Category: Special-Occasion Posts

5 Year Special–Entertainment In The Connected World

5 Years Special iconAnother major trend that has come about over the past five years is increasing interest in “connected entertainment”. This has been augmented with the role of smartphones, tablets and computers having access to online content services, typically through natively-coded client-side apps.

But it is also about a surge in the availability of traditional devices that are associated with entertainment being connected to the home network and drawing down online content from various sources.

Network-capable entertainment devices

Increasingly we are purchasing network-capable entertainment devices that are fit for use in the main living or family areas of our homes.

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV

Firstly, most TV manufacturers are supplying “smart TVs” that have network connectivity and access to online content services. Typically the manufacturers, primarily the “big-name” companies are offering this towards mid-range and premium models in their product lineups. This feature is also being extended to Blu-Ray players, “home-theatre-in-box” systems and the like so you can add this feature to existing TV sets which is important as TV sets last a long time and are capable of being “pushed down” to secondary viewing areas. It is also a key feature for any of the newer 4K “ultra-high-definition” TVs that show images that are sharper than the regular Full HD TVs on the market.

Cyrus Lyric 09 CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric CD receiver – a network-capable stereo system

Similarly, network-capable music-playback devices are reaching standards that befit high-quality music reproduction. Here, these devices are either as “wireless speakers”, integrated music systems or hi-fi components that can be connected to existing hi-fi systems.

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

The “wireless speakers” are single-piece tabletop speaker systems that connect to the home network in a manner similar to what Sonos envisaged with their products. Here, you can have a group of these speakers that are connected to the same network play the same audio content without them being out of sync. Most of the setups may work in a “party-mode” setup where they play the same content whereas an increasing number of these speakers can allow you to set two like units up as a wirelessly-linked stereo pair for increased stereo separation or wirelessly link a subwoofer to the speaker to provide some extra bass. A trend that could easily come about is to have a wirelessly-linked multiple-speaker setup for surround sound, which could make this concept more appealing because of the absence of wires.

At the moment, Wi-Fi-based multiroom wireless speakers will work with other speakers that implement the same technology, typically by having the same or compatible chipsets. This is because no standard has been defined for these kind of speaker setups.

WD MyCloud EX4, WD MyCloud EX2, WD Red 6Tb hard disk

WD MyCloud EX Series NAS units able to benefit from the 6Tb WD Red

Another device that is being considered highly important for the “connected entertainment” world and is something that every home network will have to have is the network-attached storage appliance. These devices work as “always-on” media servers that can provide audio, image and video content and most, if not all of them implement UPnP AV / DLNA and iTunes / DAAP media-server functionality to do this on a level playing field. This means that you don’t need to run a desktop computer all the time to make the latest photos or the music you ripped from your CDs or downloaded from iTunes or similar services available to your smart TV or your network-connected stereo equipment.

Online Content Services

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Internet Radio

Previously, online content services were typically Internet radio services which offered global access to Internet-hosted simulcasts from various broadcast radio stations and networks. I saw this as the “new shortwave” because you could hear a radio station that is local to a particular city or town through this setup and these have been facilitatied by a few Internet-radio directories like TuneIn Radio and vTuner.

Now we have seen the arrival of the “global jukebox” in the form of music-streaming services like Spotify, Deezer and Pandora. These services allow you to legally stream an album, song or playlist via the Internet and work either for free with advertising or for a modest monthly charge. They are becoming a way to, for example, sample music you are interested in or even just listen to music for a modest cost or for free.

Spotify screenshot with album tracklist

Spotify, one of the most popular online music-streaming services

For music, the buy-to-download business model still exists courtesy of the likes of iTunes, Google Play, Amazon or most other online stores. There are some label-direct music stores that offer music on a “buy-to-download” basis. Most of these services offer the music as CD-quality 320kbps MP3 or 256kbps AAC files for each album track but some are offering them as master-quality FLAC or similar files. As well, most of these tracks are being made available as single tracks for pennies’ worth for those of us who want to construct the perfect playlist.

Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix – the sign of on-demand video’s progress

This is also including music distributors and online retailers like Amazon who sell us vinyl records or CDs that come with “pre-ripped” MP3 files that are available to download. For most of us, this avoids the need to rip the CD or to copy the record to the computer’s hard disk so it can be heard over the network or on our portable devices.

Online video is mainly driven by the likes of streaming services like Netflix who are even producing their own content as well as licensing other parties’ content. They are also being augmented by “catch-up TV” services where one can view one or more previous episodes of a TV series “on demand” after it was shown. Because these services are yielding high-quality content, they have led to people in the US abandoning their cable-TV services and watching content on these services.

Naim UnitiQute 2 on dressing table

The Naim Uniti!Qute 2 – a high-quality network-connected music system for that small room

Most such services are nowadays being delivered via set-top boxes that connect to your home network and implement a native front end to these services. But, as smart TVs come on the scene, anyone who offers a video-on-demand service has to provide a native front-end for the main smart-TV platforms.

In some parts of Europe, ADSL and fibre-based next-generation broadband is being used to deliver pay-TV. This is more so as part of telecommunications companies offering a “single-pipe triple-play” service to their customers where one connection to the customer’s home carries broadband Internet, landline telephony and multi-channel pay TV.

They have also implemented a “hybrid broadcast broadband” platform for television where it is becoming feasible to provide TV content services, including interactive TV, by interlinking traditional broadcast TV with content available via the Internet. Broadcasters primarily use this to deliver a supplementary video-on-demand service such as a catch-up TV service to the main TV set.

At the moment- there isn’t a level playing field for providing video content on an “electronic sell-through” or “download-to-own” basis in a similar way to what is being used for audio content. There are still issues with digital-locker services or digital-rights mechanisms binding users to particular content platforms or the risk of people losing access to the content they bought if an electronic-sell-through platform ceases to exist. They are not at a point where you could buy a movie or television series online and download it to a NAS for viewing at home knowing that you still have access to the movie even if the vendor goes off-line.

Conclusion

It will take some time to bring some video content-delivery services to the home network in order to have it accessible on the main TV set, but the home network has become an entrenched part of our entertainment lives/

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5-Year Special: Portable Computing is Mainstream

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

Laptops

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible Ultrabook

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

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

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – an example of a mobile workstation

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

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

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

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

Mobile computing

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

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

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

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

Google Play Android app store

Google Play Android app store

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

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

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

Smartphones

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

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

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

Tablets

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

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

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

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

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

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10″ tablet

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

Moble-Platform apps

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

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

Wi-Fi an important part of the home network

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

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

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

Mi-Fi devices and the portable Wi-Fi network

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

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

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

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Last minute shopping ideas

Are you still at the shops looking for gifts to buy those loved ones? Have a look at this list of last-minute shopping ideas so you have something to give.

Headphones, Earphones and Speakers

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Whether someone is working with a poor-quality headset or simply has lost or damaged their headphones, a replacement or additional headset can earn its keep.

Similarly the headset that they are using may not suit a particular activity they are doing like jogging or listening to content in a noisy environment. For example some headsets may earn their keep better for on-the-road use compared to other headsets or someone who does a lot of air travel or commutes by bus or diesel-powered train may appreciate the active-noise-cancelling headphones.

Bluetooth headsets can be of benefit to smartphone, tablet ad laptop users as a way to achieve private wireless handsfree communication. Why I mentioned tablet and laptop users is because of programs like Viber, Skype and Lync that allow for audio or video calls using these devices.  There are the Bluetooth audio adaptors that can covert a pair of wired headphones to a wireless headset and most of these come in the form of “Bluetooth in-ear headsets” which have these adaptors supplied with a pair of bud-style earphones.

Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless speaker

Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker

Wireless speakers are still worth considering whethe they are Bluetooth-based or Wi-Fi-based, most of which serve as Internet radios under the control of a software app for smartphones and tablets. The cheaper variety can work as an ad-hoc portable listening device for a smartphone, tablet or ultraportable laptop and better-quality units can work well as an adequate secondary sound system for a small area. If you are buying a Wi-Fi-based unit, make sure that it supports AirPlay and DLNA or is a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth type that supports DLNA for Wi-Fi use.

To the same extent, a Bluetooth-capable radio can serve as an alternative to wireless speakers if you are thinking of something for the kitchen, workshop or office and you want access to broadcast or, in some cases, Intenret radio.

Input Devices

External hard disk

A typical external hard disk

One last-minute shopping idea for most technology users would be an input device of some sort like a keyboard or mouse. This includes Bluetooth keyboards and mice that come in handy for tablets and some smartphones or a small USB “multimedia” keyboard for a games console or some smart TVs and video peripherals.

Examples where they could benefit would be to create a “full-sized” workstation with a full-width keyboard for an ultraportable laptop or a tablet or a proper keyboard to use with a Smart TV or games console to enter in login parameters or social-media text on these devices rather than “hunt-and-peck” or SMS-style text entry.

Of course, they would earn their keep with replacing that half-dead computer keyboard, mouse or games controller thus benefiting from increased reliability.

Storage

The USB memory key always earns its keep as a removable storage solution for most devices especially if you are doing things like printing photos from your image collection at commercial photo-printing kiosks, using as a “virtual mixtape” for music to play in the car or on another music system or simply to keep certain important data with you on the go. Blu-Ray player users can use these USB memory keys to locally store downloadable BD-Live content peculiar to their own experience with the BD-Live disc and player. This could even allow them to take the same data between many Blu-Ray players which comes in to its own with BD-Live interactive entertainment that maintains local scoreboards or progress charts.

USB external hard disks also serve a purpose for providing offline backup of large amounts of data or offloading a large quantity of data from a laptop. This is more important with users who operate an ultraportable laptop that uses lower-capacity solid-state storage or for travellers who want to make sure they have a copy of the data in their in-room safe. Some smart TVs and digital-TV set-top boxes also benefit form USB hard disks simply to allow them to gain PVR functionality.

Similarly, most digital camera users and Android phone users would benefit from a spare SD or microSD storage card. The camera users can see these cards serving as extra rolls of film that can be swapped out at will where you can gain access to the photos for printing or downloading. For Android and, to some extent, Windows Phone, users, the microSD card can work as infinitely-expandable storage or, as I use them, as the equivalent of the mixtapes.

Covers, sleeves and other accessories

One simple way to personalise any portable computing device is to purchase ta cover, sleeve or pouch that reflects the personality of the user. In the case of smartphones, cases that look like a wallet or notepad also can add that look of something that exists alongside one’s wallet and other personal accessories.

Similarly, “gadget bags” come in to their own with people who has laptops, smartphones, tablets or digital cameras. These can be small “toiletry-bag-style” bags or “school-style” pencil cases that can be used to keep chargers, cables and other accessories “rounded up” and hard to lose to neat-looking camera cases that can keep cameras and their accessories protected.

As wit these, pay extra attention to the quality of the material, the stitching and any fasteners that are part of these accessories because a lot of cheaper poor-quality types easily become undone by stitching coming apart or zippers giving way. This is because these cases undergo a lot of use as people use their portable computing devices through life.

Other notes

Have a look at the Essential Smartphone Accessories gadget list that I recently published because these highlight the kind of accessories a person who has a smartphone or tablet can never be without. Of course, it is so easy to think that you should have a certain quantity of chargers, extermal battery packs or similar devices but they are the kind of devices you never have too many of and are easy to lose or not have with you at the right time.

If you know what they like for music, video material, games or books, the right title can fill the spot easily. In some areas like Australia and New Zealand, these earn their keep as Christmas is immediately followed by the main summer holidays that most people take and it becomes the time to enjoy these titles more easily.

Of course, if you are not sure of what to give a person, a gift card to an online app store, online music store or “bricks-and-mortar” music, games, technology or similar store can answer you gift-giving needs. Some gift cards such as the JB HiFi gift card can be exchanged for credit towards another storefront like an online app store like the Apple iTunes storefront. Similarly, vouchers to the same merchant from different can be added towards a more significant purchase.

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Christmas Post 2013

Christmas treeHi everyone!

This year and every year, after Thanksgiving has passed and those of you in the US have had that big turkey and apple-pie dinner, the shopping frenzy will be underway. In some cases, the ClickFrenzy heat will become intense around this time while those of you who aren’t in North America will probably see the heat come alive around the beginning of December. This won’t even die after Christmas Day with the hectic Boxing Day sales and specials.

But how do you know what to get when you are thinking of computing and related technology gifts to give your family and friends.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “adaptive all-in-one” computer

If you are considering a family computer, you could consider the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which I reviewed and its peers like the HP Envy Rove as an alternative to a desktop-replacement laptop or a small “all-in-one” desktop. This is more so for something that may end up being used on the coffee table or kitchen table so that two people can brows over the one Web pave for example.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11

A “convertible” laptop-tablet computer like the HP x2 series or the Sony VAIO Duo 11 may have an appeal as a tablet or as a small content-creation notebook computer but the size can pre-determine the appeal in either of the roles. For example 13” variants may not appeal as a personal-tablet yet they appeal more as the “portable-typewriter” notebook computer whereas the 11” variants appeal more as the personal-tablet types.

For that matter, we are also seeing an increasing number of laptops and all-in-one computers that have the integrated touchscreen function. This is capitalsing on Windows 8 with its Modern user interface and some of us may see it as taking the touchscreen interface of the smartphone or tablet to the regular computer.

Increasingly other companies like HTC and Sony are offering the 5”-6” “phablet-class” large screen smartphones which can be described as a bridge between a smartphone and a tablet. These are comfortable for those of us who use or have used a “many-function” pocket calculator such as the scientific, statistical or financial calculators.

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

On this same theme of covering the mobile lifestyle, I have reviewed  more headphones like the Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headset. This is  alongside Bluetooth speakers like the Sony SRS-BTM8 and the Pure Jongo T6 speakers which can serve most mobile devices adequately wherever you are and they, like other Bluetooth speakers, can work with your laptop computer as a sound-output device.

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

Pure Jongo T6 Bluetooth / Wi-Fi wireless speaker

I have refreshed most of the DLNA Home Media Network articles and have created some articles about linking Dropbox albums to your DLNA Home Media Network using your network-attached storage device. This is based around a Windows, Mac or Linux regular computer and uses basic file-system techniques alongside the use of Dropbox’s native client application. Similarly, I had drawn attention to FreeFileSync as a tool to allow you to use your regular computer’ media-management applications to organise your media and upload it to a NAS for sharing via DLNA.

This is alongside reviewing a few sets of wireless speakers that can connect to your home network and play from an AirPlay or DLNA audio setup as well as being an Internet radio in some cases. As far as buying these wireless speakers are concerned, I would look at what whether you need battery power so they can be used away from AC outlets or whether you need more sound power output say to cover a large listening area.

The multi-function smart TV may make for itself a plausible gift idea so you can have the ability to gain access to most of the online video services. But, on the other hand, a Blu-Ray player, home theatre system or network media player with integrated access to online video services can earn its keep by adding this functionality to an existing TV. This also includes the “big two” games consoles whether they come with the functionality out of the box or available through a software update. For that matter, upgrading to the PS4 or XBox One shouldn’t mean that you get rid of your existing PS3 or XBox 360 because these can also serve as secondary multimedia players for other locations.

A network-attached storage device can become a viable Cbristmas gift for anyone with a home network because these can end up not just as file backup or network-wide “file drop-off” destinations but can evolve to become a media library. As well, if you do upgrade to a higher-capacity NAS, you can spread the network storage load between both devices like purposing one specifically as a media library..

Of course, this article about what to set the “family house” up with may help with choosing the right technology for that location for this location where the whole family visits regularly. This includes even the computer equipment that is to be resident in that location. This is best read alongside my article about whether to run with full broadband at this location.

There are ways to assure that your recipients do get the gifts that are worth it and will see them through the ywars. One way would be for a group to pool resources towards the decent gift, but on the other hand, you could purchase a gift voucher or gift coupon which entitles them to buy goods to the value of that card. In some cases, if the recipient receives many of these cards for the same merchant, they could easily end up purchasing something bigger and better. To the same extent, prepaid payment cards that work with the VISA or MasterCard platform can also serve this same need and also allow them to choose their favourite merchants including the online merchants. These options can make sure that you are buying something that these recipients really want.

I wish you a very merry Christmas and a very happy New Year in 2014,

With regards,

Simon Mackay

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Gift List–Mother’s Day

Sometimes you may be stuck for technological gifts to give Mum on her special day. Here, I have assembled a list of ideas to get you going, especially when it comes to high-value gifts where you can pool resources together to fund these gifts rather than buying many low-value gifts.

Tablets

Small size for the purse

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

The small 7” tablet computers come in to their own if the main goal is to have it on hand in your coat pocket. They can also fit comfortably even it to mid-sized handbags to use as an electronic notebook or electronic reference book.

To keep in the handbag, at home or the office

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tabletA 10” tablet may come in to its own if the main goal is to read or view online content while relaxing in that armchair or in bed. Similarly, they could come in to their own with a larger handbag or shoulder bag.

No tablet computer is complete without a matching accessory cover or wrap that suits Mum’s taste. If she owns a tablet computer, you may offer her a newer cover or wrap, perhaps to replace that tired old one that she has on that tablet.

Computers

Small ultraportables

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

Small ultraportable computers that range from 11” to 14” can earn their keep for “on-the-go” computing tasks. This is more so if Mum wants to create a lot of content like typing up many email letters, writing memoirs or simply working a blog.

Larger laptops

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement laptopOn the other hand, a standard-size laptop or “desktop tablet” computer may come in handy if the goal is a computer that is mainly used at home and the desire is to store it away neatly when not in use.

All-in-one

The “all-in-one” desktop computer, with the computing power, screen and storage in one slender box, can become an alternative computer option if you want an elegant desktop computer. They are also becoming increasingly capable rather than glorified “kitchen kiosks”.

Printers

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer – predecessor to the Photosmart 7520

As for printers, it may be worth looking towards a durable network printer that is cost-effective to run. Be careful of the printers that are cheap to buy because these units will be expensive to run due to short-capacity inks and toners, with situations where the cost of replacing ink or toner is as much as buying a printer of the same standard.

HP Photosmart 6520 or Photosmart 7520 desktop printers

HP Envy 120 – a neat aesthetically-pleasing printer for low-demand applications such as being a secondary printer

Brother MFC-J825DW or DCP-J725DW / DCP-J925DW

Small music system

1-piece including speaker docks and wireless speakers

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock (Photo courtesy of Marantz / Gap Marketing)

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

These single-piece systems, including speaker docks and wireless speaker systems, typically have a small footprint and can fit well on the kitchen bench or on the sideboard. Some of these may offer a “full” sound that encompasses te bass notes and the treble notes properly.

3-piece

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Sony CMT-MX750Ni – an example of a DLNA-compliant music system for a hotel room or serviced apartment

A three-piece system with separate speakers has increased flexibility. Here, you can keep the main unit on the sideboard and position the speakers further away, including mounting them on the wall or having them flank a fireplace or feature window.

Earphones and headphones

Creative Labs MA930 in-ear mobile-phone headset

Creative Labs MA930 in-ear headset

I would suggest that you look towards a few sets of headphones that suit different activities. For example, a pair of lightweight supra-aural headphones can work well for jogging or walking with good examples being provided by B&O (Form 2review), Bose, Denon, Sennheiser and Sony.

Earphones can also work well for public transport and other noisy environments especially where discreet use is required. Similarly a pair of good circum-aural headphones can go a long way for detailed music listening at home or in noisy environments.

It is worth having a look at this buying guide to be sure that the headphones fit yours and Mum’s desires.

Gaining the most out of the Internet experience

Internet setup

If there isn’t a broadband Internet service at Mum’s home, it could be a good gift idea to set up one there and install a good-quality router for the network as in the article that I had done about the “family house”.

To the same extent, optimising the home network with at least 802.11n dual stream coverage everywhere, preferably simultaneous dual-band 802.11n dual-stream Wi-Fi. As well, I would make sure that there is a HomePlug AV powerline segment in that network even if there is Ethernet in the house. This is to cater for ad-hoc wired-network setups.

The reason I would think of this is that you may be dealing with increased use of multimedia from online sources at the TV, laptop or mobile devices and you want reliable operation from these services.

Education

Similarly, you may pool resources together to give Mum access to IT education and support programs/ This is more so if she hasn’t got much in the way of computer skills.

Online content

As well, pooling resources to an online content service such as Spotify, Netflix, Hulu or QuickFlix may be a way to give her access to the music and movies that these services provide. In the case of Spotify, this may be about using it as an online music library or as a “music tryout” service that can be part of her complete music experience.

These services are not about replacing the existing content library but about hunting for new content that may be of interest.

Conclusion

I wish you all a very happy and prosperous Mother’s Day with lots of fun, with you using this as a way to choose the right gift that will be value for money.

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St Valentine’s Day post

You may think that St Valentine’s Day is all about giving the one you love something special like roses, or inviting them out for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner because you know she lives in your town.  Of course, this isn’t the only day to show that affection.

But on the other hand, you may have used Skype to make a video call to them because they are away on business or holiday. It is worth reading this article about making sure that the Skype call goes to plan when they head on that trip. Here, I have highlighted becoming familiar with the Skype software, whether it is on the computer, mobile device or your smart TV or video peripheral. In some cases, you may have to do a “dry run” to make sure everything goes OK.

Similarly setting up a music playlist with a good variety of appropriate music on your computer or portable music player can work well for that dinner date at home or that movie date. As well, silencing that smartphone can work wonders but be sure you know how to bring the sound back on again so you don’t miss those calls.

If you have recipes in those books, scanning them to PDFs to upload to your tablet computer or laptop can allow you to have them in a more portable manner if you have to cook that dinner at another kitchen. As well, a bookstand can come in very handy if you use that tablet in the kitchen to refer to online or PDF recipes. On the other hand, that bread-bin can be shoehorned in to a temporary bookstand for that tablet.

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Christmas Post 2012

Hi everyone!

Christmas fireplace decoration - courtesy Shinead FeehanAs the Christmas shopping season comes along, you will be led through a maze of confusion as the big stores put pressure on you to buy their specials during this frantic shopping period. Here, you could end up buying a device like a printer that is very costly to run or a special that is at the low end of the range and doesn’t have all the important features.

Computers

Fujitsu Lifebook LH772 notebook at Rydges On SwantstonThis year I have revised the Laptop Buyer’s Guide article to encompass the newer Ultrabooks and other ultraportable computers. These are portable computers that are made to be very light but don’t have enough in the way of connectivity or secondary storage to suit their use as a primary computer. Here, I have positioned them as to be specified as a “traveller” or other secondary computer while you maintain a desktop or larger laptop as the main computer.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computerSimilarly, I have seen desktop computers exist beyond the norm of the three-piece package with a system unit being in the form of a “tower-style” box. There are some of these computers that come with a system unit that is about the size of a toaster or a large book, if not smaller. Similarly, the “all-in-one” style desktop like the Sony VAIO J Series that I reviewed is gaining some respect as a legitimate desktop computing device. In these cases, the new chipsets are allowing the computers to perform as good in gaming and graphics as the classic desktop.

Windows 8 has come out this year at very affordable prices for upgrading existing computers or as part of newer computers. Here, this has made the touchscreen computing become mainstream and legitimised form factors like tablets and convertible laptops as regular computing devices.

Tablets and smartphones

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tabletThis year has become the year of the 7” coat-pocket tablet with this form-factor being useful for where portability is important. This is more so where you may want to carry that tablet in the average ladies’ handbag or in that coat pocket.

This has be underscored by the arrival of the iPad Mini which has brought Apple’s iOS platform to this particular form factor. As well, the Google Nexus 7 has shown how affordable tablets of this form factor can be when you are thinking of this form factor. Similarly, I have reviewed the Toshiba AT150 tablet as an example of this form factor earlier this year.

I also have written an article about what app classes to look at when you are filling that smartphone or tablet with new apps. This is more so for people who have just got in to the idea of these devices and are wanting to get an idea of what to purchase or download from iTunes App Store, Google Play or Windows Phone App Store.

Smart TVs, games consoles and network-enabled video peripherals

Increasingly, more of us are buying the smart TVs or enabling existing TV sets with network-enabled video peripherals like the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player. This has opened up paths like access to catch-up TV or video-on-demand services as well as the DLNA Home Media Network.

I have prepared an article about using the DLNA concept to show family pictures on the large screen of a Smart TV. This is something that can be of interest especially if you want to have your elderly parents have their family photos ready to view on the large screen. Even the idea of scanning the old family snapshots or having the slide collection scanned on to an optical disc to transfer to your network-attached storage can bridge these photos to the digital age.

Let’s not forget that the XBox 360 and the PlayStation 3 do still excel not just as games consoles but as multi-purpose network-enabled entertainment units. In some cases, these consoles could work with an older or cheaper TV as a DVD or Blu-Ray player and an on-ramp to the DLNA Home Media Network. This would be of importance as your older children consider the idea of leaving the family nest.

What to do for the Christmas season

It may be worth reading my article about getting Skype ready for the Christmas season. This would be important when you have distant relatives and you want to use this technology to catch up with them during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

To this same extent, it may be worth thinking about the issue of having the family house where you are having your Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas celebrations at connected to real wireline broadband Internet. In this same way, it could be worth encouraging people who have just retired not to leave their computer skills at the office door. In this way, you could think of encouraging the purchase of books about computer skills or choosing the right equipment for these people to have for their home computer.

Gift Ideas

Sometimes you may be stuck about what tech gifts to get for Christmas or what to write on that Christmas wishlist.

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headsetI have reviewed another pair of headphones and written up a buyers’ guide about headphones and earphones. Here, you can consider using different headphones or headsets for different purposes such as lightweight headphones for walking and jogging or enclosed headphones for games or music where the bass response is needed.  This can also go alongside a buyers’ guide that I have previously written about computer speakers. Similarly, I have written an advisory article on how to wirelessly play music from that smartphone, tablet or laptop through other equipment including the Bluetooth speakers and Wi-Fi wireless speakers that are on the market.

I have also written about whether to use a mouse with that laptop or just stick with the trackpad that is part of these computers. This includes some suggestions concerning what kind of mouse to buy for that laptop.

Similarly, I have written up an article about choosing TSA-compliant laptop luggage and focused on other factors to consider beyond that standard. This isn’t just about having that bag pass through security at US airports but encouraging you to be sure you are getting a good-quality piece of luggage.

If you can’t afford to, are embarrassed by or feel it’s out of place to buy that highly-useful but expensive gift for that person, I would recommend that a group of people like a household, family or friends pool resources towards buying that gift.

I am wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a very happy New Year

With regards,

Simon Mackay

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Another year of HomeNetworking01.info

Technology

Mobile Computing platforms

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet with stylus

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet – fit for business

The Android mobile computing platform has, over the past year, become an increasingly-credible platform that overtakes the Apple iOS mobile computing platform. This has been exemplified through the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note phone-tablet bridge device and the Google Nexus 7 tablet. This has even had apple take Samsung to court concerning “trade dress” and similar patents that Samsung copied in their earlier Galaxy S and SII products.

Regular computing platforms

Another set of major technology changes over the past year had come about in the form of new versions of the Windows and MacOS X regular-computer operating systems. These versions, known as Windows 8 and MacOS X Mountain Lion respectively, have introduced various mobile-computing concepts such as touch-driven operation and the app store to the regular computer.

Fujitsu Lifebook LH772 notebook at Rydges On Swantston

The long-lasting battery can allow the Fujitsu to work well for a long day of hotspot surfing at inner-city cafes and bars

As for the hardware, Intel had launched the third-generation “Ivy Bridge” classic-instruction-set processors with improved integrated graphics. This has raised the stakes for regular-computer graphics especially in the portable-use arena.

Bluetooth Smart Ready

The Bluetooth standard now embraces the 4.0 “low-power” variant which supports sensor and control devices that can work on 2 AA batteries or a watch battery for something like six months. This requires that the sensor devices work with a host device that implements Bluetooth 4.0; and this feature is slowly creeping in to all of the credible smartphones and tablets as well as some regular computers like Apple’s latest MacBook lineup and some of the Windows-based computers.

Awareness of malware targeted at the Macintosh platform

It is also the era that the Apple Macintosh platform is gain a similar user base to the Windows platform as far as regular computing is concerned. It doesn’t matter whether the core task for that computer is to be office work or creative work like media editing or playback, with some Windows computers being used for the latter purpose.

This has drawn malware creators to the idea of using the Macintosh platform as an attack vector, mainly through the use of cross-platform runtime environments like Java or Adobe Flash. This is due to the ability to quickly write and deploy the same version of software to run on both Windows and MacOS, with the runtime module liaising with the file system and other operating-system services/ Lately this vector has been taken further with zero-day attacks because the Java runtime isn’t updated as quickly and as regularly as the native-code software for the main regular-computing platforms.

We are being encouraged not to implement these runtime platforms unless necessary and I have raised the idea of compiling Java-written code to platform-native logic when writing for a regular-computing platform rather than creating intermediate code that requires the runtime component. This is so one doesn’t have to run a Java runtime component which can be used as an attack vector or allow a slow operating environment. Similarly, there will be a requirement by Symantec and others to write “security runtimes” that check for malware in Adobe Flash or Java intermediate code.

Network technology

802.11ac wireless networking

As for the small network, there have been a few trends concerning it. For example, a pre-release version of 802.11ac Gigabit wireless networking has been released but this is intended to work on the 5GHz radio spectrum.

Wi-Fi Direct wireless-network setup

Similarly, we have become more aware of the Wi-Fi Direct wireless-network setup concept. This is more about creating a Wi-Fi “personal-area network” either as an alternative to Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting peripherals to a host computer or setting up a temporary “on-the-road” network for mobile devices, laptops and network-connected peripheral devices.

I had reviewed a device which was an example of this concept in the form of the Kingston Wi-Drive, one of the “wireless portable storage servers” that are being promoted for use with smartphones and tablets. Another class of device that is exemplifying this concept is some of the recent crop of network speaker systems that can play music from a computer device via a Wi-Fi network that it is part of or can create itself. They use either Apple AirPlay or the open-frame DLNA standards to transfer the audio content from the computing device to the speakers.

HomePlug AV 500

Another trend for “no-new-wires” networking is the use of HomePlug AV 500 which is a high-throughput variant of the HomePlug AV powerline network. This will have the same situations as the HomePlug 1.0 Turbo network where all the endpoint devices that exist on that segment have to he the high-speed variant for the segment to work at the high bandwidth.

WPS in a multi-access-point wireless network

A question I have answered myself in the course of troubleshooting and optimising a home network was how the WPS easy-setup solution would cope with a multi-access-point wireless network. These kind of network setups are often required where there are building setups that could impede radio-wave transmission, such as interior walls made of double-brick, stone, reinforced concrete or the existence of metal walls.

The above-mentioned networks would have two or more access points which are linked to each other via an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backbone. All the access points operating on the same band are set to the same SSID and security parameters but are set to different radio channels so that the wireless client devices can roam between the access points seamlessly.

Here, I found that as long as the access points that have this feature are set up to persist their current setting when you engage the WPS push-button setup function, this function won’t affect the proper operation of this extended service set. What’s more, you can use this quick-setup routine at the access point closest to where you are intending to use the new device you are setting up.

Milestones

Two milestones have happened over the past year. One was the death of Steve Jobs who. along with Steve Wozniak, founded Apple in the mid 1970s. This led to the arrival of one of the first credible personal computers in the form of the Apple II, the commercialisation of the graphic user interface with the Macintosh and eventually a credible mobile computing platform with the iPhone and iPad. When I heard that Steve Jobs was falling ill with the cancer, I saw it in a similar light to Bill Gates leaving Microsoft – the foundation stones of personal computing coming away.

Another milestone that was celebrated this year during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics was Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Her was the founder of the World Wide Web and, effectively, the Internet as we know it today.

This site

I have increased the quantity of Ultrabooks and similar computers reviewed on this site, focusing on them being secondary travel computers rather than main or sole computers. I have also revised the laptop buyers’ guide to encompass this class of computer.

Similarly I am increasing the amount of coverage dedicated to the online lifestyle. With this, I have given special coverage to the sports scoreboard apps that you can download to your smartphone or tablet so these devices can become sports scoreboards. I have tied it in with some of the main sporting events.

As well, part of giving some more time to travel and lifestyle is to establish a “travel and lifestyle” page which will have useful information for travellers and for people who integrate their IT in to their lifestyle.

My post on the Australian Audio & AV Show 2011 has allowed me to sum up the trend towards network-driven audio and video, especially as it is being considered of respect at the top end of the market. This has intensified my interest in the DLNA-compliant home media network because of it being respected by hi-fi manufacturers of respect.

I have spent some time writing some advisory  articles on common computer-usage topics. One of these was a two-part “Email Essentials” series (1, 2) where I explained about basic email-usage concepts, something I have often had to help people who aren’t competent with computers on. I augmented this with another article about using email for sending messages to be “taken further”, which was targeted at people who regularly use Facebook, Skype, iMessage, SMS and other messaging systems.

These two articles are based on work that I have done whenever people ask me for assistance with their computers. I have also written up an article about dealing with that “hair-trigger” mouse which can happen with different mice and as they get used more.

As well, I have written an article on how to keep your computing skills alive and relevant when you retire from active work life. This encompasses what computer system to use as your main computer setup, including the idea of buying out your laptop or desktop that you have used at your work; as well as keeping the skills alive.

Because I have reviewed some business-grade laptop computers and other computer targeted at the business user, I have written an article about this class of equipment becoming relevant to the small-business and SOHO user. Typically, the distributors tend to pitch this class of equipment at the “big end of town” i.e. the larger corporations who have a large fleet of these computers, and these products are not made easily available to the smaller operator even though they can do the job as well for them.

I had written up an article about setting up for Internet when you move to a location in France. This is due to the highly-competitive Internet and triple-play market that exists in that country and I have encompassed some coverage about the Freebox Révolution Internet gateway and set-top box as being an example of what is being offered as carrier-provided equipment in France.

I have given a fair bit of coverage to the cloud-computing trend especially as this is frequently referenced in the computing press and bandied about by people selling IT solutions to small business. This was instigated by an interview that I did with — regarding secure computing in the cloud-computing age and had written an article about what small business needs to look for when they sign on to this kind of service.

I have given some coverage to the issue of device firmware updates and field-delivered software to computing devices. This is in response to legal action that was taking place in the US concerning the device firmware updates that were being applied to HP printers. This legal action was raising the possibility of loading modified firmware in to a device that could facilitate espionage or other undesirable activities. Here, I was describing the trends that occurred with the firmware-update practice over the years and raised security and updating issues concerning this practice, and the fact that the firmware-update ecosystem must deliver a secure update for the device and when we deliver the first update for a device, we deliver one that brings it to expected functionality once and for all.

Conclusion

Expect a very interesting next year for regular and mobile computing life as Windows 8 and MacOS X Mountain Lion merge the context of mobile and regular computing with different devices suiting different needs occupying particular spaces in the home and small business network.

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Christmas Post 2011

Christmas wreathHi everyone!

No doubt, as the TV ads shout, you will be passing headlong through an intense selling period. If you are in North America, this will start just after you have had that big turkey and pumpkin-pie feast on Thanksgiving Day. But this is the time to make wise decisions about what technology to buy as Christmas gifts through this season.

I am writing this piece so that the gift that you buy doesn’t end up as a real turkey in the face of the recipient or that you don’t shoot yourselves in the foot when you buy those bargains during the sales.

Network media and Internet-enabled “smart TV”

This year, Internet-based TV is being promoted by the main TV brands. This will typically be offered in the form of newer LCD TV sets being equipped with this feature, but you can enable your older or cheaper TV with this technology by purchasing one of the new Blu-Ray players, Blu-Ray home-theatre systems or network media adaptors from the likes of Samsung and Sony. These devices do have that same “smart-TV” functionality but are in the form of a video peripheral that connects to your existing TV.

Sony BDP-S380 Network-enabled Blu-Ray playerWhether you go for a “smart TV” or a video peripheral to benefit from the interactive TV trend, make sure the TV is DLNA-compliant and resist the temptation to use Wi-Fi as the network connection method for these sets. Instead, purchase a HomePlug AV kit to link your network-enabled video equipment to the home network. There are some of these kits which have one of the HomePlug-Ethernet bridge units equipped with a four-port Ethernet switch, which could benefit those households who have more than one network-enabled AV device in the equipment rack and makes the network setup more future-proof. An example of this kind of equipment is the WD Livewire HomePlug AV kit which came with 2 HomePlug AV 4-port Ethernet switches at each end which I have reviewed. Infact I had reviewed the Sony BDP-S380 Blu-Ray player that works well as an Internet-TV enabler for that existing TV.

As for reviews, I have covered some network-enabled media equipment other than tabletop and portable Internet radios. I had reviewed the Sony CMT-MX750Ni micro music system which could work as a secondary music system as well as a Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver which is the heart of a good-quality 3-piece hi-fi setup. These units both can connect to the home network and Internet, bringing the fun of Internet radio and the music collection on your network-attached storage to something more substantial than a table radio.

The “family house”

You may be having your Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas dinner at your family’s main “family house”, yet you might find that the Internet setup there may not match a current reality. When I talk of the “family house” here, I am talking of the house which most likely will be lived in by your parents but is the place where the whole family gathers for family celebrations, and where some members do stay on a temporary basis.

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

This is more so if your parents are cottoning on to the Internet or it is known around your family that there are regular houseguests staying or living at this house who make regular use of the Internet.

Here, I have written an article on whether to provide full broadband Internet and a home network in this “family house” and, if so, it could be a valid gift idea when it comes to what to give your parents or grandparents. I had compared the value of one of those 3G wireless-broadband setups serving one computer versus a wireline full-broadband service that is part of an integrated telecommunications / pay-TV deal.

Other gift ideas

I have written a buyer’s guide article on what you can buy to improve the sound quality of your computer equipment. Here, I have mentioned about the speaker-system opportunities, the use of regular hi-fi equipment as well as add-on sound modules for laptops. As well I covered the issue of making sure you have good connectivity options for those iPod speaker docks so you can gain more value out of them over the years.

I have also reviewed a good-quality Cooler Master laptop cooling pad which would come in hand with older laptops that tend to run hot easily. As well, it is worth paying attention to the quality of other accessories you buy as gifts for laptop users. For luggage, pay attention to how well the piece is built such as the stitching or the fasteners. Cheap poor-quality zippers can definitely cost in the long run, as I have experienced.

Those old-style tray tables are very relevant in the connected age, especially as a way to keep that laptop or tablet off the couch or bed. Why is this so because if you allow a laptop to exist on those pillows, cushions or doonas (Continental quilts / duvets / comforters), this can cause the laptop to overheat. It also avoids the risk of one sitting on and damaging that iPad that was left on the sofa.

As I have said before, if you can’t afford or feel worried about purchasing that big-ticket gift yourself, it could be worth pooling resources together to purchase that gift. This can avoid the need to resort to cheap poor-quality items as gifts.

I just wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year,

Simon Mackay

Editor – HomeNetworking01.info

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HomeNetworking01.info Annual Summary

Another year has passed for HomeNetworking01.info and a lot has happened over the past year, both with technology and with the content that has been written on this site.

Technology

Major “under-the-hood” changes to the laptop computer

One major computing technology that has been influential over the past year are the combination CPU/GPU processors from Intel, with the Sandy Bridge and AMD with the Zacate APU. These processors have yielded a major energy-saving benefit without much significant tradeoff in graphics performance. This has allowed for most graphic-intensive tasks like modest gaming or multimedia playback to be performed on laptop computers without the fear of the battery running out very quickly. Here, the battery runtimes are approaching real-world requirements especially where one intends to consider video playback on the plane or train journey for example.Fujitsu Lifebook TH550M convertible notebook at a Wi-Fi hotspot

This has also led to the increased arrival of “dual-mode” graphics where a laptop computer can work either with a high-performance discrete graphics chipset or the integrated graphics system. It is more like operating a vehicle which has an overdrive or a transmission system that supports a “performance” operating mode alongside a “standard” or “economy” operating mode and being able to change between these modes by operating a switch of some form.

I have reviewed some laptops which have these new functions at their heart. These are in the form of two “desktop-replacement” units — Dell XPS L702x which has NVIDIA graphics and the HP Pavillion DV7-6013TX which has ATI graphics.

Toshiba Tecra R850 business laptopBut I have reviewed some laptops that use single-mode graphics such as a mainstream 15” business laptop in the form of the Toshiba Tecra R850 which has single-mode ATI discrete graphics as well as an ultraportable in the form of the Toshiba Portege R830. This notebook is an example of what an ultraportable notebook can achieve on this technology, especially when it comes to extended battery life.

Notebook design approaching the “King of Cool”

This year, some computer manufacturers are designing notebook and laptop computer that have a lot of design similarities to Apple’s MacBook range of notebooks. This is an attempt to show up which computers can trump the Apple computers as far as having the coolest laptop computer at the Wi-Fi-equipped cafe is concerned.

This year, Dell has come up with a 15” laptop which answers the Apple MacBook Pro range of laptops in aesthetics and functionality. There is a lot about this computer in the way it makes you think of the MacBook Pro, such as the speaker grilles flanking the keyboard and the similarly-styled trackpad. As well, Acer have lined up a 13” ultraportable that looks just like the Apple MacBook Air series of ultraportables.

Activity on the Apple Macintosh front

Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver

Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver

Even so, the Apple Macintosh platform is not asleep as far as innovations go. They have launched the MacOS App Store which is based on the successful iTunes App Store for the iOS devices. Here, one can buy and download Macintosh applications through this storefront rather than buying physical media for the programs or downloading from the developer’s Web site.

A fear that I find with this trend is that it won’t be feasible for developers to supply Macintosh software through their own storefront. This would include hardware manufacturers who need to provide software sets for their own devices. Nor would it be feasible for system integrators to pre-load software on to a Macintosh computer as part of setting up a standard operating environment for this platform.

It is also worth knowing that Apple has released the MacOS X “Lion” operating system which offers a lot more visible improvement than what “Snow Leopard” offered. “Snow Leopard” was primarily all about “under-the-hood” improvements for the Macintosh operating system, especially tuning it for the multicore Intel microarchitecture. Here, Lion has offered a user experience that, in a lot of ways, approaches the Apple iOS platform as experienced on the Apple iPad. This includes applications delivered via the aforementioned App Store, “full screen” user interfaces without the customary top-of-screen menu bar, as well as iOS-style icon grids.

The tablet and smartphone cause a major seachange in mobile computing

Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet computerOne major change that has come about for mobile computing is the arrival of many smartphones and tablet computers. Infact the smartphone or tablet computer doesn’t have to be an Apple device anymore. This is due to an increased range of smartphones powered by Android or Windows Phone 7 smartphones and tablets powered by Android, especially the 3.0 “Gingerbread” version. I have reviewed an example of one of these tablets in the form of the Acer Iconia Tab A500.

Apple has answered this trend by releasing the iPad 2, a 10” tablet that is slimmer and lighter than the original iPad. It still runs their iOS operating system which has been upgraded to 5.0. Here, existing iPads and other iOS devices will have the benefit of having system updates done without the need to tether the device to a computer.

As well, the tablets are placing the netbook “on notice” because they could do the same job as these computers yet run on batteries for a long time.

Smart TV gains momentum

Another major connected-lifestyle change has been the arrival of Internet-enabled television experiences. Most of the TV industry have been focusing on the 3D viewing experience but there has been increased action on the connected TV front.

At the moment, it has been driven by manufacturers building up their own application platforms for their product lines. This is primarily in the form of user interfaces for the popular Internet video services that are optimised for “lean-back” enjoyment on larger screens. It is also including the integration of the social-networking sites in a manner that can be enjoyed that way, such as through “Twitter / Facebook tickers” or the ability to “page through” Facebook Photo Albums that you have access to.

It is also worth noting that most of these platforms are offering a Skype client which works with a camera that plugs in to these TVs. This is to allow the smart TV to provide corporate-style videoconferencing to small businesses and households.

Sony BDP-S380 Network-enabled Blu-Ray playerAn example device that I have just reviewed is the Sony BDP-S380 Blu-Ray player which offers the Internet video functionality in a form that I prefer. This is a video peripheral that can endow existing televisions with the new trend of the “smart TV” and is more relevant as TV sets are known to last a very long time.

IPv6 and Next-Generation Broadband

I have written a basic primer about IPv6 and how it will affect the home and small-business computer user. This is because of the recent World IPv6 Day where web sites were encouraged to engage in “dual-stack” IPv6 hosting and there was all the talk about the Internet running out of IPv4 addresses. It is also a reality as the next-generation broadband networks that are based on fibre-optic technology come about ad they may want to work towards IPv6 as a symbol of being a “cutting edge” service.

Speaking of which, I have been covering the issue of next-generation broadband, especially as Australia and other countries are rolling out or planning these kind of Internet services. Typically these services are based on fibre-optic technology, with most of the desired setups centred around “fibre-to-the-home” / “fibre-to-the-premises” technology where the fibre-optic cable is run to the customer’s premises. There are other “part-fibre part-copper” services that are in deployment with copper-cable runs to the customer, usually from the street or the building. This technology is based typically on VDSL which is a short-run DSL system that uses telephone lines or Ethernet twisted-pair cabling.

Website Content

Industry Interviews

Brother HL-4150CDN colour laser printer

Brother HL-4150CDN colour laser printer

During the last week of October and the first week of November last year, I had visited Sydney. One of the main points of the trip was to engage further with the industry. Here, I had done interviews with two staff from Brother, a staff member from Bush Australia and a staff member from Sony’s public-relations agent, Hausmann Communications. This allowed me to gain better insight in to what is going on with the industry and I will be making a point to work further with the companies and their PR firms when it comes to doing industry interviews.

Product Reviews

As I have mentioned earlier, I have reviewed some of the Sandy-Bridge-powered laptops and these have lived up to the promise for Intel’s new chipset architecture.

I have also improved my review strategy by seeking out equipment from different manufacturers that serves a similar purposes. Examples of this are the 17” desktop-replacement multimedia laptop computers as well as “small-business-grade” monochrome laser multifunction printers. This allows me to compare equipment offered by different manufacturers in a better manner.

Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch

Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch

Another review milestones that I have achieved over the past year include the first HomePlug product review for this site. My chance to review the WD LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch has allowed me to affirm support for the HomePlug AV technology as a flexible reliable no-new-wires network technology.

I am increasing the number of network-enabled media devices and am looking for devices beyond the tabletop Internet radio class. One of these is the Rotel RCX-1500 stereo CD receiver which represents an attempt to get more of the network-capable “big stereo” equipment for review. These are the stereo systems and components thar are intended to stay in the same position, serving as a household’s main music systems rather than as an auxiliary music system.

Other activity

As far as printing goes, I have been exposing printing technologies that allow most small organisations to be able to promote themselves more effectively. The technologies are the high-speed colour laser printer and the A3-capable colour inkjet printer.

I have established a “Small Business Technology” page which is a landing page for technology articles that will appeal to the small-business. This has included the abovementioned printing technologies, setting up public-access wireless networks as part of giving your cafe, bar or similar business “the edge”, business-optimised laptop computers amongst other things.Small businesses - Belgrave shopping strip

I still cover issues that will pertain to home and small-business computing technology such as the recent crop of phone calls that people have received from companies purporting to be genuine IT firms. As well I have prepared a quick-reference page for Twitter in the same vein to what I have done for Facebook. This is so that people can know who will see what they post when they Tweet or direct-message a person, especially as Twitter is becoming Facebook’s sidekick.

Conclusion

Expect to see a lot more coming through HomeNetworking01.info as different technologies start to appear. There will be equal focus on home-based “lifestyle” computing as well as computing for the small business owner who has to call the shots about their organisation’s information technology.

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