Product Review–Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop which is a gaming-optimised variant of their 15-7000 Series laptops which are considered as the top of their mainstream consumer laptop range. These traditional-style laptops are pitched towards students and other users who like the traditional clamshell look rather than a 2-in-1 computer because they are more likely to ask for the power and capacity that these units offer without going “full pelt” towards an aggressively-styled gaming model.

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming range of laptops are positioned in a similar manner to the “sports sedans / sports saloons” or “hot hatches” that most vehicle builders were inserting in to their popular passenger-car lineups for a long time to maintain appeal to younger drivers. But these vehicles were optimised for power, being powered by some powerful engines and equipped with gearboxes suitable for competitive driving. Such vehicles would exhibit some sporty detail work inside and out and tended to carry model-name suffixes that conveyed “GT” or “Sport” driving.

I am reviewing the premium variant that comes with the Intel Core i7 processor, 16Gb RAM and secondary storage in the form of a 128Gb solid-state drive and 1Tb hard disk. There is a cheaper “value-priced” variant that comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8Gb RAM and only a 1Tb hard disk as its secondary storage.

They underscore the high performance by offering a larger amount of system RAM for the processor class that what a typical laptop would offer for the processor class such as an Intel i7 CPU machine being kitted out with 8Gb RAM or an i5 or i3 CPU being matched with 4Gb RAM. As well, these computers are equipped with a discrete-graphics chipset known to offer very high performance for a mobile-class chipset.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1499
Market Positioning Gaming laptop
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-6700HQ 6th Generation
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-6300HQ 6th Generation
RAM 16 GB
cheaper option:
8Gb
Secondary storage 128 GB SSD + 1 TB hard disk
cheaper option:
1 TB hard disk
SD card slot
Display Subsystem NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M graphics
– 4Gb display RAM and Optimus automatic switchingIntel HD 530 integrated graphics
Screen 15” widescreen display (1920×1080 Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves by MaxxAudio Pro sound tuning 2 speakers + 1 bass driver
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band single-stream
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth BT 4.2 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 3 x USB 3.0 (1 with Sleep and Charge)
Video HDMI 2.0
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

Where a computer of the same screen size and in the same product range is offered with different variations in its configuration, I highlight the options that the review unit has in boldface text and list the variations available for the computer under the review unit’s specifications, As well, I write whether the alternate specifications are cheaper options or come at a more expensive premium compared to what I am dealing with.

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop rear vents

Rear vents to improve cooling for a high-performance computer

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming comes across as a relatively-heavy machine, with the extra venting on the back of the unit similar to the air scoops integrated in to the above-mentioned performance-tuned passenger cars. The venting is primarily to allow the machine to stay relatively cool even when playing advanced games, and also underscores that it is optimised for performance. But there is still a chance of heat build-up taking place and this can be felt from underneath the laptop.

The outside of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming is finished with a feel not dissimilar to rubber. This coveys that rugged look that is also about durability. But the finish has a disadvantage where it can easily look dirty and harbour stains associated with real portable use.

Another symbol of this computer’s durable construction is the use of a single thick hinge pin for the lid.  This makes the computer feel less flimsy to use when you open and close it.

User Interface

There is a hard tactile feedback that the keyboard exhibits which conveys that it can work with a lot of data entry or game control activity. There is still that chiclet keyboard design with a similar feel across the keyboard which can make things awkward if you value touch-typing or similar tactile-driven operation.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming - WASD keys for gaming

Highlighted W, A, S. D keys for gaming

For gamers, the “W”, “A”, “S” and “D” keys are highlighted so you can easily control your game using those keys. This is more so for games where these keys actually are used to control the current game character while you use other keys for other control purposes like swapping the weapon or tool your character uses or changing the current game character. If you want to use the traditional function keys, you have to use the Fn key all the time but it could be made easier to add a dedicated “Fn lock” button to allow switching between traditional function keys or the media keys for the top row.

The multi-touch trackpad is highly responsive and works as expected. This is without it being too “hair-trigger”. Most gamers may find that a gaming-optimised USB or Bluetooth mouse or trackball may do the job better for navigating around the field of play.

Audio / Video

I played a video clip hosted on Facebook using the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop and had found that the sound had come through clearly and with some “punch” in the hass. giving a fuller sound to voices as well as treating the music properly. The sound level would he strong enough for personal listening thou, and this is brought on thanks to the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning.

The display could handle most video playing tasks, even fast-paced action, in a very smooth manner. The only problem I had with running video from Windows 10 Universal Windows apps is that I couldn’t push this infrastructure to use the higher-performance NVIDIA chipset over the integrated graphics to give it a real test.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Left hand side connections – Power, USB 3 with PowerShare “plug and charge”, SD card reader

There are three USB 3.0 sockets with one that is capable of being enabled for “Powershare” sleep-and-charge functionality. This is where the Dell laptop can supply power to charge gadgets connected to that port, identified with a lightning bolt, while it is switched off and on its own batteries.

Let’s not forget that the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop has the ability to be connected to an HDMI display as its external display.

The premium version of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop comes with a 128Gb solid-state drive and a 1Tb hard disk while the cheaper variant comes just with a 1Tb hard disk. This storage capacity is being maintained by Dell for most of their 15” mainstream laptops with the view of allowing these to serve well as a portable option for one’s main or sole computing device. Although, the computer doesn’t have much data beyond what is initially supplied with it, the hard disk and the solid-state drive came out as being very quick.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop - Right-hand side connections - audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

Right-hand side connections – audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

These fixed-storage devices are augmented with just an SDXC card slot for camera cards and the like. It is symptomatic of a trend regarding newer portable computer equipment where this kind of equipment doesn’t come with an optical drive of any sort. It is thanks to software being delivered using download services like Steam. Still I would recommend the purchase of a USB 3.0 external Blu-Ray burner as an essential accessory for this computer, whether to make an optical-disc backup / archive of your data, deliver some of your data on an optical-disc form to others or view collectable video content on this computer.

The Wi-Fi network works as expected with it being able to pick up properly even at the fringe of an existing Wi-Fi network. At the moment, I haven’t had to install any new drivers to make sure that the network works properly. Like most 15” mainstream laptops, this computer has a Gigabit Ethernet connection that you can use with Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks.

Battery Life

You may expect that a gaming laptop may be more thirsty when it comes to battery power but this would happen only when running demanding software thanks to the use of NVIDIA Optimus technology using the appropriate GPU setup for the job. It is  in conjunction with the illuminated keyboard lighting up when you are actually using it while the system is on battery power.

One key limitation with this computer’s battery is that the user can’t replace it themselves. It can be of concern if you intend to keep this computer going for a long time but have to deal with a battery that is at the end of its useful life. Similarly, this situation precludes Dell from offering a higher-capacity battery pack as an aftermarket option for those of us who want that high-performance gaming or video-editing ability away from power.

Other Usage Notes

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop can be seen to be too large but the red detailing can be seen by some as giving it that “cute” appeal. I had used it at a Docklands cafe that is opposite a marina and the staff reckoned that it could have some appeal to people who spend a long time on those boats in the marina.

Another man who is in charge of a “Men’s Shed” community support organisation for men has liked the rubberised housing that this computer has when I presented it to him. Here, he remarked that it conveyed a highly-durable feel about the computer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell could improve on the Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop range by providing at least one Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection and optimising it for use with external graphics docks. Here, gamers could choose to use the “card-cage” graphics docks to implement the high-performance desktop graphics cards which are most likely to offer more performance than mobile graphics chipsets. Similarly, those of us using a gaming-grade laptop as an entry to mobile-workstation territory, like engineering students or people dabbling with video editing or animation could use a “card-cage” graphics dock with a workstation-grade graphics card to give the CAD or animation program that expected level of performance.

“Gaming” series computers could be equipped with user-replaceable batteries to allow for a long usage life that reflects their premium prices. It can also allow Dell and others to offer higher-capacity batteries as an option during the model’s lifetime.

Conclusion

I would see the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop being suited as a sole or main computing device for consumers and students who place value on a portable computer that is all about performance. This idea of portability may be about a computer you can stow away quickly and easily when not in use, or those of us who live a nomadic life and want something that can be easily transported.

Here, I would recommend the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptops as being fit for gaming but without the aggressive look, or for people starting out a hobby or small-time business effort with photo, video or animation work but don’t necessarily want to go the Apple path. Students who are studying courses that deal with advanced graphics like animation or engineering may consider it as a starting point for this kind of work.

The high-performance variant with the Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD would be the answer for those of us who want to work the computer hard like advanced gamers, video / photo editors, animators and the like. On the other hand, the lower-tier variant with the Intel i5 processor may be good for those of us who want the taste of high performance computing.

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How can you prove you bought it if it breaks down within the warranty period

JBL Synchros E30 headphones

Other documents can be used to prove you bought the product at issue during a warranty or insurance claim

A situation that can easily overcome us is whenever a device breaks down while it is under warranty. Here, you have to prove to the authorised repairer that you had bought the device within the warranty period so they can go ahead with the repairs. This can extend to a repair job that went wrong and you need to seek further repairs from that repairer under warranty. These situations cover both the vendor’s warranty they provide on the goods or services; along with statutory warranties that are provided for under national consumer protection laws.

Similarly, your device may be damaged or stolen and your insurance company needs you to prove that you had purchased the device so they can fulfil the claim. It can also affect “organisational-liability” situations concerning damage to consumers’ property such as where a power utility or telco offers to repair equipment damaged due to a power spike that came over their infrastructure.

But what does the warranty repairer or insurance company need to know?

They need to know the fact that you had purchased the goods concerned and when you had purchased those goods. Typically this is represented by the sales receipt or invoice that the merchant gives us when we pay for the item we are purchasing.

But most of us aren’t really good at keeping these invoices or receipts in an easy-to-find manner unless this was to do with a business effort where we want to claim the purchase for tax or reimbursement purposes. Typically these documents end up in one of many shoeboxes, drawers or other spaces and it is hard to look for them easily when in a hurry. Even if we are reimbursed for the goods concerned or submit the receipt to our tax accountants, there is the likelihood that we don’t have it on hand should the worse come to the worse.

The situation also becomes worse when you keep in your shoebox or drawer similar material for devices you aren’t using anymore such as equipment that has hit the end of its service life or equipment you have sold or given away. Here, you may have the receipts for your new equipment muddled up with similar documentation for the prior equipment.

There are other ways you can prove your purchase of the items. If you bought a smartphone, “Mi-Fi” or similar communications device under a subsidised-equipment deal that your telco provides, the documents relating to the subsidised-equipment contract may be enough to prove this purchase. This also applies to those of us who lease IT equipment like a laptop computer for our business use.

But if you simply pay for your equipment using a credit or debit card, the transaction you made with this card provides its own record and paper trail. Here, you would need to know which card you paid for the goods with and approximately when and where you purchased those goods. Here, you can ask the merchant for a receipt or statement relating to the purchase because they could search on the first or last few digits of the card number and the time period that the transaction took place in order to verify the purchase.

This happened to a close friend of mine who had bought a new printer and the machine had broken down within the warranty period. Like most of us, he wasn’t good at keeping the receipts in a ready-to-find manner, but I made a reference to the merchant that sold him the printer and the fact that he used a credit card to pay for the item. It was similar to a situation where I bought an old friend a gift card for a bookstore but they had lost the gift card. Here, I was able to supply the bookstore the details about the card I used to purchase the gift card so that the old friend could get a replacement gift card. But this situation allowed him to continue to seek warranty repairs on the printer.

Let’s not forget that original copies of the product documentation that came with the goods concerned can be of value when it comes to filing an insurance claim for stolen or damaged goods. Here, the original documents like warranty cards or instruction manuals can be assessed as to whether they are actually what came with the device or something that was printed out after the fact. This fact can also hold true of the optical disks that come with printers, network hardware and similar IT and consumer-electronics gear and carry drivers, software and documentation in electronic form for these devices.

Another incident had happened where a camera was damaged and its owners needed to claim against their policy’s accidental-damage cover. Here, the original instruction manual that came with the camera was enough to prove the purchase and ownership of the device thus give merit to the accidental-damage claim.

What you need to remember is that it is not always just the merchant receipt that can hold its weight as a proof of purchase for your warranty or insurance claim. Rather, things like the existence of the transaction taking place, a lease or subsidised-equipment contract, the product’s documentation or something similar can exist as a substitute for these documents.

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Telstra steps to the fore with a 3-WAN carrier-supplied router

Articles

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

Telstra Gateway Frontier 4G/VDSL2/Ethernet modem router – ready for instant Internet or to provide failover service for the Internet Of Things

Telstra’s Gateway Frontier Modem Gives You A 4G Backup For Your ADSL Or NBN | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Telstra

Gateway Frontier (Product Page)

My Comments

Previously, I have written up an article about trends affecting carrier-supplied modem routers that customers receive when they sign up for Internet service but don’t order a “wires-only” or “BYO modem” deal.

One of the trends I was calling out was for a router to be equipped with an integrated mobile broadband modem along with a DSL modem and/or Ethernet connection as its WAN (Internet) connection options. The use cases for this include the ability to provide wireless “instant Internet” to subscribers while the wired connection is being established at their premises. But other use cases include a fail-over setup should the wired Internet connection fail or be in the process of being overhauled, to provide an increased “fat-pipe” for broadband connection or as a quality-of-service measure by redirecting particular traffic like emails or Web browsing to a slower path while video streaming or downloading goes the quicker path.

The wireless fail-over connection will have a strong appeal to households with building-security, personal-safety, medical-monitoring or similar technology that connects to a monitoring facility via the home network and Internet. Here, if the wired connection dies due to old and decrepit telephony infrastructure, there is the ability to maintain this essential link using the wireless link. This can extend to small businesses who need the Internet connectivity to be able to continue to trade.

I thought it would take a long time for this kind of equipment to show up as real consumer products but I had seen Telstra’s latest modem router on display at one of their shops in an outer-suburban shopping centre. I looked at some further details about this modem router and noticed that this device, the Gateway Frontier, was also equipped with a 4G mobile-broadband modem.

This device has a triple-WAN approach with the 4G mobile-broadband modem, ADSL2/VDSL2 modem and a separate Ethernet connection. This is intended to support the use of different NBN connection types – the VDSL2-based “fibre-to-the-node” or “fibre-to-the-curb” connections; or the fixed-wireless broadband, fibre-to-the-premises or HFC coaxial connections which rely on an external modem or ONT that uses an Ethernet connection to the router.

Personally, I would like to see the VDSL2 modem be a “software modem” that can be field-programmed to be a G.Fast modem for NBN FTTC (FTTdp) and FTTB deployments that implement G.Fast technology. This is in conjunction to the 4G mobile-broadband modem being able to become a femtocell to boost mobile-phone coverage in the modem-router’s operating area if you are using fixed broadband along with a continual software-maintenance approach for security, performance and stability.

This is a full “home-network” device with four Gigabit Ethernet connections along with an 802.11g/n/ac 4-stream dual-band Wi-Fi wireless network. It even supports NFC-based WPS connection that allows “touch-and-go” network enrolment for your NFC-equipped Android or Windows phone. This is in addition to push-button-based WPS setup that benefits open-frame computing devices that honour this function.

There is support for bandwidth sharing using the Telstra Air bandwidth-sharing platform along with support for the T-Voice VoIP “virtual cordless phone” function on your mobile phone. But this only works on a fixed-broadband (DSL / Ethernet) connection, and the mobile-broadband service is limited to a 6Mbps download and 1Mbps upload.

For a carrier-supplied consumer customer-premises-equipment router, the Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router, like the BT Smart Hub modem router that has Wi-Fi performance that is “beyond ordinary”, is showing that carriers can provide first-class equipment with up-to-date requirements rather than a piece of second-rate equipment they have to supply.

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VOD content-search aggregation

Article

Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix – one of many SVOD providers

Say Goodbye to Video on Demand Browsing Fatigue | LinkedIn Pulse

My Comments

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

SBS On Demand Windows 10 platform app

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Software-defined microphone arrays–an idea worth considering

Creative Labs LiveCam Connect HD Webcam

A Webcam could end up being part of a multi-microphone array

Increasingly there are some setups where multiple microphone devices are becoming available to a regular or mobile computing device like a laptop or smartphone. Examples of these include:

  • A headset audio adaptor (whether USB or Bluetooth connected) that has an integrated mic but is used along with a headset that has its own microphone system
  • A (wired or Bluetooth) headset with an integrated mic connected to a computer that has its own mic or is also connected to a Webcam or similar peripheral that has its own mic
  • The use of one or more stereo-microphone setups, whether a single-piece (2-element) stereo microphone or a pair of mono microphones, connected to a computer.
Dell A2 Performance USB Headset

as could the microphone integrated in a feature headset

All these setups can lead to the creation of a multiple-microphone array which can lead to accurate voice capture and improved background-noise rejection. This becomes important for telecommunications but is also as important when you are dealing with voice-recognition applications like voice-driven personal assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Now) or voice-to-text transcription.

Here, this would require that the microphone array is created at the operating-system level rather than the hardware level. It would require that the OS enumerate all microphone devices that are connected and active to establish a software-defined microphone array based on these mics.

This would lead to the software having to learn about the microphone-array setup including the proximity of the mics to each other as well as how they pick the sound up. This is to create an ideal “voice focus” that is required to gain benefit from the microphone array.

to improve Cortana’s speech recognition

In some cases, this may be achieved automatically but there are situations where it may require the operator to adjust the settings manually. These situations may come about with microphones that have different characteristics like pick-up ranges and sensitivities.

Another factor that affects this kind of setup is whether a microphone device will be active at all times during the usage session. This can happen with, for example, a headset that is connected to or disconnected from a tablet or laptop on an ad-hoc basis. Similarly, the user may move around with their headset while using the microphone-equipped tablet or laptop, an activity more feasible with a Bluetooth headset or adaptor. Here, this factor requires the software to re-define the microphone array so as to “catch” the user’s voice.

In the case of a user moving around between microphones, the requirement would be about readjusting the microphone array in real time to identify the key sounds to put the focus towards.

These are issues that may limit the idea of creating a software-defined microphone array, especially for voice recognition or telecommunications. Let’s not forget that a software-defined microphone array will also be demanding computer resources which can be very limiting with not-so-powerful setups.

But once the concept of software-defined microphone arrays is proven and able to be implemented at the operating system level, it could be a path towards allowing users to gain the benefits from a microphone array while being able to use a combination of existing microphone-equipped devices.

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

Article

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

From the horse’s mouth

Netgem

SoundBox set-top box and soundbar

Product Page

Video (Click / Tap to play in YouTube)

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The home-network gateway device to become advanced

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

Expect a lot more out of the router that comes with your Internet service when Technicolor gets its way

The device that represents the network-Internet “edge” for your home network i.e. the router won’t just be serving that function in a standalone way anymore. Here, it will work in tandem with other Internet-side and network-side computing devices to become a highly-sophisticated “hub” for your home network.

One of these drivers is to provide a simplified customer-support process, especially for those of us who use carrier-provided equipment at the edge. Here, the support and provisioning process can be fulfilled by the router supplying information to your carrier or ISP regarding your Internet service’s and home network’s performance.without wasting time requiring the customer to supply this information during a support call. This may be considered controversial but has value regarding the support and troubleshooting process which can perplex those of us who aren’t competent with technology such as a lot of older people.

It also encompasses the fact that distributed Wi-Fi will be the “new norm” for the home network, whether through multiple access points connected to a wired or dedicated-wireless backbone, the use of one or more wireless range extenders or a mesh-driven distributed wireless network. Here, it may be about simplifying the process of commissioning the “satellite” wireless devices and making sure that they are performing as expected to assure maximum Wi-Fi coverage across your premises.

The other factor is for a call to provide for always-maintained software in these devices thanks to issues being raised regarding the security of our home networks and the Internet. It was underscored through the recent distributed denial-of-service attacks against various Internet services and blogs using the Mirai bot network that was running compromised software on routers, network cameras and the like which hosted poorly-maintained software to facilitate these attacks.

Let’s not forget that the home-network gateway device will be expected to do more in conjunction with cloud services. Here, they want to provide this kind of service in the same context as the “app-store” commonly associated with mobile computing platforms but increasingly associated with regular computing platforms, and an increasing number of dedicated-purpose devices like printers. It is where a customer can add on extra functionality to their home-network router after they have bought and installed that device rather than buying and installing a new device to achieve this goal.

I was learning about this thanks to a news release offered to me by Diego Gastaldi from Technicolor Connected home regarding this topic. Technicolor came in on this game thanks to buying in to Thomson who supplies a lot of the customer-premises equipment provisioned by telcos and ISPs for their broadband Internet service, especially the triple-play services. This company had presented at Mobile World Congress some of their new concepts for the home-network gateway devices that will be pitched to the likes of Telstra or Bouygues Télécom for their services along with how they can add that extra value.

This is in conjunction with Technicolor announcing their solutions for managed distributed Wi-Fi setups along with devices supporting wireline broadband and mobile wireless broadband on the Internet (WAN) side. The latter trend existed mainly with small-business equipment but its appeal for the home network is being underscored with the “quick-to-provide” goal for an interim wireless service before a wireline service is rolled out, a “fatter pipe” for broadband service by aggregating wireline and mobile broadband services; and always-available broadband for business, e-health / ageing-at-home and the smart home’s security.

The typical applications that will be called out would be to provide business-style “unified threat management” for the home network as a network security measure. Or they could be about joining a “community wireless” platform like Fon where they can share Wi-Fi bandwidth with guests or customers.

But they are also highlighting applications like monitoring elderly loved ones at home to be sure they are OK. Earlier on in 2010, I had a conversation with a representative from Ekahau regarding their Wi-Fi-based Real Time Location System in a residential or small-business environment. This was more so with their T301BD Wi-Fi Pager Tag, pitched primarily as a name tag with duress-alert abilities for healthcare and similar enterprise-level applications, being used as part of an “ageing at home” or similar home-based care scenario. Then I had noticed initial doubt about this kind of application in the home but such setups could be made real with distributed Wi-Fi and them being offered on a cloud-driven “as-a-service” model.

By using a multiple-computer “cloud” approach, there isn’t a requirement to overload a router device with extra processing circuitry which would require a large device to be designed. Typically this would be fulfilled by the use of one or more data centers connected to the Internet like the Amazon Web Services approach Technicolor are using. But, as the compact network-attached-storage maintains its appeal as an on-premises network storage hub with most of these devices offering “remote access” or “personal cloud” functionality, this kind of “cloud” approach could encompass these devices along with other “function-specific” hubs like smart meters or security systems.

But what is happening is that there will be more expectations out of the router device that sits between the home network and the Internet with it being a “gateway” to more online services.

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Google provides a tool to forums and the like to combat trolls

Article

ThinkBroadband forum

ThinkBroadband Forum – an example of a forum where content moderation can be simplified using Google Perspective

Google’s new innovative technology aims to combat online trolls | Android Authority

My Comments

Previously, I wrote an article regarding the Internet troll problem faced by people who have an Internet presence on a social network, forum, chat-room or similar environment. It is where they face toxic comments and online harassment on these boards from miscreants who use their presence there to make trouble.

A small business’s Facebook page – Google Perspective can make the management of these pages simple when it comes to visitor comments left on these pages

This is made worse for those of us who operate a corporate Internet presence on these environments for their business or other organisation or moderate a forum, blog or similar online presence. In some cases, it has caused some of us not to run these forums at all or turn off commenting ability for the blogs or other online content we publish.

But Google has come to the fore by developing software that allows moderators and users to gain better control over toxic Internet comments. This is based on a human-driven review cycle for comments such as end-users reporting or moderators disallowing comments discovered to be toxic. The Google Perspective software described here learns from the identified troublesome comments in order to determine what happens with new comments.

It is being offered as a set of application-programming-interface “hooks” that can be integrated with content-management systems, social networks and the like. But who knows how long it would take for the APIs that support this functionality to be offered simply as “wrapper” plugins for the popular extensible content-management or forum-management platforms. Similarly, an “outboard” comment-host like Livefyre or Disqus could benefit through offering the Google Perspective technology as a feature to help moderators with manage incoming contents.

They promoted the ability for a moderator to use Perspective to conditionally manage comments that are to be held for moderation or to red-flag potential “flame-wars” and miscreants. But they also put forward the idea for users to filter or sort comments by toxicity which can be of use for most of us who simply don’t want to waste time reading that junk.

What I see of this is that the Google Perspective comment-management software is something that could make it easy for those of us involved in the Internet conversation to make it easy to dodge the troublemakers.

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What will 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless networking be about?

ASUS RT-AC5300 router press picture courtesy of ASUS

802.11ax will be the next Wi-Fi standard that will grace our routers, but this will require newer hardware

There is the impending plan to define the IEEE 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless local-area-network standard which is intended to supplant the 802.11ac standard used for general-purpose Wi-Fi networks. Qualcomm are even offering an initial lot of silicon for this standard in order to have something that can be proven.

But what is it about?

One of the man benefits is wider bandwidth which allows for five times more bandwidth than what 802.11ac offers. But there is also the idea that we will see Gigabit throughput levels being offered for real rather than as headline speeds which are based on a “link-level” speed without any error correction.

This is brought about with increased MIMO multiple-antenna / multiple-front-end abilities such as MIMO-OFDM, which is expected to improve Wi-Fi’s robustness. The MU-MIMO functionality which effectively provides optimum bandwidth to each client device will work for downstream and upstream data.

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless will benefit apartments, hotels and trade shows where many Wi-Fi networks do co-exist

802.11ax Wi-Fi implements spatial frequency reuse to improve network reliability in high-density setups. Current Wi-Fi setups don’t really perform reliably when they are faced with a high-density setup like a trade show with connections dropping off too easily. But there is the ability to reuse frequencies and co-exist to assure improved reliability in these situations. It also answers a reality with Wi-Fi and high-density urban living where you will come across with each small apartment, office or shop in a large building ends up being equipped with its own Wi-Fi network, something that will be more so with next-generation broadband service being delivered to the premises.

Something more real that will underscore the robustness that 802.11ax provides

To the same extent, this level of robustness in dense Wi-Fi environments also applies to situations where Wi-Fi networks that have multiple access points including range extenders are being implemented by most people to assure optimum network coverage for their portable devices. It is a practice underscored by the reality that a Wi-Fi router is typically installed at one end of the premises because it has to be colocated with the connection that facilitates a wired broadband connection like a telephone or cable-TV socket.

Let’s not forget that the Wi-Fi WMM and WMM Power Save standards will be improved under this specification to assure continual throughput for streamed multimedia content; along with power-efficiency for battery operated devices. These standards will be improved to cater towards an increased volume of data.

The 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard is not intended to be set in stone before 2019 although there will be equipment being released to earlier drafts through the next few years. This is a practice that has happened with 802.11n and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with the Wi-Fi Alliance even calling the standards before IEEE had the chance to call them. But it could be seen more or less as the wireless local network standard to complement next-generation fibre-optic or 5G wireless broadband Internet services that offer Gigabit or more bandwidth.

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What’s inside your computer (INFOGRAPHIC)

Some of you who have a traditional “three-piece” desktop computer system where there is a separate box where all the activity takes place, may refer to this box of your computer setup as the “hard disk” even though it is known as a “system unit”. This is because the hard disk, amongst the other key computing subsystems like the CPU processor and the RAM exists in that box.

This infographic shows what the key parts of your computer are and is based on one of the newer small-form-factor designs that are common in the office and home.

Desktop computer system unit - inside view

What’s inside your computer

 

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