Dell’s XPS 13 convertible laptop underscores value for money for its class

Article

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook press picture courtesy of Dell USA

The convertible 2-in-1 variant of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

Why The Dell XPS 13 2 In 1 Is The Best Convertible Laptop | iTech Post

Laptop Mag CES 2017 Awards: Best Mobile Tech | Laptop Mag

My Comments

Previously, I had written an article about Dell underscoring value for money with their XPS 13 Ultrabook laptop. This was about choosing the right mix of functions and features that represent what most users are after when they are after that kind of product and offering it at a price that won’t bring “sticker shock” to most potential customers.

Initially I had a chance to review the first generation of the XPS 13 Ultrabook, finding it as a valid secondary notebook computer option for those of us who have a desktop or large laptop but want something to use while “on the road”. But Dell had consistently improved the computer over the subsequent generations, factoring in the newer features that would improve the user experience while keeping a highly-durable compact product that runs for a long time on its own batteries.

In the article, I drew an analogy to most if the mid-tier Panasonic (National) VHS home videocassette recorders offered in Europe, Australia and New Zealand through the mid 1980s, and the Sony mid-tier MiniDisc decks like the MDS-JE520 offered through the mid-to-late 1990s. Both these product ranges came with the features that were considered important for their end-users but at a price that was affordable to them.

But Dell went further when they released the Kaby-Lake-based iteration of the XPS 13 Ultrabook. Here, they issued a convertible variant of this model alongside the traditional clamshell variant. But they didn’t just attach “convertible” hinges to the XPS 13 Kaby Lake laptop. Rather they made sure it had the proper features and specifications associated with the XPS 13 lineup and for a similarly-affordable price.

For example, a baseline “secondary-computer” variant with Intel Core i5 horsepower, 4Gb RAM and 128Gb solid-state storage could set you back US$999. The limitation with the Intel Core i5 and i7 processors offered with the 2-in-1 is that they are based on the Kaby Lake equivalent of the Core M processors and are really targeted and tuned for “on-the-road” use with emphasis on power efficiency and reduced heat output, but wouldn’t perform well for advanced computing tasks.

With this model, there will be a need to buy extra accessories like a USB-C expansion module to connect most USB peripherals, external displays or digital-camera SD cards. But this is more engineered as a highly-portable computer and who knows what the next iteration of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook or convertible computer could be like.

Send to Kindle

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

Articles

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

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

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

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

From the horse’s mouth

Mohu

Press Release

Product Page – AirWave

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send to Kindle

Investing in an external graphics module for your laptop

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module - press picture courtesy of Razer

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module

Just lately, as more premium and performance-grade laptops are being equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection, the external graphics modules, also known as graphics docks or graphics docking stations, are starting to trickle out on to the market as a performance-boosting accessory for these computers.

The Thunderbolt 3 connection, which uses the USB Type-C plug and socket, is able to provide a throughput similar to a PCI-Express card bus and has put forward a method of improving a laptop’s, all-in-one’s or small-form-factor computer’s graphics ability. This is being facilitated using the external graphics modules or docks that house graphics processors in the external boxes and link these to the host computer using the above connection. What it will mean is that these computers can benefit from desktop-grade or performance-grade graphics without the need to heavily modify them and, in the case of portable computers, can allow for “performance” graphics to be enjoyed at home or in the office while you have battery-conserving baseline graphics on the road,

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 – can benefit from better graphics thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and an external graphics module

The devices come in two classes:

  • Integrated graphics chipset (Acer Graphics Dock) – devices of this class have a hardwired graphics chipset similar to what is implemented in an all-in-one or small-form-factor computer.
  • Card cage (Razer Core, Akitio Node) – These devices are simply a housing where you can install a PCI-Express desktop graphics card of your choice. They have a power supply and interface circuitry to present the desktop graphics card to the host computer via a Thunderbolt 3 connection.

What will they offer?

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 “card cage” external graphics module

All these devices will have their own video outputs but will yield what the high-performance graphics chipset provides through the host computer’s integral screen, the video outputs integrated with the host computer as well as their own video outputs. This is in contrast to what used to happen with desktop computers where the video outputs associated with the integrated graphics chipset became useless when you installed a graphics card in these computers.

I have read a few early reviews for the first generation of graphics modules and Thunderbolt-3 laptops. One of these was Acer’s integrated graphics module kitted out with a NVIDIA GTX960M GPU, known to be a modest desktop performer but its mobile equivalent is considered top-shelf for laptop applications. This was ran alongside an Acer TravelMate P658 and an Acer Aspire Switch 12S, with it providing as best as the graphics would allow but highlighting where the weakness was, which was the mobile-optimised Intel Core M processors in the Switch 12S convertible.

Simplified plug-in expansion for all computers

Intel Skull Canyon NUC press picture courtesy of Intel

The Intel Skull Canyon NUC can easily be “hotted up” with better graphics when coupled with an external graphics module

Another example was a manufacturer’s blog post about using their “card-cage” graphics dock with one of the Intel Skull Canyon “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers which was equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connection. This showed how the computer increased in graphics performance once teamed with the different graphics cards installed in that “card-cage” module.

It opened up the idea of using an “AV system” approach for enhancing small-form-factor and integrated computers. This is where you connect extra modules to these computers to increase their performance just like you would connect a better CD player or turntable or substitute an existing amplifier for something more powerful or plug in some better speakers if you wanted to improve your hi-fi system’s sound quality.

This usage case would earn its keep with an “all-in-one” computer which has the integrated monitor, the aforementioned “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers or simply a low-profile desktop computer that wouldn’t accommodate high-performance graphics cards.

Software and performance issues can be a real stumbling block

What I had come across from the material I had read was that as long as the host computer had the latest version of the operating system, the latest BIOS and other firmware to support graphics via Thunderbolt 3, and the latest drivers to support this functionality then it can perform at its best. As well, the weakest link can affect the overall performance of the system, which can apply to various mobile system-on-chip chipsets tuned primarily to run cool and allow for a slim lightweight computer that can run on its own batteries for a long time.

At the moment, this product class is still not mature and there will be issues with compatibility and performance with the various computers and external graphics modules.

As well, not all graphics cards will work with every “card-cage” graphics module. This can be due to high-end desktop graphics cards drawing more current than the graphics module can supply, something that can be of concern with lower-end modules that have weaker power supplies, or software issues associated with cards that aren’t from the popular NVIDIA or AMD games-focused lineups. You may have to check with the graphics module’s vendor or the graphics card’s vendor for newer software or firmware to be assured of this compatibility.

Multiple GPUs – a possible reality

A situation that may have to be investigated as more of these products arrive is the concurrent use of multiple graphics processors in the same computer system no matter the interface or vendor. The ability to daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 devices on the same Thunderbolt-3 connection, along with premium desktop motherboards sporting this kind of connection along with their PCI-Express expansion slots, will make the concept become attractive and easy to implement. Similarly, some vendors could start offering Thunderbolt-3 expansion cards that plug in to existing motherboards’ PCI-Express expansion slots to give existing desktop PCs this functionality.

Here, the goal would be to allow multiple GPUs from different vendors to work together to increase graphics performance for high-end games or multimedia-production tasks like video transcoding or rendering of video or animation projects. Or it could be about improving the performance and efficiency of a multiple-display setup by allocating particular graphics processors to particular displays, something that would benefit larger setups with many screens and, in some cases, different resolutions.

Highly-portable gaming setups being highlighted as a use case

A usage class that was always put forward for these external graphics modules was the teenage games enthusiast who is studying at senior secondary school and is ready to study at university. Here, the usage case underscored the situation where they could be living in student accommodation like a college dorm / residence hall or be living in a share-house with other students.

The application focuses on the use of a laptop computer that can be taken around the campus but be connected to one of these modules when the student is at their home. I would add to this the ability to carry the graphics module between their room and the main lounge area in their home so that they could play their games on the bigger TV screen in that area. This is due to the device being relatively compact and lightweight compared to most desktop computers.

That same application can cover people who are living in accommodation associated with their job and this is likely to change frequently as they answer different work placements. An example of this would be people whose work is frequently away from home for significant amounts of time like those who work on ships, oil rigs or mines. Here, some of these workers may be using their laptop that they use as part of their work during their shift where applicable such as on a ship’s bridge, but use it as a personal entertainment machine in their cabin or the mess room while they are off-shift.

What could be seen more of these devices

Once the external graphics modules mature as a device class, they could end up moving towards two or three classes of device.

One of these would be the integrated modules with graphics chipsets considered modest for desktop use but premium for laptop use. The expansion abilities that these may offer could be in the form of a few extra USB connections, an SD card reader and / or a higher-grade sound module. Perhaps, they may come with an optical drive of some sort. Some manufacturers may offer integrated modules with higher-performance graphics chipsets along with more connections for those of us who want to pay a premium for extra performance and connectivity. These would be pitched towards people who want that bit more “pep” out of their highly-portable or compact computer that has integrated graphics.

Similarly, it could be feasible to offer larger-screen monitors which have discrete graphics chipsets integrated in them. They could also have the extra USB connections and / or secondary storage options, courting those users who are thinking of a primary workspace for their portable computer while desiring higher-performance graphics.

The card-cage variants could open up a class of device that has room for one or two graphics cards and, perhaps, sound cards or functionality-expansion cards. In some cases, this class of device could also offer connectivity and installation options for user-installable storage devices, along with extra sockets for other peripherals. This class of device could, again, appeal to those of us who want more out of the highly-compact computer they started with or that high-performance laptop rather than using a traditional desktop computer for high-performance computing.

Portable or highly-compact computers as a package

Manufacturers could offer laptops, all-in-one and other highly-compact or highly-portable computers that are part of matched-equipment packages where they offer one or more external graphics modules as a deal-maker option or as part of the package. These could differ by graphics chipset and by functionality such as external-equipment connectivity or integrated fixed or removable storage options.

This is in a similar vein to what has happened in the hi-fi trade since the 1970s where manufacturers were offering matched-equipment packages from their lineup of hi-fi components. Here they were able to allow, for example, multiple packages to have the same tape deck, turntable or CD player while each of the package was differentiated with increasingly-powerful amplifiers or receivers driving speakers that had differing levels of audio performance and cabinet size. It still was feasible to offer better and more capable source components with the more expensive packages or allow such devices to be offered as a way to make the perfect deal.

Conclusion

Expect that as more computers equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection come on the market the external graphics module will become a simplified method of improving these computers’ graphic performance. It will be seen as a way for allowing highly-compact or highly-portable computers to benefit from high-performance graphics at some point in their life, something that this class of computer wouldn’t be able to normally do.

Send to Kindle

Making sure your business laptop’s fingerprint reader works with Windows 10

Fujitsu Lifebook S-Series SH771 ultraportable

You may have a problem with the fingerprint readers on these business laptops after you upgrade the operating system to Windows 10

Those of you who had purchased a business laptop equipped with a fingerprint reader may find that this feature doesn’t work with Windows 10. The situation can be very difficult if you had participated in the Windows 10 free-upgrade program that happened from 2015 to 2016 and you may have foregone the use of this security feature after that upgrade.

What can you do?

Remove the existing fingerprint-authentication software from the laptop

Use the Windows 10 Add/Remove Programs option to remove the fingerprint-reader software that the manufacturer supplied with your laptop computer. It may also mean that you have to remove the password vault program that came with your laptop computer and you were using to keep your Website passwords with.

The reality is that some of the business laptops came with software installations where a third-party fingerprint-management program was part of the package. This may be due to the fingerprint reader not having driver software that could work directly with Windows at the time the machine was released or the program offering more “enterprise-friendly” features than what Windows and a baseline password vault could offer for the business laptop’s user class.

If you still value the feature set provided by the fingerprint-management program or depend on its compatibility with certain other management software, it may be a good idea to look for and download the latest versions of that software.

Update the fingerprint-reader’s driver software

HP Elitebook 2560p business notebook fingerprint reader

The fingerprint reader on this HP Elitebook may be able to run the same driver software as one installed on some Lenovo ThinkPads

You would then have to update your fingerprint reader’s driver software to the latest version that can work with Windows 10. This is because the newer driver software takes advantage of the application programming interfaces associated with Windows 10’s Hello authentication mechanism.

Some laptops may require you to update their software relating to their BIOS / firmware and chipset before you progress any further. This is a process you would have to do from your laptop manufacturer’s support Website.

One way would be to open Device Manager in Windows 10 and identify then select the fingerprint reader’s entry in the device list. This will be listed under the Biometric Devices class of devices. Right-click that device and choose “Properties”. Click the “Driver” tab and select the “Update Driver” option to make sure it is up-to-date.

Or you could visit your laptop manufacturer’s support Website and download the latest version of the fingerprint reader’s driver software. Then you install that software, whereupon you may have to reboot your computer as part on the install process.

Sometimes a particular laptop manufacturer may not have the updated driver for the fingerprint reader that is integrated in to their business laptop. Here, you may have to do a Google search for details regarding the make and model of your business laptop and how to enable that machine’s fingerprint reader in Windows 10. This is because a particular fingerprint-reader subsystem may be used by two or more manufacturers in their product lines during a particular point in time. For example, the Lenovo website hosts the Validity Fingerprint Common Driver for Windows 10 which has been found to support most of the fingerprint scanners integrated in HP business laptops like the Elitebook 2560p.

On the other hand, you may find that the latest version of the driver software that they host is the Windows 8.1 version. Here, you can get by with this version for your Windows 10 computer thanks to the use of similar APIs.

Set your laptop up for Windows 10 Hello authentication

The next step will be to set up for Windows 10 Hello – the authentication framework that Windows 10 uses for advanced authentication methods like biometric authentication.

Here, you go to SettingsAccountSign In Options. Then you will have to create a PIN number, which is what you use when you log in to your machine. If you log in to Windows using your Microsoft Account credentials, you will need to create a PIN number, which will become a machine-specific alternative credential.

There will be an option to sign in with your fingerprint which will be enabled thanks to the newer drivers that you installed. Click on that button to sign in with the previously-mentioned PIN if you have created that or to create a new PIN number, before you enrol your fingerprints as your sign-in credentials.

If you still want to “swipe in” to your favourite Websites with your finger, you would need to acquire the latest version of the password manager that came with your computer like HP SimplePass, Softex OmniPass or a similarly-competent password vault that uses fingerprint recognition out of the box.

Conclusion

What this means now is that you don’t have to see the fingerprint scanner on your business laptop computer as being redundant just because you have upgraded your computer to Windows 10.

Send to Kindle

NETGEAR have fixed security exploits in some of their newer routers

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

If you are running a recent NETGEAR router, make sure its firmware is up to date

Article

Netgear Patches Its Router’s Security Holes, Download Your Updated Firmware Today | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

Original Security Advisory

Models affected
Smart Wi-Fi Router AC1600 R6250
AC1750 Smart Wi-Fi Router – 802.11ac Dual Band Gigabit R6400
Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router R7000
Nighthawk X6 – AC3200 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router R8000
Nighthawk AC1750 Smart Wi-Fi Router – Dual Band Gigabit R6700 Beta firmware
Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router R6900 Beta firmware
Nighthawk 4G LTE Modem Router R7100LG Beta firmware
Nighthawk DST – AC1900 DST router
HomeNetworking01.info coverage
R7300DST Beta firmware
Nighthawk X6 – AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router R7900 Beta firmware
Wi-Fi VDSL2+/ADSL2+ Modem Router D6220 Beta firmware
AC1600 WiFi VDSL/ADSL Modem Router – 802.11ac Dual Band Gigabit D6400 Beta firmware

My Comments

NETGEAR had faced a serious problem with some of its recent-model routers due to a security exploit in the firmware that drives these network-Internet “edge” devices. Previous coverage about this issue had required you to use another router for your home network to stay secure.

This has had NETGEAR rush out firmware updates for each of these affected routers in order to mitigate the recently-discovered security exploit.

A problem that besets most of the commonly-available home-network bardware is that firmware updating requires you to visit the manufacturer’s site, download the firmware as a special file package for your device, then upload that package to your device via its Web-based management interface. This can daunt some computer users who haven’t much experience with these kind of hardware maintenance tasks.

Personally, I would like to see steps taken to support automatic firmware upgrades such as what AVM are doing with their Fritz!Box devices, or at least the ability to click on a button in the management interface to start the download and update process for the device’s firmware. This is a practice that is being implemented in most of the European-made modem routers, along with most consumer-electronics devices like Smart TVs and set-top video peripherals.

There is also the issue of protecting the update files so that you aren’t installing malware on your device and it may involve processes like authenticity checks for software delivered as part of a firmware update or functionality add-on.

The update procedure

The update procedure will require you to download the updated firmware package using your regular desktop or laptop computer. Here, they recommend that you connect your regular computer directly to the router using an Ethernet cable if you can do so for the download and update process to be sure that this process works reliably.

Follow the link listed in this article to the NETGEAR-hosted support page for your router’s model. You will see the link for the firmware package you need to download. Here, you download that firmware package to your “downloads” folder.

Then, once you have downloaded the firmware from the NETGEAR site, you log in to your router’s management page from that same computer using your favourite Web browser. For these routers, the URL is http://www.routerlogin.net. Subsequently, you have to visit the ADVANCED tab, then the Administration option, then the Firmware Upgrade option.

In that screen, you click the Browse button, which will pop up a file-system dialog box where you have to find the firmware file that you downloaded in your “downloads” folder. Once you have selected the firmware file, click the Upload button to transfer the firmware to your router, whereupon it will commence the updating process. Leave the router alone during this process so as not to interrupt this critical process. You will see a progress bar to indicate how the upgrade is progressing.

Once this update procedure is done, a good practice would be to regularly visit NETGEAR’s support pages for your particular router and check for newer firmware on a regular basis. Then, if there is newer firmware available for your device, update it following the instructions on their Website or the general instructions listed in this article.

Conclusion

The increased awareness by industry and computer media regarding software quality and data security for dedicated-purpose devices connected to the Internet along with consumer / small-business network-infrastructure devices is going to make companies who design these devices or the software that runs them wake up regarding these issues.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset which is a USB-connected gaming headset designed by SteelSeries on behalf of Dell.

This is a practice that a lot of manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the computing and consumer-electronics game have been involved in where they ask someone else to design and make the product to be sold under the client’s name. Infact, most of the Japanese consumer-electronics names had engaged in the practice themselves, either making “white-label” products for other companies to sell under their own labels or being the companies who called on others to design and build products.

One of the ways you would know that this headset was a SteelSeries design was the speaker cloth on the earcups had the label “Acoustics by SteelSeries” written on it. As well, I had a look through the product documentation and it required me to install the SteelSeries Engine software to be installed on my computer so I could gain more control over the headset.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Price

RRP: AUD$99 / US$49.99 / GBP£66.76

Shop Now – US / Australia / UK and Europe

Headset Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-ear
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (covers the ear completely)
Driver Enclosure applies to circum-aural or supra-aural designs
Closed back
Primary sound path Digital
Microphone position Microphone integrated in left earcup

Functionality

Pitched for Gaming
Active Noise Cancellation No
Remote Control Mic Mute

Connectivity

Connection for main operation Wired
Wired path USB Audio via Type-A
Supplementary adaptors None

The headset itself

Dell AE2 Performance USB HeadsetThe Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is designed like most circum-aural headsets and implements the USB bus as its way of connecting to host devices. As to appeal to the gaming community, each earcup has a glowing white ring which illuminates when you have the headphones plugged in to your computer. But, as I have said later on in the review, you can determine whether this glowing occurs or not or what colour is used thanks to a configuration program called SteelSeries Engine.

I have done most of the reviewing of this headset without using the SteelSeries Engine control software, which would represent requirements where you can’t or don’t want to add extra software to your computer to gain more out of these headphones.

Connectivity and Functionality

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - USB plug

How the Dell AE2 headset connects to your computer

The Dell AE2 Performance Headset connects to USB-equipped computing devices using its USB Type-A connector and presents itself to them as a USB Audio input and output device. Windows 10 was able to even identify this headset as headphones and give this device priority over existing default audio devices like integrated speakers in a monitor or laptop. The headset has a maximum rated power draw of 150mA which means it shouldn’t place much demand on your laptop’s battery power as well as being able to work comfortably on a four-port bus-powered USB hub being used by input devices.

I had tried using this headset with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone by connecting it to the phone via a USB OTG cable. Here, it would work as a USB Audio device but I had found that this functionality didn’t extend to communications tasks like using the phone. Here, I would communicate with the caller via the smartphone’s speaker and microphone rather than through the Dell USB headset. The USB-based audio device as a mobile-phone accessory is becoming a reality thanks to USB Type-C connectivity and manufacturers doing away with the 3.5mm audio jack on their phones.

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen for Dell AE3 Performance USB headset

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen – graphic equaliser, DTS surround sound, etc

You can run the SteelSeries Engine 3 software on your Windows or Macintosh computer, which effectively allows you to gain more control over the headset. This program offers a DTS Headphone 7.1 surround decoder for headphone applications, a five-band graphic equaliser, a microphone-optimisation program along with the ability to control the lights on the earcups. You could even have the lighting change colour based on games events which works for some games thanks to API hooks that SteelSeries have published for game studios to use.

This program works properly as advertised and you don’t need to have it running all the time you use the headphones, which can be a boon for those of us who use laptops while on battery power.

Comfort

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - SteelSeries motif

SteelSeries design highlighted in earcups

These headphones are very comfortable to wear for a significant amount of time thanks to the circum-aural design and the fact that your ears are not touching anything hard. As well, they don’t feel sticky after that long time of use because of assuring some airflow around the foam surrounds.

Sound Quality

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is able to handle music in a similar manner to most circum-aural headphones by being able to put up some good bass response. It was also able to work well with the vocals and other instruments but you may experience a bit of reduction of higher frequencies – it is not really something with hi-fi credentials for listening to detailed music.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - glowing ring on earcups

Glowing ring on earcups

I have also tried these headphones with some video content in the form of watching an Inspector Morse episode (Sins Of The Fathers) from a DVD using my desktop computer. Here, the dialogue came across very clearly and I was able to hear the sound effects distinctly with the added bass response doing some justice to certain effects like the rumbling heard in the brewery that was part of the story. There were a few brewery scenes in that same show which represented a sound presentation not dissimilar from what would be expected from a lot of action-based computer games with people traipsing around the factory, the rumbling of machinery and the music score, with the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset handling them very well.

I had placed a call using Skype to someone I know and they had noticed that I was able to come across very clearly with the headset while I was able to hear them very clearly. The Dell AE2 headset can earn its keep as a communications headset for VoIP softphones and similar online calling platforms, especially if they implement high-quality voice codecs.

Noise Reduction and handling of noisy environments

The Dell AE2 headset offers a significant amount of noise reduction which can be a boon for those of us who are commuting or working in a noisy office. It may not be as effective as active noise cancellation but can suit most of us in these environments.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One of the problems that will need to be answered with these USB headsets is for all mobile operating systems to treat them as headsets when they are connected to mobile devices.

Another desirable feature would be to have a hardware switch on the headset that turns the lighting on and off so you can be able to reduce your laptop’s battery drain when you run them and avoid the need to run a configuration program to achieve this goal. As well, headsets of this kind could benefit from a volume control on the earcups that controls the host system’s volume using the standard USB protocols.

Similarly, Dell and SteelSeries could implement a USB Type-C detachable connection so that they can be provided with a detachable cable allowing them to last longer by allowing you to replace damaged cables. This would also cater towards the newer USB Type-C direction as more of the computers come with this connection.

Conclusion

Personally, I would position the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset more as suitable as a general-purpose computer headset for applications where you want to hear your computer software’s audio privately but are not expecting to pay attention to how music comes across through them. This is rather than just as something for chatting during games or hearing games effects privately and intensely.

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset also represents a newer trend for headphone construction where there is emphasis on “digital to the earpiece”, which can open up many points of innovation like optimised sound or active noise cancellation. The USB connectivity allows for this to work for wired-headset setups including allowing the host device to actually power the headset.

Send to Kindle

Passive Wi-Fi–a new trend for battery-operated Wi-Fi network devices

Articles

‘Passive Wi-Fi’ researchers promise to cut Wi-Fi power by 10,000x | PC World (IDG)

New “Passive Wi-Fi” Could Drastically Cut Power Needs For Connected Devices | Fortune

Passive WiFi – 10,000 times less power consumption than trad WiFi | Telecom TV

US engineers unveil Passive Wi-Fi, which consumes 10,000 times less power | Android Authority

Video (Click / Tap to play)

My Comments

A new direction that is being looked at for the Wi-Fi wireless-network ecosystem is the use of “passive Wi-Fi”. This is where Wi-Fi endpoints will not be needing the use of analogue RF amplification circuitry and can simply reflect these wireless signals back to access points or routers.

Traditional active Wi-Fi setups work analogously to a torch (flashlight) that is being used where it is actively putting out the light thanks to its batteries. But passive Wi-Fi works in a similar vein to a mirror that simply reflects the light without using any energy.

The advantage here with passive Wi-Fi is that devices implementing that technology don’t need to draw lots of current for them to operate on the network. This is so appealing towards mobile devices implementing it as a battery-saving measure.

But it also appeals towards how devices related to the smart home or Internet-Of-Things will be designed. This is because these devices can be designed to work for a long time on up to three AA or AAA Duracells or a coin battery, or could use energy-harvesting technologies like solar power or kinetic energy but work with a Wi-Fi network rather than the Bluetooth LE, Zigbee or Z-Wave networks that are optimised for low energy.

Here, it may be feasible to directly connect these devices to your home network and the Internet without the need to use bridge devices to achieve this goal. This is although it can be feasible to integrate Bluetooth LE, Zigbee and/or Z-Wave bridging functionality in to a Wi-Fi-capable router or access point, especially if there is a market expectation to have these devices also serve as “smart-home” or “IoT” hubs.

At the moment, passive Wi-Fi can work between 30-100 feet on a line-of-sight or through walls while passing a bandwidth of up to 11Mbps. The prototypes have been demonstrated with traditional Wi-Fi network equipment including a router and smartphone and this has proven that they can work in a standard Wi-Fi network. But there have been issues raised about requiring routers and access points to broadcast a “wake-up” call for these devices to report their presence and status.

A question that can be asked as this technology is designed is whether it could be feasible to design a Wi-FI front-end to switch between active and passive mode. Here, it could appeal to devices that enter passive mode simply to save energy but “go active” while in use with obvious use cases being mobile devices or Wi-Fi-based handheld controllers.

What it could lead to is that the goal to optimise all of the building-wide wireless-data technologies for low-power use has been nearly completed with the ability to have devices that exploit these technologies able to run for a long time on ordinary batteries.

Send to Kindle

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

Article

XBox One games console press photo courtesy Microsoft

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

Dropbox Debuts App for Xbox One | Windows Supersite

Dropbox Now Has An Xbox One App | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Dropbox

Blog Post

Download Link

Microsoft Store (Free)

My Comments

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

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

The Dropbox app for XBox One

XBox One connected to Dropbox concept diagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Send to Kindle

Fiber Corp to offer competition to the NBN in Sydney

Articles

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

A new provider starts to offer competitive Internet service to the apartment-block market

Fiber Corp looks to fill NBN gap | The Australian Business Review

​Fiber Corp rolling out NBN alternative | CIO

NBN rival Fiber Corp to offer alternative CVC model | Optical Solutions

Fibre optics firm plans to offer 10Gbps speeds | ITWire

From the horse’s mouth

Fiber Corp

Home Page

My Comments

Sydney Harbour Bridge

… this time up in Sydney

A highly-politicised National Broadband Network deployment in Australia, which has led to the slow rollout of its services across most of Australia’s urban areas has brought on the arrival of infrastructure-level competition.

This is where independent companies are rolling out fibre-optic or other infrastructure to deliver next-generation broadband Internet service to various neighbourhoods. It has been facilitated by recent liberalisation of the market where multiple retail-level ISPs can buy access to these networks. A similar situation has occurred in the United Kingdom to open up next-generation broadband in to various urban and rural areas thanks to independent operators laying down their infrastructure independent of BT Openreach – the UK’s British-Telecom-controlled equvalent of the National Broadband Network.

One of these that has started taking action is DGTek who had started to run their own fibre-optic infrastructure around Elwood and some of Melbourne’s inner-south-east bayside suburbs, while another of these is TPG who have installed their own infrastructure in a number of apartment complexes across Australia, putting the wind up NBN to cover those locations.

Fiber Corp, a Sydney-based fibre-optic infrastructure company backed by veteran food-industry business and turf identity Nicholas Moraitis who owned the 1997 Melbourne Cup winner “Might And Power”, has started to offer their own competing infrastructure to multiple-occupancy building developments in central Sydney and Mascot. Their infrastructure is based on fibre-to-the-premises implementing Gigabit PON and NG-PON technology capable of offering up to 10Gbps but is being deployed with a similar business attitude to TPG’s infrastructure efforts. Here it is about the “best bang for the buck” where you are thinking about a high-quality service at an affordable price.

It will take advantage of the recent liberalisation of the infrastructure market that allows multiple retail ISPs to compete on the same physical infrastructure, but will be architected to allow small-time and startup operators on to the infrastructure at a cheap price.

Although Fiber Corp is focusing on the larger multi-occupant developments, they have had attracted interest from some of the local councils who are frustrated with the rollout delays associated with the NBN service.

Joel Clarke, Fiber Corp’s CIO, is pushing for a better “NBN levy” scheme for financing rural broadband rollouts. Here, he wants to see that all of the compliant and participating infrastructure providers are seen as part of a larger logical NBN rather than just the infrastructure provided by NBN Co.  It will also require NBN Co to be aggregated to offset all additional costs to wholesalers, retail ISPs and consumers. Otherwise, this levy will simply be seen as a tax upon competing infrastructure providers, making it harder for them to do business.

It also includes the requirement to allow any retail ISP to connect to any infrastructure and offer their service to every customer endpoint. This would allow for customers to benefit from a wider choice of Internet service providers and permit the existence of boutique service providers on the infrastructure.

Send to Kindle

Microsoft answers Amazon and Google without reinventing the wheel

Articles

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 with keyboard press image courtesy of Acer

These Windows 10 computers will be part of Microsoft’s smart-home vision

Microsoft takes aim at Amazon’s Echo with Windows 10 HomeHub feature | The Verge

Windows 10 “Home Hub” feature will take on Amazon Echo and more | ARS Technica

How and why Microsoft is stepping up its focus on ‘families’ with Windows 10 | ZDNet

Home Hub, la réponse de Microsoft à Amazon Echo et Google Home | Ere Numérique (French Language / Langue Française)

My Comments

Microsoft and Apple recently built their voice-driven personal assistants in to their regular-computer operating systems rather than confining this class of software to mobile devices. As well, Apple baked in the HomeKit smart-home framework in to the iOS mobile-device operating system to make it work with devices that represent the Internet Of Things or the smart home.

But Amazon and Google went ahead with voice-activated smart-home assistants being part of their network-connected wireless-speaker products. These would work with some of the smart-home devices and offer calendar and similar functionality for the home at your request.

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

These “adaptive all-in-one” computers like the Sony VAIO Tap 20 can be part of the “smart home”

Microsoft has decided to go another path for integrating the smart home and the voice-driven personal assistant concept by working on another function that will appear in an upcoming major functionality-driven Windows 10 update. This is to be called “Home Hub” which is destined for the “Redstone 3” Windows 10 functionality update, intended to appear after the “Creators Update”.

The software is intended to be able to work on a regular desktop or laptop computer that can run the Windows 10 operating system. Here, it could easily put new life in to the “all-in-one” computer design including those “Adaptive All-In-One” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, pushing them as a computer that can exist on the kitchen bench. It can also put the midget computers known as the “NUC” (Next Unit Of Computing) devices to use by having them connected to that small flatscreen TV typically used to watch daytime TV content. Let’s not forget that they will earn their keep with all of the detachable and convertible “2-in-1” computers working as a tablet but can make more use out of existing desktop and laptop computers.

ASUS VivoStick press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS VivoStick – their answer to Intel’s Compute Stick – can repurpose that small flatscreen TV as a monitor for the central computer

Here, this functionality is centred around a common household account which appointments and other resources can be shared to. It effectively serves the same purpose as the fridge door which ends up as the household’s noticeboard. These events will appear on a lock-screen which shows a calendar, tasklist and other common information. There will be the ability for third-party application developers to develop apps that can share information to this “common display”, thanks to application-programming interfaces that Microsoft will offer as part of the equation.

Users can still log in to their own account using Windows Hello or their traditional login methods that the system supports to see a combined view of their personal information and the shared common information.

Let’s not forget that Microsoft wants to use the Cortana voice-driven personal assistant as part of this solution but the problem with these voice-driven assistants is that they are dows usually trained to one operator and may not handle multiple users.  In the home context, there is the issue of people’s voice changing as they get older, such as a young boy using the system initially, but facing problems with Cortana when his voice breaks as part of him being a teenager.

Like with Amazon’s and Google’s implementations, it could be feasible for you to direct the Cortana implementation to stream music from your favourite third-party music services. This, again would be facilitated with the music services’ apps having API hooks to Cortana and the other software that is part of Windows 10 Home Hub.

But there will be the ability to have the Windows 10 Home Hub also work as part of the smart home by being a control or display surface for compatible smart lights, thermostats and door locks. This will be facilitated through the use of open-frame industry standards for communication between devices and the Windows 10 Home Hub, I would suspect that one of the most common applications for this would be to see status notifications for various systems on the lock-screen or to have the ability to ask Cortana or operate a control on that lock-screen to do things like turn down the heating or close the garage door.

It has been one of Microsoft’s many efforts to provide family-focused home computing like offering some software as household-wide licenses or providing integral parental controls on the Windows platform.

But there are some questions to raise concerning Windows 10 and the Home Hub.

One of these is whether the professional, educational and enterprise variants of Windows 10 will be able toe be equipped with the Home Hub. This is more so for the “work-home” laptop scenario where people use the same computing device between their workplace or place of study and their home.

Similarly, this extends to existing Windows 10 deployments where there is the desire to use existing computers that run the operating system. It is because there will be at least a lot of households that will maintain a few Windows 10 computers in some form. One of the questions is how simple is it to integrate extant computers and user accounts including domain-linked workplace accounts in to a Home Hub setup, achieving the goal to benefit from the common calendar and lockscreen.

Apple could take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book and link Siri, HomeKit and the MacOS regular-computing platform to provide a similar “home-central” service for their platforms while avoiding the need to “reinvent the wheel”.

How Microsoft have approached the smart-home trend and answer Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home wireless speakers is to exploit their knowhow in Windows 10 and allow people to use existing computers and home networks to achieve this same goal.

Send to Kindle