The cassette adaptor has been and is still an important audio accessory

Article

Cassette adaptor

A cassette adaptor that allows you to use your smartphone with a cassette-based car stereo

The Car Cassette Adapter Was an Unsung Hero at the Dawn of the Digital Age | VICE.com

My comments

An audio accessory that I still consider as being important and relevant even in the day of the smartphone and tablet is the cassette adaptor.

What are these cassette adaptors and how do they work?

This is a device invented by Larry Schotz during the mid 1980s to allow one to play CDs in the car using their car’s cassette player and their Discman-type portable CD player. It has a cassette-shaped housing that has a head that faces the cassette player’s playback head along with a mechanism to prevent that tape player from acting as though it’s the end of a tape side.

The head in this housing is wired to the portable audio device using a cable that is attached to the adaptor itself in a manner to cater towards different tape-loading arrangements, and plugged in to that source device via its headphone or line-out jack using the 3.5mm stereo plug. When in place, the audio content from the source device is transferred in to the cassette player’s audio electronics using a simple inductive-coupling process between the head installed in the cassette adaptor and the player’s head.

Even if the tape player ended up being mechanically defective typically by “chewing-up” tapes, the cassette adaptor was still able to work. This is because it is not reliant on tape that is at risk of being pulled out of the cassette.

As well, the same arrangement was able to work with home or portable cassette equipment like boomboxes or low-end “music centre” stereos by enabling its use with other audio sources. This was more important as the omission of a line-level audio input was seen as a way to cut costs when designing budget-priced equipment.

How did these cassette adaptors become respected audio accessories?

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

A cassette adaptor being used to play a smartphone’s audio through a car cassette player

At the time this device was introduced, the cost of a car CD player was way more expensive than what a Discman-type portable player would cost and these car CD players were out of the league for most people. It was also a reality that if a person installed a car CD player or any other advanced car-audio equipment in their car during that time, they had to pay more for their vehicle’s insurance coverage and, perhaps, install a car alarm in their vehicle. This was because of a high frequency of “smash-and-grab” car break-ins where the advanced car-audio equipment was stolen from the vehicle.

For that matter, I had made sure that if I bought a Discman-type portable CD player, I would buy one of these cassette adaptors as an audio accessory for that unit. Gradually, consumer-electronics manufacturers offered Discman players with a car power adaptor and a cassette adaptor as accessories that came with the unit.

During the 1990s, the in-car CD changer became popular as an original-fitment or aftermarket car-audio option. This setup had the user place CDs in to a multiple-disc magazine which was installed in a changer unit located in the back of the car. Then the user controlled this unit using a radio-cassette player that has the ability to control the changer with the sound from the CDs emanating from the speakers associated with that unit.

But a portable CD player along with the cassette adaptor ended up being useful as a way to play another CD in these changer-based setups without having to swap out discs in the changer unit. This approach became relevant if, for example, you bought a new CD album and are eager to listen to it or have temporary use of a friend’s car but want to run your own CD-based music without worrying about discs you removed from the changer’s magazine.

The rise of MiniDisc and file-based MP3 players and, in the USA, satellite radio assured the continual relevance of these cassette adaptors as a way to play content hosted on these formats using your cassette-equipped car stereo.

Infact I was following an online discussion board about the MiniDisc format and one British member of that board, who was in a position to buy a new car, preferred a vehicle with a lower trim-level rather than a premium trim level that he could afford. In this case, the vehicle builder offered the cheaper variant of the car with a cassette player as its car-audio specification while the more expensive variant had an in-dash CD player as its only car-audio option. This is in order so the forum-participant can continue listening to MiniDiscs in the car with their MD Walkman player and cassette adaptor.

Different variants of these cassette adaptors

Ion Audio's new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

Ion Audio’s new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

There have been some variants of the cassette adaptor existing with one unit being an MP3 player that work as a stand-alone portable player along with units that worked as Bluetooth audio endpoints. This included one of these adaptors being a Bluetooth handsfree with a microphone module that was linked by wire to the cassette adaptor itself in order to facilitate phone calls or voice-assistant operation.

The Bluetooth cassette adaptors will become very relevant with newer smartphones as these forego the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Here, they use a Bluetooth link between the smartphone and the cassette adaptor fir the audio link. Let’s not forget that the ordinary cassette adaptor can be used with a full-on Bluetooth audio adaptor equipped with a 3.5mm stereo output jack on the unit itself rather than a flylead that plugs in to a 3.5mm AUX socket.

How are they relevant nowadays?

These cassette adaptors still maintain some relevance in this day and age primarily with vehicles built between the mid 1970s through the mid 1990s being welcomed in to the classic-car scene. This is very much underscored by the Japanese cars of the era acquiring a significant following amongst enthusiasts.

That same era saw the concurrent rise of the audio cassette as a legitimate mobile-audio format and car cassette players of that era represented a mature piece of in-car audio technology. Here classic-vehicle enthusiasts are preferring to keep working cassette players, preferably the original-specification units, in these newly-accepted classic vehicles. This is also about keeping the vehicles as representatives of their generation.

Similarly, there are a significant number of vehicles built from the late 1990s through the 2000s, especially in the premium sector or at higher-cost trim levels, where an integrated audio system with a CD player and cassette player is fitted in them by the vehicle builder. Here, these vehicles don’t necessarily have any auxiliary input for other audio sources and it is hard to fit aftermarket equipment in to these vehicles without doing a lot of damage to their looks and functionality.

These devices have effectively converted a car cassette player’s tape-loading slot in to an auxiliary input so other audio devices can be used in conjunction with these players especially on an ad-hoc basis.

Conclusion

The cassette adaptor has highlighted the fact that some accessories do still remain relevant to this day and age and has stood the test of time.

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Smart speakers and broadcast radio

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo are outselling traditional radios

The traditional radio broadcast industry are finding that the smart speaker as a threat to their business models.

This is because that there are more Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar smart speakers being bought than traditional radio sets. It is in addition to us using smartphones that don’t have traditional broadcast-radio tuners as our “go-to” information and entertainment devices.

Although these smart speakers can, at your voice command, pull up a traditional radio station thanks to TuneIn or similar Internet-radio directories, an increasing number of users are using them to summon podcasts or music playlists through the various podcast and music-on-demand services.

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – an example of how to keep the traditional radio relevant

At the moment, traditional radio whether through traditional broadcast technology or Internet streaming is primarily being listened to in the car or at businesses we frequent. It is also being seen, whether for information or entertainment, as a valid casual-listening content-source by Generation X (people born from the late 60s to the early 80s) and prior generations thanks to it being seen that way for a long time. This is due to the ubiquity of increasingly-affordable radio sets in many different form factors along with radio stations making a strong effort to keep listeners tuned to their output.

It is although advertisers and others have seen and are seeing the younger generations as “where the money is”. Here, they end up sponsoring podcasts or playlists to reach that audience with their message in order to stay relevant.

ABC Radio Podcasts

The ABC, like other traditional broadcasters, are offering their own podcasts, whether to do with an existing radio show or not

But what can be or is being done about this? At the moment, traditional radio stations are creating podcasts, whether as a byproduct of an existing radio show or as a new product. Similarly as I have experienced, most radio stations are planting their regular broadcast output on the Internet and making sure this still happens so as to work with smartphones and smart speakers. It is even though they face battles with music rightsholders and sporting leagues about international streaming rights for music or sports content.

RadioDNS “hybrid radio” has surfaced as a way to bring together traditional radio and the Internet. The key method offered by this platform is through a “single-dial” approach that provides a seamless handover between local radio frequencies / DAB multiplex locations and Internet streams for the same radio station.

Revo Domino Internet radio tuned in to Heart London

This Internet radio is tuned in to Heart London and is playing the same audio as what would be delivered on FM or DAB from the “Turn Up The Feel Good” station within the London area

Reliance on Internet audio streams as often done with smart speakers and smartphones can be problemsome if you don’t have the right kind of network and Internet connection. This represents the typical home or small-business network connected behind most home / small-business routers.

You will run in to problems with setting up a smart speaker or similar device to work with a headline public-access / guest-access Wi-Fi network that depends on Web-based authentication or having these devices work with an enterprise-grade network that uses per-device-based authentication approaches. It also includes dealing with mobile broadband services that charge an arm and a leg for continual bandwidth use but services that operate in a highly-competitive market may make this factor easier.

TuneIn Android screenshot

The stations listed on the TuneIn Internet radio app are the Internet-hosted simulcast stream of their regular radio output

Similarly broadcast-radio technology tends to appeal to listenership on battery-operated devices because the technology associated with it is optimised to work for battery efficiency. It is due to the broadcast-radio technology working on a one-way approach to receiving the radio signals rather than being dependent on a two-way transceiver demanded of Wi-Fi or mobile-broadband.

What can be done to bridge these technologies

One approach would be to have an Internet radio that also receives radio content via broadcast technologies work with at least one of the common voice-driven home assistant platforms.

This can be in the form of the radio working alongside a smart speaker based on the common platforms and using RadioDNS to pull up local radio stations under voice control.

An Internet radio can also serve as a speaker for online audio resources like on-demand music services, podcasts and Internet radio especially if the radio doesn’t have network-audio / Internet-radio functionality. The latter concept is being underscored with the Google Assistant platform where you can direct audio from an online-audio service to a device that supports the Google Chromecast protocol. Even if the radio has network-audio / Internet-radio functionality, it could be part of a voice-driven home-assistant platform, which a lot of manufacturers are heading towards and can be of relevance for the “big sets” like hi-fi systems and the network multiroom audio platforms.

A cheaper option could implement RadioDNS across a Bluetooth link with the voice-driven home assistant platform handling the RadioDNS logic. It may require the creation of a Bluetooth profile for sending RadioDNS-specific data between the radio and the smart speaker’s platform i.e. a set-appropriate pointer to the station on the broadcast bands.

It can also be about an Internet-radio / smart-speaker combination device, like the many combination devices available over the years that integrated radio reception and at least one other function. Such a set would have the ability to be an Internet radio but it would have a microphone array and a button to activate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, whereupon you would have the full “smart speaker” abilities of an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. As well, it would tie in with the RadioDNS functionality to pull up stations on the local wavebands as if you are pulling them up using the assistant’s Internet-radio functionality.

Conclusion

To keep the classic radio medium going, the manufacturers, broadcasters and other stakeholders need to look at whatever technologies can be used to make it relevant in this day and age.

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Sonos dumps the device-bricking Recycle Mode

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage Sonos multiroom system press picture courtesy of Sonos

The Sonos debacle has raised questions about our personal tech’s life cycle

My Comments

In January, Sonos introduced the “Recycle Mode” which effectively disabled your Sonos network-multiroom-audio device after a certain number of days. It was seen as a way to detach the device from your Sonos-based network-multiroom-audio setup and wipe all of your data out of the device when you relinquish it to an e-waste recycling facility.

It was part of them establishing an end-of-feature-support rule for their older devices made prior to 2015 due to newer faster processing silicon in the newer devices. That is where older devices will only receive software-quality updates and won’t benefit from any newer functionality that Sonos releases.

But there is a reality with this kind of equipment where it is effectively “pushed down” to secondary areas as a way to build out that Sonos audio setup. As well, people do give the equipment away to family, friends and community organisations they are a part of, or sell the equipment through the second-hand market where those of us “putting our foot in the Sonos door” may buy this equipment at a cheaper price.

The social-media users were concerned about the use of that “Recycle Mode” which disabled the Sonos equipment due to it not being available for giving away or selling to the second-hand market. Sonos have answered this issue by removing the “Recycle Mode” and requiring users who are done with a particular piece of Sonos equipment to perform a factory-reset procedure (Sonos instructions) on that unit.

It is a procedure you may do if the equipment is faulty and you want to bring it to a “known quantity” as part of troubleshooting it. But performing this procedure before you relinquish the equipment effectively detaches it from your Sonos account and multi-room audio system while removing any personal configuration data from it including parameters associated with your home network.

They still have to address the issue of a Sonos audio setup consisting of legacy and newer equipment and what happens when newer features come out. The problem still raised is the fact that older equipment would preclude modern equipment from receiving functionality updates. It is although a Sonos multiroom setup will benefit from software-quality updates even if it cannot receive functionality updates.

As well, they would need to address what happens when an online media service revises their software links that enable access to their service via consumer-electronics devices. Would a software update to accommodate this revision be considered a feature-update or a software-quality update whether the result is to provide the same functionality as before or accommodate the service’s new features?

What is being called out is how a high-value network-media device with an expectedly-long service life should he maintained through its service life. It includes how long should it be supported for and what should happen towards its end-of-support time.

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Google Nest Mini uses edge computing to improve search performance

Articles

Google Nest Mini smart speaker press picture courtesy of Google

The Google Nest Mini smart speaker – a follow on from the Home Mini smart speaker and having its own local processing to improve Google Assistant’s responsiveness

Google Nest Mini gets louder and gains onboard Assistant processing | SlashGear

Google debuts Nest Mini with wall mount and dedicated ML chip | VentureBeat

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Nest Mini

Nest Mini brings twice the bass and an upgraded Assistant (Product Blog Post)

My Comments

The Google Nest Mini smart speaker, which is the successor to the Google Home Mini smart speaker, shows up a significant number of improvements including a richer sound. But it has also come about with the idea of locally processing your voice commands for better Google Assistant performance.

The traditional approach to processing voice commands that are said to a smart speaker or similar device is for that device to send them out as a voice recording to the cloud servers that are part of the voice-driven assistant platform. These servers then implement their artificial-intelligence and machine-learning technology to strip background noise, interpret the commands and supply the appropriate replies or actions back to that device.

But Google has improved on this by using a leaf out of the book associated with edge-computing technology. This is where some of the data storage or processing is performed local to the user before the data is sent to a cloud computing system. Here, Google uses a dedicated machine-language processor chip in their Nest Mini smart speaker to do some of the command processing before sending data about the user’s command to the Google Assistant cloud system.

It reduces the idea of your Google Nest Mini smart speaker being a simple conduit between your home network and the Google Assistant cloud. The key benefit is that you see a quicker response from the Google Assistant via that device. You also have the benefit of reducing the Internet bandwidth associated with handling the voice-driven home assistant activity, avoiding reduced performance for online gaming or multimedia streaming.

Google is working on taking this further with having Google-Assistant-based devices that have this kind of local processing process logic associated with user requests and programmable actions locally. It also includes keeping the logic associated with the Assistant liaising with other smart devices local to your home network, allowing for improvements to performance, user privacy and data security.

It could be seen by Amazon and others as a way to improve the performance of their voice-driven home-assistant platforms. This is more so where the competition between these platforms becomes more keen. As well, there could be a chance for third-party Google Assistant (Home) implementations to look towards using local processing to improve the Assistant’s response.

An issue that will crop up is having multiple devices that have this kind of local processing existing on the same home network help each other to increase the voice-driven assistant’s performance. This can also include using a software approach to make the devices equipped with the local processing provide improved performance for those that don’t have this processing. It will be an issue with the likes of Google Nest Mini and similar entry-level devices that appeal to the idea of having many installed around the house, along with the idea of equipping smart displays with this kind of local processing.

What I see of this is that the use of edge-computing technology is coming to the fore as far as improving responsiveness in the common voice-driven home-assistant platforms.

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Using Google Assistant as part of an in-home-care service

Article

The Google Home now part of ageing-at-home and working with a home healthcare service

Feros Care plugs into Google Assistant to boost seniors’ independence | IT News]

My Comments

The technology industry is working on making themselves relevant to the “ageing-at-home” sector where senior citizens, including the ageing Baby Boomer population, can live in their own homes or in supported accommodation but preserve their own privacy and dignity. But the goal of improved dignity for these seniors includes using the technology that doesn’t look out of place in an ordinary home environment.

This system, ran by Feros Care, implements Google Assistant technology as a base platform and uses Google Home smart-speaker devices as a voice-driven interface with the client who the agency is looking after. It also facilitates visual display through the Android TV smart-TV platform and the Google Home Hub smart display.

This is facilitated through the development of Google Actions and DialogFlow natural-language processing with some custom application-programming-interface (API) software “hooks” to work with the agency’s MyFeros IT portal. It provides the client access access to details about carer appoints, further assistance amongst other things while the MyFeros portal captures service-provider to client interactions.

It is more about allowing senior citizens who use this agency for assisted living to manage their experience with the agency themselves and maintain their independence.

The use of the Google Home / Assistant voice-interaction technology can work around situations where the senior has had a fall and cannot gain access to the phone to summon help. Similarly it works well when they are recovering in bed and don’t have a tablet or phone at their bedside. The Android TV / Home Hub smart-TV technology can be used to show up visual information like details of alternate carers who are “filling in” for a regular carer who is ill or on leave and cannot attend

Even smart-lock technology is coming in to play in order to allow staff who are rostered on to care for a particular client access to that client’s home for the duration of their shift. This is due to older people with limited mobility taking a long time to reach their front door to admit the carer in to their home. The smart-lock integration will also work in hand with “visit-verification” requirements that will be demanded within the home-based healthcare industry thanks to various health-insurance or public-healthcare requirements.

Feros Care underscores that the technology is not about staff efficiency and productivity by to serve the needs of their service’s end-users and protect their dignity and independence.

But what I like about this approach is that they aren’t reinventing the wheel in implementing this technology and having to implement new devices for their field of work. Rather they use common “horizontal-market” technology like Google-Home-compatible smart speakers and smart displays compliant with Google’s smart-display technologies – such equipment able to be purchased “off the shelf” at any consumer electronics outlet and blend in to an ordinary home.

I also see Feros Care in a position to offer the necessary software logic as a “white-label” solution for all sorts of home healthcare agencies, supported-housing facilities and the like who want to implement it in their client-carer IT-portal setups. But there will be issues like adapting to other consumer-focused voice-driven home assistant platforms like Alexa, along with making it work with the widest range of home-automation devices.

Here, it is about implementing whatever common home-networking technology as part of assisted-living simply through using software to provide this kind of integration.

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Reverse image searching–a very useful tool for verifying the authenticity of content

Tineye reverse image search

Tineye – one of the most popular and useful reverse image search tools

Article

How To Do A Reverse Image Search From Your Phone | PCMag

My Comments and further information

Increasingly, most of us who regularly interact with the Internet will be encouraged to perform reverse-image searches.

This is where you use an image you supply or reference as a search term for the same or similar images on other Internet resources. It can also be about identifying a person or other object that is in the image.

Increasingly this is being used by people who engage in online dating to verify the authenticity of the person whom they “hit” on in an online-dating or social-media platform. It is due to romance scams where “catfishing” (pretending to be someone else in order to attract people of a particular kind) is part of the game. Here, part of the modus operandi is for the perpetrator to steal pictures of other people that match a particular look from photo-sharing or social-media sites and use these images in their profile.

It also is being used as a way to verify the authenticity of a product being offered for sale through an online second-hand-goods marketplace like eBay, Craigslist or Gumtree. It also extends to short-term house rentals including AirBnB where the potential tenant wants to verify the authenticity of the premises that is available to let.

As well, reverse image searching is being considered more relevant when it comes to checking the veracity of a news item that is posted online. This is very important in the era of fake news and disinformation where online images including doctored images are being used to corroborate questionable news articles.

How do you do a reverse image search?

At the moment, there are a few reverse-image-search engines that are available to use by the ordinary computer user. These include Tineye, Google Image Search, Bing Visual Search, Yandex’s image search function and Social Catfish’s reverse-image-search function.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

A regular computer like this Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 makes it easier to do a reverse image search thanks to established operating system and browser code and its user interface.

The process of using these services involves you uploading the image to the service including using “copy-and-paste” techniques or passing the image’s URL to an address box in the search engine’s user interface. The latter method implies a “search-by-reference” method with the reverse-image-search site loading the image associated with that link into itself as its search term.

Using a regular desktop or laptop computer that runs the common desktop operating systems makes this job easier. This is because the browsers offered on these platforms implement tabs or allow multiple sessions so you can run the site in question in one tab or window and one or two reverse-image-search engines in other tabs or windows.

These operating systems also maintain well-developed file systems and copy-paste transfer algorithms that facilitate the transfer of URLs or image data to these reverse-image-search engines. That will also apply if you are dealing with a native app for that online service such as the client app offered by Facebook or LinkedIn for Windows. As well, Chrome and Firefox provide drag-and-drop support so you can drag the image from that Tinder or Facebook profile in one browser session to Tineye running in the other browser session.

But mobile users may find this process very daunting. Typically it requires the site to be opened and logged in to in Chrome or Safari then opened as a desktop version which is the equivalent of viewing it on a regular computer. For Chrome, you have to tap on the three-dot menu and select “Request Desktop Site”. For Safari, you have to tap the upward-facing arrow to show the “desktop view” option and select that option.

Then you open the image in a new tab and copy the image’s URL from the address bar. That is before you visit Google Image Search or Tineye to paste the URL in that app’s interface.

Google has built in to recent mobile versions of Chrome a shortcut to their reverse-image-search function. Here, you “dwell” on the image with your finger to expose a pop-up menu which has the “Search Google For This Image” option. The Bing app has the ability for you to upload images or screenshots for searching.

Share option in Google Chrome on Android

Share option in Google Chrome on Android

If you use an app like the Facebook, Instagram or Tinder mobile clients, you may have to take a screenshot of the image you want to search on. Recent iOS and Android versions also provide the ability to edit a screenshot before you save it thus cutting out the unnecessary user-interface stuff from what you want to submit. Then you open up Tineye or Google Image Search in your browser and upload the image to the reverse-image-search engine.

How can reverse image searching on the mobile platforms be improved

What can be done to facilitate reverse image searching on the mobile platforms is for reverse-image-search engines to create lightweight apps for each mobile platform. This app would make use of the mobile platform’s “Share” function for you to upload the image or its URL to the reverse-image-search engine as a search term. Then the app would show you the results of your search through a native interface or a view of the appropriate Web interface.

Share dialog on Android

A reverse-image-search tool like Tineye could be a share-to destination for mobile platforms like iOS or Android

Why have this app work as a “share to” destination? This is because most mobile-platform apps and Web browsers make use of the “share to” function as a way to take a local or online resource further. It doesn’t matter whether it is to send to someone else via a messaging platform including email; obtain a printout or, in some cases, stream it on the big screen via AirPlay or Chromecast.

The lightweight mobile app that works with a reverse-image-search engine answers the reality that most of us use smartphones or mobile-platform tablets for personal online activity. This is more so with social media, online dating and online news sources, thanks to the “personal” size of these devices.

Conclusion

What is becoming real is reverse image searching, whether of particular images or Webpages, is being seen as important for our security and privacy and for our society’s stability.

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Keeping the same character within your online community

Article

Facebook login page

Online communities do represent a lot of hard work and continuous effort including having many moderators

General Election 2019: Has your local Facebook group been hijacked by politics? | BBC News

My Comments

The past UK General Election highlighted an issue with the management of online communities, especially those that are targeted at neighbourhoods.

In the BBC News article, a local Facebook group that was used by a neighbourhood specifically for sharing advice, recommending businesses, advertising local events, “lost-and-found” and similar purposes was steered from this purpose to a political discussion board.

You may or may not think that politics should have something to do with your neighbourhood but ordinarily, it stays very well clear. That is unless you are dealing with a locally-focused issue like the availability of publicly-funded services like healthcare, education or transport infrastructure in your neighbourhood. Or it could be about a property development that is before the local council that could affect your neighbourhood.

How that came about was that it was managed by a single older person who had passed away. Due to the loss of an administrator, the group effectively became a headless “zombie” group where there was no oversight over what was being posted.

That happened as the UK general election was around the corner with the politics “heating up” especially as the affected neighbourhood was in a marginal electorate. Here, the neighbourhood newsgroup “lost it” when it came to political content with the acrimony heating up after the close of polls. The site administrator’s widow even stated that the online group was being hijacked by others pushing their own agendas.

Subsequently, several members of that neighbourhood online forum stepped in to effectively wrest control and restore sanity to it. This included laying down rules against online bullying and hate speech along with encouraging proper decent courtesy on the bulletin board. It became hard to effectively steer back the forum to that sense of normalcy due to pushback by some members of the group and the established activity that occurred during the power vacuum.

This kind of behaviour, like all other misbehaviour facilitated through the Social Web and other Internet platforms, exploits the perceived distance that the Internet offers. It is something you wouldn’t do to someone face-to-face.

What was being identified was that there was a loss of effective management power for that online group due to the absence of a leader which maintained the group’s character and no-one effectively steps up to fill the void. This can easily happen with any form of online forum or bulletin board including an impromptu “group chat” set up on a platform like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Viber.

It is like a real-life situation with an organisation like a family business where people have put in the hard yards to maintain a particular character. Then they lose the effective control of that organisation and no-one steps up to the plate to maintain that same character. This kind of situation can occur if there isn’t continual thought about succession planning in that organisation’s management especially if there aren’t any young people in the organisation who are loyal to its character and vision.

An online forum should have the ability and be encouraged to have multiple moderators with the same vision so others can “take over” if one isn’t able to adequately continue the job anymore. Here, you can discover and encourage potential moderators through their active participation online and in any offline events. But you would need to have some people who have some sort of computer and Internet literacy as moderators so they know their way around the system or require very minimal training.

The multiplicity of moderators can cater towards unforseen situations like death or sudden resignation. It also can assure that one of the moderators can travel without needing to have their “finger on the pulse” with that online community. In the same vein, if they or one of their loved ones falls ill or there is a personal calamity, they can concentrate on their own or their loved one’s recovery and rehabilitation or managing their situation.

There will be a reality that if a person moves out of a neighbourhood in good faith, they will have maintained regular contact with their former neighbours. Here they would be trying to keep their “finger on the pulse” regarding the neighbourhood’s character.  This fact can be exploited with managing a neighbourhood-focused online community by them being maintained as a “standby moderator” where they can be “roped in” to moderate the online community if there are too few moderators.

To keep the same kind of “vibe” within that online community that you manage will require many hands at the pump. It is not just a one-person affair.

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Video conferencing shows up a use in the classroom due to necessity

Article

Creative Labs LiveCam Connect HD Webcam

The Webcam attached to a laptop is used by a teacher to teach classes at a school from home while under quarantine

High School Teacher Holds Class Via Videochat While in Coronavirus Quarantine | Gizmodo

Coronavirus precaution sees Darwin teacher adopt a different kind of screening while teaching from home | ABC News

My Comments

Over the many years, technology has played an important role within education in many forms. It is more underscored through its role within distance education, which tends to be focused towards people living in rural or remote communities.

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

.. along with an ordinary laptop

Radio earned its keep in Australia since 1944 with outback communities benefiting from the School Of The Air with classes held over distance using two-way radio technology. That technology, driven by pedal-operated two-way radio setups, was being used as a way for the cattle stations and other communities to keep in touch with each other and the outside world.

The UK integrated radio and TV as key course-delivery technologies to drive their Open University concept (Wikipedia article) for post-secondary education which began in 1967. Other technologies like computers, home video recorders and DVDs earnt their keep in this role as they came about.

Similarly, the outbreak of World War II created the concept of an “over-the-air” class for kindergarten-aged children due to the wartime closure of Australian kindergartens. This radio show, known as “Kindergarten Of The Air” ended up being broadcast nationally on ABC radio and continued until the 1980s. No doubt a significant number of Australian Baby Boomers would have remembered hearing this program on the radio when they were little kids. Some overseas stations even ended up syndicating this radio-based kindergarten class with others following the ABC’s example by running their own pre-school educational radio programs on their networks.

BBC Model B microcomputer By Soupmeister (Acorn BBC Model B) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

BBC Model B personal computer – the core of an original TV-based computer-education project that took place in the UK during the early 1980s

What Australia’s ABC had done with “Kindergarten Of The Air” was effectively contributing the idea of educational content delivery via broadcast radio to the world of broadcasting. Here it opened up the doors for the likes of Play School and Sesame Street. schools-focused radio and TV broadcasts that tie in with lesson plans including the BBC’s computer-education project centred around the BBC Model B computer  and the newer micro.bit board computer , the aforementioned Open University in the UK and now in Australia, amongst other things.

Many education-technology futurists over the many years envisioned the use of video conferencing and allied technologies as a regular part of the classroom. Most of us would see this peculiarly for the distance-learning sphere where one is studying at home receiving their tuition by post, email or similar transmission methods; perhaps with a smattering of other use cases like exchange students communicating with the school community they are normally based at.

But the recent coronavirus outbreak had iegitimised the use of video conferencing by allowing a teacher to continue giving mathematics classes while he was in self-imposed quarantine at home thanks to his visit to the affected parts of China for the Chinese New Year. Here, he was able to use common personal computing and Internet technology along with the school’s AV and IT setup to teach maths “over the wire” and assure his students learning continuity. Other teachers in the same predicament whether in China or Australia were using similar technology to work around any necessary quarantine requirements thanks to this coronavirus plague.

Just like with the ABC’s “Kindergarten Of The Air” using radio as a way to deliver pedagogical content during a wartime scenario where educational facilities weren’t available, the recent videoconferencing application by the schoolteacher to continue teaching maths to his students while under quarantine due to the disease outbreak is underscoring the use of technology as a workaround to deliver education when disaster strikes.

With videoconferencing and allied technologies, it could be about augmenting learning in a range of ways such as cost-effective access to specialist lessons.  It can also benefit teachers and students travelling away from their home place of education by allowing them to share knowledge from that trip with students back at that place of education.

Who knows what this could lead to in the sphere of education?

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Product Review–Brother MFC-J5845DW INKVestment multifunction inkjet printer

Introduction

The Brother MFC-J5845DW is the first Brother printer that combines the INKVestment tank-based printing technology previously seen in the Brother MFC-J1300DW printer with the landscape (lengthways) printing method that Brother had pioneered. Here, like most of the Brother printers that use this printing method, it has an expandable paper tray so you can load it with A3 paper. It can scan A4 pages and can print both sides of an A4 or smaller page.

A step-up model known as the MFC-J5945DW has, as an extra function, two separate paper trays rather than one, which can allow you to have A3 paper or a different media type “on the ready”. There is a more expensive variant known as the MFC-J6545DW that is equipped with A3 scanning and the ability to print on both sides of an A3 page which could be seen as a way to make more utility of the booklet-printing function in the supplied print driver software in the context of printing A4 multipage documents on A3 paper.

These printers have a two-year manufacturer’s warranty and they come with a supply of ink that will last for two years under average usage conditions. This is in the form of a set of high-capacity ink cartridges and a set of extra-high-capacity ink cartridges in the box as well as the starter cartridges to get your machine going. But with these machines, I always list out the cost of the cartridges because you may end up replacing the cartridges sooner than estimated due to practices like using them as the “short run printing press” including printing many photos or presentation materials which this printer is very adept at as you will see later on.

Brother MFC-J5845DW INKVestment multifunction inkjet printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour 1 x A3(standard) USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-Jet 1200dpi on glass platen

600dpi using ADF

ID Copy
Book Copy
Thin-Paper Copy
other special copy features
50 Sheet A3 Multi-purpose tray Ethernet
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Own-access-point
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Auto-Duplex (A4 only) ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Colour Fax via phone
Email-based T.37 IP Fax
Scan-to-email
TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Printing USB PDF
JPG
TIFF
Driver-Free Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
MoPria support
Online Services Print From Scan To
Dropbox
Box.com
OneDrive
Google Drive
OneNote
Evernote
Dropbox
Box.com
OneDrive
Google Drive
OneNote
Evernote
Multiple Users for Online Services No
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services No

 

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$699

Inks and Toners

High Capacity Extra High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$41.00 3000 AUD$74.00 6000
Cyan AUD$41.00 1500 AUD$123.00 5000
Magenta AUD$41.00 1500 AUD$123.00 5000
Yellow AUD$41.00 1500 AUD$123.00 5000

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

Brother MFC-J5845DW INKVestment multifunction inkjet printerThe Brother MFC-J5845DW INKVestment multifunction printer connects directly to the host computer via USB 2.0. Or it can connect via a network using Ethernet or Wi-Fi with a best-case performance for a Wi-Fi segment being 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4).

It didn’t take long to get the Brother MFC-J5845DW INKVestment printer set up, thanks to the instructions that came with the machine. This even included the use of the machine’s display to show how to prepare the ink cartridges and load the paper.

You still have to open the lid to connect the printer to any wired connection other than its power. This is something that has been common with all of the recent Brother multifunction inkjet printers, but it can confuse people who aren’t used to this kind of connection arrangement.

Paper Handling

The use of Brother’s landscape-printing approach for printing on common office paper sizes has allowed the printer to turn out documents very quickly. It also allows for a relatively-compact printer even though there is some overhang thanks to the INKVestment cartridges.

There is still a straight-through bypass feed on the back of the printer for using occasionally-used paper sizes and types.

Walk-up functions

INKVestment cartridges in place

Brother high-capacity INKVestment cartridges in place

There is the ability to copy as well as scan to or print from USB memory keys. As well, this printer has the ability to work with online services, mainly the “big-name” file-storage services and the main cloud-driven online notebooks like Evernote and OneNote.

The digital copying functionality supports book copying and ID-card copying but it still has the same problem associated with the rest of the Brother multifunction stable. That is where the scanner doesn’t scan to the edge of the glass platen, which is a limitation for most of us who line the original up against the edge of the glass in order to stabilise it during scanning or copying.

The fax-machine functionality which works with the plain-old telephone service or the T.37 email-based setup is very similar to what is offered in recent Brother multifunction printers. This includes the ability to use Dropbox, OneDrive or similar services to store received faxes but it could support a more comprehensive “fax-vault” function with the ability not to print incoming faxes out as they are received or to store to local storage media that can be encrypted.

Computer functions

I downloaded the Brother MFC-J5845DW printer’s drivers from Brother’s support Website and installed them from the downloaded package, with it working out properly. This meant it didn’t take long to get the printer up and running.

I have used the Brother MFC-J5845DW printer for Mopria-based driver-free printing from my Android phone and this worked very smoothly. Here, the printer was quickly discovered using the Mopria print software on the phone very quickly and I was able to immediately turn out a PDF file very quickly.

Print / scan speed and quality

I have used the Brother MFC-J5845DW to turn out a large print run and found that this printer is quick on the mark. I even noticed negligible dwell time between printing each side of a page when it turned out an auto-duplex print job with it printing on both sides of the paper. The documents came out very sharp for an inkjet but some people may not find them as sharp as a business-grade laser printer’s output.

I created a test page with lines at each margin on each side of the page and used that to identify if there is any page shift when the printer is printing on both sides of a page. This is important for those of us who take advantage of auto-duplexing for purposes beyond paper economy. This is where you use the printer for desktop-publishing jobs where you are creating things like luggage tags, door hangers and the like where you need to cut out a particular shape but you have the design on each side.

The Brother MFC-J5845DW exhibited a slight shift of a few millimetres between the front and the back along the long edge during this test. There wasn’t any of that shift on the short edge, illustrating that this kind of shift happens in the same direction as the paper is fed.

I have printed some test photos through the Brother MFC-J5845DW INKVestment multifunction printer and they have come up on a par with the same images printed on the Brother MFC-J5720DW multifunction printer.

There is still strong colour saturation, which will earn its keep with brochure and presentation printing. But on this printer, the skin tones come up without being too red and that is without taking away the vibrancy from primary colours that exist in the same image. As well, the Brother MFC-J5845DW shows increased sharpness and definition which can underscore a perceived improvement in how accurate it reproduces the photos, proving that the four-ink inkjet printers like what Brother offers can yield some very good photo-printing output.

This test was showing that Brother is improving on how their office inkjet printers can handle presentation-grade and photo-grade print jobs where visual appeal and quality do matter. The MFC-J5845DW and its current INKVestment peers are working towards that holy grail of being the desktop short-run printing press for small businesses and community organisations.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Brother could then have their inkjet printers use Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) technology in order to allow the printers to work with these networks without reducing the network segment’s throughput and performance. This may be something that will come about in a subsequent product generation once the necessary silicon arrives.

As well, Brother could have their multifunction printers work as T.38 IP-based real-time fax endpoints especially as most phone setups are moving away from the “plain-old telephone system” technology to VoIP. They can also support a full “fax-vault” function especially as faxing is still valued by the medical and legal professions as a preferred means for exchanging highly-confidential documents “over the wire”.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

What I have seen of the Brother MFC-J5845DW INKVestment multifunction inkjet printer and its peers is that it combines Brother’s inkjet printer technology improvements in one value-for-money unit. This is the high ink capacity approach offered by the INKVestment tank+cartridge ink-delivery platform alongside the landscape printing approach that improves printing speed for standard-size documents and provides the ability to print to A3 or similar-sized paper.

I would seriously consider the Brother MFC-J5845DW as a value-for-money high-ink-capacity inkjet multifunction printer that works well as a general-purpose A4-based printing workhorse but you want to occasionally turn out A3 print jobs.

The fact that it works on inkjet technology can be a bonus if you are placing emphasis on media flexibility especially when it comes to making hard copies of digital photos or printing presentation-grade work. This is where it performed exceptionally by yielding high-definition hard copies of the test photos.

I would also consider the Brother MFC-J6545DW full-A3 model as an ancillary “A3 specialist” printer for workplaces where an A4 colour laser printer or multifunction is being used as a regular document printer while you use that printer for the large paper sizes.

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Consumer Electronics and Personal IT trends for 2020

Every year in January, the Consumer Electronics Show is run in Las Vegas, USA and this show does give a glimpse in to what trends will affect consumer electronics and personal IT. In most cases, these are products that will be on the marketplace this year or products that are a proof-of-concept or prototype that demonstrates an upcoming technology.

The problem is that this exhibition focuses on what will be available in North America but a lot of the technology will be relevant to the rest of the world. In a lot of these cases, localised variants will appear at various trade shows or PR events that occur in Europe or other areas.

As well, the trade-show circuit will attract service-level information-technology companies who don’t need to make hardware or have a hardware platform, or be a content creator. Here, it will be simply about the provision of IT-based services as part of a ubiquitous computing environment including the concept of experience-driven computing.

Connectivity Technology

Over the past year, the two main technologies that were called out regarding online connectivity or the home network were 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless local networks. This is about very-high-bandwidth wireless data communications whether out and about or within your home or other small network.

As various radiocommunications regulatory agencies around the world “open up” the 6GHz waveband for Wi-Fi network use with the USA’s Federal Communications Commission the first to do so, the Wi-Fi Alliance have created a specification identifier for network equipment working this waveband. Here, it is known as Wi-Fi 6E as a way to identify the fact that the device can work the 6GHz waveband, and is in contrast to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) devices that only work the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wavebands.

D-Link DIR-X5460 Wi-Fi 6 router press picture courtesy of D-Link USA

One of D-Link’s Wi-Fi 6 routers that also supports Wi-Fi EasyMesh – setting the standard for home network technology this year

Both these technologies became real with an increase in client devices or small-network infrastructure hardware supporting at least one of these technologies. This included laptop computers and smartphones having this kind of functionality baked in to them as well as more home-network routers, distributed-WI-Fi systems and range extenders being equipped with Wi-Fi 6. There is even the fact that some of the network-infrastructure vendors like Linksys and NETGEAR are offering routers that combine both technologies – 5G mobile broadband as a WAN (Internet) connection and Wi-Fi 6 as a LAN (local-network) connection.

A step in the right direction for distributed-Wi-Fi networks was to see major home-network brands offer routers and/or range extenders compliant to the WI-Fi EasyMesh standard. This allows you to create a distributed Wi-Fi network with equipment from different vendors, opening up the market for equipment from a diverse range of vendors including telcos and ISPs along with a pathway towards innovation in this space.

Bluetooth hasn’t been forgotten about here with the new Bluetooth audio specification being “set in stone” and premiered at CES 2020. This specification, known as Bluetooth LE Audio, works on the Bluetooth Low Energy profile and supports the LC3 (Low Complexity Communications Codec) audio codec that packages the equivalent of an SBC audio stream used by Bluetooth audio setups in half the bandwidth. This allows for longer battery runtimes which will also lead to smaller form-factors for audio devices due to the reduced need for a larger battery.

It also supports multiple independent and synchronous audio streams to be sent from one source device to many sink devices. This strengthens use cases like hearing aids that work with Bluetooth and may supersede the inductive loop as a technology for assisted-listening setups. As well, the multiple-streaming technology will be a boon to applications like multichannel Bluetooth speaker setups; or Bluetooth headphones as part of assistive audio, multilingual soundtrack options or semi-private listening arrangements.

The Bluetooth LE Audio technology is to be released in the first half of 2020 with compatible devices being on the market by 2021. But there will also be the issue of having device support for this technology being baked in to operating systems as a class driver.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

USB 4 will be the next stage for hardware connectivity and will include Thunderbolt 3

As for wired peripheral interconnection, USB 4.0 will be surfacing as a high-speed connection standard for computers and mobile devices. There will be compatibility with Thunderbolt 3 due to Intel signing over the intellectual property rights for that protocol to the USB Implementers Forum. But this may be used by some computer vendors as a product differentiator although the market will prefer that USB 4 computers and peripherals work with those that use Thunderbolt 3. Let’s not forget that the physical connector for USB 4 will be the Type C connection.

Let’s not forget that newer Android phones will use USB Power Delivery as the official standard for transferring power from chargers or powerbanks to themselves. This is about avoiding the use of proprietary fast-charge technologies and using something that is defined by the industry for this purpose.

Computer trends

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15" clamshell laptop press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15″ clamshell prosumer / content-creator laptop

At the moment, as I outlined in the article about “prosumer” content creators being identified by computer manufacturers as a significant market segment, this year is being seen as a time to launch performance-optimised computers targeted at this user group. These units will be optimised to work with popular content-creation software in a sure-fire manner.

Let’s not forget that Lenovo is tying up with NEC in order to create the LAVIE computer brand that targets mobile professionals. This was after Toshiba spun off their laptop-computer division as “Dynabook” brand then sold it to Sharp; and Sony sold off their VAIO computer brand with it existing as a premium computer brand. But is this symbolic of what the Japanese computer names are heading towards where they focus on creating premium business laptops and tablets.

As well as offering their newer-generation CPUs, Intel has demonstrated that they can offer their own high-performance personal-computer display infrastructure. They even demonstrated a graphics card that use Intel-designed discrete GPU technology. This leads towards them competing with NVIDIA and AMD when it comes to discrete graphics-infrastructure technology and could lead to a three-way race in this field.

It is alongside AMD placing a lot of effort on their Ryzen CPUs which are leading towards them in a position to effectively compete on a par with Intel’s Core CPUs. As well, Intel and AMD could head towards creating performance computing setups that are based around their CPUs and discrete graphics infrastructure technology, including setups that have the CPU and discrete GPU on the same silicon.

There is also an increase in the number of “Always Connected PCs” that run with ARM RISC microarchitecture rather than the traditional Intel i86/i64 CISC microarchitecture. They will be about operating on batteries for a very long time and have 4G, if not 5G mobile-broadband modems with classic SIM or eSIM service authentication. Most likely I would see them as being the direction for portable mainstream business computing.

Dell G5 15 Special Edition budget gaming notebook press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell G5 15 Special Edition budget gaming laptop with AMD Ryzen and Radeon silicon

For gaming, Dell has premiered a budget gaming-grade laptop that uses an AMD Ryzen CPU and an AMD Radeon graphics processor but is styled like their other “G Series” gaming laptops. As well, Lenovo took an interesting step with one of their gaming laptops by using Intel integrated graphics processors for its graphics infrastructure while equipping it with a Thunderbolt 3 port. Here, the user is to buy an external graphics module, typically the Lenovo BoostStation card-cage unit which is their first product of its kind that they released, to have the machine perform at its best. What this is about is a trend towards creating an entry-level performance laptop product range, very similar to buying the increased-performance “GT” variant of a popular family car model.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 FOLD prototype folding-display computer press picture courtesy of Intel USA

Co-engineered by Intel and Lenovo, ThinkPad X1 FOLD is a foldable-screen device built on the Intel Core processor with Intel Hybrid Technology (code-named “Lakefield”). (Credit: Lenovo) – an example of what folding computers are about

 

Another trend that is being shown frequently is multiple-screen or folding-screen portable computers. This is being promoted by Intel and Microsoft in the context of Windows 10X and newer Intel chipsets. It is being driven by the multiple-screen or folding-screen smartphone that Samsung and others are on the verge of releasing as finished products. But this technology will have a limited appeal towards early adopters until it is seen as legitimate by the general user base.

As far as small-form-factor desktop computers are concerned, Intel is working towards a modular “next unit of computing” platform which has the whole computer system on a card the same size as a traditional PCI expansion card. This platform, known as Ghost Canyon uses the “Compute Element” which is the user-swappable card, is intended to bring hack the joys of us upgrading a computer’s performance by ourselves even if we go for a smaller computer platform.

Connected-TV technology

This year has heralded interest in 8K UHDTV which has effectively twice the resolution of 4K UHDTV. As well, the 8K Association has been formed in order to set standards for domestic 8K UHDTV applications and promote this technology.

It is in conjunction with ATSC 3.0, also known as NextGenTV, being premiered at CES 2020 as a new direction for free-to-air TV in the USA. It us being valued thanks to people moving away from cable and satellite pay-TV services towards Netflix and other video-on-demand services augmented by free-to-air TV. Here, it will allow Americans to benefit from 4K UHDTV and Dolby Atmos technology via the TV antenna. Like with DVB and HBBTV-based standards used in Europe and Oceania, this technology combines the over-the-air signal with broadband Internet data to achieve advanced TV experiences.

There is also increased robustness as far as antenna-based reception is concerned which may allow for use of indoor antennas without their associated problems. As well, mobile users will benefit from this newer technology for on-the-road viewing. But there will also be an emphasis towards broadcast-LAN operation with one tuner offering a broadcast signal amongst multiple TVs. Users can upgrade their existing televisions to this technology by connecting an ATSC 3.0 set-top box to their TV as they see fit, but there will be some TVs, most likely “living-room” models from a few manufacturers, that will support this standard.

The 4K AMOLED screen is entering the “Goldilocks” territory when it comes to product price and screen size – not too big and expensive, not too small or cheap, but just right. It is seen by the trade as a “mid-market” territory but, for a TV, it is about something that appeals to more people without being too ostentatious or requiring one to pay a price’s ransom.

The advantage it has over the LCD screen that rules this market territory is to have increased contrast and richer colours, something that those of you who have a smartphone or tablet with an OLED display benefit from. As well, it is a technology that legitimises the high-dynamic-range and wide-colour-gamut video reproduction technology being pushed by the film and video industries.

Here, Sony released the first 48” 4K AMOLED screen that would be able to fit most viewing areas. This includes apartments and small houses as well as use in bedrooms, or secondary lounge areas including living rooms which aren’t frequently used for watching TV. As well, some AMOLED TV manufacturers are pitching sets that cost under US$1000. Here, this price point puts the AMOLED TV within reach of most middle-class families who are considering upgrading to this kind of technology without paying a price that sounds too vulgar.

Another trend affecting TVs is support for variable high refresh rates. Here, it appeals towards games consoles being able to work with game-optimised variable-refresh-rate monitors typically partnered with PC-based desktop gaming rigs, offering the same kind of display refresh rate as the display card on a gaming-rig PC would offer. This is being factored in because the large-screen TV is being valued in the context of gaming, especially with one-machine multiple-player games or the excitement of playing a favourite game on that big screen.

As well, I see the Apple TV and Android TV platforms as dominant smart-TV / set-top-box platforms due to the existence of strong code bases, strong developer communities and a well-nurtured app store. Here, the Android platform will appeal to TV vendors who haven’t invested in a smart-TV platform along with some third-party set-top box vendors. But the Android TV platform as a set-top-box platform has to be disassociated from the so-called “fully-loaded” Android boxes that are sold online from China for access to pirated TV content.

This is being driven by an avalanche of video-on-demand services that will appear over this year. Some of these will be subscription-based and offer new original content produced by the service’s owner while others will use advertising, perhaps as part of a freemium arrangement, and work heavily on licensing deep back-catalogue material. There will also be an effort amongst the new video-on-demand providers to take an international approach, appearing in multiple markets around the world, most likely with the goal of licensing content in all international markets concurrently.

It will even lead to each content-production name having its own video-on-demand service that primarily hosts content from its stable. But the question that will come about is how many video-on-demand subscriptions will we be having to budget for and maintain if we want content that reflects our choices.

Audio Technology

The DAB+ digital broadcast radio platform is increasing its footprint within Europe and across some parts of Africa and Asia. It includes some European countries like Norway and Switzerland moving their broadcast infrastructure away from AM and FM radio to this technology.

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – a representative of the current trend towards the “hybrid radio” concept

Here, it would be about an increased variety of devices that have broadcast-radio reception functionality based on this platform, including those that have Bluetooth and/or Internet-radio functionality. As well, more vehicle builders are being encouraged to supply DAB+ radios as factory-standard in all of their vehicles. Let’s not forget that value-priced DAB+ and Internet radio equipment will be equipped with a colour display that shows things like station branding or album cover-art while you listen to that station.

RadioDNS will be something that facilitates a hybrid broadcast-broadband approach to broadcast radio. This will include the ability to switch between broadcast-radio channels and an Internet radio stream for the same radio station or allow for richer supporting content to appear on the set’s display. It can also be about a “single-dial” approach to finding stations on broadcast and Internet bands. But RadioDNS has been given more “clout” in to the USA due to it being able to work with AM, FM or HD Radio (IBOC digital radio on AM and FM) which is used there.

Sonos’s partnership with IKEA, the furniture store who sells furniture that you assemble yourself with an Allen key, is demonstrating that a high-end multiroom-audio platform can be partnered with a commodity retail brand. What it could lead to is an incentive to build these kind of platforms around a mixture of premium, value and budget units, allowing for things like a low-risk “foot-in-the-door” approach for people starting out on that platform or people who have the premium equipment building out their system with cheaper equipment in secondary listening areas. It could even put pressure on the industry to adopt a common standard for multiroom-audio setups.

The streaming audio-on-demand scene is moving in a manner as to shore itself up against Spotify. Initially this is about offering either an advertising-supported free limited-service tier as what Amazon and Google are doing, or to offer a premium service tier with a focus on CD-quality or master-quality sound which is what Amazon is doing. But it could easily go beyond the “three-tier service” such as improved playlists, underrepresented content, support for standalone audio equipment, and business music services. As well, your ISP or telco could be providing access to a streaming-audio service as part of their service package or you buy a piece of network-enabled audio equipment and benefit from reduced subscription rates for an online music service.

The headphone scene is setting some strong contenders when it comes to excellent value-for-money for noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets.

Bose initiated this battle with the QuietComfort 35 II headphones with the technological press’s reviewers seeing them as a standard setter for this class of headset. Then Sony introduced the WH1000XM3 headphones and these were seen on a par with the Bose cans but at a more affordable price with some press using terms like “Bose-killers” to describe them. Bang & Olufsen came in to the party and offered a premium noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset known as the Beoplay H9. But lately Bose also answered Sony by offering the Noise Cancelling 700 headset that effectively did that job in a minimalist form. This is while Sony are intending to launch the WH1000XM4 this year to raise the bar against Bose and their current product.

As far as “true wireless” active-noise-cancelling earbuds are concerned, Apple with their AirPods Pro and Sony with their WF1000XM3 have established themselves at the top of the pack for excellence. What I see of this is someone else could answer them to achieve that same level of excellence especially at a value price. This product class is also likely to benefit from the Bluetooth LC Audio specification due to the requirement for a small battery in each earbud and the small size of each earbud.

What Apple, Bose, Sony and B&O are highlighting is that they could easily compete with each other to achieve excellent products when it comes to headphones you use with your laptop, smartphone or tablet. It could even be a chance for other companies to join in and raise the bar for premium everyday-use headset design, including the idea of having audiophile headphone qualities in this class of headset.

Voice assistant platforms and ambient computing

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant will still bring forth newer devices, whether in the form of speakers or displays. But Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana will be part of the Open Voice Initiative allowing the same physical hardware to handle multiple voice assistant platforms.

A question that will arise through this year is whether there will be a strong direction towards having these devices work as a fixed audio or video telephony endpoint. This is whether the device works in a similar fashion to the classic landline telephone service with its own number; or as an extension to a smartphone that is part of a mobile telecommunications service.

The voice-assistant platforms will end up becoming part of an ambient computing trend that is underscored by facilitators like Internet of Things and distributed computing. Here, it is about computing that blends in with your lifestyle rather than being a separate activity.

As far as the Internet Of Things is concerned, the Connected Home over IP protocol was set in stone. This effort, facilitated by Amazon, Google and Apple with the oversight of the Zigbee Alliance, is about an IP-driven Internet-Of-Things data transport architecture. The idea is to do away with protocol gateways which were being used with various smart-home applications but the manufacturers were goading consumers to use their own protocol gateways with their devices rather than a third-party solution. There will be an emphasis on a safe secure interoperable Internet-of-Things network.

Data security and equipment maintenance in our personal and business lives

The Social Web will be considered a very important part of our lives with us primarily benefiting from it on tablets, smartphones or highly-portable laptops.

But it will still be a key disinformation vector. One of the new methods expected to be exploited this year is the creation of deepfakes. These are audio and video items created using artificial intelligence to make it as though a person said something when they didn’t. There will even be the ability to make the voice or face of a deepfaked person appear older or younger than they were when they were recorded, while make the voice or face appear as fluid as that of a real person.

Here, it will be used as a cyber weapon to create political, social and business instability by these representing our leaders whether they be in government, business or other circles. The deepfake will also be of value as a phishing tool in order to make the threat or plea appear to be more authentic to the victim.

As well, ransomware will begin to take on a network-wide dimension and affect business and service availability. Sensitive data, whether of a personal or business nature, will end up becoming the bargaining chip for ransomware hackers. This is in contrast to access to a computer user’s data resources which was often the case with ransomware.

The Internet Of Things will also be considered a continual security risk especially due to poor software and firmware quality control. It will lead to a conversation regarding the maintenance of our online devices through their lifecycle, including making sure they are running software that is stable and secure.

Then there is the “end-of-support” issue where a manufacturer ceases to show interest on older online devices that are currently in use. That is a question that is surfacing when one invests a significant amount of money in to the devices and people don’t want to throw out older equipment just because the manufacturer doesn’t want to support it anymore. It also goes against the grain of the post-Global-Financial-Crisis attitude most of us have adopted where we don’t want to support a throwaway society but want to see what we buy exist for the long haul.

The Sonos debacle raised the issue about what level of functionality the user should expect from their device along with how platform-based setups consisting of legacy and newer devices should behave. It also raised the issue of keeping the device’s software stable and secure.

Conclusion

This year will be considered a very interesting time for our online life as we see improvements to existing technologies along with newer conversations about how system-based technologies continue to evolve with a secure stable mindset.

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