Category: Network Media Devices

Video peripherals increasingly offering audio-output abilities

Article

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

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

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

My Comments

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

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The TV to support multiple HDMI-ARC video peripherals

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

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

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

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

How should the digital audio be delivered?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Yamaha’s network-capable stereo receivers can play legacy sources through MusicCast network speakers

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

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

Yamaha R-N402 Network Stereo Receiver – can even stream audio from sources connected to it into Yamaha MusicCast speakers

Yamaha

R-N602 Natural Sound Network Receiver (Product Page)

80W / channel 8 ohms 0.04% THD 20Hz-20kHz

(Analogue Inputs: 1 phono, 2 line-level, 2 tape loops; PCM Digital Inputs: 2 Coaxial, 2 Optical)

R-N402 Natural Sound Network Receiver (Product Page)

100W / channel 8 ohms 0.2% THD 40Hz-20kHz

(Analogue Inputs: 3 line-level, 1 tape loop; PCM Digital Inputs: 1 Coaxial, 1 Optical)

R-N303D Natural Sound Network Receiver (Product Page)

100W / channel 8 ohms 0.2% THD 40Hz-20kHz

Analogue Inputs: 3 line-level, 1 tape loop; PCM Digital Inputs: 1 Coaxial, 1 Optical

DAB+ tuner

My Comments

Previously, I had touched on the issue of availability of “full-width” network-capable stereo receivers that have the same expectations as the traditional hi-fi receiver that has been seen as the heart of many hi-fi systems. This was when I had called out the Onkyo TX-8050 network stereo receiver and the Yamaha R-N301 network stereo receiver.

Here I was focusing on people who value the idea of creating a hi-fi system that is about playing music rather than a home-theatre setup that is about showing what Hollywood has to offer. Situations that I think of include creating a formal lounge area where you want to focus your activity on entertaining guests, reading and playing or listening to music; or simply maintaining a separate home-entertainment system optimised for playing music.

Yamaha are still pushing through with stereo receivers that can connect to your home network. The latest examples are underscored with the R-N602, R-N402 and R-N303D Natural Sound Network Receivers which integrate the concept of the stereo receiver with the home network and multiroom audio thanks to the latest iteration of the Yamaha MusicCast network audio technology.

This technology that Yamaha implements in these receivers isn’t interlinked with any overarching multiroom network-audio standard adopted by many manufacturers. But they can also work with network audio sources like DLNA-capable media servers including NAS units, or online sources like Spotify or Pandora. Those of you who use an Apple device running iOS or a recent iteration of MacOS can also use these Yamaha receivers for your device’s audio output.

One of the features I am calling out is the ability to stream audio from a source device connected to these receivers to other Yamaha MusicCast devices. For example, in the case of the R-N602, you could start a record playing on the turntable connected to this receiver in the formal lounge room. Then you use the Yamaha MusicCast Controller app on your iOS or Android smartphone to hear that record through the Yamaha PLUS (WX-030) speaker in the kitchen.

Similarly, these receivers are implementing Bluetooth not just as a source but as an alternate output. For example, one could hear a local radio broadcast on the receiver’s integrated tuner through their Bluetooth headphones without the need to worry about the length of their headphone cord thanks to this functionality.

The Yamaha R-N602 does cater very well for legacy media by providing an integrated phono stage for a turntable equipped with a moving-magnet cartridge, as well as two tape loops which can come in handy if you still record to tapes or other media, including using a computer to archive old recordings. But the Yamaha R-N402 and R-N303D has its analogue inputs being line-level only with one tape loop.

At least Yamaha haven’t forgotten about the network-capable stereo receiver as a product class for devices that serve as a hi-fi system’s hub. Instead, they have made sure that there is a range of equipment that suits different needs and budgets, allowing us to consider how to build out that music system as we want.

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Companies now to support multiple voice-driven home assistants

Articles

Harman now has smart speakers for Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant | Engadget

The Sonos smart speaker with microphone hits the FCC | The Verge

Sonos to announce new smart speaker on October 4th | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Harman

WHEN VOICE MEETS SOUND (Press Release)

Introducing JBL® LINK Series: Immersive JBL Sound Now Available with the Google Assistant (Press Release)

HARMAN introduces Harman Kardon Allure with Amazon Alexa to the Voice Activated Speaker Family (Press Release)

My Comments

Harman Allure smart speaker press image courtesy of Harman

Harman Allure smart speaker powered by Amazon Alexa

The Internationaler Funkaustellung trade show has been and gone but this time more manufacturers were premiering smart-speaker products based on either the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant platforms.

One of these is the Sony LF-S50G speaker that looks like Apple’s Siri-based HomePod smart speaker but has an integrated display while Panasonic were also launching the GA10 which is a box-like smart speaker. Both of these speakers work with Google Assistant.

But a few companies have put their feet in multiple ponds by supporting two or more platforms. One way is to offer different models or product ranges that are based on different platforms. The other is to attempt to have the one smart speaker able to be set up to work on one of many platforms that the user chooses.

JBL Link smart speaker range press picture courtesy of Harman

JBL Link smart speaker range powered by Google Assistant

The former approach has been taken by Harman who have multiple names of respect in the hi-fi, sound-recording, PA and allied industries under their wings. Initially, they offered the Invoke smart speaker that is based on the Microsoft Cortana platform. Now the premiered the JBL Link range of smart speakers that work on the Google Assistant platform as well as offering the Harman-Kardon Allure smart speaker that is based on the Amazon Alexa platform.

Pioneer and Onkyo recently underwent a “Renault-Nissan” merger of their home audio and AV businesses and offered a few smart speaker models based on the different platforms. Here, Pioneer premiered the Smart Speaker F4 which is based on the Amazon Alexa platform while Onkyo launched the Smart Speaker G3 based on the Google Assistant platform while maintaining the Alexa-based VC-FLX1 smart speaker that was launched at CES 2017.

The latter approach has been taken by Sonos with their S13 prototype smart speaker that is intended to be released on October 4. Here, they put forward the idea of having the user to have this speaker work with Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant rather than being stuck with one platform. It is seen as a premium-level attack at the Apple HomePod which will be based on Siri.

The approach of a manufacturer supporting different voice-driven-assistant platforms like Alexa or Google Assistant in different product ranges may appeal to companies who see one of the platforms offer a particular premium-level cachet which can tie in with their premium product ranges. This is while a popular platform like Alexa or Google Assistant could end up being focused on to popularly-targeted products.

Compare this with the idea of having multiple platforms supported by the same smart-speaker or similar device. Here, it can appeal to TVs, hi-fi / home-theatre components and allied devices that are expected by customers to run for the long haul or with premium network speaker products.

Either trend could be support by many different manufacturers while the devices that you interact with for these platforms could end up being more than just the cylindrical benchtop speakers.

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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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