Samsung is still pushing the Internet fridge idea further by integrating Amazon’s Alexa as an alternative voice-driven home assistant for that product class.
The Internet fridge, a very mythical product class associated with the dot-com era, is a household fridge-freezer that has Internet connectivity and a large built-in display. It also is expected to provide inventory-management for the food supplies in your pantry and fridge as well as being a digital communal noticeboard for the household and a user interface for the smart home.
… obviating the need for an Amazon Echo smart speaker in the kitchen
But Samsung has refreshed the Family Hub internet-fridge platform to the sixth generation and has built in software support to work with either the Alexa or their own Bixby voice-driven home assistant platform. It is also part of integrating the Family Hub with the Mattter Connected Home Alliance that embeds Connected Home over IP along with Zigbee Alliance.
Alexa users have access to the Amazon online services along with an ever-growing pool of Alexa Skills developed by various third parties, as if you are using an Echo smart speaker. Let’s not forget that the idea of running Bixby and Alexa on the one device is part of a direction Amazon is heading with their Voice Interoperability Initiative and other projects where they want Alexa to work alongside other voice assistants or allow a device manufacturer who has their own voice assistant to run Alexa alongside it.
It is also very similar to Samsung allowing users to choose between their Bixby voice assistant and the Google voice assistant on their Android phones. That is although Samsung hasn’t bitten the bullet and joined the Voice Interoperability Initiative themselves.
This can work with any Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge built since 2017 i.e. the second-generation and newer Family Hub products. Here, you are meant to be able to add this functionality as if you are doing a software update for these products. It underscores the reality with fridges that they are expected to last a long time.
It certainly shows that Samsung has its mind invested towards the Internet fridge idea and will keep working on it in the form of a platform that works across a range of their fridge types.
You can effectively deal with trolls on the online communities you visit like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Most of us will end up using online communities like social media or Web forums to interact with others who share our interests, passions and desires. But a problem that makes this less enjoyable are the people who make a habit of posting stupid or caustic remarks about what is said on these online communities.
It is facilitated by the perceived distance that online services provide between their users even if they are local to each other. As well, there is a negligible cost in money and time associated with posting content to the various online communities thanks to the rise of affordable Internet services.
This problem has been made worse with the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter because these platforms simplify the process of engaging with the various online communities that they facilitate. It also happens very frequently with online communities supporting common interests like news / public-affairs, popular TV shows, celebrities and the like, whether the communities are totally facilitated by the publisher / celebrity, or depend on other resources like social-media platforms. But it can also happen in other areas like computer gaming which also includes the various “party lines” set up in the many online multiplayer games for players to chat with each other.
The behaviour manifests as unreasonable criticism of a personality or business including what they do and how they interact with other stakeholders. It manifests either in text or image form, with the latter being in the form of memes or emoji sequences.
In some situations, it becomes worse where sexual innuendo is implied in the disgusting comments. This is typically targeted at a woman or an LGBTQ+ person and others who interact with them, something that was highlighted with the GamerGate saga. But it can also be anyone who stands their ground on particular issues, especially if they are a leader in government or business.
I have seen this behaviour for myself while following the Facebook-based online activity during a previous MasterChef Australia season when George Calombaris was asked by a female contestant to taste an item of food she was to prepare for a Service Challenge. Here, the contestant wanted him to check that the “trial sample” was OK to serve before preparing it in quantity as part of the challenge but the online chatter went towards sexual innuendo about him and the contestant, something that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-school playground or American college frat-house.
Similarly I have seen it with a small cafe I was visiting frequently and participating with their online presence where an online storm took place. At the time, a controversial fast-food joint was being built in a town near where the cafe was located was and this upset and divided the whole neighbourhood. What happened was that I stood up for the cafe maintaining its space by not allowing “every man and his dog” to place campaign flyers beside their cash register. It was in response to a protest group offering to place a stack of flyers near the till but the cafe had turned that offer down as a way of avoiding being overrun with all sorts of campaign material.
What can you do?
But when we participate in an online community, we need to have various approaches to deal with disruptive behaviour on that community. One of these approaches is to “hit it out with the facts” about the situation. In the MasterChef scenario, I was putting out the facts regarding the concept of the feedback loop that took place during the taste-test, something very similar to practices like showing rough-drafts of documents to teachers and employers as part of creating them or the computer software we use being subjected to beta testing before it is released. But I was stating the facts in a simple matter-of-fact manner without appearing to take sides and defend anyone.
As well you will have to simply call out the cyber-bullying in the forum for what it is. This may be as simple as writing a post to tell the trolls to “cut it out”. This will be the job of either the moderator and/or one or more forum participants.
This is in conjunction with defending the person or entity who is being vilified. For example, if the online activity is to do with a talent-quest show that uses audience-driven voting, use this voting mechanism to up-vote the personality who is being subjected to the online vilification especially if they demonstrate their prowess as a talent. This worked with a Dancing With The Stars talent-quest contestant who was deemed not to “fit the mould” for a TV talent-show contest and was subjected to a lot of online bullying.
Or simply many people on the forum can simply post commentary that supports that person or entity. It is more of effect when you simply mention their positive attributes or what they have done for you or your community.
For businesses, an army of regular patrons can continue to give them their business and encourage their online and offline social circle to visit them. As well, these regular patrons can also defend the business through its own social-media presence, whatever the platform.
You may find that the online community will offer to its users a mechanism to vote up or down comments or threads or even to “like” or “react to” a post or comment. Then the online community will have a view of its activity with all threads ranked by how they are voted or have the most positive reactions. Here, exploit these comment-voting or similar mechanisms to give more value to the sensible comments. But you may find that the trolls are gaming these systems in order to raise their foul comments or bury the good-quality material.
You may also need to know how to report trolls to the online community’s moderators or the online platform that the community is using. This can lead to the trolls being subject to disciplinary action by the online community or social-media platform, including being banned.
That same reporting can also be used as a path to allow the online community or the affected persons to instigate legal action against the trolls. It is due to the ability or requirement for the online community or social-media platform to keep these reports and related correspondence on record.
For that matter, an increasing number of jurisdictions like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Germany have various forms of “online-harms” legislation or regulations in place that allow you to report trolling and similar harmful behaviour to their authorities. This allows these jurisdictions to, for example, prosecute the perpetrators or facilitators of trolling or other harmful behaviours in the online space through the criminal courts or seek injunctive relief against such behaviour. In such cases, you may be able to contact your jurisdiction’s online-safety government department or police force to report such activity under these laws.
Think carefully and thoughtfully about that post before you put it online
You also can lead by example through thinking hard about what you intend to contribute to those online communities you participate in before you post to them. You can also encourage your children who participate in online communities to think carefully about what they post or say in these communities. This approach can help with raising the tone of all online communities you are part of.
Leading by example and thinking carefully about what you publish can mean that you gain more social respect from your peers within and beyond the online communities that you participate in. To the same extent, those people who look up to you as an example like your kids or the people you mentor see you as a valid example of proper online behaviour.
Being familiar with the online platforms you use and what they are associated with is valuable in dealing with trolls and other online nuisances. This includes post and comment management tools like voting mechanisms or reporting mechanisms.
Be aware of those people or other entities who are being subjected to a poor experience on the online platforms you use and do whatever is in your power to protect and defend them. It also includes calling out any cyber-bullying activity that is going on in the online platform.
As well, think before you post or leave comments on an online platform – you are effectively publishing something for all to see on that platform. This can affect how others inside and outside the online community perceive you and doing the right thing can cause you to be respected by others in that community.
Is it worth buying a Chromebook or a Windows or Mac computer
Over the last year, the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and the associated lockdowns has caused us to rely on our computers more heavily. One of the trends was an increased and sustained interest in regular desktop and laptop computers that run desktop operating systems. Here you might as well see these computers sit alongside that mask and that quantity of hand sanitiser as “purchases that marked the COVID-19 season”.
But there has been a strong interest in the Chromebook which is a laptop equipped with low-power processing silicon and running Google’s ChromeOS desktop operating system rather than the established Windows, MacOS or Linux desktop operating systems.
These machines are being seen nowadays as the equivalent of one of the European “people’s cars” like the VW Beetle or the Citröen 2CV – that is a cheap no-nonsense no-frills approach to personal computing. It was a similar effort to the “netbooks” that came out in the early 2010s after the Global Financial Crisis or “Great Recession” where there was, again, a desire to get “back to basics” and offer a no-frills personal-computing product.
This is more so of the earlier iterations of that kind of computer, although some newer Chromebooks are being equipped with better-performing silicon and more RAM and local storage. It is equivalent to newer and higher-specification variants of these “people’s cars” that appeared some time in their model lives where they gained more powerful engines and extra features.
The VW Beetle – one of those European “people’s cars”
Let’s not forget that schools and businesses recently placed value on the Chrome OS platform due to its security and manageability. This is in addition to not being able to easily run Windows or Macintosh software or any software from non-Google app stores which was seen as a way of keeping users away from games or malware.
As well, Google had improved the Chrome OS operating system with abilities like running Android mobile-platform software or having its own file manager. The operating system has even been tweaked to take advantage of more powerful hardware.
But when you are considering that new laptop, you may be thinking about whether to buy a unit that runs an established operating system like Windows 10 or MacOS; or to purchase a Chromebook. This is more so if you are thinking of an entry-level computer of some sort.
One of the things to think of is what kind of software are you expecting to run on your computer or what devices you expect to use it with. You may find that these computers will do well for Web browsing and for basic word processing, spreadsheet and presentation work with modest-size documents. Even Microsoft have ported their Word, Excel and Powerpoint software to this platform.
There are some basic photo and video editing tools available for Chrome OS users and you may have to be careful of the size of your project unless you use a high-end Chromebook.
Advanced productivity needs like working a desktop database, doing desktop publishing or any advanced computer graphics / multimedia work may be difficult with a Chromebook. Here, Windows and MacOS can do these tasks better.
When it comes to leisure, there are some Android games that work with Chrome OS and Android software developers are being encouraged to have these games work with keyboards and mice rather than touch-only operation. Web-based games and streaming game services can also work well with Chromebooks. You could run Linux games on your Chromebook but it would have to be a high-end model with the right amount of power.
You may be able to find that Android-native clients for the popular video-streaming services can work with your Chromebook. Other than that, you can use Chrome for Web-based video streaming.
Access to the Social Web can be facilitated through native Android client apps This can be a boon with Instagram for example where there isn’t an official native desktop client that has access to the file system for uploading photos and videos taken with other devices.
Chromebooks can use SD cards or standard USB Mass-Storage devices like thumbdrives or external hard disks with them available to Chrome OS’s Files app. This is although the Chrome OS platform was initially designed to work with online storage services like Google Drive. They can also use Bluetooth or USB Human-Interface-Device peripherals like keyboards or mice.
For printers and scanners,, Chrome OS would support devices that implement Mopria or have equivalent Chrome OS or Android apps. There is further work being undertaken with refining the printing experience for that operating system.
But if you are considering the use of specialised hardware, the Chrome OS platform would suit you. This is because of this kind of hardware would be dependent on drivers that have to be written for or ported to Chrome OS.
At the moment, the Chromebook would be considered for those of us who have a long-term view of basic computing needs. This is more so if you are willing to learn a new operating system and its quirks.
It wouldn’t really be suitable as a substitute for a Windows, Macintosh or Linux computer especially if you still crave the flexibility that these established desktop operating systems provide.
Elon Musk expects to get the Starlink low-earth-orbit satellite Internet service up and running as a full-time service by August according to a virtual-presence talk he had done for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
According to him, he has a constellation of 1,800 Starlink satellites in orbit at the moment and expects to have 5000 users “on the books” for that service within the next 12 months. There is also expected to be engagement with various countries’ telcos and mobile carriers in order for them to resell the service or use it in some form.
He also had a talk with some airlines who are wanting to equip some of their fleet for Starlink satellite Internet as a backhaul for their headline in-flight Wi-Fi amenities. But what was not put on the map was that the New South Wales police force in Australia were signing up to Starlink satellite Internet for their remote police stations. This police force’s Starlink contract could be seen as an “acid-test” regarding how “fit-for-service” a low-earth-satellite broadband service like this one is for emergency-service and essential-service use cases.
But Elon Musk is looking at the possibility of impending competition in the low-earth-orbit satellite Internet space. He is looking at Jeff Bezon who is establishing the Project Kuiper service along with the UK and India who are establishing their OneWeb consortium for this service.
There will be issues like offering residential and business satellite Internet service with fixed and transportable installations as well as mobile services for vehicles, vessels and aircraft in motion. Let’s not forget making sure that low-earth-orbit satellite broadband is offered as a viable service at prices affordable for most people.
Add to this efforts to encourage remote communities to take advantage of this technology as a way of being able to stay competitive with the rest of the world. This could be through education programs along with last-mile setups for villages especially where a household may not be able to afford or be able to install the satellite dish for these services.
Who knows how the low-earth-orbit satellite Internet will impact rural and remote Internet service over the next years as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezon establish their satellite Internet services.
Amazon offers a limited way to run multiple accounts on Echo devices within your home.
Here it requires you to create a logical “household” as far as Amazon’s services are concerned. You have to click this Amazon Household help page for further instructions: (Amazon.com Help: Create Your Amazon Household). Here, this is something you have to do on the Amazon Website rather than using the Amazon Alexa mobile-platform app.
When you add accounts to your logical household, each adult member will receive an email with a link that requires them to consent to being added to your household. In the case of Child or Teen accounts, their parents are sent this email so they can consent to the child being part of that logical household.
This is limited to 2 adults and four adolescents (Teens) or kids. It is focused towards the ability to purchase goods and services through Amazon Prime memberships within the household or to have a pooled content library.
The Alexa platform exploits this feature in the form of: notifications for each household member, photos one each member’s display-capable device, or the ability to make and take calls from Alexa devices in the household.
There is the ability to remove a member from a logical household but this member cannot join another household until after 180 days. But they can contact Amazon Support to override this limitation, which would be something that would have to be done of one moves out.
What could be done
The Amazon logical household functionality does not cater to the many-adult households in an effective manner. This is currently a strong reality as kids are living with their parents in to their adulthood due to issues like housing-affordability crises that affect most urban areas. Or adult children are becoming caregivers for their elderly parents as a way to allow their parents to maintain the family house or avoid questionable aged care.
Here, Amazon could support an increased number of adults on one logical household perhaps five adults. This could include allowing Teen accounts to be promoted to Adult accounts at certain times. This is similar to the issue I have raised regarding Netflix and similar services where multiple accounts could be supported on common endpoint devices.
As well, there could be the ability not to require a 180-day waiting period that is placed upon members who move between households. This would be of value for people like long-term houseguests or caregivers who are moving between their home and yours.
In the case of Amazon Alexa platform devices, there could be the ability to maintain some devices as “communal to all users” or “exclusive to particular users” so as to assure user privacy in some way. This can come in to its own with devices kept in bedrooms or lounge areas used exclusively by particular adults. Such a setup could expose some “communal” functionality to the “private” devices while keeping other functionality exclusive to those devices.
The use of a logical household is a step Amazon is taking to cater towards the reality of busy households, especially when it comes to operating the Alexa voice-assistant platform.
OneWeb is to partner with BT in order to offer satellite broadband Internet to rural areas within the UK. This is more so in areas within the British Isles which have geographic conditions where the provision of fixed-line Internet service or fixed-wireless Internet service that implements a wireline backhaul would be a difficult and expensive task.
This is part of the UK’s economic clawback effort being undertaken to get the country on its own feet after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
BT is also wanting to use OneWeb as part of providing resilience and backhaul functionality for mobile telephony as well as seeing OneWeb as a backhaul for fixed-wireless services. Here, I would see this as part of getting more of the UK’s difficult-to-connect rural areas with up-to-date communications technology.
The question here is how BT will offer this infrastructure to Britons, whether as an Openreach wholesale product for that retail telecommunications providers sell use to sell Internet service. Or whether BT will use the OneWeb partnership to offer a retail satellite broadband service to the rural community.
Another question that will crop up is whether the OneWeb / BT partnership will be also about offer offering “mobile satellite broadband” service. That is about offering satellite broadband installations to vehicles, vessels and aircraft to use anywhere within the UK.
But being in a position to have someone who can offer OneWeb satellite broadband Internet at a retail level can open the path for competition in the low-earth-orbit satellite broadband Internet space. This could be about offering cost-effective decent Internet service to rural areas within the UK at least.
There has been some recent publicity regarding an iOS / iPadOS bug affecting your iPhone’s or iPad’s Wi-Fi functionality. This is where the Wi-Fi functionality keels over when someone attempts to connect the iOS device to a Wi-Fi network segment that has plenty of “%” signs in its SSID like “%p%s%s%s%s%n”.
To rectify this and restore Wi-Fi functionality. you open the Settings app, then tap General, then tap Reset to open the Reset menu. Select Reset Network Settings which will have you wipe out SSIDs and passwords held in your iOS device. You would have to subsequently obtain the passwords for the networks you regularly use while this reverses the problems caused with that bug, Apple is expected to release a bugfix fir iOS and iPadOS during one of the subsequent minor software updates for these operating systems.
Most operating-system software is likely to be written in C or a derivative programming language. Here these languages use the % character as the modulus or remainder operator in integer arithmetic. As well, C-hased programming languages and UNIX-based operating systems make use of the % character followed with certain letters as part of formatting output text using their standard “printf” function. It may even be about pointing not to a variable but a particular location in the computer’s memory.
This may also happen with other characters like “*” that are used in programming languages for arithmetic, logic, memory-reference and similar purposes. In most cases, this kind of character parsing occurs when the software’s source code is compiled in to machine code for your computer or other devices to work from.
But you may get away with setting a password for your computer or online service using these kind of characters. This is because most password handlers that are properly written can handle all kinds of characters in a text string thanks to this kind of behaviour being determined at the time the software is written. Some of this software may limit the kind of special characters you use in your password and this would be true of older software. The same holds true for Wi-Fi network SSIDs and device names.
But where there are bugs in the software like with the iOS situation, it can be easy for that software to interpret text sequences with particular special characters as something to be parsed at runtime according to most programming languages’ rules. This can effectively cause the hardware or software to go haywire.
The probability of this happening can increase while a major version of an operating system is being released. This is due to pressure on those software coders to get the software ready and in time to please their employer’s marketing teams. But these kind of bugs are rectified through subsequent minor versions or bugfixes that appear shortly after the software’s major version is released.
One way to avoid this happening with your home or other small Wi-Fi network is to limit the use of special characters like “%” or “* in your network’s SSID or device names. This may also have to apply to your device names where you are able to give a computer or other network-connected device a unique name. Here, you may simply use letters and numbers, along with a hyphen, space or underscore (_) to delineate words in your network or device name.
Here, once you make sure that you limit the use of special characters in these network or device names, you are able to guarantee reliable operation from your network or other computing devices.
The BBC and similar public-service broadcasters are calling for the existence of a “public service Internet” arrangement around the world.
Here, most of these broadcasters are considered by most people as being of high respect for both factual content and entertainment. For example, in countries with a strong public-service-broadcasting culture, childrens’ TV content from these broadcasters like “Bluey” on the ABC or “The Wombles” on the BBC was seen to he safe and pleasing to watch by both adults and children.
Or there is a significant preference to tune in to public-service broadcasters for news on issues that matter. For example I have been using the ABC as a “go-to” news-media source during the COVID-19 coronavirus plague due to its accuracy and impartiality on these topics.
It is about maintaining and safeguarding the existence and funding of these public-service broadcasters in an environment where younger people are moving away from traditional broadcast media. For that matter, Generation X people born between 1965 and 1981 are considered to be the last generation to value traditional broadcast media thanks to watching or listening to that kind of media through affordable equipment through their teen years.
But the issue that has become of concern is the dominance of Big Tech in the media space. Here, it’s about using services offered by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and co for social-media, search-engine or news portal functionality with younger people simply using TV sets as display devices for online media services.
This has led to issues being raised about monopoly and cartel power exercised by these companies. It also has been about data surveillance and creation of algorithm-driven politics facilitating online populism and filter bubbles. There is also the issue of these companies creating or facilitating an Internet experience equivalent to that of shopping in a large suburban shopping mall full of mainstream store chains.
The call had been strengthened by the COVID-19 coronavirus plague along with the light shone on climate change and social inequality issues. I also see it underscored by the rampant disinformation and fake news campaigns targeting the various COVID-19 public-health and climate-change mitigation measures. This is especially where a lot of the disinformation was targeting minority groups and disadvantaged, and their allies.
The idea of a public-service Internet is to create a space that is free from information-polarisation while supporting affordable access to accurate and reliable news. It could be about assuring access to proper educational resources, provide safe relevant children’s content or properly and sensitively reflect a nation’s culture.
Here, the public-service broadcasters’ representatives will push this concept as a manifesto that will be put in the public eye and in front of policyholders in the coming months.
But how could this be achieved?
I would see the online presence offered by public-service media to have an effective “right of way” on the Internet. This is similar to public-service broadcasters gaining effective right-of-way with broadcast-spectrum allocation or cable-TV services being required to carry public-service broadcasters’ signals.
For example the public service media would have their online services provided through a high-quality always-accessible content-delivery-network that is established and maintained according to public-service terms. This could include support for “edge-based” content distribution like Netflix’s approach of content servers at ISP headends along with a high quality-of-service mandate for content distribution,
It could include a public-service-focused social-network and blogging platform used by the public-service broadcasters or government departments’ public-relations efforts.
On the other hand, this could be about creating a retail ISP service that is operated on public-service terms. This may be supported by an entity like the national post-office and providing Internet presence for public-service broadcasters, hospitals and similar essential-service entities. It would also be about offering affordable fixed and mobile Internet service to needy people like students or people on welfare.
What about the community broadcasting sector?
A question that can also crop up is whether the non-profit community-broadcasting sector should be seen in the same light as public-service broadcasters in the concept of a “public-service Internet”, In some countries like the USA, these services are highly valued thanks to most affiliating with public-service-broadcast networks like PBS or NPR.
But areas like Europe or Australasia see these broadcasters as complementary to the main public-service and commercial broadcasters. In that situation, could these community broadcasters be seen as needing access to a public-service Internet setup. This is more so where such broadcasters can reach particular communities such as Indigenous groups or minority-language speakers on a grassroots level.
At least the idea of creating a public-service Internet platform is being put forward by the public-service broadcasters in order to extend their remit in to the online space. It would also appeal to adults and children who value accurate and unbiased information or content reflecting their nation’s culture without pandering to commercialism.
Qobuz is a music service that was founded in France in 2007. This service offers sobscription-based music streaming and transactional download-to-own music purchasing but offers these services with Hi-Fi-grade sound. It had existed in Europe for a long time and since 2020, Australians and New Zealanders can use this service to stream or purchase high-quality music.
Here, the music is available using lossless streaming and file formats with CD-quality audio as a baseline and the option for master-grade audio. There is also the ability to download a PDF copy of the album’s liner notes which typically will have lyrics for an album’s songs or a biography and discography in the case of a artist-specific compilation.
The Studio Premium subscription costs AUD$24.99 per month or AUD$229.99 per year which offers up to “master-grade” streaming quality. There is also a more expensive Studio Sublime+ subscription tier costing AUD$299.99 per year which gives you a discounts for “download-to-own” music tracks that you purchase.
There are native clients for Windows, Mac OS, Android and iOS along with the ability to interact with Qobuz through the Web. The Android and iOS apps allow streaming of Qobuz audio through the Apple AirPlay or Google Cast (Chromecast) to endpoint devices compatible with these protocols. Issues that were raised include the desktop apps for Windows and Mac OS regular computers not being available through the operating systems’ native app stores. This may be of issue where the app stores are preferred by some users as a software update path.
Qobuz can work with Naim equipment
As far as other devices are concerned, there is support for Sonos speakers and some network-capable hi-fi equipment, usually some of the premium hi-fi brands like Sony, Yamaha, Linn or Naim. But none of the popular games consoles, smart speakers or smart TVs don’t support Qobuz yet in a native manner.
But the omission of synchronous lyrics or music videos on Qobuz is more about focusing this service to music listening. This is similar to how most of us would be listening to our music whether on packaged media like vinyl or CD; or as file-based audio and we either want it in the background or to concentrate on the actual music.
There will still be calls for interlinking Qobuz, Deezer and Tidal with music-recognition services or the Shazam or Soundhound kind so people who hear songs on the radio for example can bring them up on these high-quality services. Similarly, there will be the need to make curated playlists available across multiple platforms through the use of a standard datatype and export / import abilities.
At least Qobuz is coming to the fore as a high-quality file-based audio service that offers both a subscription-based streaming approach and a transactional download-to-own approach for your music.
A strong direction for music streaming services is to offer CD-quality sound for all of their library at least
Apple, Amazon and Spotify are lining up or have lined up hi-fi-grade service tiers as part of their audio-streaming services. It is in response to Tidal and Deezer already offering this kind of sound quality for a long time along with the fear of other boutique audio-streaming services setting up shop and focusing on high-quality audio.
Now there is something interesting happening here regarding hi-fi-grade streaming. Here, Apple is having a CD-grade lossless-audio service as part of their standard premium subscription while making sure all music available to their Apple Music streaming service is CD-quality.
So how could these streaming music services compete effectively yet serve those of us who value high quality sound from those online music jukebox services that we use?
What are these hi-fi-grade digital audio services about?
This will be something that is expected of Spotify at least
The hi-fi-grade service tiers typically offer a sound quality similar to that of a standard audio CD that you are playing on your CD player, with the same digital-audio specifications i.e. 44.1 kHz sampling rate and 16-bit samples representing stereo sound. Some of these services may offer some content at 48 kHz sampling rate that was specified for the original DAT audio tapes and may be used as a workflow standard for digital radio and TV.
In the same way that a regular audio CD stores the audio content in the original uncompressed PCM form, these hi-fi-grade streaming services use a lossless data-compression form similar to the FLAC audio filetype to transmit the sound while preserving the sound quality. That is equivalent to how a ZIP “file-of-files” works in compressing and binding together data from multiple files.
CD-grade digital audio was adopted during the late 1980s as the benchmark for high-quality sound reproduction in the consumer space. As well, the DAT tapes that recorded 16-bit PCM audio at 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rates were considered the two-channel recording standard for project studios and similar professional audio content-creation workflows. It is although MiniDisc which used a lossy audio codec caught on in the UK and Japan for personal audio applications.
Some of these services offer extras like surround-sound or object-based audio soundmixes or supply the audio at “master-grade” specifications like 96 or 192 kHz sampling rates or 24 or more bits per sample. But these are best enjoyed on equipment that would properly reproduce the sound held therein to expectations. This is while most good audio equipment engineered since the 1970s was engineered to work capably with the audio CD as its pinnacle.
The provision of these hi-fi-grade services is having appeal thanks to telcos and ISPs offering increased bandwidth and data allowances for fixed and mobile broadband Internet services. This is more so in markets where there is increased competition for the customer’s fixed or mobile Internet service dollar.
As well, there is a highly-competitive market war going on between Bose, Apple and Sony at least for high-quality active-noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets with the possibility of other headset manufacturers joining in this market war. This is something very close to the late-1970s Receiver Wars where hi-fi companies were vying with each other for the best hi-fi stereo receivers for one’s hi-fi system and increasing value for money in that product class.
Here, a streaming music service that befits these high-quality in-ear or over-the-head headsets could show what they are capable of when it comes to sound reproduction while on the road.
Let’s not forget that Apple and others are working on power-efficient hi-fi-grade digital-analogue-converter circuitry for laptops, tablets, smartphones and other portable audio endpoint devices. Then hi-fi-grade digital-analogue-conversion circuitry that connects to USB or Apple devices is being offered by nearly every hi-fi name under the sun whether as a separate box or as part of the functionality set that a hi-fi component or stereo system would offer.
Current limitations with enjoying hi-fi-grade audio on the move
There are limitations with this kind of service offering, especially with the use of Bluetooth Classic streaming to headphones or automotive infotainment setups from mobile devices. At the moment, it is being preferred that a wired connection, whether via a traditional analogue headphone cable or via an external digital-analogue converter box, is used to run the sound to a pair of good-quality headphones while “on the road”.
Similarly, Apple’s and Google’s smartphone-automotive-integration platforms need to be able to support use of these hi-fi-grade audio services properly so you can benefit from this class of sound when you are at the wheel of your car.
What could be done?
One step that can be taken by many music-streaming services is to create a service-level distinction between CD-quality stereo lossless audio service and create a higher-grade extra-cost audio services that focus on “master-grade” or multichannel soundmixes. Here, most of us like our music in stereo sound and see CD quality sound as the pinnacle with equipment engineered to that calibre. This is while the esoteric audiophiles would invest in equipment and services that can handle master-grade audio or multichannel soundmixes.
The music services could them move towards offering the CD-quality stereo lossless sound as the audio quality for the standard paid service subscription. That includes moving the service’s music library towards that kind of quality. The user would need to have the ability to enable and disable the CD-quality lossless stereo sound on a device-by-device basis perhaps to cater for smartphone use or limited bandwidth.
Where a music service offers transactional “download-to-own” music, the recordings could be offered at CD quality stereo as lossless files. There could be the ability to provide a complementary download of previously-purchased material as the CD-quality stereo lossless files.
At the moment, there are a number of open-frame and proprietary paths that are able to use a home network to transmit CD-quality or master-quality lossless digital audio from a computing device or streaming audio service to audio endpoint devices within the home. But there needs to be more done to support mobile and portable setups where one is likely to hear audio files while out and about.
The Bluetooth SIG could investigate how CD-quality lossless audio can be sent wirelessly between devices using the various audio profiles that they oversee. This is more so as Bluetooth is used primarily to send multimedia audio from a smartphone or tablet to speakers, headphones or home and car audio equipment. Here, it could be based on their Bluetooth LE Audio specification which is being used to revise the Bluetooth multimedia audio use case effectively.
Similarly, the use of USB-C as a “digital audio path” from a computing device to an audio-output device needs to be encouraged. This would come in to its own with connecting to audio devices or systems that have highly-strung digital-analogue conversion circuitry which can come in to its own with high-quality audio streaming services.
In the automotive context, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which are used to provide integrated smartphone-dashboard functionality could be improved to provide lossless audio transfer between the smartphone and the car’s infotainment system. This may be valued as a differentiator that can be applied to premium car-audio setups.
Once there are a list of standard protocols adopted for streaming lossless hi-fi grade stereo sound to headsets and automotive setups and that support wired and wireless connectivity, this could make proper CD-quality stereo sound more relevant on the road.
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