Should I use Windows Photo Viewer or my presentation program to show those photos?

Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint can do the job easily for some applications

Previously, I wrote an article about how to use Windows Photo Viewer to show a collection of digital images on the large screen like your projector. Usage classes I was targeting this at included churches and other houses of worship who were showing digital images from the mission field, businesses with a lot of new products to show, people going through a large collection of newly-taken images and the like.

But you think about whether the dedicated presentation or playout program like PowerPoint, EasiSlides or Screen Monkey does the job better in this situation compared to something like Windows Photo Viewer.

Image in Windows Photo Viewer

Windows Photo Viewer comes in to its own with a collection of many photos

The problem with these dedicated presentation or playout programs is that there is more rigmarole involved in putting an image in to the presentation and this can open up room for mistakes. This may not be an issue if you are only needing to deal with an image count of between five and 10 JPEG images being necessary for your event. You also may be factoring in using the presentation or playout program to handle the rest of your program’s visual content like PowerPoint presentation material, textual material or song lyrics.

But Windows Photo Viewer would come in handy where you are dealing with a collection of many digital images that you took with the digital camera but want to show on the screen. A good rule of thumb to work with may be at least 11, perhaps 24 to 36 images which was the equivalent of the number of slides that could fit in the slide boxes that mounted 35mm slides came in after the film was processed. Here, you would be wanting to show those images in a manner equivalent to the old-time slide show, showing them in a sequence that matches the flow of your presentation.

Here, different programs can answer different needs and this is more true when you are dealing with presentation or AV playout needs in your small business or community organisation.

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Arcam follows up the Solo Neo with some network Blu-Ray receivers

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Arcam

Product Page – Solo Music and Movie range

My Comments

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

At the Australian Audio and AV Show 2013, I had a look at Arcam’s Solo Neo network CD receiver which is their entry to the high-quality network CD receiver marketplace. But I subsequently had a look for information on the Web about whether the Solo Neo still existed or was superseded by a better unit.

The Arcam Solo Neo was, at that time, the latest in their Solo range of CD receivers and DVD receivers that this British hi-fi name had designed. Then, it was on a par with the likes of the Cyrus Lyric and the Naim Uniti 2 which were systems of this calibre that were being offered by hi-fi’s “names-of-respect” to answer the needs associated with compact high-quality music systems that are simple to operate.

Arcam Solo Music network CD receiver - press picture courtesy of Arcam and Robert Follis Associates Global

Arcam Solo Music – latest iteration of the Solo network CD receiver lineup

But I had found that they replaced the Solo Neo with a range of network-capable receivers that also had an integral optical-disc player. Here, they offer the Solo Music which has a stereo output and an SACD player which plays ordinary CDs as well which is to be seen as a follow-on to the Solo Neo. But Arcam also offers the Solo Movie 2.1 which has a Blu-Ray player along with support for a subwoofer for deeper bass along with the Solo Movie 5.1 which has the Blu-Ray player and supports a full surround-sound output through its own amplifier.

What are these Solo Music and the Solo Movie network-capable AV systems about?

Arcam Solo Movie network Blu-Ray receiver press picture courtesy of Arcam and Robert Follis Associates Global - www.robfollis.com

Arcam of Cambridge: Solo Movie system incorporate the latest technology and components from Arcam’s 2016 AVR & Hi-Fi ranges, including the acclaimed Class G amplification, High-End Blu-ray and DVD Replay and full App Controlled music networking / streaming. Either available as a 5.1 full-surround variant or as a 2.1 two-speaker variant

All three of these units require you to supply your own speakers rather than being supplied with a pair of speakers as is common for this breed of equipment. Here, the Solo Music and Solo Movie 2.1 could put up 80 watts per channel RMS across a standard 8-ohm speaker load with 0.2% total harmonic distortion while the Solo Movie 5.1 could handle 60 watts per channel RMS with all channels driven into standard 8-ohm speakers, again with 0.2% total harmonic distortion. Here, these systems could handle most modestly-sized speakers that are in existence, thanks to Arcam’s “Class G” amplification technology which combines the sound quality associated with the Class A linear amplification method and the efficiency of the Class AB linear amplification method, serving as another way to achieve high-quality sound from compact equipment designs.

They all have four HDMI inputs for video peripherals along with an HDMI output for your TV with the ability to feed your TV’s sound through these systems courtesy of HDMI-ARC functionality. There are also SP/DIF digital inputs, one as an optical form and another as a coaxial form for other digital-audio devices like MiniDisc decks. Then there are two line-level inputs, one in the form of RCA connections and the other in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack for connecting up other line-level audio devices.

As well as the aforementioned optical disc drives (SACD in the case of the Solo Music and Blu-Ray in the case of the Solo Movie models), there is a radio capable of receiving FM or DAB+ broadcasts along with the ability to play audio and visual media held on your NAS or other network media resource thanks to DLNA technology. It can also play file-based content that exists on a USB storage device like a memory key as well as being able to stream audio content from your Bluetooth-capable smartphone but using aptX for improved sound quality.

You can connect these Solo music and AV systems to your home network using Wi-Fi or Ethernet (including via a HomePlug powerline network segment). But I would prefer that this kind of equipment is connected to your home network using Ethernet or a HomePlug AV connection to allow for reliable home-network operation.

Why am I giving space to the Arcam Solo Music and Solo Movie systems?

The Arcam Solo Music matches its network-CD-receiver peers in so much that it can be the heart of a high-quality three-piece music system for your apartment, dorm or other similarly-compact living space. Here, you can choose to run it with a pair of high-quality speakers, with the fact that these could be a pair of brand-new bookshelf speakers, the traded-in floor/shelf speakers that the hi-fi store you bought the Solo Music from are clearing out or the pair of good-quality speakers you ended up with at the estate sale.

But the Solo Movie network Blu-Ray receivers take this further by integrating the concept of a network CD receiver with that of those DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that a lot of people in the suburbs are enamoured with. Unlike the typical “home-theatre” system offered at Best Buy, Harvey Norman and the like which are only supplied with small speakers for the front and surround channels and are engineered so that the subwoofer does all of the work in handling the bass, the Solo Movie units can be connected to bookshelf or floorstanding speakers that can reproduce the bass notes very adequately.

The Solo Movie 2.1 even impressed me more for people who want something with just two speakers but able to do video playback rather than being the full-bore surround system. Examples of this include a system used in a secondary lounge area, office or bedroom; or by those of us who are just satisfied enough with the two speakers for reproducing our video content’s soundtracks. You could even connect your computer through the Solo Movie 2.1’s HDMI connections so that the sound from YouTube and other online audio sources could be piped through the better speakers connected to that unit rather than your laptop’s or monitor’s tinny speakers.

Hotels and the like would even value this system as something to be installed in a guestroom, suite or apartment to provide the ability to play optical discs, network-hosted sources, the radio or smartphones and similar devices that a guest brings along; along with the TV’s sound through better speakers.

Arcam could provide inherent support for online audio sources like vTuner Internet radio, Spotify and Pandora and this can easily be provided using a firmware upgrade that effectively adds these sources.

But what they are doing is to use the Solo product lineup as their way of providing integrated audio and video systems that are about high-quality sound and vision in a manner that appeals to those of us who are more comfortable with this kind of product. They can also encourage others who offer the network-enabled CD receiver in their product lineup to look towards offering similar simplified products that can fulfil video-playback needs.

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Creating your own electronic signage for your organisation

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

One use you can put flat-panel displays (including TVs) and projectors to is as an electronic signboard for your business or organisation. This can be alongside a computer that you set aside for that task or a having the display itself or a video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player do the task of showing the signage.

Here, you can use common computer software to create the signage that you can keep revised and updated as your needs change and either show them using this software or create JPEG files of the signage to show using your display or video peripheral.

Create the signage material

Microsoft PowerPoint - useful for creating electronic signage

Microsoft PowerPoint – useful for creating electronic signage

Use a presentation program like Microsoft PowerPoint, OpenOffice Impress or Apple Keynote to create your slides. Here, make sure you have the page layout set up for a 4:3, 16:9 or 16:10 screen when you set up your presentation with the aspect ration dependent on what most of your equipment can work with natively.

Sometimes, you may find that the DL paper size may be able to provide that “wide expansive look” for your signage on a 4:3 or 16:9 display. Other layout sizes that can also work include the “business-card” size or the classic 3:2 layout associated with still images taken on 35mm film.

Some of you may base your signage on other printable collateral that you have created like handbills, flyers or business cards. The best formats for the collateral that you want to use would be most of the common paper sizes with the document set in landscape format. In this case, you simply make a high-resolution JPEG or PNG bitmap from the PDF master file for the printed collateral.

You may decide to implement animation in your signage using the presentation program if it supports that feature but the program must be able to export these signs as a video file that most devices can understand. Here, you may want a particular sign to have an animated effect for the duration of that message, including an effect that happens when it appears and another when it disappears.

If you are using an electronic picture frame or a tablet purposed as one and you have this set up in a vertical (portrait) manner, you may find that you could use a vertical page layout here.

How should it look

You may find that your electronic signage may work really well if you use bright features like text or graphics set against a darker background. This will effectively make the text and graphics “pop” against the background and is also more flexible for use with video projectors.

As well the text is best set up using sans-serif fonts like the Helvetica or Comic Sans font families rather than serif fonts like the Times Roman or Courier font families. This is more so where you are using a projector or a large display that is likely to be viewed at a distance. Here, such text becomes easier to read from a distance. But you can make use of mixed-case lettering to make best use of the space as well as allowing for improved legibility.

Learn from example

Presentation shown on retractable screen

These presentations can be a good example of what you can do for electronic signage

If you are looking for good examples to work from, pay attention to some of the work others have done in this field, especially if this is your first effort at visual merchandising.

For example, look at the slides that are shown before the main film when you are watching a movie at the cinema, or the slides shown at business presentations during any conference or expo you attend. Similarly, when you are loafing on that couch watching TV, look at the announcement or advisory slides that are shown before or after the TV shows or any of the menus and warning notices shown before DVD or Blu-Ray video content.

Here, you observe things like text pitch and layout along with how the text and other highlights look against the background. Similarly, it may be worth noticing different colour combinations that are used in this material.

Export your slides to high-resolution picture or video files

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

Once you have finished with creating your masterpiece slides and you are satisfied with them, export a PDF copy of the presentation. Then you use a PDF-to-JPEG export site to export your PDF-based presentation to high-resolution JPEG files that work with most TV screens. I have highlighted this process in my article and SlideShare presentation about how you can create better high-resolution JPEG output form PowerPoint.

This process is important if you aren’t using the same or compatible presentation tool to show the electronic signage or are using consumer-electronics devices as the display tools.

If you create a highly-animated screenshow using your presentation tool, export it as an MP4 (H.264) or other common video file which your displays will support. Here, you don’t have to add any sound to the file because this will come alive with just the vision. If you have to convert the animation file, you may find that most video-editing or video-conversion utilities can do this job very adequately. Here, you may find that you could make video files for each slide rather than for the whole presentation so as to allow for devices to randomly show the slides or to allow a mix of animated and still signage.

Showing them on the screen

Using your network and UPnP AV / DLNA technologies

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

If you have a NAS or file server that is running DLNA media server software, (most of these would be), you can use UPnP AV / DLNA as a way to show the electronic signage. Here, you use a TV that has DLNA functionality integrated in it like most, if not all, of the smart TVs; or have a TV, monitor or projector connected to a DLNA-capable video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player, network media player or games console.

Here, you use the remote control on the TV or video peripheral to “pull up” the images that are in a folder shared by the server device’s media-server software. Or an increasing number of devices can respond to DLNA-standard media-controller software like the “Play To”/ “Cast To Device” function offered in Microsoft Windows operating systems since Windows 7, allowing you to “throw” the pictures up on the screen using your regular computer or mobile device.

Pioneer BDP-160 Blu-Ray Player (Pioneer Europe press image)

Pioneer BDP-160 DLNA-capable Blu-Ray player – can enable a cheap flat-screen TV, monitor or projector to be used for electronic signage

But you have to have all of the “signage” slides in a folder that is accessible to and shared by the DLNA media server software. On some NAS units, you may be able to add an option for a shared-folder tree anywhere on the NAS to be indexed and shared by the DLNA media server; or you may be required to keep your media content under a certain shared-folder tree. Then you maintain sub-folders that relate to particular occasions or campaigns and put the relevant electronic-signage JPEG files there.

Removable Media

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

Just about all flat-screen TVs could work with USB memory keys to show electronic-signage images

Most of the large-screen TVs, Blu-Ray or DVD players, network media players or similar devices are providing the ability to show still images held on a USB memory key or SD card. Similarly, you could burn a CD or DVD full of digital images and show these on most, if not all, recent-issue DVD and Blu-Ray players  As well, an increasing number of the portable video projectors are even offering as a differentiating feature the ability to allow you to show pictures or videos from a USB memory key or SD card.

Here, you can upload a campaign’s worth of images to a USB memory key and plug it directly in to your display device or video peripheral. To the same extent, you could put these images on an optical disc and show them using most recent DVD and Blu-Ray players.

Using removable media works best if you are working with one or two display devices to show your signage material. Similarly, it can work very well if you are not likely to change the material very frequently.

You may also find that some of these display devices or video peripherals will run the images at the sharpest resolution that the display can support. Here, the playout hardware integrated in the display is working directly with the display rather than at an “agreed” resolution.

A computer connected to a large display

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Desktop or laptop computers when used with external displays can earn their keep for electronic signage

Some of you may customarily hook up a computer to a large display like a projector and will want to use it for showing the electronic signage. It would be of importance for churches and other houses of worship where a computer is used to show worship material; or cinemas and theatres where a computer is used to show the program material.

Here, you could use a presentation program to do the job especially if you used the same presentation program or a compatible piece of software to create those slides; or just get by with a photo-viewing or media-playout tool like even Windows Photo Viewer to do this job without installing extra software. I have written up some instructions on how to press this program in to service with a larger display when you have a dual-display setup like a laptop connected to a large screen or a desktop with a monitor and a projector for showing to the audience.

Sometimes you may find that the one presentation tool doesn’t answer all of your needs with your computer or some of these tasks may be difficult to perform with that tool. For example, you, as a church AV manager, may find that a worship-lyrics program of the EasiSlides ilk can cut it just fine for the song lyrics that are part of your worship service while a program like Windows Photo Viewer can cut it for showing many JPEG images. On the other hand, you may come across that presentation tool that can satisfy main-program applications as well as the electronic signage applications.

An iPad or similar tablet

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

Most tablets have a screenshow application but you would have to upload the signage in to the tablet whether via Dropbox or similar cloud storage; connecting the tablet to your computer to transfer the files; or plugging in a microSD card or USB thumbdrive in to an Android tablet that supports USB OTG or removable media. You may also find that a DLNA media client running on your tablet can also fulfil this task effectively if your tablet and NAS are part of the same network.

It can be taken further with an Apple TV or Google Chromecast device that purposes your TV screen as the external screen for your tablet. Similarly, running a DLNA media-controller client on that tablet to “throw” the signage to DLNA MediaRender-capable devices like Smart TVs could answer your needs. But these situations may not allow you to use the tablet’s screen and the external screen simultaneously.

These would work well when you want to have this signage on a bar or reception desk for your visitors to see up close.

Conclusion

Once you know how to use your favourite presentation program to create electronic signage and that you can use cost-effective equipment to display it, you can then have a digital display that you can always have updated regularly with new information.

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A local community and a council in the UK deliver FTTP to Cotwaldon

Articles

BT Openreach engineer setting up for real Internet in rural Staffordshire press picture courtesy of BT Regional Press Office

BT Openreach engineer setting up for real Internet in rural Staffordshire

Community, council and BT to deliver FTTP to Cotwalton | ThinkBroadband

Public Funding Props Up BT Community Fibre FTTP Broadband Upgrade | ISP Review

From the horse’s mouth

BT Openreach (BT Regional Press Office)

Press Release

My Comments

A typical UK postcode would covers a small neighbourhood represented by a street or something similar but it would typically cover a rural hamlet or small village.

What has just happened lately is that Cotwaldon, a small hamlet in Staffordshire which is represented by one postcode, was to benefit from improved next-generation broadband Internet thanks to a public-private partnership involving that community. This hamlet was able to only benefit from a very slow broadband Internet connection due to it being an ADSL service provided using a long telephone line which I suspect could be decrepit due to it being poorly maintained.

But what has happened lately was for a community partnership to allow households and businesses in that location to benefit from fibre-to-the-premises next-generation broadband. This was facilitated in a public-private manner through the BT Openreach Community Fibre Partnerships which also worked alongside the Superfast Staffordshire next-generation broadband effort funded by the Staffordshire County Council and the UK Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme.

There will be similar activities taking place around some of rural UK as part of the BT Openreach Community Fibre Partnerships as part of “opening up” their FTTP effort to be launched next year. This is with their vision of publicly-funded local broadband-rollout efforts engaging with them to facilitate the rollout of next-generation real broadband Internet in to rural communities.

The BT Openreach press release highlighted some usage scenarios where this technology was relevant to Cotwaldon and its peer communities. One of these affected small business which effectively drives these rural communities – a builder who wanted to use the Internet to communicate with their customers and partners. But there were use cases that affected personal lifestyles such as downloading or streaming AV content reliably, or using online storage services as a data backup facility especially with high-resolution photos.

It is anther effort that brings real broadband to rural communities who are likely to be treated as second-class citizens by the telecommunications industry.

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Be careful about USB memory keys left in the letterbox

Articles USB memory keys press picture courtesy of Victoria Police

Police warn of malware-laden USB sticks dropped in letterboxes | The Register

Crims place booby-trapped USB drives in letter boxes | IT News

Don’t plug it in! Scammers post infected USB sticks through letterboxes | Naked Security (Sophos blog)

From the horse’s mouth

Victoria Police

Press Release

My Comments

An issue that is being raised concerning data security is people loading data from USB memory keys that they don’t expect.

This has been used as a way to distribute malware to businessmen at conferences because these thumbdrives, like floppy discs and optical discs, have been accepted as a way to distribute conference content or “electronic brochures” and added to participants’ “show-bags” handed out at these events. The typical method of delivering a malware-laded USB stick was to abandon it at the venue, hotel or “watering-hole” bar and it would inspire people’s curiosity to pick up this memory key, plug it in to their laptop and load up what was on the stick.

Newer iterations of the desktop operating systems i.e. Windows or MacOS have made it hard to allow one to run a program off a USB memory key by default. Similarly, most of the desktop security software would implement removable-media scanning routines to automatically check for malware on a USB stick or other removable media. But there have been some USB thumbdrive variants which have had the firmware altered to run keystroke macros or meddle with network settings.

This situation has now been found to occur in a personal-computing context in some of the outer south-eastern Melbourne suburbs like Pakenham. This was where USB memory keys were left on households’ mail boxes and these thumbdrives were full of malware including fraudulent content-streaming offers. Infact Victoria Police even encouraged Australian householders who received these thumbdrives in their mailbox to contact Crimestoppers Victoria by phoning 1-800-333-000 or using the online form.

But the common security advice to deal with USB memory keys that you didn’t expect to receive is not to insert them in your computer. If you do expect to receive one of these sticks such as them being in a show-bag from a vendor or you receiving conference material on one of them, make sure that you have your operating system and desktop security software patched and updated.

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Why do I represent the Naim NDX network media player as the poster child for top-notch home-network-based audio?

Naim NDS network audio player

The Naim NDX and NDS network media players are an example of what high-end network-based audio is about

There are pieces of equipment out there that I have seen in action doing their job effectively and even demonstrating what their application is all about. In some of these cases, I may highlight the device and use them as a “poster child” for that application where I would use a photograph that I have taken of it to represent a piece of equipment that fulfils the application I am talking about. The device I am talking about in this example is the Naim NDX which is a high-end audiophile network media player made by one of the British names-of-respect when it comes to high-grade hi-fi sound.

I have heard the Naim NDX network media player and its subsequent model, the NDS Reference Network Media Player in action whenever I have attended the Chester Group’s Australian Audio & AV Shows and this unit was one of the first devices that showed that music content delivered via a home network can be about high-quality top-notch sound.

The first time I had heard this unit in action was at the 2011 show hosted at the Marriott Hotel in Melbourne. Here, this unit was connected to a demonstration network and playing Alan Parsons Project “Eye In The Sky” which was held on a Seagate GoFlex Home NAS and totally underscored for me the fact that you can use a standards-based NAS and top-notch equipment for file-based music.

Previous to that show, I wrote “Serious About Music With DLNA” which underscored how the premium hi-fi names were implementing UPnP AV / DLNA technology to play out music held on your home network and the Naim NDX illustrated what this was about. This was a class of hi-fi equipment manufacturer who wouldn’t be ready to touch online or network-based audio setups unless they were totally sure that these setups were about top-notch crystal-clear sound.

Subsequently, I attended the 2013 show held at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel and had heard this same unit in action but working from a Naim UnitiServe music server which could be described as a “ripping NAS”. The photograph that represents this unit was taken during this occasion while it was playing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” recording from that media server.

But what is the Naim NDX network media player about that draws my attention?

This British-designed unit is totally designed by Naim to their ultimate hi-fi design standards with an emphasis on hardware upgradeability. For example, it is designed to obtain its power from Naim’s highly-strung specially-designed power-supply systems that are optimised to provide strong clean power to their components, but has its own power supply built to the same standard. The NDS “reference” model is even designed that it is only powered from one of these power supplies. The signal path that transitions between the digital form and the line-level analogue form is built around circuitry that would be equivalent to what would be in one of Naim’s standalone digital-analogue converter units.

Personally, this same device ticks my requirements for a piece of network-based audio equipment. One of these is that it can work on an Ethernet network segment including a HomePlug AV segment thanks to an Ethernet connection on the back, as well as a Wi-Fi wireless network segment. This is to have it work with FLAC, WAV or similar audio files representing 24-bit 96kHz “master-grade” recordings that exist on your home network. As well, the Naim NDX can discover music content on any UPnP AV / DLNA media server on your home network, something I have seen this unit do very well when I saw it in action at the Australian Audio and AV Shows. This unit satisfies the need for gapless playback for most codecs especially the lossless codecs so can handle most classical-music, live-concert or concept-album tasks. It also underscores the fact that the unit does handle the FLAC files very well and I have illustrated it as a “poster child” for the FLAC digital audio format. This is about placing importance on standards-based “open-frame” setup for network-based audio distribution.

The NDX also can “pull in” Internet radio content from your home network thanks to support for the vTuner Internet-radio directory. It can also support Spotify Connect and the new Tidal online music service that is pitched for hi-fi listening.

It is worth knowing that the Naim NDX network media player can work as a digital-analogue converter for CD transports, TV set-top boxes, MiniDisc decks and the like thanks to three SP/DIF connections – one in the form of an RCA coaxial connection, another in the form of a BNC coaxial connection and the third in the form of an optical connection. There is also a front-mounted “walk-up” USB socket so you can play a USB hard disk or memory key, or an iOS device full of music through the NDX. This also has the ability to accept content streamed from a Bluetooth-capable smartphone with support for the aptX Bluetooth-streaming codec.

There is a BNC coaxial digital output to connect the Naim NDX to a digital amplifier, DAC or digital recorder but the line-level analogue connections are available as a pair of RCA sockets and a DIN socket.

I have done some further research on this piece of equipment and had found that it had been rated very well by Gramophone, the UK’s classical-music magazine, and “Enjoy The Music”, an American audiophile Website

It is also worth noting that the Naim NDX has been used as the “hase design” for all of that company’s network-capable audio equipment like the Uniti network CD receivers. These network CD receivers were one of many devices of this class that I called out as representatives of the high-quality network CD receiver that, when used with a pair of high-quality speakers, could represent a three-piece system of a high standard for that apartment, office

I have similarly called out the Naim DAC-V1 USB digital-analogue converter as an example of a top-notch hi-fi DAC that is expected to work with FLAC audio files when I mentioned that Windows 10 was to have native support for these files. This use case was again highlighted at one if the Australian Audio and AV shows with this device serving as the sound module for an HP Elitebook 2560P and it ready to play through a pair of top-notch bookshelf speakers via a power amplifier from the same stable.

It is another example where file-based audio content including “ripping” CDs or salvaging legacy media to network-based storage is considered a viable music content source that can be played using top-notch audio equipment.

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Product Review–Brother P-Touch P900W label printer

I am reviewing the Brother PT-P900W Wi-Fi-capable label printer which is the latest in the range of labellers based on Brother’s P-Touch thermal-print labelling system. This uses the same “drop-in” label-tape cassettes as the rest of the P-Touch labellers such as the TZe-261 wide white tape that came with this machine.

There is a premium variant called the PT-P950NW which implements extra connectivity options. These come in the form of integrated Ethernet connectivity so you don’t need to use a Wi-Fi link to use it as a network label printer, USB host connectivity to work with USB-connected barcode scanners and similar devices along with the ability to work with an optional Bluetooth interface that only works with Bluetooth barcode scanners.

Users can also purchase a rechargeable battery pack if they want to run it on battery power and this charges with the supplied AC adaptor. As well, you can also purchase a serial adaptor to work with input devices like scales or barcode scanners that implement traditional serial connections.

But the piece de resistance that Brother puts forward is a touch-panel kit with LCD display that allows the machine to be purposed as a task-specific label writer. This includes the ability to work with pre-defined label templates or where you may have to enter numeric data.

This unit is part of Brother’s P-Touch thermal labelling system which uses TZ-series label cassettes and came with the TZe-261 label cassette which had a wide writing space.Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

 

Recommended Retail Prices

The Brother P-Touch label printers

PT-P900W
– Wi-Fi, USB to computer, serial connection
RRP: AUD$699
PT-P950NW
– Ethernet, Wi-Fi, USB to computer, USB host, serial connection, optional Bluetooth
RRP: AUD$899

Optional accessories

Serial Adaptor
– connect to scales or barcode scanner with RS232C (DB9) connection
AUD$29.00
Bluetooth Interface for PT-P950NW
– connect to Bluetooth-capable barcode scanner
AUD$149.00
Rechargeable Battery Base AUD$99.00
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery AUD$199.00
Touch Panel for PT-P950NW
– converts to standalone solution-specific label writer
AUD$199.00

The label printer itself

How you load the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

How you load the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

The Brother PT-P900 family of printers has a similar look to Brother’s latest business inkjet printers like the MFC-J5720DW inkjet multifunction thanks to the black housing with the rounded edges and flat top reminiscent of some 1950s-era home appliances. But it is easy to load and unload thanks to a lid that opens to reveal where the label cassette is.

Previously, I ran the Brother PT-P900W as a printer connected to my computer and it has worked as expected with the software installing properly after I had downloaded it from Brother’s Website. It also was a chance for all the P-Touch Editor software that was on my computer to be updated, which would represent a situation if you have one or more other P-Touch labellers that are customarily hooked up to your computer or on your network.

The Brother PT-P900W implements a highly-sophisticated network functionality for its Wi-Fi network. Here, it can work with 802.11g/n networks but needs you to set it up for a network that doesn’t implement WPS-based “push-to-setup” connectivity on its router or access point – thankfully most “Mi-Fi” portable Wi-FI routers can answer this call if you are setting up a mobile wireless network.

This unit can also be set up to work with WPA2-Enterprise wireless-network segments found in larger businesses where there is individual user-based login to the network. But you may have to upload EAP-TLS certificates to the device from a regular computer. As well, it is future-proof in that it supports IPv6 in a dual-stack form.

Brother PT-P900W label printer connected to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone

This smartphone is connected to the Brother PT-P900W label printer via the home network while the label printer is being its own access point

I set the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer with my home network’s Wi-Fi segment and it worked properly, both with my phone connected to the home network and to the unit’s own Wireless Direct access point.

The supplied Brother P-Touch Windows software is very flexible when it comes to printing needs and it can allow you to “gang” multiple Brother PT-P900W / PT-P950NW label printers with the same labelling tape for “round-robin” multiple-machine printing jobs. This can help with dealing with intense jobs like a stocktake or large delivery for example.

As expected for devices based on the Brother P-Touch system, the output quality was very crisp and I had found that the TZe-261 label tape that came with the review unit could answer most labelling needs. This is more so if you, for example, make use of two lines for your labels.

Other people’s opinions

Brother PT-P900W label printer turning out a label

Brother PT-P900W label printer turning out a label

I brought the Brother P-Touch P900W label printer out to the church I worship God at in order to demonstrate it to a friend there who works as an electrician and obtain his opinion on this device. I used it along with my smartphone to turn out a label and he noticed that the machine turned out the label which he wanted to use on one of the mixing desk’s faders very quickly and clearly. It didn’t take long for the Brother labeller and my smartphone to set up together and I was able to have the label turned out very quickly.

But he noticed that this machine looked a bit bulky and mentioned to me that he wouldn’t find it suitable for regular portable “on-the-go” use. He reckoned that it would work well for office-based applications and occasional transportable use.

Limitations and Points for Improvement

Personally, I would like to see a manual override between Wireless Direct and Wi-Fi infrastructure operating modes, which can come in handy if you want the unit to start quickly or to deal with difficult situations.

Similarly, I would like to allow for mobile-based app-driven Wi-Fi setup similar to a lot of Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers and similar devices are set up. This is where you can have the opportunity to select Wireless Direct, connect your mobile device to the label writer’s Wireless Direct network, and use a mobile app to upload your infrastructure wireless-network segment’s parameters to the printer.

The WPS “push-to-setup” functionality could also be extended to client-device setup so you can enrol your “open-frame” mobile device to the Brother labeller’s Wireless Direct network at the touch of a button.

The baseline unit in this family could implement a USB Type A socket for barcode labellers and other data-input devices that use USB because this connection standard is being seen as the way to connect peripheral devices. This could be extended to having the machines recognise the standard USB keyboard or, in the case of the Bluetooth interface, Bluetooth keyboards as an input device so they can quickly be purposed as a label writer

Conclusion

Personally, I would see the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W and PT-950NW label printers not as being for use on the road but as a tool for office-based workflow labelling with a regular computer or mobile device such as a smartphone, especially where the mobile device is likely to be used frequently as an input tool. Examples of this could be inventory control for the “reserves” at the back of a shop; or in a kitchen to keep control of foodstuffs and their expiry dates.

This is whereas the Brother P-Touch PT-E550WVP handheld heavy-duty label writer can earn its keep in the back of a tradesman’s van for on-site labelling.

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A competitive market stirs up fibre broadband in Spain

Articles

Bullfight

Like a good bullfight, the market for next-generation fibre-optic broadband in Spain is very hot and competitive
image credit: Bullfight, Spain via free images (license)

Spain approves new wholesale fibre market regulation | Fibre Systems

Spain smashes UK in fiber rollouts | PPC Blog

FTTH drives Spanish broadband | Broadband TV News

My Comments

The Spanish government recently stirred up the bullfight that represents the next-generation fibre-optic broadband market there.

Here, the CNMC who are the Spanish telecoms regulators “let the bulls out” by requiring Telefonica, the incumbent ex-PTT telco, to provide wholesale access to their fibre-to-the-premises network. There are only 66 locations that won’t require this wholesale access because they have three or more companies offering infrastructure-level competition using their own FTTP or HFC DOCSIS 3.0 cable-modem infrastructure.

The wholesale connectivity was to be in the form of “virtual unbundled local access” for the fibre connectivity along with wholesale access to copper infrastructure. But there was also a requirement that Telefonica had to allow competing service providers access to the “pits, pipes and poles” so that competing infrastructure providers can lay their infrastructure across the sun-drenched land that is Spain.

There was an increased take up of fibre-optic broadband service with 3.1 million home and other networks across the country connected to this technology by end of 2015. Movistar, Telefonica’s retail ISP brand had taken up 71.3% of these connections. This is while Orange (France Télécom) and Vodafone are providing the two other major alternatives. But the bulls kept running at the furious pace with no slowdown in connections thanks to this competition.

What has been achieved by the CNMC is wholesale unbundled access to the copper and fibre last-mile / “to-the-door” infrastructure along with allowing competitors to use the “pits, poles and pipes” to lay their infrastructure. But for this to work, there needs to be continual market surveillance to assure a thriving and competitive market across the country by keeping tabs on company mergers and acquisitions in this field.

For Spain, a question that needs to be raised is whether the Balearic “pleasure islands” like Ibiza (Café Del Mar) and Majorca have access to this kind of competitive service for their broadband Internet needs?

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Congress attempts to restore competition to telephony and Internet in the USA

Article

Eshoo Pushes Bill to Prevent Protectionist State Broadband Laws | Broadband News & DSL Reports

My Comments

AT&T Touch-Tone phone - image courtesy of CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

Is the US telecommunications industry heading back to the days of these phones?

An issue that I have been regularly covering is the reduction of competitive telephony and broadband service in the USA. This is thanks to incumbent “Baby Bell” telcos and cable-TV companies effectively paying state governments to pass legislation to proAhibit local governments from setting up their own broadband infrastructure to compete with these established providers.

The FCC had attempted to use its federal mandate to override these laws but these efforts were being struck down thanks to litigation instigated by these established companies. Again this was leading towards a telecommunications and Internet-service environment that is reminiscent of the “Ma Bell” era, with the price-gouging, poor customer service and onerous terms and conditions.

But Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents the Silicon-Valley area in the House of Representatives, had submitted a bill to Congress in order to assure the provision of infrastructure-level competition by local governments and communities. Here, this law – the Community Broadband Act of 2016 (PDF) would prohibit state governments from passing the telco-funded legislation that proscribes this infrastructure.

There is some doubt about the proposed legislation becoming law thanks to the US Congress also being subjected to lobbying and graft from big-business interests including the telecommunications and cable-TV cartels. But most of the US’s consumer-advocacy groups are behind the law in order to defend a competitive telecommunications and Internet market.

One major quote that was called out was the fact that the current situation is placing rural communities at a disadvantage because the “Baby Bells” or cable-TV companies wouldn’t either roll out decent-standard broadband or people in those areas would be paying monopoly prices for poor service.

As I have said before, the telecommunications and Internet-service market in the USA would need to be under strong surveillance in the context of antitrust and competition issues. This would include control over company mergers and acquisitions; and even the issue of whether legal action similar to what was initiated in 1974 with “Ma Bell” needs to take place with Comcast, AT&T and co.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

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Allowing for niche SVOD providers to exist

Google Play Android app store

App stores like Google Play could be the place to set up shop as a boutique SVOD provider

An issue that will face the subscription video-on-demand market will be the existence of niche players. These are boutique SVOD providers that provide current and back-catalogue content that focus on particular tastes and interests. Examples of these could include a provider who runs European, Asian or other foreign films in to English-speaking markets; a specialist in art-house cinema, documentary movies or low-budget fare of the 60s and 70s that was run at a “flea-pit” cinema or drive-in, or even an extension of a Christian bookstore chain that runs Christian movies.

This is similar to how home video evolved through the early days where video content providers worked with particular vertical markets even though the major film studios saw this new distribution medium as too risky. This allowed, for example, the low-budget independent content to gain more of a foothold with some of the names listed in these movies’ credits to head towards bigger better-paid gigs.

Very hard to compete in the successful mainstream SVOD world

Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix – the sign of a saturated SVOD marketplace

What has been noticed recently is that only a few mainstream SVOD providers that “cover all the bases” can exist in one market at one time. This was recently exemplified when QuickFlix fell of the tree because they were trying to pitch the Australian market against Netflix, Presto and Stan. Similarly, the SVOD model has been proven to be successful as this article from Advanced Television shows, underscoring concepts like increased perceived value and customers signing up with multiple SVOD services.

From my experience with Netflix, I had noticed that the subscription video-on-demand services were able to come across in an exciting manner especially with their user interface. For example, they offered a recommendation engine which allows you to discover content you may be interested in; along with a carousel-style user interface that encourages browsing.

Ability to divide the niche genre in to sub-genres

A niche SVOD provider would be able to license particular kinds of video content that serve their niche and even break this content collection down in to multiple sub-genres. Examples of these could include the Australian “Ozsploitation” movies that could be part of the “grind-house” low-budget movie niche; or there could be a Christian SVOD provider offering the “testimony” movies as a separate class of movie. Or a foreign-language provider could run language-focused genres like, for example, a European provider running the Nordic-noir content as a distinct class of content.

Ability to sell the content in other forms

Inspector Morse DVD box set

Collectable optical-disc box sets could still be sold by niche SVOD providers

A situation that can easily give the niche SVOD provider an edge over the traditional SVOD provider of the Netflix ilk is that they could work directly with studios and distributors servicing that niche, typically indie studios, to take the content further.

For example, they can offer “download-to-view” or “download-to-own” as a content-acquisition option along with the streaming option. This can be facilitated through the use of the SCSA Vidity secure-content-delivery mechanism. Similarly, the niche SVOD provider, especially if they work alongside a bookstore, video store or similar outlet, could allow for online or “click-and-collect” selling of content on physical media like Blu-Ray Discs. This is becoming more so as the niche bookstores and “collectable” DVD stores are still hanging on even though there is a reduction in the number of mainstream content stores in the “bricks-and-mortar” form.

Specialised information including playlists

The specialist nature also has the ability for a niche SVOD provider to supply more detailed material about the content or even offer themed playlists that viewers can work through. Such playlists could be created based on an occasion like an anniversary or awards ceremony that affects the niche; or even films based in a particular location.

But what would these providers need to do to put themselves on the map?

As well as acquiring the necessary server space on optimised servers around the world and licensing the catalogue of movies and TV shows to have available, they would need to work on making Web and platform apps available to gain access to this content.

Apple TV and Chromecast – a foot in the door

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

An Apple TV device could be a foot in the door for niche SVOD providers courting iOS users

Some platforms, namely the iOS and Android mobile platforms support streaming to the large-screen TV via a home network thanks to the Apple TV and Chromecast devices that connect to your regular TV. This may dodge a problem associated with catering to most of the smart-TV platforms where the content provider may have to be allied with the platform’s vendor or approved by that vendor to get the content app in their app store. It is because the user interface can be focused on the iOS or Android devices with the app “throwing” the stream from the SVOD service to the Apple TV or Chromecast device.

But some Web-based platforms may be able to work with the big screen thanks to Apple TV (in the case of MacOS or iOS) or Chromecast (in the case of Android, Chrome OS or any operating system with the Chrome browser). In some of these cases, you may be able to have it that the video content goes “full screen” while it is playing.

Platforms that would succeed for app-based approaches

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

XBox One – the games console / multimedia box accessible to niche SVOD providers

The platforms that I see as working well for niche SVOD providers would be the Android and Windows 10 platforms due to being able to show a larger variety of content without the risk of being removed from the platform’s app store. Similarly, the Android TV platform supported by the Freebox mini 4K set-top box, some of the newer Sony smart TVs and the NVIDIA Shield games console; the XBox One games console or the Kodi open-source set-top-box platform could be seen as TV-based platforms that facilitate niche SVOD providers.

Bringing new customers on board

Another issue that needs to be raised is that the onboarding experience for new subscribers has to be simplified. This may involve a Web-based or app-based experience including the ability to allow TV-based or set-top-based apps to cater to multiple users and accounts. It may also involve whether the niche SVOD provider has to implement social sign-on, perhaps as an option, where one can use a social network’s user interface to sign on to the service.

This could be facilitated through the initial onboarding experience being facilitated with a secure Web-based user experience where the user ends up creating their own account and setting up a subscription plan. Then they log in to the mobile-based or TV-based user experience with this account that they created in order to enjoy the content.

Promoting the service

To reach out to the audience base that would value the content, the potential niche SVOD provider would need to run advertising and PR campaigns focused on that audience class. They may also be discovered through feature-app functionality provided by the different app stores, especially where the app store creates thematic app lists to expose particular content to particular users.

In this case, the blurb that the niche SVOD provider supplies to the app stores for their platform apps needs to mention the kind of audience that the SVOD provider is intending to reach. This includes using the keywords that best describe that audience and the sub-genres that the content is classed to.

Conclusion

When a subscription-video-on-demand service market becomes saturated, it may have to be the time to create this new medium’s equivalent of a specialist bookstore, art-house cinema or specialist video store. This also means that there has to be the ability to utilise different ways to nurture the enthusiasts who are willing to spend more on this kind of content.

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