Product Review–Brother VC-500W Colour Label Printer

I am reviewing the  Brother VC-500W colour thermal label printer which is the first label printer to implement colour direct-thermal printing. This was a machine I had previously covered when it was launched in to Europe due to its use of a direct-thermal colour printing process to turn out labels.

This is based on ZINK colour direct-thermal printing which was an R&D project within Polaroid to combine what their legendary SX-70 instant-camera platform was about with digital photography. But this effort was spun off as a separate entity which licensed it to different product manufacturers who primarily made pocket photo printers and similar devices. Polaroid even used this technology recently to create a digital instant camera that conveyed what their best-selling instant cameras were  about in to the digital world.

Brother VC-500W direct-thermal colour label printer

Connectivity

Touch control on Brother VC-500W colour direct-thermal label printer

Touch control on Brother VC-500W direct-thermal colour label printer.
Left touch panel glows blue for connection to a Wi-Fi network or white when it is its own access point.
Moving your finger in the ridge at the front while it is lit up cuts off the label

The Brother VC-500W colour label printer uses Wi-Fi for network connectivity. This is in addition to it using USB connectivity for regular computers. This can be as its own access point or as part of an extant Wi-Fi network. You can switch between these two modes by pressing the Wi-Fi button on the top left of the unit. If this button glows white, you are using it as its own access point which has the ESSID (network identifier) which starts with VC-500W. If the button glows blue, you have successfully connected it to an existing Wi-Fi network. As well, if the button is dark, the Wi-Fi functionality is disabled. This arrangement avoids situations where you don’t know if your printer switched to own-access-point mode or infrastructure mode on its own accord.

If you are not using Wi-Fi, you connect the Brother VC-500W colour label printer to a regular computer’s USB port using a supplied Type-A to Type-Micro-B cable. This will work with most regular computers as long as you download and install the Brother driver software from their Website.

This unit requires you to set it up as its own access point then log in to its own home page in order to configure it to work with an existing Wi-Fi network. Here, you press the Wi-Fi button until it turns white. Then you connect your regular computer or mobile device to this label printer by Wi-Fi to the ESSID that starts with VC-500W and has the last four digits of the unit’s serial number written on its underside. Then you point your Web browser to 192.168.0.1 and work through the online wizard to enrol it with the Wi-Fi network of choice.

Brother ZINK label roll installed in VC-500W direct thermal colour label printer

ZINK-based colour label roll installed in the printer

The existing-network Wi-Fi functionality is limited to the basic level of Wi-Fi network setup. Here, you can only connect it to a Wi-Fi network that is typically set up for home or small-business use with the WPA2-Personal (common Wi-Fi password) configuration. You can’t operate it on advanced enterprise networks or properly-configured public-access Wi-Fi. As well, this printer doesn’t support WPS push-button setup. As well, if you intend to take your printer between home and work and use it with the existing networks in both locations, you have to configure the printer to each network every time you start using it in that location.

From my experience, I had found that the software download and installation on both my Windows-based desktop computer and my Android phone worked according to plan.

Use

Colour label printed out of Brother VC-500W direct-thermal colour label printer

Colour label printed out by this label printer

I was using the Brother Color Label Editor which is available for iOS or Android on my Android-based smartphone to test the Brother VC-500W colour label printer out. Here, I found that like most newly-released devices, the printer needed to be brought up-to-date with the latest firmware.

The only form of driver-free app-free printing that this printer supports is for the Apple AirPrint platform and this only works with handling image files and PDF files.

The Brother P-Touch Editor and Color Label Editor software does take some time to get used to and both these applications that are supplied for use with this printer  The software is primarily pitched towards home users who create gift tags and the like where beauty is more important.

As well, it is as though the bar-code functionality on P-Touch Editor has been disabled for this printer which is a shame especially for small businesses who may want to create colour labels or ID tags that have machine-readable barcodes or want to use the QR code for something like Wi-Fi network details or Weblinks to be read by a smartphone’s QR-code reader. Here, you would have to use another program or Website to create the barcode then paste the image in to P-Touch Editor.

The colour output is mostly highly saturated and vivid which would suit most applications. Here, I am not thinking of high-quality photo reproduction but something of use to an ordinary household or small business who just wants colour labels.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother VC-500W colour label printer could implement WPS-PBC, Wi-Fi Easy Connect or similar technologies to permit a simplified Wi-Fi setup experience. As well, it could benefit from a mobile-platform app-based setup experience especially if intend to use it primarily with mobile devices. Support for Wi-Fi enterprise connectivity could go a long way towards having this machine appeal to the business community.

The fact that the Brother VC-500W is a very compact label printer which encourages us to take it between places could incite Brother to allow this printer to remember the configuration of preferably four or five Wi-Fi networks. This could encourage the ability for users to take it between places.

As for driver-free printing, Brother could add support for the Mopria standard in order to allow it to work with Android or Windows devices in that way.

Brother could see the use of ZINK technology come in to its own for direct-thermal colour transactional printing. If they were able to work with ZINK, they could share the knowledge that they built up with their PocketJet direct-thermal printers and making this medium more stable then lead towards improving the stability and longevity of ZINK-based documents. It can also extend to the idea of creating ZINK-based receipt/coupon printers for business applications where full-colour printing comes in to its own.

A wider-framed version of the Brother VC-500W that can take wider ZINK rolls could allow it to compete with the HP Sprocket and other ZINK-based photo printers. It can also open up increased use cases for colour labelling like personnel ID tags, cleanskin wine-bottle labelling amongst other applications.

The printer’s P-Touch software should be able to expose the business-focused printing abilities as well as the craft-focused printing abilities rather than limiting it to the craft-focused functionality. This can be important for people who value full-colour label and tag printing within the office especially if it is also about data-driven or barcode printing.

A question that also needs to be raised about the ZINK-based printing technology that this printer uses is the shelf life for consumables based on this technology. Here it may be about how long the rolls can exist whether within or out of their wrapping before they either print below par or jam up inside the printer. This is because of a reality where we would buy multiple sizes of the label tape to suit different printing needs and use each different one according to need.

Conclusion

I would see the Brother VC-500W Colour Label Printer satisfy most colour-labelling needs especially for householders who are using this kind of labelling for their personal crafts.

For example, I would see it come in to its own with people who are doing their own preserving and bottling and want to use personalised jar or bottle labels for those jars of jam, marmalade or something similar they are giving to their friends and family. In this case, the printer can be used with the CZ2005 50mm-wide roll of tape because they have a larger area for their graphics or photos.

It may also earn its keep in the education and allied sectors for creating unique and distinctive IDs for managing staff, students and other people who visit the premises.

In this case, I don’t really see the Brother VC-500W as being a “toy”. It also is a chance for Brother to exploit the ZINK technology for direct-thermal colour transactional printing applications.

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WindowsCentral has identified a handful of portable external graphics modules for your Thunderbolt 3 laptop

Article

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

Best Portable eGPUs in 2019 | WindowsCentral

From the horse’s mouth

Akitio

Node Pro (Product Page)

Gigabyte

Aorus Gaming Box (Product Page)

PowerColor

PowerColor Mini (Product Page)

Sonnet

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck (Product Page)

My Comments

More of the Thunderbolt-3 external graphics modules are appearing on the scene but most of these units are primarily heavy units with plenty of connectivity on them. This is good if you wish to have this external graphics module as part of your main workspace / gaming space rather than something you will be likely to take with you as you travel with that Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook or MacBook Pro.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook – an example of an ultraportable computer that can benefit from one of the portable external graphics modules

Windows Central have called out a selection of these units that are particularly portable in design to allow for ease of transport. This will appeal to gamers and the like who have access to a large-screen TV in another room that they can plug video peripherals in to such as university students living in campus accommodation or a sharehouse. It can also appeal to those of us who want to use the laptop’s screen with a dedicated graphics processor such as to edit and render video footage they have captured or play a game with best video performance.

Most of the portable external graphics modules will be embedded with a particular graphics chipset and a known amount of display memory. In most cases this will be a high-end mobile GPU which may be considered low-spec by desktop (gaming-rig) standards. There will also be reduced connectivity options especially with the smaller units but they will have enough power output to power most Thunderbolt-3-equipped Ultrabooks.

An exception that the article called out was the Akitio Node Pro which is a “card cage” that is similar in size to one of the new low-profile desktop computers. This unit also has a handle and a Thunderbolt-3 downstream connection for other peripherals based on this standard. It would need an active DisplayPort-HDMI adaptor or a display card equipped with at least one HDMI port to connect to the typical large-screen TV set.

Most of the very small units or units positioned at the cheap end of the market would excel at 1080p (Full HD) graphics work. This would be realistic for most flatscreen TVs that are in use as secondary TVs or to use the laptop’s own screen if you stick the the advice to specify Full HD (1080p) as a way to conserve battery power on your laptop.

The exception in this roundup of portable external graphics modules was the AORUS Gaming Box which is kitted out with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics chipset. This would be consided a high-performance unit.

Here, these portable external graphics modules are being identified as being something of use where you are likely to take them between locations but don’t compromising when it comes to functionality or capability.

It can also appeal to first-time buyers who don’t want to spend much on their first external graphics module to use with their suitably-equipped laptop or all-in-one. Then if you are thinking of using a better external graphics module, perhaps a “card-cage” variety that can work with high-performance “gaming-rig” or “desktop-workstation” cards, you can then keep one of these external graphics modules as something to use on the road for example.

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Ambient Computing–a new trend

Article

Smart speakers like the Google Home are the baseline for the new concept of ambient computing

Lenovo see smart displays as a foundation for ambient computing | PC World

My Comments

A trend that is appearing in our online life is “ambient computing” or “ubiquitous computing”. This is where the use of computing technology is effective part of our daily lives without us having to do something specific about it.

One driver that is facilitating it is the use of voice-driven assistant technology like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Microsoft’s Cortana. It has manifested initially in mobile operating systems like Android or iOS but has come about more so with smart speakers of the Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod kind along with Microsoft and Apple putting this functionality in to desktop operating systems like MacOS and Windows.

Lenovo Smart Display press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

as are smart displays of the Lenovo Smart Display kind

As well, Amazon and Google have licensed out front-end software for their voice-driven home assistants so that third-party equipment manufacturers can integrate this functionality in their consumer-electronics products. It also includes the availability of devices that connect to larger-screen TVs or higher-quality sound systems to use them as display or audio surfaces for these voice-driven assistants, even simply just to play audio or video content pulled up at the command of the user.

Lenovo underscored this with their current Smart Display products and the up-and-coming Smart Display products including a Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab which was premiered at IFA 2019 in Berlin. These are based on the Google Home platform and they were underscoring the role of these displays in ambient computing.

Another key driving factor is the Internet of Things which may be seen in the home context as lights, appliances and other devices connected to the home network and Internet. It doesn’t matter whether they connect to the IP-based home network directly or via a “home hub” device. These work with the various voice-driven home-assistant platforms as sensors or controlled devices or, in some cases, alternate control surfaces.

It extends beyond the home through interaction with various building-wide or city-wide services that relate to energy use, transport, personal security amongst other things.

The other key driver that is highlighted is the use of distributed computing or “the cloud” where the data is processed or presented in a manner that is made available via the Internet on any device. It can also include online services that present information or content at your fingertips from anywhere in the world. In some cases, there is the use of data aggregation to create a wider picture of what is going on.

What this all adds up to is the concept of an “information butler” that responds with information or content as you need it. This is underscored with ambient or ubiquitous computing that is not just a Silicon Valley buzzword but a real concept.

What does the concept of ambient or ubiquitous computing underscore?

Here it is the use of information technology in a manner that blends in with your lifestyle rather than being a separate activity. You interact with one or more of the endpoints while you undertake a regular daily task and this can be about showing up information you need or setting up the environment for that activity. It relies less on active participation by the end-user.

Ambient computing is adaptive in that it fits in and adapts to your changing needs. It is also anticipatory because it can anticipate future needs like, for example, changing the heating setting to cope with a change in the weather. It also demonstrates context awareness by recognising users and the context of their activity.

But ambient computing still has its issues. One key issue that is called out frequently is end-user privacy including protection of minor children when users interact with these systems. An article published by Intel underscores this in the context of simplifying the management of our privacy wishes with the various devices and online services through the use of “agent” software.

This also relates to data security for the infrastructure along with data sovereignty (which country the data resides in) due to issues like information theft and use of information by foreign governments.

Similarly, allowing ambient-computing environments to determine activities like what content you enjoy can be of concern. This is more important because you may choose particular content based on your values and what others who have similar tastes and values recommend. It can also lead to avoiding addiction to content that can be socially harmful or enforcing the consumption of a particular kind of content upon people at the expense of other content.

Another factor that can creep up if common data-interchange standards aren’t implemented is the existence of data “silos”. This is where an ambient computing environment is limited to hardware and software provided by particular vendors. It can limit competition in the provision of these services which can restrict the ability to innovate when it comes to developing these systems further.

But what is now being seen as important for our online life is the trend towards ubiquitous ambient computing that simply is part of our lives.

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Web-based favourite station function back on with Frontier-based Internet radios

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Airable by TuneIn (different from the TuneIn Radio app)

http://airablenow.com/its-available-the-all-new-frontier-smart-radio-podcast-portal/

Frontier Smart (Frontier Silicon)

Frontier Nuvola Smart Radio portal

Favourites (Knowledge-base page)

My Comments

The Web-based favourites portal returns to Frontier-based Internet radios like these Ruark sets

Frontier Smart have revised their Web-based Internet-radio-management portal to work with the Airable by TuneIn Internet-radio directory. This is after Frontier Smart, formerly Frontier Silicon, jumped from vTuner to Airable after it was recently found that vTuner recently “lost it” with Internet-radio service quality.

This account-driven portal offers Web-based favourites management which also supports the ability to create personalised station groups like “Favourite European Stations”. As well it brings back the ability to upload the Web address of an audio stream for your Internet radio to pick up, which can be useful if you are dealing with a station not on the Airable directory.

At the moment, you can have a favourites list available to a particular Internet radio or have them across all of the compatible devices you have bound to your account.

… including the Ruark R7 Radiogram

You need to create an account with the Frontier Nuvola Smart Radio portal for this feature to work. This supports social sign-on with Google and Facebook as credential repositories for both signing up and logging in.

As well, you have to enrol each Frontier-based device (Internet radio, wireless speaker, etc) with your Frontier Nuvola account for this function to work. You would then log in to the above-mentioned portal then select the “Connect New Device” option on the “Devices” screen to bind your device to your account.

You would need to bring up the device’s access code by using its control surface or companion app to select “Stations” then “Help” while it is in Internet Radio mode. Then you transcribe this number from the device’s display or companion app in to the “Connect New Device” web form. This number has a validity time of 10 minutes.

As well, you have the option to name the device with an easy-to-remember name so you know what it is. I would recommend the use of its make and, perhaps, model name or number plus its location in your home like “Kitchen Sangean DDR-66BT” for a Sangean DDR-66BT stereo Internet radio / CD player installed in the kitchen  as an easy way to identify it.

How could Airable and Frontier Smart improve on this feature?

Airable could improve on the Web-based favourites functionality so that your favourites aren’t confined to devices based on a particular platform or offered by a particular make. This is because some manufacturers; especially those who provide “big sets” like hi-fi tuners and receivers, or those offering to the automotive market whether line-fit, dealer-fit or aftermarket, will create their own highly-branded user interfaces to this directory.

As well, Airable could then be in a position to offer an Internet-radio / podcast app for mobile and desktop computing platforms so you can benefit from its resources with your smartphone, 2-in-1 laptop or desktop computer. This could then compete with established app-based Internet-radio providers like TuneIn Radio

They could also provide the ability for a user to create preset-list and personal-stream groups that are available to a subset of Internet radios or other devices bound to your account. It could suit a situation such as to have one favourites list for in-car use or the office and another for the home.

Similarly, it could be feasible for a device to support multiple users such as to cater for larger households or the hospitality industry where different people have their own favourites lists or streams but want to use their accounts with the same devices.

The Airable effort is still being seen as a way to keep the essence of Internet radio – the “new shortwave radio” alive as a medium when it comes to standalone devices.

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You can manage your Google Home’s lighting and volume for night-time use

Article

You can use the Google Home app to manage how your Google Home smart speaker works during the evening and night hours for a better night’s sleep

Google Home Has A Hidden Night Mode (And We Love It) | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Manage volume and LED brightness with Night mode (Instruction sheet)

My Comments

Some of you may want to interact with a Google Home smart speaker during the wee hours of the day such as to ask for the time or weather. Or you may touch the device and work it as a night-light. But it can be too bright or loud at these times in a way that people can be woken up at odd hours. Here, some users have to adjust the volume to avoid this risk of disturbance.

But Google has a “Night Mode” feature that allows you to determine the maximum volume and device lighting brightness during times when you don’t want to be disturbed.

Here, you have to use the Google Home mobile-platform app on your smartphone or tablet. As well, your mobile device has be on the same logical network as the Google Home device, which would typically be the same Wi-Fi network when you are thinking of your home network.

When you open the Google Home app, tap on the gear-shape Settings icon and you will see the “Night Mode” setting in the list of settings. There is a toggle switch to enable or disable this mode, and when you enable this mode, the LEDs on the top of your Google Home device will dim while the maximum speaker volume will be softer.

There is an option to schedule the times and days of the week when the Night Mode feature will be active. This may be of importance if you want to make sure it comes in to play on weeknights for example.

There are settings to determine the maximum speaker volume and lighting brightness that will apply to your Google Home smart speaker while it is in the “Night Mode” condition.

The Do Not Disturb option on the Night Mode settings page mutes any notification or system sounds that your Google Home smart speaker makes. But timer or alarm signals will “break through” this setting so you don’t miss that extra alarm you set to wake you up so you can pick up that loved one from the airport as they come off that late flight.

But I am not sure whether these settings can be configured for individual devices or all of the devices bound to the same account. This may be of importance if you want to reduce the volume and lighting brightness on units installed in the bedrooms while one or more units installed in the common living areas are maintained at bright levels; or you want to maintain a common setting across your home.

A feature that can improve on this would be to have the LEDs on top of a Google Home device stay alight but at the maximum brightness to allow you to use the device as a night light. This is more so for those of us who would keep one of these devices in the corridor near the main bathroom or within that bathroom to serve as a “beacon” night-light to enable use of the bathroom at night.

At least Google has provided an option to allow the Google Home device family to work properly without disturbing other people’s sleep at night.

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Different kinds of cloud IT systems–what to be aware of

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

The iPad is seen as part of the cloud-based mobile computing idea that Silicon Valley promotes

Very often “cloud” is used as a Silicon-Valley-based buzzword when describing information-technology systems that have any sort of online data-handling abilities.

This is more so if the IT system is sold to the customer “as a service” where the customer pays a subscription to maintain use of the system. It also is used where the user’s data is stored at an online service with minimal data-processing and storage abilities at the user’s premises.

It is because small business users are being sold on these systems typically due to reduced capital expenditure or reduced involvement in maintaining the necessary software. It also allows the small business to be able to “think big” when it comes to their IT systems without paying a prince’s ransom.

What is strictly a cloud system

Single Server online system

Single Server online system

But, strictly speaking, a cloud-based system relies on multiple online locations to store and/or process data. Such a system would have multiple computers at multiple data centres processing or storing the data, whether in one geopolitical jurisdiction or many depending on the service contract.

This is compared to the single-server online IT system sold as a service that implements at least a Web-based “thin-client” where you work the data through a Web page and, perhaps, a mobile-platform native app to work your data on a smartphone or tablet. Typically, the data would be held on one system under the control of the service provider with this system existing at a data centre. It works in a similar vein to common Internet services like email or Web-hosting with the data held on a server provided by the Wehhost or ISP.

Hybrid cloud systems

Hybrid Cloud online system

Hybrid Cloud online system with primary data kept on premises

One type of cloud system is what could be best described as a “hybrid” system that works with data stored primarily on the user’s premises. This is typically to provide either a small private data cloud that replicates data across branches of a small business or to provide online and mobile functionality such as to allow you to manage the data on a Web page or native mobile-platform app anywhere around the world, or to provide messaging abilities through a mobile-messaging platform.

For example, a lot of NAS units are marketed as “cloud” NAS units but these devices keep the user’s data on their own storage media. Here, they use the “cloud” functionality to improve discovery of that device from the Internet when the user enables remote access functionality or data-syncing between two NAS devices via the Internet. It is due to the reality that most residential and some small-business Internet connections use outside IP addresses that change frequently.

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS press image courtesy of Western Digital

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS – one of the kind of NAS units that uses cloud functionality for online access

Or a small medical practice who keeps their data on-premises is sold a “cloud-based” messaging and self-service appointment-management add-on to their IT system. Here, the core data is based on what is held on-premises but the messaging functionality or Web-based user interface and necessary “hooks” enabling the mobile-platform native app for the self-service booking function are hosted on a cloud service built up by the add-on’s vendor. When a patient uses the mobile-platform app or Web-front to book or change an appointment, they alter the data on the on-premises system through the cloud-hosted service.

It may also be used with something like an on-premises accounting system to give business functionality like point-of-sale abilities to a mobile-platform device like an iPad through the use of a cloud-based framework. But the core data in the on-premises system is altered by the cloud-based mobile-platform setup as each transaction is completed.

Full-cloud systems

Full Cloud online system

Full Cloud online system with data processing and storage across multiple different computers

On the other hand, a full-cloud system has the user’s primary data held online across one or more server computers with minimum local hardware or software to work the user’s data. There may be some on-premises data-caching to support offline operation such as to provide transaction-capture if the link is down or simply to improve the system’s performance.

The IT infrastructure for a full-cloud system will have some measure of scalability to allow for an increasing customer base, typically with the service provider annexing more computer power as the customer base increases. Such a service will have tiered pricing where you pay more for increased capacity.

Client software types

The user-interface for an online or cloud IT system would primarily be Web-driven where you work the data with a Web browser. On the other hand, it could use native client software that works tightly with the client computer’s operating system whether as a “thick” client with a significant amount of local data-processing or storage on the endpoint computing device or a “thin” client which just has a window to the data such as simply using a Web browser.

Public vs private cloud

Another concept regarding cloud-based IT is the difference between a public cloud and a private cloud. The public cloud has the computing power managed by another firm like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services while the private cloud has all its computing power managed by the service provider or client company and effectively isolated from public access through a separate private network.

This can be a regular server-grade computer installed at each of the business’s branches, described as an internal cloud, Or it can be multiple high-grade server computers installed at data centres managed by someone else but available exclusively for the business, known as a hosted private cloud.

Data Privacy, Security and Sovereignty

Another factor that comes in to question regarding cloud and online computing is the issue of data privacy, security and sovereignty.

This covers how the data is handled to assure privacy relating to end-users whom the data is about; and assurance of security over data confidential to the IT system’s customer and its end-users. It will call out issues like encryption of data “in transit” (while moved between systems) and “at rest” (while stored on the systems) along with policies and procedures regarding who has access to the data when and for what reason.

It is becoming a key issue with online services thanks to the European GDPR directive and similar laws being passed in other jurisdictions which are about protecting end-users’ privacy in a data-driven world.

The issue of data sovereignty includes who has effective legal control over the data created and managed by the end-user of the online service along with which geopolitical area’s rules the data is subject to. Some users pay attention to this thanks to countries like the continental-European countries who value end-user privacy and similar goals heavily.

There is also the issue of what happens to this data if the user wants to move to a service that suits their needs better or if the online service collapses or is taken over by another business.

Cloudlets, Fog Computing and Edge Computing

Edge Computing setup

Edge computing setup where local computing power is used for some of the data handling and storage

This leads me to the concept of “edge computing”, which uses terminology like “fog computing” or “cloudlets”. This involves computing devices relatively local to the data-creation or data-consumption endpoints that store or process data for the benefit of these endpoints.

An example can be about a small desktop NAS, especially a high-end unit, on a business premises that handles data coming in to or going out to a cloud-based online service from endpoint devices installed on that premises. Or it could be a server installed in the equipment rack at a telephone exchange that works as part of a content-delivery system for customers who live in the neighbourhood served by that exchange.

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

Qarnot Q.Rad room heater that is a server computer for edge-computing setups

Similarly, the Qarnot approach which uses servers that put their waste heat towards heating rooms or creating domestic hot water implements the principle of edge computing. Even the idea of a sensor drone or intelligent videosurveillance camera that processes the data it collects before it is uploaded to a cloud-based system is also about edge computing.

It is being touted due to the concept of decentralised data processing as a way to overcome throughput latency associated with the public Internet links. As well, this concept is being underscored with the Internet of Things as a way to quickly handle data created by sensors and turn it in to a form able to be used anywhere.

Conclusion

Here, the issue is for those of us who buy service-based IT whether for our own needs or for a workplace is to know what kind of system we are dealing with. This includes whether the data is to exist in multiple locations, at the premises or at one location.

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Why should a common retailer join in to a tech platform with their own brands?

IKEA SYMFONISK speaker range press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B V

IKEA’s affordable path to the SONOS multi-room audio ecosystem

I have seen IKEA present a set of speakers that work with the premium SONOS multiroom audio platform but are more affordable than the SONOS speakers. Then I did some research on IKEA’s Tradfri smart-lighting infrastructure and found that the affordable smart lights offered by them can work with other Zigbee Light Link compliant home-automation setups.

A very similar practice is taking place with some of the German hypermarkets who are offering multiroom audio products under their private labels such as SilverCrest by Lidl / Kaufland.

But there are attempts especially by telcos who are offering “smart-home” systems where they don’t disclose what technical platforms their system supports. This is more so when users buy “starter packs” then want to “build out” their smart-home setup by adding on the devices that suit their needs.

What benefit does this offer?

Here, a retailer or telco’s retail arm can provide a set of equipment that is part of a particular multiroom-audio, smart-home, distributed Wi-Fi or similar device platform at a price affordable for most people. This is more so where they offer the products under their own private labels that are dedicated to value-priced or budget equipment.

Such a system can allow for a low-risk entry path to the multiroom-audio, home-automation or similar platform for most users. This is more so where a user wants to start out small, typically to suit a particular need like having a few lamps managed by a smart-lighting system.

Another advantage that exists for those of us who have invested in that platform is that we can build on it in a cost-effective manner. In the case of IKEA Symfonisk speakers, a person who has one or more SONOS speakers serving one or more primary living areas like the living room or the family room could extend their SONOS multiroom-audio setup to other rooms like the bedrooms in a cost-effective manner by using Symfonisk speakers. IKEA even took this further with Symfonisk by allowing you to have a compatible SONOS soundbar and a pair of the Symfonisk speakers in order to set up a full-on surround-sound system for your TV.

The retailer also benefits from the fact that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel if they are heading towards multiroom audio, smart-home or similar technology. Here, they can come on board with a range of products that suit their brand identity and focus on their specialities like, perhaps, home furnishings.

How does this work effectively

The key devices that are part of the device platform have to be designed as entities that can work with any systems or standards that drive the home-automation, multiroom-audio or similar platform. This means that they are to be interoperable with other devices working on that platform in a transparent manner.

If the retailer is offering a “hub” or “controller” device under their label, they may get away with something focused around their identity. But they could gain better mileage out of these devices by making them work to common technical standards so the devices can become part of the system that you want.

Some systems that allow a device to perform a supporting role like a pair of speakers augmenting a soundbar as “fronts” or “surrounds” for example could open up the path for accessing the desirable functionality.

Conclusion

When common retailers, telcos and installers offer equipment that works according to one or more common technical platforms and is affordable, this means that we can get in to the technical realms that the platforms offer with minimal risk. It also means that we can build out and add functionality to these systems in a cost-effective manner even if we use premium equipment based on these platforms.

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Major improvements expected to come to Bluetooth audio

Article

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

The Bluetooth connectivity that the Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar benefits from will be improved in an evolutionary way

The future of Bluetooth audio: Major changes coming later this year | Android Authority

My Comments

One of Bluetooth’s killer applications, especially for smartphones and tablets, is a wireless link between a headset, speaker or sound system to reproduce audio content held on the host computing device.

At the moment, the high-end for this use case is being fought strongly by some very determined companies. Firstly, Bose, Sony and Bang & Olufsen are competing with each other for the best active-noise-cancelling over-the-ear Bluetooth headset that you can use while travelling. This is while Apple and Sony are vying for top place when it comes to the “true-wireless” in-ear Bluetooth headset. It is showing that the Bluetooth wireless-audio feature is infact part of a desirable feature set for headphones intended to be used with smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Let’s not forget that recently-built cars and recently-made aftermarket car-stereo head units are equipped with Bluetooth for communications and multimedia audio content. This is part of assuring drivers can concentrate on the road while they are driving.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

.. just like headsets like this JBL one

But this technology is to evolve over the second half of 2019 with products based on the improved technology expected to appear realistically by mid 2020. Like with Bluetooth Low Energy and similar technologies, the host and accessory devices will be dual-mode devices that support current-generation and next-generation Bluetooth Audio. This will lead to backward compatibility and “best-case” operation for both classes of device.

There is an expectation that they will be offered at a price premium for early adopters but the provision of a single chipset for both modes could lead towards more affordable devices. A question that can easily be raised is whether the improvements offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio can be provided to current-generation Bluetooth hosts or accessory devices through a software upgrade especially where a software-defined architecture is in place.

What will it offer?

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

… like with the upcoming generation of smartphones

The first major feature to be offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio technology is a Bluetooth-designed high-quality audio codec to repackage the audio content for transmission between the host and accessory.

This is intended to replace the need for a smartphone or headset to implement third-party audio codecs like aptX or LDAC if the goal is to assure sound quality that is CD-grade or better. It means that the device designers don’t need to end up licensing these codecs from third parties which will lead to higher-quality products at affordable prices along with removing the balkanisation associated with implementing the different codecs at source and endpoint.

A question that will be raised is what will be the maximum audio quality standard available to the new codec – whether this will be CD-quality sound working up to 16-bit 48kHz sampling rate or master-quality sound working up to 24-bit 192kHz sampling rate. Similarly, could these technologies be implemented in communications audio especially where wide-bandwidth FM-grade audio is being added to voice and video communications technologies for better voice quality and intelligibility thanks to wider bandwidth being available for this purpose.

Another key improvement that will be expected is reduced latency to a point where it isn’t noticeable. This will appeal to the gaming headset market where latency is important because sound effects within games are very important as audio cues for what is happening in a game. It may also be of benefit if you are making or taking videocalls and use your Bluetooth headset to converse with the caller. Here, it will open up the market for Bluetooth-based wireless gaming headsets.

It will also open up Bluetooth audio towards the “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction applications where multiple endpoints like headsets or speakers receive the same audio stream from the same audio source. In these use cases, you can’t have any endpoint receiving the program material reproducing the material later than others receiving the same material.

A key application that will come about is to implement Bluetooth in a multiple-channel speaker setup including a surround-sound setup. This will be a very critical application due to the requirement to reproduce each channel of the audio content stream concurrently and in phase.

It will also legitimise Bluetooth as an alternative wireless link to Wi-Fi wireless networks for multiroom audio setups. As well, the support for “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction will appeal to headsets and hearing-aid applications where there is the desire to send content to many of these devices using a high-quality wireless digital approach rather than RF or induction-loop setups that may be limited in sound quality (in the case of induction-loop setups) or device compatibility (in the case of RF setups). There could even be the ability to support multiple audio-content channels in this setup such as supporting alternative languages or audio description. In some cases, it may open up a use case where transport announcements heard in an airport or rail station can “punch through” over music, video or game sound-effects heard over a Bluetooth headset in a similar way to European car radios can be set up to allow traffic bulletins to override other audio sources.

A question that can be raised with the “many-endpoint” approach that this next-generation Bluetooth-audio technology is to support is whether this can support different connection topologies. This includes “daisy-chaining” speakers so that they are paired to each other for, perhaps a multi-channel setup; using a “hub-and-spoke” approach with multiple headsets or speakers connected to the same source endpoint; or a combination of both topologies including exploiting mesh abilities being introduced to Bluetooth.

Conclusion

From next year, as the newer generations of smartphones, laptops, headsets and other Bluetooth-audio-capable equipment are released, there will be a gradual improvement in the quality and utility of these devices’ audio functions.

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40 years of being wired for sound with the personal soundtrack

Article

Sony holds 40th anniversary event for iconic Walkman music player | Japan Today

From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Walkman 40th Anniversary video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Since the middle of 1979, there came a new way of listening to our favourite music while on the move.

This was brought about by Sony where its founder and CEO wanted a way to listen to music held on cassette tape through a highly-compact stereo cassette player that is connected to a pair of headphones. The production device that came about whose model number was TPS-L2 was based on one of Sony’s best handheld notetaker-grade cassette recorders of the time but played music in stereo through a set of headphones. In some markets it was known as the “Stowaway” or the “Soundabout” but Sony changed the product class’s name to “Walkman”.

This tape player opened up a product class based around a highly-portable stereo cassette player or radio that worked with a pair of lightweight headphones. As more of these devices came on the market, there was a huge rush to improve on their design for portability, sound quality, functionality, and affordability and they became the thing to have during the 1980s. A classic example of this was the Sony Walkman II (WM-2) which was about the size of two cassettes in their cases placed back to back.

Using these devices underscored the idea of a “personal soundtrack” that you enjoyed while you were on the move, whether it was your favourite broadcaster or one of your favourite tapes as you shut out what you didn’t want to hear. Most of these units were so lightweight that you could end up walking, jogging or running for a significant distance without them weighing you down, with this idea encouraging an increase in an interest towards physical exercise. On the other hand, travellers or those of us who had to go to hospital would take a Walkman and a collection of tapes with us to while away the time.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

Today’s headsets like this JBL headset replace the headphones associated with the Walkmans

This is while you were able to hear your taped music in a manner where tape or playback faults could show up clearly. It encouraged the record labels to improve the quality of their pre-recorded “musicassette” offering with this manifesting in high-grade tape and higher-quality mass-duplication techniques for the cassettes. Examples of these include EMI’s XDR and CBS SuperSound cassettes.

Schools and parents worried about this device because it was a way for teenagers to shut out what they didn’t want to hear i.e. the lesson material or what the parents wanted them to do, then substitute it with the music that the kid preferred to listen to like the New Wave sounds of the era. As well, it brought about the expression of one being “wired for sound” when they continually used a Walkman device to listen to music, something highlighted in that 1980s Cliff Richard song “Wired For Sound” (Spotify).

With the CD came along the Discman which was a highly-portable CD player intended to he used as a Walkman but for a digital media source. There was also the DCC and MiniDisc Walkman products that used their own media kind. But these led towards file-based audio in the form of MP3 players like the Creative Nomad and Apple iPod family.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

The smartphone is today’s equivalent of that Walkman

Eventually the role of the Walkman became part of the smartphone’s function set thanks to the Apple iPhone and some of the Symbian-based Nokia feature phones. You would be able to connect a headset to these phones which would be loaded with file-based audio content whether through tethered syncing with a companion app or through loading a memory card with these files. This is while it could be a navigation device, a communications device, a personal library or handheld games machine amongst many other things.

Along with this, the quality of lightweight easy-to-wear headphones improved over the years with factors like improved bass response. The different types of headphones came about such as active-noise-cancelling headphones and Bluetooth wireless headphones that removed the factor that destroyed many a set of Walkman headphones – broken wires. The headphones ended up being full-on headsets that allowed you to listen to music or make a phone conversation with the same device.

Over the past 40 years, the Walkman underscored the idea of the personal private soundtrack that you can enjoy anywhere using a small battery-operated music-playing device with a set of headphones.

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Google to provide wireless across-the-room data transfer to Android

Article

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Google Fast Play could open up an improved point-to-point data transfer experience to Android smartphones

Google working on ‘Fast Share,’ Android Beam replacement and AirDrop competitor [Gallery] | 9To5Google.com

Fast Share is Google’s Android Beam replacement: Here’s what you should know | Android Authority

My Comments

Google is to provide as part of the Android platform a new “open-frame” point-to-point data-transfer solution. This solution, known as Fast Share, implements Bluetooth and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi to transfer text, pictures, Weblinks and other resources.

The Android platform had two different peer-to-peer data-transfer solutions previously. The first of these was the Bluetooth profile that was implemented by Symbian, Microsoft and others to transfer pictures, contact details and the like since the rise of the feature phone. The second of these was the Android Beam which used NFC “touch-and-go” as a discovery method and initially used Bluetooth but moved towards peer-to-peer Wi-Fi as a transfer method.

This was while Apple was using AirDrop across their ecosystem which included iPhones and iPads. In Apple’s true style, it was part of keeping as many users on the iOS platform and you couldn’t do things like transfer to other mobile or desktop platforms.

Google is intending to have Fast Share as part of their Play Services software package rather than being “baked in” to a particular version of the Android operating system. Here, Fast Share can be run with Android devices running older versions of the operating system which is a reality with a significant number of phones where the manufacturer won’t provide support for newer Android versions on particular models.

Advance images of this concept shown on the Web are underscoring a tentative plan to port it to their own ChromeOS and Apple’s iOS operating systems. If Microsoft and Apple are interested, it may be seen as a way for Windows or MacOS regular-computer users to share resources across the room on an ad-hoc basis. As well, Google could look at how Fast Share can be implemented in a “headless” form whether for sending or receiving the data.

You will have the ability to share file-based resources like photos, videos, PDFs or vCard-based contact-information files along with URLs pointing to Web-hosted resources or snippets of text. This will satisfy most usage requirements like sharing family snapshots, contact details or Weblinks.

There will be the option to give a sender “preferred visibility” status so they can discover your phone when you are near them. This status means that they will see your device if you aren’t running the Fast Share app. Of course, users can turn Fast Share on and off as required, preferably with the idea of turning it off when using the phone in a public place unless they expect to receive something. You also have the ability to decline or accept incoming files so you have some control over what you receive.

The core issue with Google Fast Share and similar point-to-point across-the-room file-transfer platforms is that they have to work in a truly cross-platform manner so you don’t have to worry whether your friend sitting in that armchair across from you is using an iPhone or Android device when you intend to send that photo to them or share your contact details.

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