Network Connectivity Joins the AV Club – or Ethernet connectivity via AV equipment-connection cables

 Network Connectivity Joins the AV Club | ABI Research

Cite from press release

Over the past few weeks, a couple of announcements around consumer electronics connectivity have caught my eye. In late April, the DiiVA Interactive TV standard was announced after a year of development, with the backing of mainstream CE manufacturers LG, Panasonic, and Samsung, along with the Chinese government and a number of major Chinese CE manufacturers. The DiiVA standard was designed to integrate HD Video, multi-channel audio and bi-directional data (Ethernet and USB) in a single cable. Then, just last week, the HDMI Licensing group announced the HDMI 1.4 specification, which will integrate Ethernet connectivity within the HDMI cable.

My Comments on this concept

The concept behind the DiiVA stamdard and HDMI 1.4 is to cut down the “spaghetti junction” that exists behind a home-entertainment system by avoiding the need to run an Ethernet cable between each Internet-enabled AV device and the home network.

The current problem is that most Internet-enabled equipment that is in the field will require use of a direct network connection, typically an Ethernet cable, even if the AV setup includes equipment that has the new connections. As the standards gain traction, users will have to work out which component will be the interface to the home network; and some equipment will need to always have a direct connection to the home network as well as support for Ethernet connection via the new standards.

When the standard reaches momentum, I would still prefer that certain classes of equipment always have an Ethernet socket or MoCA/HomePlug AV interface. Primarily, I would require that a television set (with built-in TV tuner); and a surround-sound receiver would have the home-network interface. Similarly, I would require that devices performing the role of a surround-sound receiver like “home theatre in box” systems and single-piece “soundbars” be equipped with the home network connectivity. This is typically to allow one to assure network connectivity to all consume AV-equipment setups that use these connections, as these setups evolve. Some AV peripherals like optical-disc players or games consoles may just rely on their network connectivity coming via the AV connection.

Another factor that needs to be worked out with this connection setup is making sure that the network-enabled AV setup just works. Issues that can impede this ideal could include “network collision loops” where devices that are directly connected to the home network and are interconnected with network-enabled connections create an infinite data loop. This can lead to extensive operational and performance difficulties, similar to when a laptop is connected to a WiFi router with an Ethernet cable while its WiFi network functionality is active. This issue could be addressed by the use of a priority-based algorithm for determining the data flow in the AV setup.

Once these issues are addressed, these connection standards should then lead to trouble-free network-enabled home AV for all setups no matter how sophisticated they are. Similarly, this could lead to such concepts as the AV devices providing extra network services such as in-fill WiFi access points or Ethernet switches.

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Teleworking Best Practices

Pandemic Preparedness: Teleworking Best Practices | Wi-Fi Planet

My comments on this topic

In the article referenced from this post, the last few paragraphs talked about being prepared for teleworking whatever the “raison du jour” was. This was because whenever there was a national security incident, a natural disaster or a plague, the concept of telecommuting would be raised through business discussions. But whenever these risks subside, telecommuting falls off the agenda.

I personally consider the concept of teleworking as something to be factored in to everyday office life no matter the national or global situation. One application I think of very heavily would be for workers who end up doing double-duty as family carers, such as for ill or convalescing children; or elderly parents.

As well, it may appeal to people who are approaching the end of their tenure at the business to be able to increase being used to staying home rather than at the office. This is more so with family-run businesses where there is an increased risk of “living in the office” even as their active tenure comes to a close.

Similarly, it could also allow larger office-based employers to reach talent pools that exist in rural communities for some of their office jobs. The employers can be able to then work from home for most of their working month, but come in to the office for meetings and similar activities.

The way to technically prepare for teleworking would be to ensure that there is a good-quality secure Internet link to the office, such as a VPN, and consider the use of a VoIP or other “virtual extension” setup for the telephone. A webcam can be handy if you intend to do some video-conferencing with the office.

As far as the printer is concerned, make sure that you can print out any workplace documents with it. This may involve making sure that any “remote-desktop” programs can work with your local printer.

Small businesses can look towards using LogMeIn or GoToMyPC as a quick-setup remote-desktop tool, especially if you use “home” versions of Windows operating systems in the office or you don’t have much computing knowledge. If you use a “pro” or “business” version of Windows and have a fair bit of computing knowledge, it may be worth knowing how to use the Remote Desktop functionality.

As far as your VoIP or “virtual extension” setup is concerned, it may be worth making sure that your system can be capable of allowing the same extension number to be easily switched between two or more physical terminals, like a softphone program, VoIP handset or classic fixed or mobile telephone. This can permit the phone system to work with your work-home life.

Once you have a setup that allows you to do your work at home, you can be ready to work from home at a moment’s notice.

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Use of WiFi technology for safety and security

Ekahau Enhances Staff Safety of Hospital Psychiatric Wards

My comments on this issue

The Ekahau press release that is linked to from this article details the use of a WiFi-based staff badge that can be used to locate particular staff members in the hospital’s psychiatric ward and deliver messages to them.  But the feature that drew me to this device was the remote panic-alarm functionality that sends its signal via the hospital’s WiFi network.

Any panic-alarm or medical-alert system that is deployed in the home typically requires a transmitter and receiver working on a dedicated frequency, in a similar manner to garage-door openers.  If they are monitored by an external agency, the devices then transmit their alert signal to the monitoring station via a dedicated telephone or cellular circuit.

Now there is a different reality being brought about with cost-effective Internet service provided to WiFi-based wireless home networks in many households. This has included the concept of providing telephone and multi-channel television service through the same pipe, all thanks to the magic of IP-based packet networks. The classic circuit-based signalling methods used by these alarm devices are becoming less relevant in the packet-based signalling. Similarly, most users will want to benefit from the infrastructure that is laid down in a home network, such as the establishment of a multi-access-point WiFi network with a HomePlug-based backbone to cover a difficult house.

The Ekahau setup could be scaled back to allow an alarm installer or broadband Internet provider to sell a similar system in to the home. Any moveable sensor like a medical-alert pendant could make use of the existing WiFi network for transferring its data to the monitoring facility. It could then lead to e-mail and / or text (SMS) messaging if the device is triggered. Similarly, the unit could be used to deal with “wandering” behaviour that can be part of dementia-related illnesses by alerting if the person goes out of range of the WiFi network. As well, such systems could support local monitoring through the use of a local server device, thus providing their output through a Web page, platform-specific “widget” or desktop application.

This setup may appeal to broadband providers who want to gain more “average revenue per unit” by reselling basic security services as part of their package. It could also be a way of achieving a legitimate upgrade path for currently-deployed building security systems, especially in the context of the “switched-on” Internet-enabled home.

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Thecus NAS server ( Network attached storage ) | Thecus® Unveils the N0204 miniNAS Device

My comments on the Thecus “midget” NAS server

I had posted comments on this blog in response to a “SmallNetBuilder” article regarding this “midget” NAS device and its relevance to the small network.

The main issue that I touched on is its small size and the use of the low-power 2.5” hard disk as part of a network-attached storage device. I had mentioned about the key advantages of this application being the small size and reduced power consumption and quieter operation that this class of device will offer.

A point of innovation that I had raised for further development of this device would be to have the device work from an automotive or marine power supply, thus supporting “office on wheels”, DLNA in the car and mobile video surveillance applications.

Actual Press Release from Thecus follows

Thecus® Unveils the N0204 miniNAS Device

Thecus N0204 NAS03/30/2009 – Big things are happening in the world of NAS devices. Today, Thecus® is proud to introduce the N0204 miniNAS device – the world’s smallest fully-featured NAS device.

Measuring a tiny 132 x 88 x 63 mm exterior, one could easily mistake the N0204 as a regular external hard drive. But look closer and you will see a very capable two-bay NAS device that fits right in the palm of your hand. The N0204 houses two 2.5” SATA hard disks, providing up to 1TB of storage. You can manage this storage with your choice of RAID 0, 1, and JBOD, making the N0204 the most robust pocketable storage device in existence. And because its drive bays are hot-swappable and feature auto-rebuild, you can change a hard disk without powering down the unit. The N0204 even comes with Thecus®’ Nsync for remote replication as well as the Thecus® Backup Utility for total data security. With huge storage, RAID functionality, and advanced data safeguards packed into a tiny device, the N0204 miniNAS is in a class all its own.

Tiny but mighty, the N0204 comes with many of the features and functionality possessed by its much larger cousins. For starters, the N0204 can function as a complete media hub with its built-in iTunes server, photo web server, and media server. With the built-in media server, you can enjoy your videos, pictures, and music with the N0204 by using any DLNA compliant media players. Plug in a USB web cam, and the N0204 turns into the world’s tiniest home surveillance server, allowing you to preview, capture and schedule image snapshots up to 640 x 480. Add to that support for both Windows and MAC OS operating systems and a whole new user friendly Windows Utility to easily set up and link the N0204 with your PC, and you’ve got some serious storage that you can whip out of your pocket and plug into virtually any network.

The N0204 miniNAS is a marvel of engineering. With advanced energy-saving capabilities, the N0204 only uses between 25~30% of the power compared to traditional two-bay NAS devices. You can even schedule power on/off for better power management. The N0204 also features whisper-quiet cooling, which means low temperatures and even lower noise during daily operation. A convenient USB 2.0 port in the front and the one-touch copy allow you to copy the contents of a USB storage device to the N0204 with a single button press. You can also copy data from the N0204 to any USB disk for data exchange. The N0204 supports USB printers, external hard disks, USB web cam, and even works with USB WLAN adaptors, allowing you to give this tiny NAS device wireless capability.

A complete NAS device in a form factor smaller than a paperback book, the N0204 miniNAS proves that great things do indeed come in tiny packages.

“When we tell people what the N0204 miniNAS can do, the most common reaction is disbelief followed by awe,” notes Thecus General Manager Florence Shih.  “We’ve essentially created a fully-functional NAS device in a package that you can take anywhere. With the N0204, you can enjoy the power and convenience of NAS storage anywhere life takes you.”

For more information on the N0204, check out:
http://www.thecus.com/products_over.php?cid=12&pid=137&set_language=english

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CAPTCHA in the home-network router

 D-Link First to Add CAPTCHA to Its Home Routers to Help Prevent Against Attacks

D-Link’s CAPTCHA in action | DigitalMediaPhile (Barb Bowman)

My comments on this feature

A lot of blogs, comment pages / forums, social-network sites and Webmail services use a CAPTCHA as part of verifying what kind of user is signing up or adding comments to the blog or forum. Infact, users who wish to contact me via the blog’s contact form will be using CAPTCHA as part of proving who they are. This method, which typically requires a user to transcribe letters or numbers from a purposefully-distorted machine-generated graphic, has worked for a long time as a way to keep spambots from these sites.

By the way, a CAPTCHA-based verification system is a feature that I would like to see as part of adding comments to a blog post like this one or others on my blog. It would make life a lot easier for blog authors like myself when it comes to sorting out genuine comments from irrelevant comment spam.

This technique has been added as part of a firmware upgrade to most current-issue D-Link routers in response to recent security attacks against this class of equipment. These threats, typically in the form of Trojan Horses, take advantage of home-network equipment that is ran at “out-of-the-box” settings because most home users may not know how to configure the devices properly.

What will typically happen with these routers is that if the user wishes to change configuration or set up / modify an administrator account, they have to transcribe characters from the machine-generated graphic in a similar way to authenticating themselves with a blog or Webmail service on signup.

But this kind of security will not replace common-sense network security practices like setting the SSID of your wireless network away from the default and using a strong password on the device’s administrator account. It will augment these measures and more home-network equipment should be equipped with these features. Other practices that can be implemented for best security could include devices working on “least privilege” all of the time with the option of password and CAPTCHA verification for serious configuration tasks. This is similar to how Windows Vista and Windows 7 operate; and how a properly-setup building alarm system operates. For example, the network status page on a router could be available “without login” but you have to log in to change status.

At least this is one step being made towards a secure home and small-business network.

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RipNAS Statement SSD Windows Home Server Unveiled | eHomeUpgrade

RipNAS Statement SSD Windows Home Server Unveiled | eHomeUpgrade

My comments on this Windows Home Server-based NAS

Is this for real that a network-attached storage system for a home network will employ solid-state storage? You might think that the typical network-attached storage will be required to use regular electro-mechanical hard drives for its storage, but this unit has brought the idea of solid-state storage to this class of devices.

Why does this device implement solid-state storage as a main storage solution? It is designed from the outset to be a music server that can exist near one’s hi-fi equipment which will be located in the main living area or home-theatre room. The typical NAS box will be making a whirring or whining noise as the hard disks come to life while a fan keeps the system cool. But this design implements the solid-state disks and the use of a heatsink to cool the unit without any need for noisy fans.

The RipNAS Statement is a DLNA-compliant “ripping NAS” with a built-in optical drive and intended for keeping your music library on a hard disk, available to UPnP AV media clients, iTunes setups and the Logitech Squeezebox. It does implement “best-case” ripping practices where the music will be held as FLAC files but can be transcoded to LPCM or MP3 to suit most UPnP AV devices. The software can do other tricks such as keep highly-accurate metadata for all of the albums held on the hard disk and implement server-side volume levelling for albums recorded at differing volume levels.

This machine is one of a class of NAS units which will be dedicated to storing personal music, photo and video files and it could be a reality that we see households running one NAS for backing up data and another strictly for media-server functionality.

Welcome to a world where the serious music enthusiast can have access to the fun of network media! This may now mean that the home media network can be an acceptable path for the great recordings like Miles Davis’s “Kind Of Blue”, Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” or Pink Floyd albums of the 1970s as well as the great classics.

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Stronger Economy May Weaken Netbook Sales

Stronger Economy May Weaken Netbook Sales | Wi-Fi Planet

Netbook growth might end when economy recovers, says iSuppli

My comments on this issue

The “people’s cars” that were built in Europe.

Between the 1930s and the 1960s, VW, Citroen, British Motor Corporation and Fiat had put in to their lineup a small simple car which sold at a price affordable for most people in the country they were sold in. Before these vehicles came on the market, vehicles that were on the market wore priced out of reach of most people living in Europe. In some cases, the national governments were involved in the manufacture and sale of the vehicles to their citizens.

The vehicles, which were the VW “Beetle”, the Citroen 2CV, the Morris Minor, the Mini and the Fiat 500, had minimal equipment levels and were powered by a low-power engine which was of a simple design with the power going via a three or four-speed manual gearbox. These cars, which were of the sedan (saloon) body style, were able to comfortably accommodate four adults including the driver or a family of two adults and three children at a pinch.

But through the life of the models, they had undergone significant revisions to make them to the same standards as one of today’s small cars. For example, some of the cars were equipped with more powerful engines and had equipment which they did not have previously like electric windscreen washers or wind-down windows. The vehicle builders also had issued the vehicles in different body styles such as a delivery van, or convertible as well as the standard sedan (saloon) body style. In the 1960s, most of these vehicles had undergone a “rework” which had modern conveniences, improved performance and compliance with newer road-safety expectations integrated in to their design.

Now these cars had acquired “cult status” especially amongst people of the “baby-boom” generation. This was due to the vehicles being used by their family as the main household vehicle or these people buying them as their first car. The minimalist design that these vehicles had also been valued by the 1960s hippie culture.  The vehicle builders had responded with or are responding with “one-more-time” designs of these vehicles which look similar to the original model but have a design based on a current-issue small car. These cars are still considered “cool” and fashionable amongst today’s generation.

How this relates to the netbook.

I see the netbook as being akin to these “people’s cars” – a computer designed with a quaintly simple design with a simple outlook for a simple purpose. Then, like the vehicle builders had done with the “people’s cars”, the manufacturers will supply newer models with improved performance, capacity and functionality but in the same form factor, especially as the financial situation improves. Similarly, operating systems available for installation on these devices will end up being able to do most of what a full-size computer can do.

How the netbook could be relevant in a stronger economy

The netbook would evolve as a lightweight small-unit alternative to the economy notebook for the entry-level computing market. This class of users will want to start out on something simple so they can “get the hang” of the technology and work out their direction with it.

It would then exist as a secondary-computer option especially for users like journalists or students who want a highly-portable computer to take “out and about”, especially for notetaking or liveblogging. On the other hand, it could exist as an alternative to the mobile Internet device or the smartphone as one’s personal computing device.

It can also exist simply in a home network simply as a secondary “floater” computer that is moved between the kitchen, main lounge area (where most of the TV viewing is done), the outdoors entertaining area and similar common areas for online activity like interacting with TV-show Websites or responding to social networks and Web-based e-mail.

The thing to remember about these devices is that they won’t be used by most computer users as a primary desktop or laptop computer. They will simply be seen as an extension of one’s computing life.

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Secure streaming from Windows Media Player via the Internet

W7 RC Secure WMP Internet Streaming is Impressive | DigitalMediaPhile.com
further details on handling of network connection speeds

Windows 7 Enables Secure, Remote PC to PC Streaming via WMP and Windows Live ID | eHomeUpgrade

My comments on this feature

There are certainly a few key applications for this feature.

One main and obvious application would be to gain access to music, pictures or video held at home from a remote location like the holiday home, car or small business. This would be achieved through the use of technologies like 3G or WiMAX wireless broadband; or simply ADSL broadband depending on the location.

Another application similar to what Barb Bowman was using as her demonstration setup in the articles she had posted on this feature is a household with two or more individually-controlled Internet services. This may be a student or other person who is paying board and lodging to you; a live-in housekeeper or nanny; or an elderly or disabled relative or friend who needs continual care. These people may want to operate a separate Internet service that is under their own control but may want to annexe both the primary household’s and their own media resources.

But. as with any new technical implementation, there are questions that need to be asked

Could this setup work over a VPN such as one used to facilitate remote access to a small business’s data? This setup may be of benefit to a shop or small office where some of the music or pictures used as part of merchandising at the business may be held on the home computer.

Could this allow a UPnP AV / DLNA device to pull up media from the remote location via the Windows Media Player “gateway”? In this setup, a DLNA-compliant Internet radio installed at the remote location points to the UPnP Media Server that is part of the remote computer’s Windows Media Player. This would be pulling up media from the local computer’s Windows Media Player setup as in your described installation.

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Recent research projects that lead to independent and dignified living for the elderly and disabled

The kitchen that keeps an eye on Alzheimer’s patients by using digital technology | Mail Online

Elderly shoppers to get ‘sat nav’ gadget to find their way around supermarkets | Daily Telegraph

My Comments

These projects that have been recently developed in the UK are implementing technologies that may be trivialised by most of us in order to help elderly and disabled people gain the right to a dignified lifestyle.

For example, the kind of motion detectors used in the Nintendo Wii’s controllers or those new pocket projectors that may only have trivial uses are being implemented in the kitchen to help Alzheimers patients know their way around cooking processes. Similarly, the use of GPS and cellular location technology is being implemented to help older people navigate the typically-large supermarket which has layouts that change at the whim of the product managers.

The home network can be the key backbone of these assistive technologies by being a data conduit and a gateway to the Internet. It doesn’t matter whether it is based on hardwired Ethernet, WiFi wireless technology or existing-wire technologies like HomePlug power-line or MoCA coaxial cabling; or a mixture of these technologies.

Yet there are some challenges that need to be achieved to make this kind of idea feasible at a cost-effective level and in a wife-friendly attractive manner.

One challenge could be one or more standard computing platforms for building security and automation applications, in a similar vein to what has happened for home and office computing setups; handheld devices like smartphones and PDAs; and network-attached storage devices. This would allow for heterogenous systems that work with hardware and software from different manufacturers to suit the specific and evolving needs of householders and building owners.

Another would be to encourage the development and commercialisation of indoor location technology in conjunction with common smartphone platforms as a way of allowing one to navigate large shops. This could then be implemented through a piece of software that is loaded on to a common smartphone device and the maps being available through the Internet or similar means.

Another would be to encourage the support of  building security and automation as well as home IT as a key to improving the quality of living for the elderly and disabled amongst us. This would have to include encouraging the state’s social-welfare arm and the charity sector, both secular and faith-based, to provide access to these technologies.

The effort would certainly go a long way to providing a dignified and independent lifestyle for an older population which will certainly increase as the baby-boom generation enters the senior years.

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Bluetooth 3.0 with High Speed Transfer – What does this mean?

Bluetooth Special Interest Group press release

WiFi Planet article on Bluetooth 3.0

My Comments

Bluetooth has hit the “big 3” by introducing a high-throughput version of its wireless personal network specification. This same technology used for sending pictures or phone-number data between mobile phones in the same space or streaming sound between mobile phones and car handsfree kits can do such things as wirelessly transferring one’s music library between a laptop computer and an MP3 player or “dumping” the contents of a digital camera to a computer.

It primarily allows data streams conforming to the Bluetooth protocols to be transmitted over the 802.11b/g WiFi network just by using the media-transfer levels of that specification. This takes advantage of the fact that a lot of the smartphones and the laptop computers have Bluetooth and WiFi wireless technology built in to them; and that premium MP3 players like the Apple iPod Touch will offer WiFi and Bluetooth on the same device. This is a situation that will become more common as chip manufacturers develop “all-in-one” WiFi / Bluetooth radio chipsets. For applications requiring a small data stream, the device just engages a single Bluetooth transceiver with the regular Bluetooth stack, which can save on battery power.

Intel had developed “My WiFi” which is a competing standard for a personal area network based on the WiFi technology with the devices using the full list of protocols and standards applicable to regular LAN applications. The idea was to have the laptop “split” its wireless-network ability into a client for a WiFi LAN and a very-low-power access point for a WiFi LAN which is the personal area network. At the moment, this technology is limited to laptops based on the Centrino 2 platform and requires that the laptop, being a general-purpose computer, becomes a “hub” device for the personal area network. But what could happen could be that other WiFi chipset vendors would license this technology and implement it into their designs, which could extend it towards other applications.

This would lead to a highly-competitive space for technologies that connect the wireless personal area network together, especially if the primary device of the network is a laptop computer. It could also incite manufacturers of devices like digital still and video cameras to include WiFi and Bluetooth in to these devices.

Who knows what the future will hold for the wireless personal area network.

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