content source can be played through multiple speakers of that same platform, including the ability to have multiple speakers or audio devices in a logical group representing, perhaps, a floor or an area of the house. This functionality is taking on the audio-content playback abilities like Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Tidal and others offered by the various voice-driven home assistant platforms

Google Home – already a multiroom audio system as well as a smart speaker

Google has already established it with their Home speakers and Chromecast-based audio connectivity devices. But Alexa are intending to join in by allowing you to play the same content source through multiple Echo speakers and to treat a group of speakers as a logical unit. Let’s not forget that while the market’s competitive, Apple and Microsoft won’t want to miss out on the idea of multiroom audio as part of their voice-activated home assistant platforms.

Similarly, Amazon have aligned their Alexa platform with DTS’s PlayFi multiroom audio platform which is pitched at the premium hi-fi market. They have a large number of the hi-fi names with them and are wanting to integrate full Alexa voice functionality in to their speakers and other audio devices.

There may be some feature possibilities that may end up in the product evolution for these smart-speaker platforms. One of these could be to set one or more pairs of speakers up as stereo pairs which can yield the improved separation when you listen to stereo content. Similarly, there could be the idea of creating a multiple-microphone array out of a group of speakers to make it easier for the voice-driven home assistant to understand you.

Who knows how hot the competition for the voice-driven home assistant that talks to you is going to be and whether this will mimic the home videocassette format wars of the early 80s?

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An Internet-connected laptop could replace the link van for location broadcasting

Article

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

A laptop of the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming class could end up as today’s equivalent of an outside-broadcast link truck if the BBC has its way

BBC livestreaming Edinburgh festival from a laptop | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

BBC

IP Studio whitepaper

My Comments

If you watch news, sports, live concerts or similar content on TV, you will be seeing location broadcasting at work as they bring that footage to your screen.

Typically, a location broadcast that any TV studio does either required the use of video recordings that were transported to the studio before broadcast. Or they relied on a “link truck” which is a vehicle equipped with an antenna that beamed the location signal back to the studio using a microwave link if the idea is to allow the studio access to real-time vision. Some regular venues that are regular sources of content may implement a wired connection facilitated by a leased line between that venue and the studio.

Such setups have been limited by the amount of time required to locate the link truck and establish these radio links. This can also be limited through factors like weather or making sure of a line-of-sight connection to the studio’s link tower.

But the Internet and the size of computer technology has opened up the possibility of a laptop of the same or better calibre as the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming I recently reviewed connected to a high-bandwidth Internet connection as an alternative to the traditional location broadcast setup, especially for shows directly streamed to the Internet. The technology which is called IP Studio is part of an effort that Auntie Beeb is taking towards implementing IP technology for TV-show production. In this context, it is about being able to use a mobile wireless network to interconnect the cameras to the laptops for location broadcasting.

Here, they are using the Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival to prove a setup based around laptops that are uplinking to the Internet via the same kind of technology used for Internet service. The editing software that is being used is primarily a Web-app which works in the browser rather than a standalone app. But it could allow for the link-van approach where a laptop is used to upload the edited vision to the broadcaster’s studio to be inserted in to the program.

Once it is proven, the BBC’s IP Studio technology which is based primarily on open-source tools, could be seen as beneficial for all sorts of broadcasters who want to save money and set-up / tear-down time on and see increased flexibility with their location work. For example, news-gathering teams could be able to set up and “go live” on that breaking event or press conference with a very short lead-time.

The same technology could open up affordable location-broadcasting technology to community broadcasters and specific-event Webcasters who place importance on cost-effective setups. Even organisations who have video-editing talent in their staff or volunteer collection could see this technology appeal to them.

What this is showing is that the Internet and cost-effective computer design is making big-time broadcasting and production technology more affordable.

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Traditional movie and TV studios shine towards direct video-on-demand services

Article

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

Could the various smart-TV platforms like Apple TV, Chromecast or Roku be required to run “content malls”

Disney Is Dumping Netflix And Launching New Streaming Apps | FastCompany

My Comments

Traditionally, movie and TV production studios have been making their wares available through distributors or other third-party elements.

But what has happened is that they are moving towards running their own video-on-demand services in a similar way to how some manufacturers and first-party distributors have set up their own “direct” mail-order or online storefronts in the US market.

Disney is heading this way by moving their content from Netflix to their own service, something they were announcing as part of a third-quarter earnings call. It may sound close to the established “catch-up TV” model especially where the TV channels are running their own content for a long time on their video-on-demand services. Here, Disney sees this service they are exposing as the online home for some of their content like Toy Story 4 or the live-action version of the Lion King, along with putting their library of TV and movie content onto video-on-demand. Could this mean the ability to “pull up” Disney’s short cartoons that graced Saturday morning children’s TV or the early part of the cinema sessions before and after World War II. Or the ability to see those classic animated feature-length movies that

Here, it is similar to what HBO and CBS have been working on by offering a direct video-on-demand service for their content. But the “studio-direct” model could lead to difficulties in navigating content of a kind offered by multiple studios, as well as requiring potential viewers to sign up with multiple video-on-demand providers. In some cases, it may also affect whether a potential viewer signs on because of the cost of the service or the kind of business model offered by the provider. It may appeal to those of us who shine to a particular studio’s output.

Studio-direct VOD along with niche VOD may then lead to a requirement to establish video-on-demand as a “content mall” facilitated by mobile / desktop-computing platforms and smart-TV / set-top / games-console platforms. This may involve the use of content directories that link to the service providers in a similar vein to TuneIn Radio or vTuner for Internet radio. At the moment, Roku is the only provider who is working close to a “content mall” for their set-top platform, but there will be pressure on other platforms to take this approach.

It is very interesting times ahead for video-on-demand as the traditional “single-front” Netflix model falls away to the mall-based approach.

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VOD content-search aggregation

Article

Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix – one of many SVOD providers

Say Goodbye to Video on Demand Browsing Fatigue | LinkedIn Pulse

My Comments

A common situation that will happen is for us to sign up to Netflix as well as using our Apple ID and credit card to purchase or rent video content on iTunes. But we subsequently know of one or more other video-on-demand services that have a content library that appeals to us. This becomes more real as boutique video-on-demand enters the spotlight or newer operators join the video-on-demand scene.

SBS On Demand Windows 10 platform app

SBS On-Demand – an example of an advertising-funded boutique VOD provider

Here, we end up heading down a path where we have to switch between multiple user interfaces on our smart TV, video peripheral or tablet to find the content we want to watch. In some cases, it could end up with us acquiring extra video peripherals and selecting different sources on our TVs in order to go to different video-on-demand providers, because they don’t appear on the connected-video platform we primarily use.

But what can happen is that we are after a particular title or shows like it and want to know where it is available without spending a lot of time searching for it. This is where content-search-aggregation can come in handy.

Multiple VOD and catch-up TV providers on a smart-TV or set-top box vie for our attention

What is this? It is where you supply the name of a particular piece of video content and the content-search-aggregation engine lists which video-on-demand providers have the content you searched for. It would support the different business models that video-on-demand providers work on such as subscription, transactional and advertising.

It is very similar to the success of TuneIn Radio, vTuner and Radioline in providing an aggregated Internet-radio directory used in Internet radios, both of the “big set” (hi-fi system) and “small set” (table radio, portable) kind;  and  the Internet-radio apps available on every desktop, mobile or smart-TV platform.

I would like to see these aggregated-content-search engines have, as part of their personalisation efforts, the ability to provide a results view that is based on the services you deal with such as the subscription VODs you subscribe to, the transactional VODs you have registered with and the advertising VODs you regularly visit. In the case of transactional services including “download-to-own” or “download-to-view” storefronts, the results could be sorted by the cost to view in your local currency. But it could be feasible to provide an advertising service on these search engines that list other VOD services carrying the same kind of content in your area, especially boutique providers that run with this content. This can put new streaming or download-driven online-video providers “on the map” as far as the viewership is concerned.

Client-based implementations could work with your downloaded content library along with the streaming and download-based services in order to search through these catalogues for what you are after.

Similarly, these search engines can aid in the content-discovery process by allowing us to find content similar to a specific title or having specific attributes hosted by the providers you deal with. If you are using a VOD service that has an account system for payment or personalisation, it could be feasible for these search engines to “pass” the title to the service so you can put it in your viewing list or favourite-content list, instigate a purchase / rental transaction for that title in the case of a transaction-driven service or immediately have it playing.

To the same extent, the aggregated-content-search platform that links with your accounts on the various VOD services can provide the ability to show an aggregate view of the content recommendations that the services provide based on your past viewing.

Another factor that influences our viewing choices is the content recommended by film critics, radio hosts and other personalities that we follow. Here, some of these personalities or the publishers and broadcasters they work with maintain some form of Web presence, typically through a social-media account, blog or something similar. Here they may use this presence to provide a list of content they recommend or simply cite a particular film or TV series.

But these Web presences cam be made more powerful either through RSS feeds for “recommended-viewing” lists or the ability to link a film’s title to the search engine. These can be facilitated through an express hyperlink to the aggregated-content search engine’s entry for that title. On the other hand, the combination of standardised structured-data-markup and software that interprets this markup and passes this data to these search engines could provide for a competitive approach. In the case of “recommended-viewing” lists delivered as RSS feeds, aggregated-content-search engines could implement a mechanism similar to Web-based newsfeed readers of the Feedly kind for adding these lists.

To the same extent, these personalities could contribute their knowledge about titles to an aggregated-content-search engine to turn it in to a rich video-content portal that helps viewers choose the content they are after.

There are a few of these aggregated-content-search engines existing but these are primarily Web-based or mobile-based services, with Roku offering theirs as part of their set-top-box platform. They currently link with the main video-content resources like IMDB and RottenTomatoes along with the current popular VODs.

But they have to be able to work across multiple platforms including smart-TV / set-top-box platforms, support extensive end-user personalisation along with allowing users to follow content recommendations that their favourite personalities offer. As well, if the concept of “download-to-own” picks up, an aggregated-content-search platform could be used to find content that you have in your collection or could “pick up on” through “download-to-own” storefronts,

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Netgem proposes to integrate the set-top box and soundbar in one unit

Article

Combining the STB, TV soundbar and Alexa means telcos can stand out from the crowd | VideoNet

From the horse’s mouth

Netgem

SoundBox set-top box and soundbar

Product Page

Video (Click / Tap to play in YouTube)

My Comments

Soundbars and TV speaker bases are becoming an increasingly-valid path for improving your TV’s sound because they provide the sound through just one box, perhaps along with a subwoofer enclosure. This is because the typical flat-panel TV is becoming more slim but doesn’t have much thought put in to its sound quality and most of us want to hear our shows through something a bit better than that.

As I mentioned in another article on this topic, they will appeal to people who have their TV set up in the traditional manner with it being in the corner of the lounge so as to avoid it competing with the view offered by a feature window or fireplace. They also will appeal to those of us who like our music via a dedicated stereo system with its own speakers, something that is considered to be important thanks to the “back to basics back to vinyl” trend.

In some countries where there is a competitive market for “triple-play” Internet service or subscription-based TV service, the features that a set-top box or PVR offers are seen as a selling point for each of the service providers. As well, most of these telcos or pay-TV providers want to be in a position to upsell customers to better services.

This has led Netgem, a French set-top-box designer to offer to these providers a device which has a soundbar and set-top box in the one housing. It will have the ability to work with a variety of online video and music services and can be controlled by the traditional remote control or a smartphone app. But this box is also being equipped with Amazon Alexa support which allows it to work in a similar vein to the Amazon Echo wireless speaker. The Amazon Alexa agent will also learn media-navigation skills pertaining to this device so you simply can select what you want to watch by voice.

Philips achieved a similar goal by offering a soundbar with an integrated Blu-Ray player,  2-band (FM / Internet) radio and network media player in order to provide a soundbar equivalent to the “home theatre in a box” systems.

The idea behind this box is to allow a telco or pay-TV provider to provide a device that is better than usual to differentiate itself from the others. This is more so where they are focused on selling a “solution” rather than selling a product or service. In most cases, it could be seen simply as an optional device that customers can request rather than as the standard device for a premium package. It is because there will be some customers who will have their own soundbar or home-theatre setup as the way to improve their TV’s sound and simply want a set-top box as the gateway to an IPTV service.

As well, implementing HDMI-ARC, DLNA MediaRenderer, AirPlay / Google Cast playback and similar functionality cam make sure that this device can earn its keep as part of your networked personal A/V setup.

What is showing up is that, especially in Europe’s competitive markets like France, there is a strong interest amongst whoever is offering triple-play broadband service to provide something that offers that bit extra.

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Dual-device videocalling–how about it?

Arcam of Cambridge: Solo Movie system incorporate the latest technology and components from Arcam’s 2016 AVR & Hi-Fi ranges, including the acclaimed Class G amplification, High-End Blu-ray and DVD Replay and full App Controlled music networking / streaming. www.arcam.co.uk. PR by Robert Follis Associates Global - www.robfollis.com

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

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

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

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

This is more so when there is that family special moment

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

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

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

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

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

Set-top devices designed to work with platform mobile devices

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

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

Is there a need for this functionality?

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

Social networks and mobile messaging

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

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

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

How is this achieved at the moment?

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

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

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

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

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

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

What will this entail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An alternative path for app-based connected-TV platforms

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Mohu offers a traditional indoor broadcast-LAN TV aerial for more than just cord-cutters

Articles

Mohu AirWave broadcast-LAN indoor TV antenna - press picture courtesy of Mohu

Mohu AirWave broadcast-LAN indoor TV antenna – first of these for the US market

Mohu’s wireless AirWave antenna makes cord-cutting simple | Engadget

Attention cordcutters: Mohu AirWave bundles your local TV channels into handy app form | CNET

From the horse’s mouth

Mohu

Press Release

Product Page – AirWave

My Comments

The Winter CES 2017 in Las Vegas has shown up one of the first “broadcast-to-LAN” indoor TV antennas for the North American ATSC-based over-the-air TV landscape.

Mohu are pitching this device at the current generation of “cord-cutters”, who are an increasing number of American households that are dumping traditional cable or satellite TV services for classic over-the-air TV and Internet-provided “over-the-top” video services.

But unlike Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other countries where a healthy traditional free-to-air TV service is regularly received and just about every building maintains an outdoor TV aerial (antenna) or “master antenna TV system” for larger buildings, most of urban USA have headed towards a “cable-only” approach since the 1980s with buildings not having these TV aerials. What is now happening is that most American households who want to dump cable TV are connecting their TVs to indoor TV aerials to receive the local TV channels.

Mohu are offering a range of improved “flat-plane” indoor TV antennas that are able to provide better reception than the traditional “rabbit’s ears” or spiral-shaped indoor TV antenna that typically was used to do this job. Here, they have built this design from a radio-antenna design for military vehicles that they worked on where the antenna for the vehicle’s radio equipment is part of its mudflaps.

The AirWave device is infact a broadcast-LAN server which can stream over-the-air TV in to one’s existing Wi-Fi network so it can be viewed on a laptop, tablet or smartphone thanks to a Mohu-designed app. The native app for the supported mobile and TV platforms or the Website provides an aggregated view of the content offered by the local free-to-air stations and the over-the-top TV services.

There still are some questions to be raised about the Mohu AirWave as a broadcast-LAN device. One of this is whether it uses more than one front-end tuner. If it does, it could be feasible to watch or record multiple broadcasts concurrently. Another question that would be raised is whether the Mohu AirWave can expose the local TV channels in an open-frame manner like SAT-IP or DLNA. This can allow other companies to develop their own software or exploit existing software to view or record TV content rather than relying on Mohu’s front-end app or Webpage.  Similarly, it may be worth wondering whether this device uses an Ethernet connection to allow for reliable network connectivity when you use it with an Ethernet or HomePlug powerline network segment.

It may be feasible to think of this broadcast-LAN antenna device as being just fit for “cord-cutting” but it can do more than that. Even if this device isn’t its own Wi-Fi access point, you can have it work with a Mi-Fi router to become part of a mobile Wi-Fi network. For example, using it with a tablet or laptop computer could make it serve as a temporary TV-viewing setup for doing something like keeping tabs on that sports fixture or news event at the office or job site during the lunch break.

Mohu could also court the European/Australian/New-Zealand market with the AirWave broadcast-LAN TV antenna by offering a DVB-T/DVB-T2 variant that can receive the free-to-air broadcast stations offered in these territories using this standard.

What is being shown here is that the concept of a broadcast-LAN tuner setup which exposes TV broadcasts to a home or other small network is being extended to traditional broadcast TV through a device that is more than just “rabbit’s ears”.

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Your XBox One now has direct access to your Dropbox media pools

Article

XBox One games console press photo courtesy Microsoft

Now you can have access to the pictures and videos on your Dropbox account through this games console

Dropbox Debuts App for Xbox One | Windows Supersite

Dropbox Now Has An Xbox One App | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Dropbox

Blog Post

Download Link

Microsoft Store (Free)

My Comments

Some of you may be exploiting Dropbox as a media pool for the various special occasions in your family’s or friends’ life. This is because of the ability to share photos at best quality with those you want to share them with, including the ability for you to have people contribute photos and videos to the same Dropbox folder you have for that purpose.

In HomeNetworking01.info, I had outlined how you can integrate your Dropbox media-pool folders with your DLNA-capable NAS and Smart TV by copying them a folder on that same NAS. The use cases I was calling out regarding Dropbox media-pool folders include special occasions such as weddings or major birthdays, the children growing up including pictures of the new baby, or memorialising a loved one who had passed away including choosing the pictures to show at their funeral.

The Dropbox app for XBox One

XBox One connected to Dropbox concept diagram

This is how the XBox One can fit in to the Dropbox ecosystem

But you can have direct access to these media pools thanks to Dropbox’s first effort to target consumer-electronics devices. Here, they wrote up a native client program for the Microsoft XBox One games console. It has been achieved thanks to the ability provided by the Microsoft Universal Windows Platform to allow one to create a piece of software for a Windows 10 regular computer, a Windows 10 phone or an XBox with minimal effort to cater to that new device.

What you can do is that you can view the photos and videos and play audio files in all of the folders in your Dropbox account through your large-screen TV connected to the XBox One.

Here, you can operate its user interface using one of the XBox game controllers or the XBox Media Remote, presenting that kind of user interface expected for consumer-electronics devices such as heavy reliance on the D-pad buttons on the remote. As well, the visual interface is optimised for the 10-foot “lean-back” experience associated with the TV screen and software destined for that use case.

Ability to use USB storage devices with the Dropbox app on XBox One

You can also upload files from attached USB Mass-Storage devices to your Dropbox using this same client, which can come in handy when you want to deliver photos from your digital camera’s SD card to that media pool.

Similarly, you can download and copy the files from your Dropbox account to an attached USB Mass-Storage device. A use case for this function would be to copy choice photos from that Dropbox media pool to a USB thumbdrive that you hand over to a digital print shop like most of the office-supply stores or camera stores so you have snapshots to put in that album or show to others; or to show in an offline environment.

The ability to transfer files between your USB storage device and your Dropbox folders using the Dropbox app on the XBox One means that the largest screen in the house makes it easier to make a better call about what pictures and videos should be contributed or taken further. This is due to the fact that two or more people can see a larger image to make that better call.

Conclusion

What Dropbox is doing with their XBox application is to prove that they can write a native front-end program for their online storage service that is relevant to consumer-electronics devices and is presented with the 10-foot “lean-back” experience. Who knows if Dropbox will develop native client software for other smart-TV, set-top box and games-console platforms to allow users to gain direct access to this online service from the biggest screens in the house.

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Keeping the download-to-own music market alive

A lot of Millenials are preferring to use Spotify or similar “online jukeboxes” as their main music source, having the music play out of a wireless speaker or a network-capable audio system that supports these services.

What are these online jukeboxes?

Spotify

Spotify – the preferred only music source for many Millenials but can be used as a music discovery tool

These “online-jukebox” music services all work work primarily on a subscription basis where you don’t effectively own your music library, rather you stream down the music from these services after you pay a nominal amount per month or year to use these services. Some of them offer a free ad-supported variant of their music service, usually as an on-ramp to the main subscription-funded service.

But some of us, like myself, use the above-mentioned “online jukeboxes” more as a music-discovery tool so we can identify musical content that can fit in to our library. Examples of this include playing playlists that convey particular musical styles or moods, or discovering and “trying out” artists, albums and tracks that pique our interests.It includes situations where a company may offer a branded playlist with songs that represent what they are about.

In my case, I showed some interest in one of the “yacht-rock” playlists on Spotify and there had been a few songs that piqued my interest, some of which would be hard to find on CD in Australia. What I had done was to visit one of the transactional download-to-own music stores that is run as part of a platform’s app store and subsequently bought these songs as audio files that I could download. This meant I could add them as part of a personal playlist that existed on a microSD card as well as on a NAS that is available on the home network.

How can the “download-to-own” music services fit in

iTunes Store

iTunes – still going strong as a download-to-own music store

The way some of us add this content to our libraries is through a transaction-based “download-to-own” service like iTunes or Amazon Music. Increasingly most of the app stores associated with particular regular-computing or mobile platforms like the Windows Store and the Google Play Store are adding “download-to-own” music as part of their offerings.

Such services allow us to buy songs or albums as common media files to download to our computers or NAS drives, with a similar experience to buying the physical media where we effectively own it, but in a digital form. There used to be many of these services before the subscription-based music-streaming services took over the online music marketplace.

Microsoft Store - Muisc

Microsoft Store -Microsoft’s latest entry in to the “download-to-own” scene, providing music as MP3 files

What used to be an advantage was for these services to sell most of the songs as single tracks rather than require the user to buy a complete album. This was very similar to the era of the 7” 45rpm single where people could buy these records for cheap if they are after a particular song. This appealed to people who were buying to build up playlists of particular songs typically to set a particular mood.

There is also the value that you are not dependent on whether the content you like is still available at the online streaming music service or whether you have burnt up your mobile download allowance by streaming your music while on the road. Some of the online music services provide for offline listening but the files that are stored are kept in a proprietary form that can’t be readily played with anything other than the software provided by the online service.

Viable niches that these services can answer

Some of these services still exist but could be taken further to support a range of viable niches whether in the form of content types or audio-reproduction standards.

Answering new and upcoming talent

The typical answer to this issue is to offer these services as an “on-ramp” for upcoming talent like new musicians, basement bands and DJs. Here, these artists who typically have a handful of content but aren’t discovered could be able to sell their content through these services. They offer a simplified “on-ramp” for this kind of talent and may even provide the promotion that it needs to be exposed.

You may find that some of these “download-to-own” music stores will have their “artist and repertoire” teams who “suss out” local gigs, buskers and community radio to hunt down the new talent whose material they can sell.

Supplying particular kinds of content

To the same extent, there are some suppliers who sell particular kinds of “download-to-own” music that suit particular tastes.

Beatport

Beatport – the dance-music download-to-own store

One of these is Beatport who sell electronic dance music to DJs and those of us who like that kind of music. This is similar to how some dance-music record stores like Central Station Records in Australia existed, catering to this user class and were pulling out the stops to hunt down the latest beats.

Sometimes some record labels that specialise in particular kinds of content may run their own shopfront instead of or alongside the traditional distribution channels. It may be seen as a way to bypass import controls that some distributors and retailers value highly for controlling what is available in certain markets. As well, this approach effectively provides direct access to the talent the labels represent.

High-quality file-based audio

Another way would be that file types that represent high-quality audio could be available either as a standard or premium option. This can appeal for those of us who value high-quality audio or regularly use a top-notch hi-fi system. As well, there could be the ability to obtain high-quality masterings of the recordings that are available, including the ability to obtain a version prepared with or without high dynamic range.

Here, such recordings can be seen as a premium option for those of us who want something that is more special than what the online streaming services offer. An example of this has been the PonoMusic store that Neil Young started out with but is undergoing some renovation.

How can they complement Spotify and co?

But to continue making sure that these services maintain popular appeal, “download-to-own” music stores that want to cover a large market base have to have access to the current and back catalogue offered by most, if not all, of the major labels across the world. This includes being able to sell these recordings in to other countries, which may raise concern with music labels who don’t like the concept of parallel-importing of content in to other markets.

Similarly, they could partner with the likes of Spotify to offer the recordings that these subscription-based “online jukeboxes” provide for playback as a premium download-to-own option. For example, a media-management program that works with a “download-to-own” store and one of the “online jukeboxes” could offer a “buy this playlist offline” function where you can effectively buy your own copy of a playlist. Here, it would check which of the songs are downloaded or “ripped” from your CDs, then allow you to buy the remainder of the playlist from the “download-to-own” stores.

Conclusion

What has to happen is that, like the way radio and packaged pre-recorded music complemented each other, the download-to-own music services and the “online jukeboxes” of the Spotify kind need to be positioned in a manner to complement each other in the file-based music world.

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You could be using your phone to sign in to Facebook on the big screen

Article

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

You could be able to log in to Facebook on this device using your smartphone’s Facebook client

Facebook Login Updated for tvOS, FireTV, Android | AdWeek SocialTimes

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Developer News Press Release

Improving Facebook Login For TV and Android

My Comments

A holy grail that is being achieved for online services is to allow users to authenticate with these services when using a device that has a limited user interface.

TV remote control

A typical smart-TV remote control that can only offer “pick-and-choose” or 12-key data entry

An example of this is a Smart TV or set-top device, where the remote control for these devices has a D-pad and a numeric keypad. Similarly, you have a printer where the only interface is a D-pad or touchscreen, with a numeric keypad only for those machines that have fax capabilities.

Here, it would take a long time to enter one’s credentials for these services due to the nature of the interface. This is down to a very small software keyboard on a touchscreen, using “SMS-style” text entry on the keypad or “pick-and-choose” text entry using the D-pad.

Facebook initially looked at this problem by displaying an authentication code on the device’s user interface or printing this code out when you want to use it from that device. Then you go to a Web-enabled computer or mobile device and log in to facebook.com/device and transcribe that code in to the page to authenticate the device with Facebook.

Here, they are realising that these devices have some role with the Social Web, whether to permit single sign-on, allow you to view photos on your account or use it as part of a comment trail. But they also know that most of us are working our Facebook accounts from our smartphones or tablets very frequently and are doing so with their native mobile client app.

But they are taking a leaf out of DIAL (DIscovery And Launch) which is being used as a way to permit us to throw YouTube or Netflix sessions that we start on our mobile devices to the big screen via our home networks. It avoids a long rigmarole of finding a “pairing screen” on both the large-screen and mobile apps, then transcribing a PIN or association code from the large screen to the mobile client to be able to have it on the TV screen,

This is where you will end up authenticating that big-screen app's Facebook login request

This is where you will end up authenticating that big-screen app’s Facebook login request

What Facebook are now doing for the 4th generation Apple TV (tvOS) and Android-based TV/video peripheral platforms (Android TV / Amazon FireTV) is to use the mobile client app to authenticate.

Here, you use a newer version of the Facebook mobile client, the Facebook Lite client or the Google Chrome Custom Tabs to authenticate with the big screen across the home network. The TV or set-top device, along with the mobile device running the Facebook mobile client both have to be on the same logical network which would represent most small networks. It is irrespective of how each device is physically connected to the network such as a mobile device using Wi-Fi wireless and the Apple TV connected via HomePlug AV500 powerline to the router for reliability.

What will happen is that the TV app that wants to use Facebook will show an authentication code on the screen. Then you go to the “hamburger” icon in your Facebook mobile client and select “Device Requests” under Apps. There will be a description of the app and the device that is wanting you to log in, along with the authentication code you saw an the TV screen. Once you are sure, you would tap “Confirm” to effectively log in from the big screen.

At the moment, this functionality is being rolled out to tvOS and Android-based devices with them being the first two to support the addition and improvement of application programming interfaces. But I would see this being rolled out for more of the Smart TV, set-top box and similar device platforms as Facebook works through them all.

Spotify login screen

This kind of single-sign-on could apply to your Smart TV

One issue that may have to crop up would be to cater for group scenarios, which is a reality with consumer electronics that end up being used by all of the household. Here, software developers may want to allow multiple people to log in on the same device, which may be considered important for games with a multiplayer element, or to allow multiple users to be logged in but with one user having priority over the device at a particular time like during an on-screen poll or with a photo app.

Another question that could be raised is where Facebook is used as the “hub” of a user’s single-sign-on experience. Here, an increasing number of online services including games are implementing Facebook as one of the “social sign-on” options and the improved sign-on experience for devices could be implemented as a way to permit this form of social sign-on across the apps and services offered on a Smart TV for example. It could subsequently be feasible to persist current login / logout / active-user status across one device with all the apps following that status.

Other social-media, messaging or similar platforms can use this technology as a way to simplify the login process for client-side devices that use very limited user interfaces. This is especially where the smartphone becomes the core device where the user base interacts with these platforms frequently.

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