Computing to head down the increasingly-mobile path

Article

PC market won’t stink as much this year, says Gartner | CNet

My Comments

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

This kind of computing is becoming the way to go

I have often heard the remarks that the PC market has nosedived or is “bottoming out” in the face of the iPad and similar devices.

But the article I am referring to is based on a Gartner analysis that is underscoring the increased relevance of devices that have a sense of portability about them. The figures that are showing the downward trend are more the traditional desktop and notebook designs. Compared to this, various classes of equipment where portability was the key design factor were shown to be driving upwards.

For example, they were showing that ultra-mobile computers or what I would call ultraportable computers which are thin and lightweight laptops are intending to become popular. This also is extended to encompass the premium-class equipment. As well, most casual readers may consider the “tablets” as just being the 7”-10” units of the iPad ilk while detachable and convertible laptops were classed as “ultra-mobile” computers. This is although the tablets encompass the “adaptive all-in-one” devices of the same ilk as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which effectively is a large 21” tablet that would appeal to multiplayer one-machine gaming.

Similarly the figures don’t represent whether a device is being bought as the only computer device that you use, a primary computing device where you do most of your computer-based activity and store most of your data, or as a supplementary computing device that is used for some computing activities such as “on-the-road” use or reading in bed.

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The trusted-environment concept to become a key mobile security trend

The trusted-environment concept for mobile devices

The trusted-environment concept for mobile devices

At Google I/O 2014, it was a chance for Google to premiere the next version of Android for the smartphones and tablets; along with officially releasing Android Wear for wearables and Android variants for the car and the TV.

One feature that Google was promoting was the concept of a “trusted environment” for your Android smartphone where you don’t have to unlock the phone with your PIN or “pattern” routine to use it in that environment. Similarly, Apple just lately put forward a patent to implement this same “trusted-environment” concept in their iOS devices. Applications that were highlighted included you home, car or work and this was determined by one or more conditions being true.

For example, using a “voice unlock” routine can equate your voice as being a trusted user. Similarly, being connected to a particular Bluetooth watch or headset which is on and alive, or being in a particular location by virtue of association with a known Wi-Fi network segment or within range of a GPS “bearing” could also relate to a “trusted” environment.  Apple’s implementation also is about about context-based behaviour such as bringing forward or disabling apps that relate to a particular environment, such as showing up a video-on-demand app when at home or disabling apps not safe for use when driving. It could extend to bringing forward a business-specific app like a “handheld electronic menu” for your favourite restaurant or an “online concierge” for your favourite hotel.

A good question is whether this concept of the “trusted environment” could be integrated with the Internet Of Everything? For example, the concept of having your mobile device near a computer or building-security device could be considered trusted as long as you authenticated with that device within a certain timeframe and/or with a particular key such as your own keycard or code.

This concept may not be considered appropriate in locations where there is a risk of your smartphones or similar device being stolen or accessed without your knowledge or permission. Examples of this may be a workplace where public and staff-only areas aren’t clearly delineated or a party or gathering that is happening at home.  Personally, these setups also have to be about user privacy and about working totally to a user’s needs and habits.

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CableLabs have given their blessing for DLNA CVP-2 standards for premium-content delivery in the home

Article – From the horse’s mouth

CableLabs

DLNA CVP-2: Premium Content to Any Device in Any Room

My Comments

Sony PS3 games console

Consoles like these could be able to pick up pay TV from a DLNA CVP-2 gateway device

CableLabs have cemented their approval for the current iteration for DLNA Commercial Video Profile 2 to provide for improved in-home pay-TV setups using the home network. This leads effectively to an FCC goal that requires device-independence for cable-TV setups in the home rather than users being required to lease a set-top box for each TV in the home or install a “TV Everywhere” app provided by the cable company on each mobile device if they want cable TV on the extra screens.

What is DLNA CVP-2?

This is a super-standard defined by DLNA which uses a group of standards to assure pay-TV networks that their content is being delivered securely and surely to the display device via the home network. Here, the display device can be a Smart TV or video peripheral with “Connected TV” capabilities or software in a regular desktop / laptop computer or mobile device (tablet / smartphone) to show the TV content on the screen.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

.. as could these Blu-Ray players

It will typically require a so-called “gateway device” connected to the cable system, satellite dish and/or Internet service, such as a broadcast-LAN tuner, router with broadcast-LAN capabilities or a PVR in the customer’s home while display devices and software would have to authenticate over the home network with the standards that are part of the package. The PVR solution may typically be connected to the main TV set in the lounge or family room where most TV viewing is done while TVs installed in other rooms like the bedroom can use the home network to “pull down” live or recorded TV content using “smart-TV” abilities integrated in the set or a games console / Blu-ray player.

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

.. as could these Smart TVs

There is the use of DTCP-IP secure-content-delivery specifications for IP-based home networks to authenticate the access of content to cable-TV / content-studio / sports-league requirements. As well setups that implement DLNA CVP-2 implement RVU which provides the same kind of user interface expected when you use pay-TV services, which could facilitate things like access to video-on-demand and pay-per-view content, access to the service provider’s TV-hosted storefront and magazine, or ability to schedule PVR recordings.

Another benefit provided by DLNA CVP-2 is to support endpoints that implement a very-low-power standby mode and allow them to use wakeup and network-reservation mechanisms to allow the efficient-power modes to operate but provide for proper useability and serviceablility. This avoids service issues that are likely to happen if a device goes to an ultra-low-power quiescent mode when not needed and finds that it has to create a brand new connection to the network and its peers when it is needed.

Do I see this as a change for delivery of the multichannel pay-TV service?

One reality is that DLNA CVP-2, like other technologies affecting TV, won’t change the calibre of the content offered on pay-TV services. You will still end up with the same standard of content i.e. a lot of channels with nothing worth viewing.

But it will affect how a pay-TV company delivers services pitched towards a multiple-TV household. They could offer, either as part of the standard service, as part of an upsaleable premium service or as an optional item, a “multiple-TV” service. This would allow a person to have the pay-TV service appear on all suitably-equipped screens instead of paying for each TV to be equipped with a set-top box.

Similarly, the main device could change from an ordinary set-top box with PVR abilities to either one with the “gateway” abilities integrated in to it or a “headless” gateway device with broadcast-LAN and PVR abilities. In this case, the main TV would either be a suitably-equipped Smart TV or be connected to a video peripheral that has this kind of “connected TV” functionality built in. It could also change the focus of the value of the customer’s bill towards the content services rather than the customer-premises equipment.

For consumers, it could be a path for those of us who move between pay-TV or triple-play services whether due to moving location or moving to a better offer. This is because there isn’t the need to mess around with set-top boxes or create infrastructure for a pay-TV service that implements different methodologies.

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Venice’s independence referendum is the proving ground for e-voting

Article

E-voting comes of age in Italy with Venice independence referendum | PCWorld

My Comments

Venice - Creative Commons  2.0 - Courtesy of word_virus

Venice – a city that could be legitimising the online vote

As you think of wafting down those canals in Venice in a gondola, or listen to that piece of classical music by Vivaldi who was born in Venice , you don’t know that this area has just been a turning point for a change that could affect how you vote.

This neighbourhood became fed up with the way the Italian state was taxing them but not putting much back in to that area. The sentiment whipped up some interest in the secessionist movement and, due to an increase in the IT industry in that area, the idea came across to run a referendum for secession using the Web.

This required that each person registered to vote receive a unique identity number for that election where they logged in to a Web page using that number to cast their vote online with a computer, tablet or smartphone. There was also the ability to use a regular telephone to cast your vote for the referendum. There were measures in place to detect and prevent voter fraud using this system and it would also have used the SSL technology to assure a secret vote on the Web front.

Of course, the mainstream Italian media, most of whom was controlled by Silvio Berlusconi, called the vote a farce but this was able to be seen in Italy and other areas as a mature proving ground for the Internet-driven e-voting concept. Other areas like Switzerland have implemented e-voting for various referenda and Norway has eyed this technology as something to implement in their municipal elections.

Some countries may still cast doubt over the idea of electronic voting technologies, usually due to breaking perceived “comfort zones” or fear of an increased risk of electoral fraud. Even postal voting in Australia has been considered acceptable only as an “away-from-home” voting option or on a municipal level by all but a minority of councils.

What would be considered important for any online voting system would be to have a unique number for each registered voter relating to a particular election or referendum, not correlating to other “primary-key” numbers used as part of public service or commerce like tax numbers, social-security or public-health (NHS / Medicare) numbers. As well, this number is provided to each voter by regular post with one envelope for each voter even though multiple voters reside in one household such as parents and children of voting age. This would be considered a “use-once” number to assure “one person one-vote one-value” and not relate to the vote being cast.

As well, an online system would have to have highly-scrupulous security measures like use of SSL (https) Web pages with even the option of an on-screen keyboard to deter keystroke logging to assure everyone of the secret ballot. Even making sure that client-side software such as mobile-platform apps are approved would be considered important to avoid the creation of “Trojan horse” apps that work against democracy by betraying users’ votes.

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Show Report–Connect 2014

On Thursday and Friday this past week, I had visited the Connect 2014 technology convention as an expo visitor mainly to observe key trends affecting business and personal computing that were surfacing over the past few years.

IP-based telephony

A few companies had shown some IP-based telephony systems at Connect 2014. This is due to telephony moving from the traditional circuit between the local exchange (central office) and the customer’s premises towards Internet-based packet-driven end-to-end connectivity. The trend is being assisted by the goal for reduced operating costs, increased competition in the telephony space and the move towards next-generation broadband infrastructure. It is also being assisted by the prevalence of various “over-the-top” IP telephony programs for mobile devices like Skype and Viber.

One company even showed a desktop IP videophones with wired handsets along with  IP DECT cordless-phone bases. I even raised the issue of integrating Skype in these videophones because this is seen as the preferred “consumer, small-business and community-organisation” video telephony solution. One path that organisations would have to use is an IP PBX server with a Skype video “trunk” which likes Skype to the videophones. On the other hand, he showed me one of the desk videophones which had an app platform of some sort and mentioned that a Skype front-end could be deployed in these units.

Mobile-device computing in the workplace

A key workplace computing trend is to implement mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets. This can be as a fleet of equipment owned by the organisation or a “bring-your-own-device” model where employees bring their own devices to the workplace and use them for their job. Here, they may be seen as supplanting regular desktop and laptop computers or serving as a highly-portable adjunct to the regular computers.

If these devices were used in the workplace, they would either work with document-viewing and communications tools, and a Web browser to support office tasks typically performed on a regular computer. On the other hand, they would ether work with a purpose-built device-side app or a Web front (task-specific Web page) as part of a business-specific workflow or system.

A few companies were showcasing mobile-device management systems, typically pitched at large corporate and government customers. These worked on a platform-independent manner yet allowed data security whether by implementing a managed “business realm” and “business app store” on a BYOD device or providing a highly-locked-down device.

BlackBerry have set up presence at Connect 2014 in order to show that they are moving from a hardware-based operation to something that is more software-based. This means that they can provide managed mobile computing to all of the platforms such as iOS, Android and Windows and covering all management arrangements ranging from a totally managed and locked-down fleet to a BYOD setup with a managed “business space” on the employee’s device.

In my conversation with a BlackBerry representative, I raised the issue of small businesses and community organisations neither knowing nor defining their intellectual property. We were raising the issue in relationship to these organisations neither being careful or wise about their data security nor being interested in corporate-grade information-security products and services. He stated it in a simple way as being whatever information places your organisation at risk if it falls in to the wrong hands.

A lot of these systems don’t embrace what I covered in the last paragraph because they are pitched at a larger business with its own IT department and significantly-sized server equipment. An effort that I would like to see achieved is the development of “small-business” variations that can run on a hosted cloud service or on-premises using modest equipment like “business-in-a-box” servers or classic “tower-style” server PCs. They would also have to implement a user interface that simplifies this kind of management for a small-business owner.

3D Printing

3D printer in action

Heated 3D printer in action

A technology that has been given a fair bit of Web coverage of late is 3D printing. This is where a single-piece object is constructed using a special machine that builds up that object in layers. An analogy of this is the “3D Jigsaw” which had cardboard pieces that were stacked in a particular way to become a known object, typically a figurine.

There were a few companies who were presenting 3D printers that were in action turning out various pieces. One of these machines, which was a freestanding one the same size as those larger gas barbecues that have adorned may Aussie backyards, is able to “paint” colour on to a piece it is printing using an inkjet system. Another machine, this time about the size of a small fridge, used a heated environment to improve accuracy and reliability.

I had a conversation with a representative of one of the companies who do 3D printing and he and I reckoned that the technology would suit a wide range of short-order fabrication jobs. One application I was even thinking of was the ability to reconstruct a replacement part even though the part is no longer manufactured in quantity. One example that came to mind was a mechanism that has a highly-worn or damaged component that needs to be replaced, something encountered by people who are restoring late-20th-century consumer electronics, especially record players, tape recorders and the like, as a hobby. Here, he could scan the component using a 3D scanner and effectively “re-design” that component to what it was like when new, then make it with the 3D printer for reinstallation in that mechanical subsystem.

Similarly, the car-restoration scene could benefit from 3D printing at least when it comes to re-constituting vehicle detail-work such as marque badges and hood ornaments which have been often damaged or stolen from vehicles. This could allow a vehicle owner to make sure their pride and joy is still complete even if any of the detail-work went missing.

The connected home

It was often said that the connected home concept was “nearly there but not complete”. The problems hightlghted here were lack of a desire by industry to implement application-level standards for home-automation setups. This is manifesting in the form of manufacturers developing their own control apps for mobile platforms, making it harder for customers to use competing “smart devices” at the one location or establish task-appropriate control setups in a “smart-home” environment.

Similarly, the home-AV market is being centered around content producers tying up deals with smart-TV and video-peripheral manufacturers or connected-AV platforms. This affects consumers because they are not sure if their favourite content producers or distributors, or their favourite titles are going to appear on a particular connected-AV platform that they intend to buy into. Similarly, it affects content producers and distributors who want to run an IPTV or video-on-demand service because they have to obtain deals with various equipment manufacturers and connected-AV platforms.

Both these situations effectively have the manufacturers, content producers and other companies effectively owning the consumers and stifling innovation and competition in the connected-home space.

In-home telemedicine

tablet computer used as part of in-home telemedicine setup

A tablet used as part of an in-home telemedicine setup

One concept that was being shown at Connect 2014 was in-home telemedicine, known also as in-home telehealth or simply as telecare. This is something I have covered in this Website in relation to standing for access to proper broadband in rural and peri-urban communities. Here, this technology allows people in these sparse communities access to continual specialist medical care without the need for the patient or caregiver to frequently travel between home and larger towns or cities when clinical supervision is needed.

Bluetooth-connected medical sensors

Bluetooth-connected medical sensors

A functioning demonstration setup which is currently used in the field involved the use of medical-parameter sensors like a blood-pressure monitor or pulse oximeter linked to a tablet via Bluetooth with this setup at the patient’s home. This, in turn was linked to the clinic via mobile-broadband technology and the staff at the clinic were able to look at what’s going on using a Web-based dashboard that highlights critical conditions affecting patients in their care.

Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter

A Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter in action

It is being pitched at community-care organisations and would typically be seen as being useful for rural applications. But there have been some Melbourne hospitals implementing this as part of a “hospital-at-home” program for managing certain chronic diseases. But there was a setup being shown that allowed this kind of telemedicine setup to work as part of an “independent ageing” setup to assure older people the ability to live independently but know they are still being looked after, which is also being factored as the baby boomers become the ageing population.

Conclusion

These technologies that were presented at Connect 2014 are being more about what the connected work and home life is all about with the current technologies.

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The classes of computers to be blurred–is this the trend?

Article

A dual Windows-Android machine: PC industry savior or non-starter? | Mobile – CNET News

My Comments

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

A computer that slides to become a tablet or laptop

Previously, a computer with a screen greater than 11”, having a physical QWERTY keyboard and running a desktop operating system like Windows, MacOS X or Linux was a separate class of computer from something that had a smaller screen, no physical keyboard and running a mobile operating system.

Now we are starting to see these classes become blurred by the arrival of 7” and 10” tablets running Windows 8.1 on Intel x86 microarchitecture, along with a plethora of ultra-portable laptops with integrated physical keyboards that convert to tablets whether by folding the keyboard under the screen or detaching the keyboard. This is now augmented with a new trend where computers can boot between Windows 8.1 and Android or run both operating systems concurrently; and Android is being ported to work on the classic Intel microarchitecture.

HP Envy X2 Detachable-Keyboard Hybrid Tablet

The HP X2 family – showcasing the trend for a detachable-keyboard tablet computer

What is happening for both consumers and business users is that they will find it hard to determine which kind of computer is exactly the right one for them to use for their needs. Operating systems and baseline hardware configurations may lose their position as a factor for determining a computer’s suitability to a particular task.

Rather I see factors like the screen size which typically affects the computer’s size and form factor; the graphics or audio chipsets; the existence of a physical keyboard and its actual size; as well as the unit’s connectivity, primary RAM and secondary-storage capacity along with the presence and runtime of an integrated battery being what determines the computer’s suitability for particular tasks and operating conditions that a user may put it to.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

The 15″ mainstream laptop will still earn its keep as an option for one’s “digital hub”

For example, if you are creating a lot of documents and other textual content, a full-sized physical keyboard would be considered important. Similarly the size of the screen along with the computer’s form factor and the battery integrated in the computer would also affect its portability and suitability to certain tasks.

In a lot of cases, you may end up with multiple devices where each device suits a particular task or activity. For example a 7”-8” tablet that you can stuff in to a coat pocket may come in to its own when you want something that has material you refer to when you are on the road. This is while you keep a 10”-14” ultraportable computer for when you are “doing a bit more” like taking notes or creating content “on the road”; or you may keep a 15”-17” laptop or a larger-screen desktop computer as your “main digital hub”.

Desktops of a sessile nature like traditional 3-piece desktops and “all-in-one” desktops will typically end up just for applications where the computer is used in one place only. Whereas the “adaptive all-in-one” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, along with 15”-17” high-end laptops will end up for those situations where the computer will be shifted as required.

What will become of this is to look at particular features and the size and form-factor of a computer to rate its suitability for a task you are targeting it at rather than thinking that one computer would suit all your needs.

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Should you worry about your USB charger’s current output for your gadgets?

Article

Pay Attention To Charger Amperage To Juice Up Your Gadgets Quickly | Lifehacker

My Comments

AC USB charger

You shouldn’t have to worry about the current output from your USB mobile-device chargers anymore.

Most AC and car-powered USB chargers and USB external battery packs are being available at different current-output levels, typically 500mA, 1A or 2.1A . In most cases, if a charger comes with a particular device, it typically comes with one that is rated to the device’s needs such as a tablet coming with a 2.1A charger.

Connecting a device to a more powerful charger will typically speed up its charging time whereas a less-powerful charger will cause the device to take longer to charge. The classic example is one connecting a smartphone to a high-power 2.1 amp charger that comes with a tablet or an additional 2.1 amp 2-USB charger and finding that this device charges up more quickly than with the charger that comes with the smartphone.

But this kind of connection used to affect older devices which had batteries that couldn’t accept higher charge currents without adverse effects. The recently-designed batteries and device-side charging circuits are now designed to handle higher currents and permit quicker charging. With external battery packs, the amount of power drawn by a device can affect the number of times you can charge the device’s own battery off that pack or the run-time available for your device with that pack if you are using the pack to extend your device’s run-time.

It is also worth noting that if a charger has the standard USB Type-A socket on it, you can use a USB charge/data cable that has the device’s connection (microUSB, Apple legacy 30-pin Dock or Apple Lightning) on it so you don’t need to have chargers for different device types. An increasing number of 2.1A chargers are equipped with two or more USB sockets mainly to allow you to charge two devices at once and the current budget that these chargers put up is shared amongst the devices connected to it. This would typically allow for two smartphones to be charged at a normal rate.

So you can really get by with using higher-powered chargers to charge up your gadgets quickly especially as today’s models are more tolerant of the higher current. Similarly, the use of the 2-USB 2.1A chargers can go a long way with saving on power outlets for charging multiple smartphones.

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A4WP and Bluetooth wireless-charging agreement

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Wireless, Wireless Everywhere

My Comments

Wireless charging for smartphones can become a point of innovation for smartphone and app developers

Wireless charging for smartphones can become a point of innovation for smartphone and app developers

The Association For Wireless Power have liaised with the Bluetooth SIG to integrate Bluetooth abilities in relationship to wireless charging of gadgets such as the typical smartphone.

This will lead to Bluettoth Device Profiles that relate to supply of power to gadgets in a similar manner to what is being achieved with USB when it became the preferred external power source for portable gadgets. Primarily this can lead to energy management as far as the device and charger are concerned

This can lead to the ability to prioritise the power supplied to multiple devices using the same charging point such as supplying more power to a tablet compared to a small smartphone. Or a smartphone could support a “quick wireless charge” option that a user can engage if they need the phone in a hurry and the charging point supplies more of the power to that phone while in that mode for the duration of the session.

What interests me further from the point of innovation would be the ability to have charging-point-specific functions. Obviously this may appeal to people who operate these points in public locations and want to make them pay or prevent a device “hogging” that charger.

But it can also open extra functions like, in a car, enabling quick Bluetooth connection to the vehicle’s infotainment system and setting up integrated operation with that infotainment setup. This can lead to where if you enable the infotainment system using the vehicle’s key, the phone will play the currently-playing music through the speakers or a call currently in progress continues through the handsfree subsystem.

In the home, a speaker dock or music system with the wireless charging surface can enable one to simply integrate the phone with that system just by placing it on that surface. Or a tablet or regular computer can be unlocked by you placing your phone near that device. This can extend to an improved software-security interface where a user session with a particular program or online service like Facebook on another computer is considered more trusted if they have the phone near that device.

This agreement is one where I see greater paths for innovation taking place where smartphones, wireless charging surfaces and apps can work as a system. But there needs to be support for a secure operating environment which prevents the installation of malware or access to untrusted Websites by implementing a level of user-controlled trust for device-app-charger relationships.

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The AV connection panels in hotel rooms–a very useful amenity for the connected user

In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

A feature that is starting to appear in an increasing number of hotel rooms is the AV connection panel. Sometimes known as a “jack pack”, ”media panel”,  “aux panel” or something similar, these are wall-mounted connection panels or connection boxes located near the TV which provide a simplified way to allow you to connect your portable computing equipment to the TV and make use of it as a display and amplified speakers.

Here, these panels are a way to provide a “walk-up” method for guests to connect their technology to the TVs while the TVs remain anchored in place on the wall or in the cabinet. It also avoids the need for guests to grope around the back of the set to find the appropriate connections and risk unplugging existing equipment or plugging something in the wrong hole, which can cause an unnecessary maintenance request. This is in response to guests “bringing their own content” with them and wanting to view it from their gadgets on the large-screen TV in the room rather than watching regular TV or pay-per-view movies.

I have used one of these when staying overnight at Rydges Melbourne to connect my Galaxy Note II smartphone to the TV’s speakers to play music that is held on the smartphone. Here, this is a wall-mount panel that is equipped with RCA and S-Video sockets for stereo audio and analogue video, a VGA input and a 3.5mm audio input for computers alongside an HDMI input for most of the recent crop of laptops and other video equipment. There is also a USB “plug ’n’ charge” socket where you can connect your smartphone or other gadget to charge it. As I had previously mentioned, you can use the 3.5mm audio-in jack to connect your smartphone or other personal-audio device to amplify it through the TV’s speakers.

This particular setup has you selecting the different inputs as though they are “virtual channels” where you enter a particular channel number to select that input, similar to how some TVs and video recorders had you select a particular channel number to use the video inputs. Here, these “virtual channels” are listed on a reference card that is usually kept on the desk near the media panel.

If you are playing an audio device, you will find that the TV will show the blue screen and a reference to that channel as a way of showing that the selected input is working.

Who would benefit from these setups?

Laptop / notebook computer users

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook at Intercontinental Melbourne On Rialto

An Ultrabook that can easily benefit from these AV connection panels

Connecting your laptop or notebook computer to the TV via the media panel’s HDMI input or, for older laptops, the VGA input for display and 3.5mm audio input for the sound, can open up increased functionality for these computers.

If you use the Internet service provided by the hotel, you can take this further by playing online media services like “catch-up TV” / video-on-demand services through the big screen. You also have the same benefit when you play video files that exist on your computer’s hard disk or use an integrated or USB-connected optical drive to play DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.

Those of you who like to play games on the laptop as a form of relaxation can benefit from the hotel room’s TV serving as a large screen for that game. It would be something that could impress business associates who do like to see these games as a way to rest between delivering those presentations.

Speaking of which, the large screen can come in handy for reviewing that presentation you have to give so you can be sure the graphics are in the right place and that each slide doesn’t look too overcrowded or dull. You are also at a better position for seeing the presentation from how your audience would see it. It is also a good chance to “dry-run” that multimedia presentation that you are running on your laptop so you are sure it is going to go to plan without things going wrong.

Similarly, the large screen will earn its keep with videoconferencing applications like Skype and Lync. Here, you can see your correspondent’s face on the large screen and hear your correspondent’s voice through the better-sounding speakers which may make their voice easier to understand.

Tablet and smartphone users

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tablet computer

Toshiba AT300 10″ Android tablet computer – can benefit from the large screen when you are watching online video

If your tablet or smartphone has an HDMI or composite video output, you can benefit from the TV being a large screen for these devices when it comes to gaming or playing online or stored video content. Here these devices will most likely use an MHL jack which works with these panels if you use an MHL-HDMI active patch cable. Older smartphones may also use the 3.5mm headset connector as a video / audio output and you would need to use a 3.5mm – 3xRCA breakout cable to play composite video from these smartphones.

As well the TV can simply serve as amplified speakers for these devices simply by you connecting the 3.5mm audio-input jack on the panel to your smartphone’s or tablet’s headphone jack using one of those 3.5mm plug-3.5mm plug cables..

Digital still and video cameras

You can preview your still images or footage you have taken on that large screen if your camera or camcorder has an HDMI or composite video output. Most of the recent digital cameras will implement a “mini HDMI” connector and/or composite video output via a 3.5mm multi-conductor jack due to their low-profile design.

The benefit you have with this is that it makes it easier to have “many eyes” looking for imperfections in the images and footage you have taken or have the benefit of a large screen to review those images or footage more easily. Even the speakers built in to these TV sets would do rings around the cameras’ integrated monitor speakers

Other personal audio and video players

Those of you who use portable DVD players or portable media players can have these devices play through that large screen in your room as an alternative to what is available on the pay-per-view movie service.

Similarly, your iPod Classic, MP3 payer, Discman or other legacy-media personal player (think cassette or MiniDisc) can benefit from being able to be played through the TV’s speakers with a louder sound. If you are using a handheld “note-taker” recorder, whether tape-based or digital, the TV speakers may allow you to hear the recording of that meeting that you made more clearly compared to the small integrated speakers that these recorders have. This could allow you to hear the muffled or soft voices, the voices with hard-to-understand accents or the distinctly-important background sounds more clearly.

Tips to get the most out of these connection panels

  • Keeping a supply of cables handy
    A good practice to gain advantage from these media panels is to keep a supply of cables with you when you travel. These should allow you to connect your gadgets either to 3.5mm stereo jacks or RCA jacks for audio or HDMI, S—Video or RCA composite video for video applications. A good starting point when it comes to smartphones is my article on “essential smartphone accessories” where I mentioned about making sure you are equipped with a 3.5mm-2.5mm stereo patch cord along with a 3.5mm – 2xRCA patch cord for your smartphone’s audio needs.
  • What sound playback device is this
    The HDMI input's audio function serves as its own soundcard

    The HDMI input’s audio function serves as its own soundcard

    Laptop users who use the HDMI connections on these media panels will find that the HDMI audio connection is enumerated as a separate sound device. Here, they may have to use the Sound Devices option in their operating system or application to direct the sound through the TV’s speakers with this connection.

  • Avoiding distorted sound through the TV speakers
    To avoid distorted sound from these setups especially if using the RCA or 3.5mm connections, adjust the sound volume at your device to 75%-90% volume level and turn off any equalisation or sound-processing on the device if the device or software has this kind of adjustment. Here, you could get by with turning your device up to maximum volume and backing the device’s volume adjustment off slightly to set the input volume. Then you adjust the sound volume to your taste or programme content using the TV’s remote control. Some mobile devices implement a “Line-out” mode which bypasses all tone controls and sets the device’s output level to a nominal level so it works with external amplification.
  • Setting up effective wireless operation
    Pure Jongo A2 network media adaptor

    A Bluetooth audio adaptor can allow you to wirelessly play the music on your smartphone or tablet from your bed or armchair

    You can set up a level of wireless operation with these media panels using an A2DP-compliant Bluetooth audio adaptor for music from your Bluetooth-capable laptop, smartphone or tablet; or a Wi-Fi-Direct-based Miracast adaptor for audio and video with Miracast-compliant laptops and Android devices.

  • What are the channels to select for your equipment when you stay at that hotel?
    If you are a regular guest at a particular hotel, it is a good idea to make note of the “virtual channels” used for particular device connections in your travel notes. This is more so as you bring particular gadgets, especially newer gadgets, on to the scene when you travel.
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The three-platform tablet race is now on

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tablet computer

Toshiba AT300 10″ Android tablet computer

Previously, if anyone though of a mobile-platform tablet device, they thought of an Apple iPad which was a 10” tablet that had its success driven by a large quantity of apps along with ease of use that made it appeal to those of us who didn’t have much for computer skills.

Very shortly after, the Android platform, driven by the 3.0 “Honeycomb” version of this operating system, came to the fore as far as mobile-platform tablets were concerned. Some of the manufacturers offered the tablets in two different screen sizes – a 7” size that can be kept in a coat pocket or handbag or a 10” that can be rested on the lap like the iPad.

This has continued on with Blackberry having a “bite at the cherry” with their Playbook “business-pitched” tablet to go with their business smartphones. But Microsoft stepped forward with Windows 8 and its Modern UI (née Metro UI) and this saw the arrival of the Surface tablet under their banner along with other PC vendors offering 11” tablets and convertible computers. Now Microsoft released a mature Windows 8.1 operating system with the ability to work on 7” displays along with a mature Surface 2 series of tablet computers. This has been underscored with other manufacturers offering keenly-priced 7”-8” Windows 8.1 tablets that run the Intel “Bay Trail” Atom processors.

This is very similar to what has come about with the regular computing market where three main platforms have surfaced in the form of the Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows and the open-source “desktop Linux” platform. The latter two have focused on the use of commonly-available hardware designs with commonly-available peripheral and network interfaces, thus allowing for low-cost systems to be built around these platforms.

Bridge devices

Convertible laptop-tablet devices

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11

Since Windows XP offered “tablet with stylus” support, there have been a few so-called “convertible” laptops that become tablet computers. These computers appeared very much in a trickle of highly-priced business computers which were hard for most of us to come by. But Windows 8 with its touchscreen user interface,along with Android underscored this need for the “convertible” tablet-computer device.

These came in either a form with a fixed keyboard but having a screen that either swivelled or slid out, which is underscored by the Sony VAIO Duo 11; or a detachable-keyboard form where the keyboard was able to be unclipped from the tablet computer; which is underscored by the ASUS EeePad Transformer Prime or the HP x2 series. They legitimised the ability for one of these to work as a small content-creation laptop or a tablet that comes in to its own for browsing content.

The “phablet” or large-screen smartphone

Android users are also seeing more of the 5”-6” large-screen smartphones which are being referred to as “phablets” because the screen size is close to that for a small tablet. This was brought on by Samsung with their Galaxy Note series but Sony, HTC and others are pitching in to the game for this screen size. What is being valued here is more or less the small handheld device that comfortably works as a phone for making and taking calls.

Answering this trend

Something that can easily fall short in the “three-horse race” which describes the tablet market is the availability of apps for each of these platforms. This is manifest with the app stores for the iOS and Android platforms having more software available than what is currently available in the Windows Store for Windows 8.1 .

SBS and Facebook had made positive efforts to reach all the tablet platforms especially with Facebook offering a comprehensive “dashboard” app to the Windows Store for Windows 8 and 8.1 users.

But a problem that may affect the short-order and custom app-development scene, where apps are turned out for particular events and locations is that they will have to develop apps for three platforms each with their different interface abilities and needs. This same problem can affect the so-called “app-cessory” scene where devices are linked to a tablet or smartphone via USB, Bluetooth or the home network and benefit from an app that provides extended functionality.

As far as designing hardware accessories is concerned, it will be easier to design for the Android and the Windows 8.1 platforms. This is through these platforms encouraging an open-frame attitude when it comes to developing accessories and software for these tablets. Here, most of the connections used on devices that work to these platforms are designed around common industry standards. For that matter, it could allow the availability of low-cost tablets and similar devices that work on these platforms.

What I see of this

Once manufacturers present tablets that offer more that what the Apple iPad offers for a reasonable price but without a steep learning curve especially for computer novices, this could displace Apple’s market lead in this product space.

Similarly, a company offering a product form factor that impresses customers more than what is out there, whether in looks or functionality, can allow a particular tablet platform to break through more easily.

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