Author: simonmackay

Facebook Portal TV converts your TV in to a group Zoom videophone

Facebook Portal TV group videophone press picture courtesy of Facebook

Facebook Portal TV

Article

You can now watch Netflix on your Facebook Portal TV | CNet

Netflix Comes to Facebook’s Portal TV Video Device, Along With Zoom | Variety

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Bringing Netflix, Zoom, and More Features to Portal (Blog Post)

Bringing Netflix, Zoom and More Features to Portal (Press Release)

Portal TV (Product Page with opportunity to order)

My Comments

Facebook’s Portal TV is a set-top box with built-in Webcam that is part of Facebook’s Portal smart-display platform. The platform has shown an increase in takeup thanks to us staying home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague.

This device is acquiring access to more of the video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV and Showtime. As well, newer Facebook Portal TV devices will come with remote controls that have one-touch access to the video-on-demand services. You may find that if you even bought a replacement remote control for your Portal TV device, it will come with these extra buttons. I see the Facebook Portal TV as an attempt for another of the Silicon Valley big names to have a set-top device based around their core online-services platform and offering the video content services that “every man and his dog” wants.

But the feature that has a strong appeal to me is the Facebook Portal TV turning your TV in to a large-screen group videophone. This initially works with Facebook’s messaging platforms – Messenger and WhatsApp and you have to bind it to your account on either of these services. You can bind the Portal TV to multiple Facebook / Messenger and WhatsApp accounts to make and take calls from these accounts. But it is being extended to Zoom along with some business-grade videoconferencing platforms, with a notable absence of Microsoft’s platforms i.e. Skype and Microsoft Teams which do have a significant user base.

Here, it will legitimise the idea of your household joining in to a long-distance videocall and being able to see the participants on the end of the line on the big screen without squinting. A classic example of this could be Thanksgiving or Christmas and you want to have your family chat with your relatives that are located a long distance away so the distant relatives can be in on the celebrations.

The Portal platform even has the camera and sound self-adjust to follow the action or to encompass more people coming in to view, This is very much a reality as more people crowd in to and join that long-distance videocall. As well, it could be seen as a direction to have video watch parties like what Sling TV is proposing come to your big-screen TV.

The Portal TV set-top box assures users of their privacy by having a hardware switch to enable and disable the camera and microphones. As well, there is a physical camera shutter so the user can mask the camera out. It is also compliant with HDMI-CEC operation thus allowing for one-touch call answering where the TV (and audio peripherals if connected) will come on and select the appropriate input when you answer a Portal videocall. For older people who would benefit from this device, this behaviour means that they only need to press one button on the Portal’s remote to answer that videocall.

What needs to happen is for Google, Amazon, Apple and others to work towards introducing group videophone devices that can work with a regular TV and use the common videoconferencing platforms. This can be through Wehcam accessories that work with existing set-top devices that they have designed and made available or newer set-top devices that have integrated Webcam functionality or support for such accessories. They would have to work with videoconferencing platforms that are popular at work and at home.

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Trying to reduce the number of USB chargers around the house. What can you do?

Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

You may need to end up rationalising the number of USB chargers you have in your home

You can easily end up with too many USB wall chargers in your home. This can happen as you purchase more devices that come with these chargers or you find and use better chargers like multi-outlet “charging bars”.

Then you think of rationalising the number of chargers you have on hand in your home as you find you have too many of them. But how can you go about this effectively without sacrificing convenience?

Here, the idea is to keep enough chargers on hand and in appropriate locations that assures you of convenience. No-one wants to find that they can’t power or charge their devices because there aren’t enough of these chargers available near to them for their needs.

Which charges do you keep.

Firstly, you need to retain chargers that have at least one USB Type-A socket and/or USB Type-C socket on the charger unit itself. That means you don’t really need chargers that have a USB micro-B or Apple MFi Lightning plug on the end of a cable wired to the charger itself.

This will mean that you can use them to charge any device as long as you have a connection cable with the appropriate connectors on each end. You can even consider the use of longer cables for more flexible connectivity setups.

As well, prefer to keep powerful chargers or those that implement USB Power Delivery for USB Type-C units or Qualcomm fast-charge standards (for USB Type-A units. This will mean that you can quickly charge up your phone or tablet or allow them to work in a high-performance setting while connected to AC power.

Keeping one or more USB-C chargers that use USB Power Delivery and can put up at least 60 watts to at least one USB-C port is a good direction to go. This is important when you are using or intend to purchase an ultraportable laptop or 2-in-1 that has this kind of power needs, something that will be very common in the near future. Sometimes the more power output the charger can make available the better.

Chargers that have two or more outlets, including the many-outlet “charging bars” should be kept for the long haul. It is preferable to have them in the kitchen or the home office especially where you are likely to be charging multiple devices in the same location.

You will be finding that there will be more of the powerful multiple-outlet chargers on the market thanks to power-supply designers, manufacturers and vendors investing in Gallium Nitride technology that allows for compact powerful power-supply devices.

Here, you are factoring in many realities when you use mobile technology. Here, as your portable devices get older, the batteries don’t run for the same long time that they used to when they were new. As well, most of us like to run our portable devices on external power as much as possible to conserve battery runtime.

It is something we used to do with portable audio equipment and some pocket calculators since these devices came around in the 1960s.  We even did things like minimise any battery-draining activities like fast-winding of tapes with our portable tape players unless the equipment was connected to AC power. Or most portable devices that had dial or display lighting had this lighting come on when they were powered from external power but have a button to activate it as needed when on batteries. This was driven by the fact that batteries for these devices that ran for a long time were at a price premium then.

There are also the accessories that support our mobile devices like Bluetooth headsets or powerbanks and these use a USB-based cable for charging their integrated batteries. It is also underscoring that the USB Type-A plug or USB Type-C plug is being seen as the “universal DC power plug” for many devices thus simplifying what we use to power these devices with. For example, some LED-based decorative lighting is appearing that is powered by a USB charger rather than a specially-designed power supply.

As you find that you acquire more powerful USB chargers, you may find that it is high time to send the least-powerful ones away for e-waste recycling. That is unless you are using a device that uses the USB charger purely as a power supply and can work with a low-power USB charger.

You may also find yourself migrating to the newer USB Type-C connection for your devices and then find that it may be a better time to move towards chargers that use at least one of these connection according to the Power Delivery specification.

If you find that your charger uses an IEC-standard “figure-8” or “cloverleaf” AC input socket, this opens up a pathway of flexibility which may give you more reason to keep it. Here, you could use a longer AC cord that has the appropriate connection if you want it further away from the power outlet.

For travel purposes, you may find it simpler to purchase an AC cord with the destination country’s national AC plug to use it in countries using that kind of AC power outlet. Typically you would buy these cables from a local electrical retailer or office-supplies store as an AC cord for a radio or laptop. You then end up with some form of flexibility about where you locate it in your travel accommodation. This situation is more advantageous where you end up frequently visiting countries using that same AC power outlet.

Where should we keep USB chargers?

At least one of these chargers should be kept in each of the main living areas in the house.

If you find that you don’t like the idea of these chargers strewn around the house, it may be a good idea to keep them in a drawer in the appropriate room while they aren’t actually in use. But make sure everyone is aware of the chargers existing in those storage locations when you store them. This is where the ultra-compact chargers really earn their keep because they don’t take up much storage space.

In the lounge areas like the living room or rumpus room, it may be a good idea to keep a powerful USB charger of some form near one or more of the armchairs or couches. This is because most of us would be using a smartphone or, more likely, a tablet there in order to interact with online resources like Wikipedia, search engines or social media when we watch TV for example.

You may find that plugging a charger in to a standard extension cord may work if you are wanting one to serve someone sitting in a chair or sofa that is located away from a wall. Similarly using a powerboard to plug your table or floor lamp and a charger in to may work wonders here. The use of longer AC-current cords may benefit these applications better due to keeping the power conversion process closer to the device using the power and reducing voltage drop where it matters.

The kitchen area may be a good location for a multiple-outlet “charging bar” due to people charging their devices in that area. On the other hand a small two-outlet powerful wall charger may earn its keep here if you are trying to avoid excess clutter.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock

It is best to focus USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks like the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock towards peripherals that are being used with the dock’s host computer

The same goes too for the home office at least. Here, you may be using this as the “go to” place to charge powerbanks and mobile accessories in a location where they can be found. You may think of using that USB-C or Thunderbolt dock that you are using to connect your laptop to the big screen and keyboard for this purpose. But you may find that having a charger, like a “charging bar” may earn its keep here when you are simply charging devices that aren’t necessarily peripherals for your computer so that all USB sockets on that dock serve those peripherals.

You may want to keep a charger or two in the bedrooms if you do charge your smartphone or tablet there. It is also important to make sure the guestroom has one or two of these chargers so that guests who stay overnight have somewhere to charge their devices.

If you do keep accessories on hand for travel, one or more small USB chargers can come in handy here. You could even consider a multi-outlet “charging bar” again for packing when you travel.

At least, making sure you are keeping the powerful capable chargers that work to current standards and keeping them in areas where they are useful can work out as a convenient and effective way to rationalise these devices.

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Google answers Apple TV with their own set-top box

Article

Google announces new Chromecast with the new Google TV interface | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Our best Chromecast yet, now with Google TV (Blog Post)

Chromecast with Google TV (Product Page with opportunity to order)

Chromecast with Google TV (product video) – Click or tap to play in YouTube

My Comments

The Apple TV has ruled the roost as an add-on set-top box that ties in tightly with their MacOS and iOS platforms. Here, this set-top box has access to an app store with the native-client apps for the main online video content services amongst other things. This is in addition to being an audio-video AirPlay destination for streaming content from your iOS device, Mac regular computer or iTunes software.

You have to have your Apple TV bound to your Apple ID account (of which many such accounts can be bound to the same device) but you can control it using its remote control. This can be either the Siri Remote which is a Bluetooth voice remote with trackpad operation or the classic Apple TV remote which is a simpler infrared D-pad remote. You also had the ability to install native client apps for the popular video-on-demand services, while it existed as a front-end for Apple’s iTunes transaction-based video-on-demand service.

Newer iterations can be bought that can offer 4K UHDTV video and all the newer tvOS-based Apple TV devices use HDMI-CEC control, allowing you to press any button on the Apple TV remote to cause your TV to come on and switch over to the input the Apple TV is connected to.

But those of us who use the Android platform weren’t sure of any add-on set-top device that works properly with our phones or tablets. There are some TVs that run Android TV and some set-top boxes do work this platform but you need to be sure they aren’t running the mobile Android operating system rather than Android TV. As well, some of these Android TV set-tops run an “operator-tier” variant of that platform which may limit access to the Google Play app store for Android TV apps.

Or you would simply use a Google Chromecast device or a smart TV or set-top device that fully supports the Chromecast (Google Cast) streaming protocol and stream video content from your Android device to your TV using that device. This would have you keeping you Android device on while you were viewing the content and being aware of its battery status.

Now Google have offered their latest Chromecast device which is really a Google TV / Android TV set-top box rather than just a Chromecast-protocol audio-video endpoint, dependent on your smartphone. This device, called the Chromecast with Google TV, has its own remote control which is a Bluetooth / infra-red remote voice remote, along with an Android TV operating environment and Google Play app store. 

This device also provides a unified content-search experience so you can search for a title and it will show you if it exists in any video services you subscribe to as well as offering you the ability to view it through Google’s Play Store’s transaction-driven video-on-demand service. The voice remote also allows you to search for content using your voice and Google Assistant.

The Google Chromecast with Google TV will require you to bind it to your Google account. But I am not sure whether this device offers multiple-account support to cater for multiple-adult households.

It has a USB-C connection that is primarily used for power-supply purposes but Google is wanting to see it used as a data connection for supplementary peripherals. The use they initially have in mind is an Ethernet adaptor similar to an Ethernet-equipped USB-C hub that implements USB Power Delivery Charge-through (pass-through) support.  But it could be a chance for Google to supply and support a companion Webcam as a way to purpose this device as a group videophone.

At least for Android users, Google has done the right thing towards having an add-on set-top device that is a known quantity which provides smart TV functionality.

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Dell updates the XPS 13 laptop and 2-in-1 to Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Articles

Dell XPS 13 press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

The new Dell XPS 13 clamshell laptop computer that is coming soon

Dell updates XPS 13 2-in-1 and XPS 13 | PCWorld Australia

Tiger Lake is coming in Dell XPS 13, XPS 13 DE, and XPS 13 2-in-1 | ARS Technica

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

XPS 13 (9310) clamshell laptop – Product Page with opportunity to order (USA)

XPS 13 (9310) 2-in-1 convertible laptop – Product Page with opportunity to order (USA)

My Comments

The Dell XPS 13 range of ultraportable laptops and 2-in-1 computers has over the last few years been seen as the “top of the pack” for that class of computer. Here, it has been about delivering the right mix of features, functionality and build quality for the price with this being reflected through the different generations of that computer.

Now, just after Intel had released the latest Tiger Lake mobile-computing silicon, Dell had just refreshed all of the computers in the XPS 13 lineup with this silicon. This includes the use of Intel’s latest Xe integrated-graphics processor technology which is being seen as fit for Full-HD gaming and even able to replace entry-level discrete mobile-use graphics silicon offerings like NVIDIA’s MX offerings. As well, they are to have two Thunderbolt 4 ports which are compatible with Thunderbolt 3 peripherals like external graphics modules. The integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 (or newer) port feature combination that the Dell XPS 13 has implemented since the Kaby Lake edition is one of those computer option combinations that I do see as being valid for laptops.

In this case, there was an emphasis on the quality aspect of the Tiger Lake silicon refresh for the Dell XPS 13 series. This was about a faster range of CPUs, the availability of integrated graphics silicon that is on a par with baseline mobile discrete graphics silicon, and the use of Thunderbolt 4 connectivity which is a reliability and connectivity improvement on that specification. Here, this graphics improvement was about combining an ultraportable computer design with graphics processing technology that isn’t a wimp.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 in all modes press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

Even as a 2-in-1 that has been engineered to work with higher-power processors nut not overheat

The computers will have a thinner lighter design with the 2-in-1 variant having improved thermal design to cater towards the use of more powerful processing silicon. But that variant will be limited to the Intel Core i7-1165G7 as the most powerful CPU that can be specified. It will have the smallest integrated camera ever which clocks in at 2.25mm. The XPS 13 traditional laptop variant will use an edge-to-edge keyboard and achieve a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio.

XPS 13 computers that are specified with the 4K UHD+ display will have the display being certified for HDR and Dolby Vision use. But computers specified with the Full HD screen will have a battery runtime rated for 19 hours. The question with this is whether this can be about 19 hours with a mixture of activities ranging from Web browsing, word processing, viewing video content and playing a game like Civilization 6 on that long flight or roadtrip.

These computers will normally be delivered with Windows 10 but Dell is offering the XPS 13 traditional clamshell laptop as a “Developer Edition” variant. Here, this will be preloaded with Ubuntu 18 Linux, which will please software tinkerers and open-source computing advocates.

The minimum prices for Australian users are AUD$2999 for the 2-in-1 variant and AUD$2499 for the clamshell variamt. It will be interesting to see what the press reviews will come up with when the review units start to appear – whether they underscore Dell’s commitment to keeping the right mix of features, functionality, build quality and price for these computers.

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Amazon’s next generation of Echo devices to use edge computing

ArticlesAmazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

New Amazon Echo devices

Everything Amazon announced at its September event | Mashable

Amazon hardware event 2020: Everything the company announced today | Android Authority

Use of edge computing in new Echo devices

Amazon’s Alexa gets a new brain on Echo, becomes smarter via AI and aims for ambience | ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Introducing the All-New Echo Family—Reimagined, Inside and Out (Press Release)

New Echo (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Dot (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Show 10 (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

My Comments

Amazon are premiering a new lineup of Echo smart-speaker and smart-display devices that work on the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.

These devices convey a lot of the aesthetics one would have seen in science-fiction material or “future living” material written from the 1950s to the 1970s. It is augmented by an indoor camera drone device that Amazon released around the same time.

As well, all of these devices have the spherical look that conveys that retro-futuristic industrial-design style that was put forward from the 1950s to the early 1970s like with the Hoover Constellation vacuum cleaner of the era or the Grundig Audiorama speakers that were initially designed in the 1970s thanks to the Space Race. You might as well even ask Alexa to pull up and play space-age bachelor-pad music from Spotify or Amazon Music through these speakers.

It is even augmented further with the base of the Echo and Echo Dot lighting up as a pin-stripe to indicate the device’s current status. This industrial design also permits the implementation of a 360-degree sound approach that can impress you a lot. It also is a smart-home hub that works with Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy and Amazon Sidewalk devices so you don’t need to use a separate hub for them.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition (Tiger and Panda) press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition that is available either as a panda or tiger – for the young or young at heart

The small Echo Dot comes in two different variants where one of these has a clock on the front while the other doesn’t. It also comes also as a “Kids’ Edition” with an option of a panda face or a cat face. It is offered as part of Amazon’s Alexa Kids program which provides a child-optimised package of features for this voice assistant. But I also wonder whether this can be ran as a regular Echo Dot device, which may appeal to those adults who are young at heart and want that mischievous look these devices have.

The Echo Show 10 smart display uses a microphone array and automatic panning to face the user. This is driven by machine vision driven by the camera and microphone array. But the camera has a shutter for your privacy. Of course you can use this device as a videophone thanks to the Alexa platform’s support for Amazon’s calling platforms, Zoom and Skype.

Amazon Echo Show 10 press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Show 10 that can swivel towards you

What makes this generation of Echo devices more interesting is that they implement an edge-computing approach to improve sound quality and intelligibility when it comes to interacting with Alexa. This is even opening up ideas like natural-flow conversations with Alexa or allowing Alexa to participate as an extra person in a multiple-person conversation. It is furthering Amazon’s direction towards implementing ambient computing on their Alexa voice-driven assistant platform.

But Google was the first to implement this concept in a smart-speaker / voice-driven assistant use case. Here, they used it in the Nest Mini smart speaker to improve on the Google Assistant’s intelligibility of your commands.

Amazon Echo Show 10 in videocall - press image courtesy of Amazon

Oh yeah, you can make and take Zoom or Skype videocalls on an Amazon Echo Show 10

I do see this as a major direction for smart-speaker and voice-driven-assistant technology due to improving responsiveness and user interaction with these devices. It may even be about keeping premises-local configurations and customisations on the device’s memory rather than on the cloud, which may improve a lot of use factors. For example, it may be about user privacy due to minimal user data held on remote servers. Or it could be about an optimised highly-responsive setup for the home-automation setups we build around these devices.

What needs to be looked at is a way to implement localised peer-to-peer sharing of data between smart speaker devices that are on the same platform and are installed within the same home network. This can allow users to have the same quality of experience no matter which device they use within the home.

There also has to be support for localised processing of data by devices with the edge-computing smarts for those devices that don’t have that kind of operation. This would be important if you bring in a newer device with this functionality and effectively “push down” the existing device to a secondary usage scenario. In this use case, having another device with the edge computing smarts on your home network and bound to your voice-driven-assistant platform account could assure the same kind of smooth user experience as using the new device directly.

These Amazon Echo devices are showing a new direction for voice-driven home assistant devices to allow for improved intelligibility and smoother operation.

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Are noise-cancelling headphones relevant during the COVID-19 lockdowns

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headset – still relevant as we stay at home

When we see the likes of Bose and Sony launch new active-noise-cancelling headphones during the time of coronavirus-driven isolation, we may think that headphones like these are totally irrelevant now.

Such thoughts will come across our mind when it comes to portable technology like laptop computers where it is seen as an unnecessary expense. It is as we see these COVID-19 stay-at-home requirements as a time of slowing down and contemplating the need for any perceived flamboyance.

This is because we aren’t travelling at all or travelling very infrequently as a measu re to reduce virus infection. But these headphones are still very relevant nowadays in some way even during the short term.

If you have heating or air-conditioning at home that becomes noisy during active operation, they can come in very handy.This may also apply to those of us with older desktop computers that have noisy fans as well.

Here, the operating noise associated with these devices can become annoying and distracting and these headphones can mask it out just like they can when it comes to transport noise. If you find that your equipment changes its operating noise level during use, usually in order to answer actual heating or cooling needs, you may find that change of noise level distracting. Again, the noise-cancelling headsets can come in to play here.

Even though the cities are quieter now, you may find that there is some excess noise from remnant vehicles moving around the streets past your place. Add to this people using tools powered by small engines such as during the weekends when most households are maintaining their lawns and gardens. Here, these noises can be very distracting especially if you are listening to podcasts or engaging in videocalls.

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

They can come in very handy with those Zoom calls

Let’s not forget that most of these headsets excel as communications headsets which will be of benefit for those Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams videoconferences. Here, the newer headsets are about improved intelligibility during these calls. The newer better noise-cancelling headsets even use microphone arrays to capture your voice more easily even while there is background noise around you.

Over-the-head-type noise-cancelling headsets do perform well with music thanks to larger drivers that allow for improved bass. This may also be of benefit with other content like video content you watch through Netflix or similar video-on-demand services, or whenever you play games and you want that bit of extra punch on those sound effects.

There is also the fact that the COVID-19 plague will be tamed through the use of vaccines and medical treatments that are proven to be effective. It is in addition to better knowledge gained through experience on how to deal with particular outbreaks.  Here, we may be then in a position to travel longer distances whether by land, sea or air. The noise-cancelling headphones will then come in to their own while you get back to travelling.

I would still consider active-noise-cancelling headphones very relevant for most people even through these uncertain times where we are at home more.

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Belkin joins the GaN bus with two highly-compact USB PD wall chargers

Article Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

Belkin GaN charging is ready to power your day | Ausdroid

From the horse’s mouth

Belkin

BOOST-CHARGE GaN USB-C PD 30W Wall Charger (Product Page)

BOOST-CHARGE GaN Dual USB-C PD 68W Wall Charger (Product Page)

My Comments

A significant trend over the last few years is to see the use of gallium nitride as the new electronics semiconductor. It is being seen as the “new silicon” – a new highly-impressive highly-capable semiconductor material that opens up new doors.

At the moment, the application that impresses is highly-compact highly-efficient power supply circuits. Here, such power supplies run very cool and a USB-C PD “wall-wart” AC charger based on this technology occupies the same space on a power outlet as an ordinary AC plug yet able to yield at least 30 watts.That is due to it wasting less energy as heat therefore not needing much in the way of cooling space.

Belkin, a household name associated with computer accessories, has now joined the party with their own gallium-nitride-based USB-C Power Delivery wall chargers.

One of these can support a 30-watt load which would answer use cases like smartphones or tablets. The other is a 68-watt unit that has two USB-C outlets and a dynamic load-balancing circuit. This can mean that one of the outlets can be used to power something like a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook while the other is used to charge that smartphone or battery pack.

The idea of combining USB-C PD and the GaN power-supply technology is appealing towards having these devices that can work with laptops, smartphones and tablets yet not take up much room on that powerboard.

What Belkin and other respected accessory vendors need to work on are multi-outlet USB-C PD charging stations that can support at least two or three USB-C PD devices with a draw of at least 45 watts each. This would be important for situations where multiple tablets or ultraportable laptops are likely to be used in the same space.

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The XBox One offers dual controls for the benefit of novice game players

Article

CO-PILOT, XBOX ONE’S NEW ACCESSIBILITY FEATURE | Cerebral Palsy Foundation

How to use Xbox One copilot to link two controllers | Windows Central

Copilot video update: sharing or splitting a controller | Special Effect

Video Walkthrough from Special Effect – Click or Tap to play in YouTube

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

First Wave of New Xbox Update Features Ship to Select Xbox Insiders Today (Blog Post)

Copilot on XBox One (XBox Support Article)

My Comments

An issue I raised in a previous posting regarding computer and video games, especially console games, is that it can be difficult for some people to learn how to play a video game.

One of the situations I was thinking of was where a younger game player was showing an older person who is interested in cricket how to play a cricket video game on his console. He then offered the older person a try at the game but the older person found it difficult to work out what effect the different buttons on the control had on the gameplay.

Here it may be about dealing with which buttons to use on a particular controller to achieve a particular result, especially has today’s game-console controllers have many different controls on them and it may be difficult to work out which button, joystick or trigger does what if you are now to these devices.

As part of Microsoft releasing the XBox Adaptive Controller, they also added to the XBox One and to Windows a “co-pilot” mode. This isn’t just part of running two controllers with two different operation methods together. But it could be to allow an advanced game player to give a helping hand to a novice game player. It is similar to the practice followed by most driving schools where the driving school’s fleet of cars are equipped with dual-controls. This allows the driving instructor to control the clutch and brake in order to override what the learner driver is doing in case of an emergency, thus being a safety net for novice drivers.

Here, you have to have at least two controllers connected to the XBox or Windows computer to have Copilot Mode active. The rule with the Copilot Mode is that the first controller you turn on ends up as the primary controller for setting up this mode. As well, it is a good idea to do the initial setup routine with your typical XBox controller, now seen as the primary controller if you are using something like the XBox Adaptive Controller as your complementary controller.

XBox One games console

Method One
  1. Connect the secondary controller to your XBox for copilot use. The copilot doesn’t need to sign in with their XBox account for this to happen. As well, the primary player is able to record their achievements on the XBox leaderboard.
  2. Using the primary controller, press the large X button to open the Guide, then select the Profile & System menu. Select Settings, then Ease Of Access, then Controller in that menu.
  3. Choose Copilot Settings and select the “Turn on Copilot” option to enable this mode.
  4. You will see the secondary controller listed. Here, select that controller to work in Copilot mode.
  5. At this point, your XBox controllers are linked as if they are dual controls.

When you are done with Copilot mode, go back to the Copilot settings menu and select “Turn off Copilot”. Both controllers then work as if they are for separate players.

Method Two

You need to follow this method if you want to maintain access to and control of any advanced features that your secondary controller may have. This may be to support custom button mappings or enable vibration to provide haptic feedback during gameplay.

  1. Connect the secondary controller to your XBox for copilot use
  2. Go to the My Games And Apps menu then select XBox Accessories. You may have pinned the XBox Accessories app to your home screen perhaps to have more control over game-controller customisations.
  3. Using the XBox Accessories app, assign the secondary controller to your current login
  4. Go to the top menu on your XBox Accessories app, then select the three-dot option on your primary controller.
  5. In this menu, you select the Turn on Copilot option to enable this function on your controller.
  6. At this point, your XBox controllers are linked as if they are dual controls. You also maintain customisations for each of the controllers like vibration feedback or custom button mappings.
  7. When you are done with Copilot mode, go back to the Copilot settings menu in the three-dot option for your primary controller. Then click “Turn off Copilot” to return the controllers to normal dual-player operation.

Windows 10 computers

  1. Here, you need to download and install the XBox Accessories App from the Microsoft Store. This will provide increased control over any XBox controllers you have connected to your computer.
  2. Connect both controllers to your Windows 10 computer as mentioned in the prior article. This can be done via USB or wirelessly and you may find that the latest controllers will support Bluetooth connectivity.
  3. Run the XBox Accessories App whereupon you will see both controllers represented on the screen.
  4. Click the three-dot option under your primary controller. Then click the Turn on Copilot option in that menu to enable this function. This will only apply to the two controllers.
  5. When you are done with Copilot mode, run the XBox Accessories App and select the three-dot option under your primary controller. Then select the Turn off Copilot option in that menu to return to normal two-player operation.

Further notes

If you are helping someone handle that game, it may be better to take a similar approach to how driving instructors help and teach novice drivers even when using dual-control vehicles. That is to allow the novice to do the controlling themselves but take the reins when things become difficult.

As well, it may be about allowing the novice to familiarise themselves with the button layout on the controller and allow them to work the game at their own speed.

If the game does have any online play abilities, you may find that playing the game in a manner where the computer is the only effective opponent may be what you need to do when you are helping a novice game player. This means that you aren’t playing against real people at remote locations who may not be understanding about novice or occasional game players.

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What is happening with rural broadband in the UK

Articles

Yorkshire Dales By Kreuzschnabel (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

A voucher scheme furthers the reach of real broadband Internet at current specification in to rural United Kingdom

Broadband boost for rural England | Advanced Television

Alternative UK Fibre ISPs Support Common Wholesale Platform Idea | ISPReview

My Comments

The UK is still pushing on with the idea of providing gigabit-class broadband in to its rural areas in a few different ways. It is becoming very real as COVID-19 validated the concept of working from home and has made the idea of “tree-changes” to rural areas more appealing.

Government assistance being provided

At the moment, the government is providing national-level financial help to these rural communities, especially those that are relatively distant. This is in the from of subsidising connections to current-specification gigabit broadband Internet through the implementation of a voucher scheme. It is also being supported by local-government funding in some areas thus making these efforts more affordable. The driver will be to have the Internet connection future-proofed to suit newer connection needs.

Here, it’s about subsidising costs associated with activity necessary to bring broadband out to distant areas like digging long trenches to lay fibre-optic cabling. This is something that most commercial operators would find difficult to cover out of their budgets alone.

Of course a lot of this effort is being driven by a number of independent broadband networks who are laying down their own infrastructure in to these areas. Some of these efforts like Gigaclear are ordinary businesses while some like B4RN are co-operatives that have local help towards laying down infrastructure through the rural areas. It is seen as a way to sidestep the likes of Openreach who may see the rural market as being less profitable to have to current specification.

Wholesale broadband market for independent infrastructure providers

The UK market is gaining an increasing number of independent broadband Internet infrastructure providers who are courting particular geographical areas, be it large cities or rural areas. Examples of these include Gigaclear and B4RN serving rural communities, through Zzoom who serve large towns and suburbs, to Hyperoptic and Cityfibre who serve large cities. Most of them offer very-high-bandwidth service using fibre-optic technology, usually fibre-to-the-premises and offer this service on a retail footing.

Another factor that is being considered is to give independent network infrastructure operators access to the wholesale broadband trading market. This is so they can allow retail Internet service providers to buy bandwidth on their networks to sell to end-users, which is part of a lively competitive Internet-service market.

The main issue that plagues independent network infrastructure providers is the fact they can only sell wholesale access to retail ISPs directly. That makes it hard for a retail ISP or telco to buy bandwidth on multiple infrastructure providers serving many communities and they would have to deal one-to-one with each infrastructure provider. It may appeal to a speciality ISP who provides bespoke Internet services to particular user groups but wouldn’t satisfy ISPs targeting the mass market.

It makes it also confusing to end-users who want to take advantage of a particular technology offered by one or more of these providers but want to be sure of what is offered on their platform and by whom. This includes knowing who will offer their Internet service and at what prices. As well, there is the difficulty associated with admitting competing providers to these networks to permit a highly-vibrant broadband market using these technologies.

The UK’s independent infrastructure providers are working towards a wholesale-broadband market that simplifies the processes required of retail ISPs to buy wholesale bandwidth (and operating rights) in multiple communities.  The ability to easily sell bandwidth wholesale may make it more economically feasible for independent infrastructure providers to build out in to more areas due to tbem being able to sell more of the bandwidth and recoup infrastructure costs quickly.

Here, these infrastructure providers offer the bandwidth to ISPs in an aggregate approach. As well, there will be mechanisms that will exist to facilitate the switching of a connection between ISPs who use the same infrastructure. The

I also see this facilitating the ability for retail ISPs to provide single-pipe triple-play services to residential customers using the independent infrastructure providers. This means that customers could benefit from packages that have landline telephony, multichannel pay-TV and broadband “hot and cold running” Internet through the same connection on the same account. It would mean that moving to that large AGA-stove-equipped farmhouse won’t have you forego the cost-savings associated with these packages when you want landline telephony, pay TV and an Internet connection at the farmhouse.

A question that can easily arise is the possibility for a retail ISP to offer its services on multiple infrastructure providers that serve the same geographic area. In the UK, it could be an independently-operated fibre-to-the-premises network or it could be Openreach’s infrastructure for example.

This may be of benefit with providing all levels of service within a neighbourhood even if different providers offer differently-capable infrastructure to that neighbourbood. Or it can be about assuring service competition when there are exclusionary agreements regarding access to a premises for supplying network infrastructure.

Conclusion

Britain is still keeping its foot on the accelerator regarding the availability of current-specification. Here, it will have to be about public subsidies for reaching hard-to-reach rural areas along with measures to assure competitive Internet service to current specifications.

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AT&T moves towards a Mi-Fi with full 5G and Wi-Fi 6 for the American market

Article AT&T Netgear Nighthawk 5G Pro MiFi router press picture courtesy of AT&T

AT&T adds new a Netgear 5G hotspot that you will actually be able to buy | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

AT&T

NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Hotspot Pro Arrives at AT&T Sept. 18 (Press Release)

5G Product Page (announcing pending arrival of this Mi-Fi hotspot)

NETGEAR

NIGHTHAWK® M5 MOBILE ROUTER (MR5200) – Product Page

My Comments

Telstra has become the first telco in the world to offer a “Mi-Fi” mobile-broadband router that supports both 5G mobile broadband across all bands including mmWave on the Internet side and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity on the LAN side. This was offered when they initially launched their 5G mobile broadband service and this kind of coverage was important for Australian use where 5G services are likely to be deployed in sparsely-populated regional and rural areas.

AT&T now is offering to the general American public a Mi-Fi device that works on the full 5G waveband for its Internet connection side, and Wi-Fi 6 for its local network side. Here, that covers the lower frequencies of the 5G waveband along with the higher frequencies associated with mmWave coverage.

They previously offered a 5G Mi-Fi device but this was offered to a very limited customer base. Also Verizon offers a similar device with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 but their device only works the mmWave bands rather than the whole of the 5G band.

In addition, the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro, also known as the MR5200,  that AT&T offers has an Ethernet LAN connection for use with printers, network-attached storage devices, desktop computers and smart TVs. It has USB-C connectivity, most likely for power and data (5G modem) functionality.

The Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is fit for purpose with American emergency service thanks to its ability to work with FirstNet, which is AT&T’s LTE emergency-services communications network,

This device is expected to cost US$510 upfront or US$17 / month over 30 months before service costs. As well, AT&T are offering data service plans for this device with you paying US$60 per month for a 15Gb monthly data allowance or US$85 per month for 35Gb.

Their overage fee is US$10 for every 2Gb over your plan’s limit and, at the moment, they don’t have a “throttled bandwidth” option available for their plans in lieu of that. That will limit AT&T’s 5G mobile-broadband service’s role to a secondary or temporary Internet service. It is symptomatic of an American telecommunications and Internet-service that has become highly concentrated over the last five years with it heading slowly back to the “Ma Bell” days.

AT&T is rolling out 5G mobile-broadband coverage over most of the key cities in the USA that matter with this coverage increasing at the moment.

But AT&T’s Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is one of the first devices of this kind offered to a dense Northern-Hemisphere country that ticks all the boxes for the latest wireless mobile-communications technologies. That is to provide 5G mobile broadband across the low frequency bands and high-frequency mmWave bands and supply this data across a Wi-Fi 6 LAN.

It is showing that mobile-telephony carriers are fronting up with Mi-Fi devices that work the 5G mobile broadband and WI-Fi 6 standards, leading to some very capable devices and services.

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