Current and Future Trends Archive

Mopria driver-free printing now arrives at Windows 10

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Brother HL-L3230CDS colour LED printer

Windows 10 users can print to these printers using a Mopria class driver baked in to the operating system

Mopria Alliance

Press Release (PDF)

Fact Sheet

Previous Coverage on driver-free printing

What is happening with driver-free printing

My Comments

There are sure steps being taken to print fully-formatted documents from a computing device without the need for driver or companion software to be installed by the user.

It is to allow a person to print a document like a boarding pass using the printer local to them without worrying about make or model it is in order to install any drivers. This effort has been focused towards mobile platforms like iOS and Android thanks to the inherently-portable nature of devices that run these operating systems. But there are other use cases like dedicated-function devices such as set-top boxes or accessible-computing scenarios where you use specially-designed hardware for people with particular challenges.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

No need to find and install drivers for that printer you have to use with the Windows 10 laptop

But it can apply to regular computers, especially laptops that are likely to be taken from place to place. Apple facilitated this through integrating AirPrint in to the Macintosh platform since MacOS X 10.7 Lion so you can print to an AirPrint-compliant printer without needing to install drivers on your Mac computer.

Now Microsoft is using the Mopria Alliance technology to enable this kind of driver-free printing from Windows 10. This is facilitated through a class driver baked in to the operating system since the October 2018 feature update (Build 1809). The class driver is offered as an option of last resort if Windows 10 cannot find the device driver for a newly-installed printer through existence on the host computer or through Windows Update.

You can still install and update vendor-supplied driver software for your printer, something you would need to do if you want to exploit the scanner abilities on your multifunction printer or use advanced monitoring and quality-control abilities that the manufacturer offers. It would work if you are in a foreign place like your business partner’s office and you needed to print out a document “there and then”.

In the case of managed-IT scenarios, the Mopria approach avoids the need for inhouse or contracted IT personnel to install drivers on the computer equipment they are managing to have it work with a particular printer. It also applies to task-specific Windows 10 builds where you want to have the minimum amount of software on the device yet allow for printing. As well, creating a standard operating environment or a dedicated-function device based on Windows 10 code like a point-of-sale system can be made easier especially where you want flexibility regarding the printer equipment you deploy or your end-users end up using.

I would like to see Microsoft improve on this by having a standalone Mopria class driver available for prior versions of Windows and ready to download from their download sites. This is especially useful for organisations who maintain task-specific standard-operating-environments or devices based around these earlier operating systems.

What is happening is the idea of driver-free printing is being seen as a reality especially for mobile computing scenarios and all the popular operating environments are coming to the party.

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Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

Article

Microsoft’s moving Xbox ad was the best thing about the Super Bowl | CNet

Microsoft Super Bowl Ad video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

In the USA, the Super Bowl football match isn’t just the final NFL football match of the season. It is a TV-viewing experience that encompasses the half-time show and a showcase of highly-polished commercials along with the football game. Here. you enjoy this with your friends while digging those chips in to some fabulous dips or chomping on those chicken wings and drinking plenty of beer or soda (soft drink).

One of the ads that was ran during this showcase was to promote Microsoft’s XBox Adaptive Controller. This is a game controller specifically designed for children and adults who have mobility or dexterity limitations and is about having these children being able to play video games with the XBox console or Windows-based computer. It is also designed to accept a range of assistive devices as user-input devices thanks to various standard connections like dry-contact switches or USB analogue joysticks.

The software supplied with Windows 10 or XBox One also allows accessory controllers that are connected to this device along with this device’s buttons to be “mapped” to particular functions, leading to the most custom gaming experience. Even the packaging is designed to allow people with limited mobility or dexterity to open up the box, something that works well when these controllers are given as a gift for an occasion.

The CNet article called out the ad as going against the grain of sports and video-gaming cultures where people who don’t fit the expected mould of a participant i.e. the young male able-bodied person are effectively shut out. The fact that it was shown during America’s big sporting event of the year hammered this concept home regarding opening up video and computer gaming to more classes of people.

It also goes along with Microsoft’s “open-frame” approach to computing and gaming which allows the creation of games and applications for Windows 10 and the XBox One games console. This can also allow the development of therapy-focused games that can help people with special needs or undergoing particular therapies, and underscores the idea of using this kind of technology in a therapeutic role.

It also shows that computer and video gaming can be part of the course for people who have limitations affecting their mobility or dexterity through the use of assistive technology that is accepted by others who are more able.

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Are we at an era where the smartphone is the new “idiot box”?

The TV era TV, VHS videocassette recorder and rented video movies

From the late 1960s through to the 2000s, the television was seen by some people as a time-waster. This was aggravated through increasingly-affordable sets, the existence of 24-hour programming, a gradually-increasing number of TV channels competing for viewership, remote controls and private broadcasters including many-channel pay-TV services.

It led to an increasing number of users concerned about various idle and unhealthy TV-viewing practices. Situations that were often called out included people dwelling on poor-quality content offered on commercial free-to-air or pay-TV channels such as daytime TV;  people loafing on the couch with the remote control in their hand as they idly change channels for something to watch, known as “flicking” or channel-surfing; along with parents using the TV as an “electronic babysitter” for their children.

Even technologies like videocassette recorders or video games consoles didn’t improve things as far as the critics were concerned. One talking point raised during the early 1990s was the ubiquity and accessibility of violent video content through local video stores with this leading to imitative behaviour.

We even ended up with the TV set being referred to as an “idiot box”, “boob tube” or similar names; or people who spend a lot of time watching TV idly having “square eyes” or being “couch potatoes”. Some people even stood for “TV-free” spaces and times to encourage meaningful activity such as for example not having a set installed at a weekender home.

There was even some wellness campaigns that were tackling unhealthy TV viewing. One of these was the “Life Be In It” campaign ran by the Australian governments during the late 1970s.  This campaign was centred around a series of animated TV “public-service-announcement” commercials (YouTube – example about walking) featuring a character called “Norm”, which showed different activities one could be engaging in rather than loafing in the armchair watching TV non-stop.

The rise of the personal computer, Internet and smartphones

The 1980s saw the rise of increasingly-affordable personal-computing power on the home or business desktop with these computers gaining increasing abilities over the years. With this was the rise of games written for these computers including some “time-waster” or “guilty-pleasure” games like Solitaire or the Leisure Suit Larry games.

During the late 1990s and the 2000s, the Internet came on board and gradually offered resources to the personal computer that can compete with the TV. This was brought about with many interesting Websites coming online with some of these sites running participant forums of some form. It also had us own our own email address as a private electronic communications channel.

Also, by the mod 1990s, most Western countries had implemented deregulated competitive telecommunications markets and one of these benefits was mobile telephony service that was affordable for most people. It also led to us being able to maintain their own mobile telephone service and number, which also lead to each one of us effectively having our own private connection. This is rather than us sharing a common connection like a landline telephone number ringing a telephone installed in a common area like a kitchen or living room.

The smartphone and tablet era

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

The smartphone is now being seen as the “new TV”

But since the late 2000s the Internet started to head down towards taking the place of TV as a centre of idle activity. This was driven through the existence of YouTube, instant messaging and social media, along with increasingly-portable computing devices especially highly-pocketable smartphones and tablets or small laptops able to be stuffed in to most right-sized hand luggage, alongside high-speed Internet service available through highly-affordable mobile-broadband services or ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks.

Issues that were underscored included people looking at their phones all day and all night to check their Facehook activity, watching YouTube clips or playing games and not talking with each other; smartphone anxiety where you have to have your phone with you at all times including bringing it to the dinner table, and the vanity associated with the social-media selfie culture. Sometimes browsing the Social Web including YouTube ended up being seen as today’s equivalent of watching the low-grade TV offerings from a private TV broadcaster. Let’s not forget how many of us have played “Candy Crush Saga” or “Angry Birds” on our smartphones as a guilty pleasure.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Or the iPad being used to brows around the Social Web and watch YouTube

This issue has come to the fore over the last few years with concepts like “digital detoxification”, an interest in Internet-free mobile-phone devices including “one-more-time” takes on late-90s / early-2000s mobile-phone designs, mobile operating systems having functionality that identifies what you are spending your time on heavily, amongst other things.

Educators are even regarding the time spent using a computing device for entertainment as the equivalent of idly watching TV entertainment and make a reference to this time as “screen time”. This is more so in the context of how our children use computing devices like tablets or smartphones.

Even smartphone manufacturers have found that the technology has hit a peak with people not being interested in the latest smartphones due to them not being associated with today’s equivalent of idle TV watching. This may lead to them taking a more evolutionary approach towards smartphone design rather than heavily investing in ewer products.

What it has come down to

How I see all of this is the existence of an evolutionary cycle affecting particular forms of mass media and entertainment. It is especially where the media form allows for inanity thanks to the lack of friction involved in providing or consuming this kind of entertainment. As well, the ability for the producer, distributor or user to easily “shape” the content to make a “fairy-tale” existence where the “grass is always greener” or to pander to our base instincts can expose a media platform to question and criticism.

In some cases, there is an ethereal goal in some quarters to see the primary use of media and communications for productive or educational purposes especially of a challenging nature rather than for entertainment. It also includes reworking the time we spend on entertainment or casual communications towards something more meaningful. But we still see the lightweight entertainment and conversation more as a way to break boredom.

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Mercedes-Benz to offer vehicle options like add-on computer software

Article

Android Auto in Chevrolet Malibu dashboard courtesy of © General Motors (Chevrolet)

Vehicle infotainment options could be delivered like computer software rather than a special vehicle order at time of purchase

Mercedes wants to treat certain vehicle options like video game DLC | CNet

My Comments

An issue that will become a key trend for how new cars are sold is the supply of options like navigation, smartphone integration or advanced broadcast-radio technology like DAB+ or HD Radio at the time of purchase or after the fact/

Typical realities that come about include when a vehicle changes hands and the new owner wants to add on newer technology; the fact that the existence of some newer features on an older vehicle may raise its resale value; along with “ready-to-go” vehicles existing at a particular dealership such as one in an outer-urban location not being kitted out with a particular option leading to customers who want these options to order a suitably-equipped vehicle from the factory.

But Mercedes-Benz has taken the “software-defined” approach to this situation to allow options to be delivered as if you are downloading an app for your smartphone from the app store. Most of it is facilitated through things like the broadcast-radio tuner in the car radio being a software-defined receiver for example.

It will also appeal as a cost-effective approach towards updating data associated with particular functions like maps that are part of a navigation system or Gracenote music-recognition data for a CD player. It could also appeal as a way to make a newer option available across the manufacturer’s car fleet even after the vehicle is on the road, such as something that is required as part of compliance with newer expectations.

The vehicle will have to be connected to an Internet connection and be based on the Mercedes.me platform to allow users to buy and implement these updates. There may be some options that will require the installation of hardware like, for example, an optical-disc player in a vehicle that didn’t come with one so you can play CDs.

Like with the CD changers that were offered as an option during the 1990s, these features may command a higher premium that something offered through the independent aftermarket. There may also be issues about what is available in a particular country, something that can be of concern for expats that ship their vehicle with them or areas like Europe where one can head to another country by road or a short affordable ferry trip.

I do see this as a trend for vehicle builders that invest in their infotainment systems to implement software-based option delivery for existing and newer vehicles. It may also be a way for mature drivers to acquire newer infotainment functionality without going down the path associated with the “four-wheeled ghetto blaster” often associated with young men who trick out their cars.

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USB-C Audio modes–something worth understanding for this new connector

Articles

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

There needs to be some work to make USB-C a worthwhile replacement for the 3.5mm audio jack on a smartphone

What you need to know about USB-C audio | Android Authority

My Comments

At the moment, the USB-C audio application case isn’t being implemented consistently across all mobile devices that rely solely on that connection form.

There are two operating modes – a “passive” accessory mode which creates inbound and outbound analogue audio paths as if it is a 3.5mm audio jack, and an “active” mode which uses USB Audio device classes and outboard digital-analogue audio circuitry to create the sound to be heard via the accessory.

Passive setups

The former passive setup is primarily exploited by USB-C jack adaptors and basic headset implementations, especially “earbud-style” headsets. Here, the host device which is typically the smartphone or tablet would use an onboard audio chipset to convert the sound between an analogue and digital representation.

If there is some form of remote control, a basic implementation may be in the form of a single button that starts and stops media or answers and ends calls. On the other hand, if the USB Human Interface Device specifications are implemented properly in mobile operating systems, it may allow for a device to support advanced multifunction remote control.

At the moment, it may be a case of trial-and-error to find out if a USB-C Audio passive-mode headset or adaptor will work across USB-C-equipped regular computers. So for, to my knowledge, recent iterations of the Apple MacBook lineup of laptops that use this connection will provide some support for this setup.

Active setups

The latter active setup would be targeted at premium or audiophile applications such as highly-strung USB digital-analogue adaptors, noise-cancelling headsets or headsets with highly-strung digital-analogue circuitry. In some cases, this setup may also support accessory devices that implement multiple-microphone arrays.

It may also apply to wired setups involving home or car audio equipment. In this case, one would be thinking of this kind of equipment providing digital-analogue interface, power to the host device and remote-control / accessory-display abilities.

Here, they have to fully implement the USB Audio Device Class 3 peripheral class as expected in the “textbook”. As well, iOS and Android need to provide a native class driver for this device class and implement its code as expected for a mobile device which will do communications and / or multimedia. This would mean that microphones have to be used as an audio endpoint for communications purposes including regular telephony as well as for multimedia purposes. It may be a non-issue with regular computers running the Windows or MacOS desktop operating systems where it is easier for the operating system or application software to “purpose” an audio endpoint.

USB Audio Device Class 3 provides inherent support for audio-processing so accessory manufacturers don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating their own software to implement any sort of sound processing. As well, Android and iOS need to support the inclusion of audio-processing logic in the inbound or outbound audio-signal paths in a purpose-specific manner.

Power and connectivity

There will be power and connectivity issues raised for both implementations of the USB-C Audio application. Active devices will need to draw power from the host unless they have their own battery. But with proper implementation of USB-C Power Delivery, it could allow a USB-C Audio accessory with a very high capacity battery to provide power to the host smartphone.

The passive setup wouldn’t work properly with USB-C hubs or devices that have this function unless it is assured that the hub will assure a proper clean electrical connection between the host and the accessory.

Remote control and accessory display

Another issue yet to be raised is implementation of USB Human-Interface-Device Classes and Usage Tables when it comes to using a USB-C accessory as a control surface for the host. The key issue here is whether there is proper operating-system support especially in the mobile operating systems. In the same context, there will be a market requirement for the accessory device to be able to view host-device-held lists like call lists, message lists and track lists.

The functions considered relevant to this usage case would be sound volume and transport control (play / pause / next track / previous track / etc) for multimedia; and caller volume, microphone mute and call control for communications. Accessory-based display would also need to be factored in with USB-C audio adaptors and in-line remote-control modules which implement an LCD or OLED display.

There may be use cases where multiple remote control devices are used in the same setup, typically to offer complementary functionality. Examples of this may include a USB headset with elementary remote-control for volume and a single-button control for multimedia “start-stop” or call “answer-end” functionality; along with a display-equipped inline remote control which allows for track navigation or advanced call-control.

Broadcast-radio reception

There will also be an issue regarding use of the USB-C cable as an aerial (antenna) for broadcast-radio reception whether the tuner is built in to the smartphone or the accessory. It is because of a long-standing design factor for Walkman-type radios with separate headphones where the headphone cord served as the radio’s aerial. Similarly single-piece headphone-based personal radios implemented the headband as their aerial.

It also extends to the ability for mobile operating systems to control broadcast-radio tuners integrated within smartphones or accessories to the fullest extent possible. This would include preset-station management, “follow-this-station” operation for stations appearing at other broadcast locations, graphical identifiers amongst other things.

Conclusion

If the smartphone and audio-accessory industry wants us to think of using the USB-C connector as the point to connect all peripherals, they need iOS and Android to have full native USB Audio Device Class 3 support including support for advanced-audio modes. As well, the operating systems need to have USB Human Interface Device class support for remote-control and accessory display abilities. Similarly, there would have to be proper support for broadcast-radio operation with USB-C-based mobile-device setups.

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The NAS as an on-premises edge-computing device for cloud services

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – units like this could become a capable edge-computing device

The high-end network-attached storage system is a device able to augment the cloud computing trend in various forms. This is by becoming a local “edge processor” for the cloud-computing ecosystem and handling the data that is created or used by end-users local to it.

High-end network-attached-storage systems

We are seeing the rise of network-attached-storage subsystems that are capable of running as computers in their own right. These are typically high-end consumer or small-business devices offered by the likes of QNAP, Synology or NETGEAR ReadyNAS that have a large app store or software-developer community.

The desktop variants would be the size ranging form half a loaf of bread to a full bread loaf, with some rack-mounted units about the size of one or two pizza boxes.This is compared to servers that were the size of a traditional tower computer.

But some of the apps work alongside public cloud-driven online services as a client or “on-ramp” between these services and your local network. A typical use case is to synchronise files held on an online storage service with the local storage on the NAS unit.

These high-end network-attached-storage devices are effectively desktop computers in their own right, with some of them using silicon that wouldn’t look out of place with a traditional desktop computer. Some of these machines even support a “local console” with a display connection and USB connections that support keyboards and mice.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing takes an online-service approach to computing needs and, in a lot of cases, uses multiple computers in multiple data centres to perform the same computing task. This is typically to host the data in or close to the end-user’s country or to provide a level of scalability and fault-tolerance in the online service approach.

Lot 3 Ripponlea café

A cafe like this could benefit from big-business technology without paying a king’s ransom thanks to cloud computing

Small businesses are showing an interest in cloud-driven computing solutions as a way to come on board with the same things as the “big end of town” without paying a king’s ransom for hardware necessary for an on-premises computing solution. In some cases, it is also about using different endpoint types like mobile-platform tablets for daily use or as a management tool, underscoring such concepts as low cost or portability that some endpoints may offer.

Typically, this kind of computing is offered “as a service” where you subscribe to the service on a regular, usually monthly or annual, basis rather than you spending big on capital expenses to get it going.

But, due to its nature as an always-online service, cloud computing can cause reliability and service-availability issues if the Internet connection isn’t reliable or the service ends up being oversubscribed. This can range from real-time services suffering latency towards a cloud-computing experience becoming unresponsive or unavailable.

Then there is the issue of privacy, data security, service continuity and data sovereignty which can crop up if you change to a different service or the service you use collapses or changes hands. It can easily happen while cloud-computing faces points of reckoning and the industry goes in to consolidation.

Edge computing

But trends that are being investigated in relationship to the “Internet Of Things” and “Big Data” are the concepts  of “edge” and “fog” computing. It is based around the idea of computing devices local to the source or sink of the data that work with the locally-generated or locally-used data as part of submitting it to or fetching it from the cloud network.

It may allow a level of fault-tolerance for applications that demand high availability or permit scalability at the local level for the cloud-computing application. Some systems may even allow for packaging locally-used data in a locally-relevant form such as for online games to support local tournaments or an online movie service to provide a local storage of what is popular in the neighbourhood.

The ideas associated with “edge” and “fog” computing allow for the use of lightweight computer systems to do the localised or distributed processing, effectively aggregating these systems in to what is effectively a heavyweight computer system. It has been brought about with various early distributed-computing projects like SETI and Folding@Home to use personal computers to solve scientific problems.

What is serving the edge-computing needs

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

This Qarnot Q.Rad heater is actually a computer that is part of edge computing

Some applications like drones are using the on-device processing to do the local workload. Or we are seeing the likes of Qarnot developing edge-computing servers that heat your room or hot water with the waste heat these computing devices produce.  But Amazon and QNAP are working on an approach to use a small-office NAS as an edge-computing device especially for Internet-Of-Things applications.

The NAS serving this role

Here, it is about making use of these ubiquitous and commonly-available NAS units for this purpose as well as storing and serving data that a network needs. In some cases, it can be about the local processing and storing of this locally-generated / locally-used data then integrating the data with what is available on the cloud “backbone”.

For some applications, it could be about keeping enough data for local needs on the NAS to assure high availability. Or it could be about providing scalability by allowing the NAS to do some of the cloud workload associated with the locally-generated data before submitting it to the cloud.

Netgear ReadyNAS

The NETGEAR ReadyNAS on the right is an example of a NAS that is capable of being an edge-computing node

This may be of importance with IT systems that are moving from a totally on-premises approach towards the use of cloud-computing infrastructure with data being stored or processed online. It is where the focus of the cloud infrastructure is to make business-wide data available across a multi-site business or to provide “portable access” to business data. Here, a NAS could simply be equipped with the necessary software to be a smart “on-ramp” for this data.

For small and medium businesses who are moving towards multiple locations such as when a successful business buys another business in another area to increase their footprint, this technology may have some appeal. Here, it could be about doing some pre-processing for data local to the premises before submitting to the cloud as part of an online management-information-system for that small effort.  As well, it could be about keeping the business-wide data “in-sync” across the multiple locations, something that may be important with price lists or business-wide ledgers.

This kind of approach works well with the high-end NAS units if these units’ operating platforms allow third-party software developers to write software for these devices. It can then open up the possibilities for hybrid and “edge” computing applications that involve these devices and the network connectivity and on-device storage that they have.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that the high-end network-attached-storage systems of the Synology or QNAP kind need to be considered as a hardware base for localised “edge computing” in an online “cloud-computing” setup.

This can be facilitated by the vendors inciting software development in this kind of context and encouraging people involved in online and cloud computing to support this goal especially for small-business computing.

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European Union’s data security actions come closer

Article

Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The European Union will make steps towards a secure-by-design approach for hardware, software and services

EU Cybersecurity Act Agreed – “Traffic Light” Labelling Creeps Closer | Computer Business Review

Smarthome: EU führt Sicherheitszertifikate für vernetzte Geräte ein | Computer Bild (German Language / Deutschen Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

European Commission

EU negotiators agree on strengthening Europe’s cybersecurity (Press Release)

My Comments

After the GDPR effort for data protection and end-user privacy with our online life, the European Union want to take further action regarding data security. But this time it is about achieving a “secure by design” approach for connected devices, software and online services.

This is driven by the recent Wannacry and NotPetya cyberattacks and is being achieved through the Cybersecurity Act which is being passed through the European Parliament. It follows after the German Federal Government’s effort to specify a design standard for routers that we use as the network-Internet “edge” for our home networks.

There will be a wider remit for EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENSA) concerning cybersecurity issues that affect the European Union. But the key issue here is to have a European-Union-based framework for cybersecurity certification, which will affect online services and consumer devices with this certification valid through the EU. It is an internal-market legislation that affects the security of connected products including the Internet Of Things, as well as critical infrastructure and online services.

The certification framework will be about having the products being “secure-by-design” which is an analogy to a similar concept in building and urban design where there is a goal to harden a development or neighbourhood against crime as part of the design process. In the IT case, this involves using various logic processes and cyberdefences to make it harder to penetrate computer networks, endpoints and data.

It will also be about making it easier for people and businesses to choose equipment and services that are secure. The computer press were making an analogy to the “traffic-light” coding on food and drink packaging to encourage customers to choose healthier options.

-VP Andrus Ansip (Digital Single Market) – “In the digital environment, people as well as companies need to feel secure; it is the only way for them to take full advantage of Europe’s digital economy. Trust and security are fundamental for our Digital Single Market to work properly. This evening’s agreement on comprehensive certification for cybersecurity products and a stronger EU Cybersecurity Agency is another step on the path to its completion.”

What the European Union are doing could have implications beyond the European Economic Area. Here, the push for a “secure-by-design” approach could make things easier for people and organisations in and beyond that area to choose IT hardware, software and services satisfying these expectations thanks to reference standards or customer-facing indications that show compliance.

It will also raise the game towards higher data-security standards from hardware, software and services providers especially in the Internet-of-Things and network-infrastructure-device product classes.

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Classical-music streaming services now starting to appear

Articles

Classical music streaming no longer plays second fiddle | CNet

A streaming service that works for classical: Thomas Steffens, CEO of Primephonic | Bachtrack

From the horse’s mouth

Primephonic

Product Page

My Comments

Most streaming music services like Spotify focus on popular music. There is not much classical music in library and these services don’t support the kind of metadata associated with classical-music works like composers, multiple-movement works or performers. As well, they adopt a royalty-payout model that only works well with the three-minute song.

A streaming-music service that supports classical music needs to allow searching and browsing in a “composer-then-work-then-performance” approach so you can find recordings of a particular piece. It also has to handle the reality that a significant number of classical-music pieces have multiple movements, where there is the ability even to call out a particular part of a movement like the “Ode To Joy” chorus within the fourth movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Choral) rather than having the whole movement. In the case of musical theatre like opera, you may have to call out a particular aria, duet or chorus without the need to have any bridging music.

There is also a want to allow a particular piece, including a particular movement, to be identified by different names such as language-specific names or names brought on by particular applications. A good example of this is Mozart’s Piano Concerto 21 which ended up being known as the “Elvira Madigan” concerto thanks to a film adaptation of the Elvira Madigan story created in 1967 which featured the (very romantic) second movement.

A significant number of works in the classical-music canon are performed and recorded by different combinations of performers. For example, a concerto would be performed by one or more known soloists and a supporting orchestra conducted by a certain conductor. Here, it may be desirable to look for works performed by a particular performer or orchestral works played by a particular orchestra or conducted by a particular conductor.

Of course there is the desire to look for works based on particular eras like the Romantic era or the Baroque era. 

There is also the fact that a movement can play for a very long time such as some of Beethoven’s popular concerti having a first movement that has a duration of at least 20 minutes. Here. a “per-track” royalty payment approach typically used for popular music that is based on the three-to-five minute song is not economically viable in this domain. Instead, there has to be a sustainable economical approach to pay out arrangers, living composers, music publishers, performers and record labels their royalties for use of pieces in an online music service.

Thomas Steffens who runs Pentatone, the company that was formerly the well-known Philips Classics music label, discovered the limitations concerning how classical music can be enjoyed on online music services.  He conceived the idea of an online music service in 2016 and built up Primephonic as a streaming music service that answers the needs of this class of music.

The music catalogue that supports Primephonic is based on the mainstream classical-music labels alongside some niche labels. Genres are curated and catalogued by musicologists and classical-music students and the service allows for searching also by mood. There is the support for various themed playlists which is very similar to a compilation album based on a mood / occasion , composer, instrument, era or other factor. Users can also have the ability to listen to the parent work of a movement that they are currently listening to in a playlist.

Primephonic stays away from Amazon-type artificial-intelligence “recommend-music” algorithms based on like music or “critic’s choice” lists that are narrowed down to particular performances of particular works. This is to encourage users to work across the whole catalogue and discover more music. But a significant number of classical-music listeners will think more of particular works by particular composes and choose any performance of that work, but they may focus on a particular performer if they are interested in their output.

During playback, Primephonic will show up as a Web page details about the composer, work and performer so you have a similar kind of rich learning experience that was feasible with the notes written on the back of an LP record’s outer sleeve or in a booklet packaged with a CD. There is even the ability for users to know of a local performance of the work if local performers, orchestras or venues register these performances with Primephonic. It can then lead to the idea of providing a link to the box office that is associated with that performance to encourage listeners to book tickets for the event.

Primephonic offers the music as FLAC-based high-quality recordings and costs US$14.99 or GBP£14.99 per month to subscribe. They pay out time-based royalties to the people and entities who have a hand in recording the works that exist on the service’s catalogue.

Alongside the Web-based user interface, Primephonic offers an iOS and an Android mobile-platform app. But what they need to do is work with consumer-AV names to allow this service to work tightly with their equipment. This is more so where the equipment has its own user interface.

Once Primephonic and others get on board with a high-quality classical-music streaming service that supports people who love this kind of music. It could even complement Spotify or TiDAL as an on-demand service for classical music.

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Now it’s 3–Technics now premiers their own network CD player

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Technics SL-G700 Network SACD Player press image courtesy of Panasonic USA

Technics SL-G700 Network SACD Player – the first of its kind to fully reproduce SACDs

Panasonic USA (Technics)

Energize music from multiple sources with the Grand Class Network / Super Audio CD Player: SL-G700 (Press Release)

My Comments

Over the past few years Yamaha and Marantz have put forward a relatively-new type of hi-fi component unit in the form of the network CD player. These are CD players that connect to your home network to play audio content hosted on equipment on that network or on an online service.

A core advantage these units have is you only use one line-level input on your amplifier or receiver to serve one piece of equipment that plays a CD or to listen to an online audio service or something held on your network-attached storage device. They also fit in well when it comes to upgrading or replacing an existing CD player that you have and you want to benefit from your home network and online audio services.

For a long time, Technics was the hi-fi arm for the original Matsushita (National Panasonic) brand, offering value-priced and premium hi-fi equipment such as the legendary SL-1200 series of DJ turntables. It was while they were applying itself to musical instruments made by Matsushita. This brand even started the idea of the main Japanese consumer-electronics names running a separate brand for their hi-fi equipment through the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But through the late 1990s and the early 2000s, Technics evolved itself to the musical instrument and DJ equipment market while having value-priced audio equipment under the Panasonic name. A few years ago, they rebuilt the hi-fi image by focusing on equipment destined to the high-end hi-fi market with them supporting vinyl, optical-disc and network / online delivery.

Now Technics have come to the fore at CES 2019 by premiering the Grand Class SL-G700 Network SACD player. This is a network CD player that is optimised for audiophile high-end listening by providing full playback of SACD discs along with file-based or CD-based audio content based on the high-end MQA standard. Here, it is infact the first network CD player to provide full playback of SACD discs.

This unit’s digital-to-analogue path has been worked on through the use of premium DAC circuitry that is built with a dual-mono approach. It is as if two digital-to-analogue signal paths are created within the unit – one for the left channel and one for the right channel.

It also includes circuit-based isolation to prevent digital-processing noise from creeping in to the post-DAC analogue signal path. As well, a separate digital-analogue signal path exists for the unit’s headphone jack. There is an operation mode that effectively provides SACD/CD direct sound when you play a regular CD or high-end SACD.

As far as I know, the network aspect for the Technics SL-G700 network SACD player supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. There is support for AirPlay and Chromecast audio streaming from iOS, MacOS or Android devices. It also has access to Spotify, TiDAL and Internet radio online services.

What I see of this player is that it is another brand’s attempt to focus the network CD player towards the high-end audiophile market who may be maintaining their CD collections but make use of online music services. This is more so if the premium amplifier that they use has as few line-level inputs as possible.

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This year’s computing improvements from Dell

Articles

Dell XPS 13 Finally Fixes the Nosecam | Tom’s Hardware

Dell G Series Gaming Laptops Get Nvidia RTX Makeover | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Press Releases

My Comments

Dell has been improving their value-for-money portable computer product line and premiering some of these new products in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019. Here I am calling out a few distinct improvements across the different product lines as supplied through their press material.

Some options that have been cropping up include a 1Tb solid-state disk in most product lines, NVIDIA RTX ray-tracing video chipsets in gamimg models and OLED displays in premium 15” models. But there are some computers out there that have some interesting features like a small built-in Webcam or “walk-up and sign-in” operation.

Improvements to the XPS 13 Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 9380 Webcam detail press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Thin Webcam circuitry atop display

Dell have been incrementally improving on the XPS 13 Ultrabook by releasing the latest iteration known as the 9380 model. But this iteration isn’t just based around its silicon although it implements Intel 8th-Generation Whiskey Lake technology.

One of the main useability improvements is for the Webcam to be located in its proper position above the screen rather than below the screen as with some previous generations. This avoids videocall situations where your correspondent is looking at the ceiling or your nose when you use the Webcam located at the bottom of the screen. The problem was brought about due to Dell’s InfinityEdge “thin-bezel” approach which didn’t allow for room for a standard Webcam circuit. But it had been solved through the use of a 2.5mm Webcam circuit that allowed for a thin top bezel for the screen.

Swll XPS 13 9380 press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Now in the “Frost” finish with white keyboard and deck and silver back

It also implements a variable-torque hinge to make it easy to open and close, something that may please older users with hands that may not be all that great thanks to arthritis for example. Another feature that Dell is pushing is to have a fingerprint reader integrated in the power button on the computer.

The latest iteration of the Dell XPS 13 underscores the USB-C connectivity form by having three connections of this kind – two Thunderbolt 2 connections and a USB-C-only connection. This is alongside an audio jack which hasn’t been forgotten about as well as a microSD card reader.

The Dell XPS 13 is available with 8th-generation Intel “Whiskey Lake” Core CPUs (i3, i5 or i7) and Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics. It will have up to 16Gb RAM and 2Tb SSD as non-volatile storage. There will be three display options – a Full HD non-touch screen, a Full-HD touch screen or a 4K UHD touch screen. There is an expected 21-hour battery runtime for an XPS 13 equipped with a Full-HD display which will allow continuous use on one of the new non-stop longhaul flights facilitated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

What is being underscored here is the idea of keeping the Dell XPS 13 as the value-for-money Ultrabook that “ticks the boxes” as far as “thin-and-light” clamshell-style portable computers go. Here, it is through implementing the latest technology and answering problems that the user base and computer press have raised about this model.

G-Series gaming-laptop refresh with RTX graphics option

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell

The new Dell G Series high-performance gaming-graphics laptops

The CES 2019 exhibition became the time for NVIDIA to premiere their RTX family of ray-tracing-capable graphics processors. Dell was one of the first computer manufacturers to offer a gaming-grade computer as part of their main brand with this silicon as a configuration option.

Here, the G-Series gaming laptop range has effectively been refreshed with new Intel CPUs and the NVIDIA RTX graphics chipsets. The G-series laptops are different from the Alienware gaming brand where they are positioned with a similar approach to the “GT” or “Sport” variants of popular mainstream passenger cars which have the higher-performance powertrains.

But in some ways, these computers can be seen as an entry-level workstation for photo and video hobbyists or students starting on high-end graphics-focused computing like with architecture or statistics.

These systems will be known as the G5 15 with the 15” screen and Core i7 horsepower, the G7 15 with the Core i9 horsepower and 15” screen, and the G5 17 with the same horsepower as the G5 15 but with a 17” screen.

The system RAM can be specced up to 16Gb. This is while the storage options can be specced in the form of a single-device option with a 1Tb 5400rpm hard disk or a dual-device option with up to 1Tb M2 solid-state disk ganged with a choice of 500Gb 7200rpm, 1Tb 5400rpm or 2Tb 5400rpm hard disks.

The economy option for the display subsystem is an NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti GPU but the computer will have the Ethernet port and a USB-C port as its system-specific connections. All of the new G-Series computer can be configured with any of the RTX GPUs which will also have 8Gb of display RAM. They will have the USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 and mini DisplayPort connections as their configuration-specific options.

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell CorporationThe common connection options would be 3 USB 3.1 Type-A ports, an SD card reader, an audio jack as well as those extra configuration-specific ports.

The 15” models can have a Full HD IPS screen 220nits brightness and 60Hz refresh rate, a similar screen with similar resolution and refresh rate but 300nits brightness, another similar screen with a similar resolution and brightness but a game-friendly 144Hz refresh rate. There is the full-on option of equipping your 15” Dell G-Series with an 4K UHD OLED screen at a 400nits brightness and 60Hz refresh rate, something that would appeal to photo and video enthusiasts.

The 17” model has fewer screen options in the form of a full HD IPS screen with 300nits brightness but a choice of 60Hz or 144Hz refresh rates.

OLED screens as a configuration option for premium Dell laptops

Speaking of OLED display technology, the XPS 15 thin-and-light, Alienware m15 premium gaming and the Dell G7 15  are able to be equipped with OLED displays rather than LCD displays. These will also be able to support high dynamic-range vision using technologies like Dolby Vision. This will make these computers appeal towards photo and video professionals who look out for increased photo-grade dynamic range,

Dell Latitude 7400 business 14” 2-in-1

Dell Latitude 7400 14" 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Dell Latitude 7400 14″ 2-in-1 laptop with ExpressSignIn

This is a rare sight for the Consumer Electronics Show where a computer manufacturer is premiering a business-grade computer at a consumer-focused technology fair. But small-business owners may find this of value if they buy their technology through an independent computer store or value-added reseller.

Here, Dell are premiering the Latitude 7400 14” business 2-in-1 which has features that make it stand out from other business computers in its class. Here, this computer which has a Titan Grey finish is the smallest business-grade 14” 2-in-1 convertible laptop on the market.

It also has the ExpressSignIn feature that detects user presence near the machine. When the user comes near, it will wake up and activate the Windows Hello facial-recognition routine to verify that the user is authorised to operate the machine. Then, when the user walks away, the Dell Latitude 7400 will lock the user session.

It has 2 Thunderbolt 3 connections as standard and, as specifiable options, Gigabit LTE mobile broadband, 1Tb solid-state drive, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 connectivity. The 1Tb solid-state drive’s capacity will please those of us who effectively “live out of their briefcase” but want the high performance. As is expected for a premium business laptop, this will have the security and manageability features that would please a corporate IT team or a value-added reseller offering “big-time” IT support to small businesses.

Inspiron 7000 Series 2-in-1s gain significant design improvements

The Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 2-in-1 convertible laptops have undergone some significant revision in their design.

Rather than having an ordinary hinge, these computers have a new hinge design with a place to park the supplied active pen. This means that the pen is presented to the user without it falling out no matter whether the computer is folded over as a tablet, in a partially-folded “tent” or “media-viewer” state or a traditional laptop. It also makes sure that the hinge part looks special, as well as being part of an improved cooling and ventilation approach that understands lifestyle computing needs like bingeing on Netflix in bed or “flipping through” YouTube videos on the couch.

The improved cooling and ventilation approach is also augmented through adaptive thermal-management technology which varies the Inspiron 7000’s performance depending on whether you are moving it around or keeping it still on your desk. This avoids you handling a portable computer that is running uncomfortably hot.

The integrated power switch / fingerprint reader design has opened up a design feasibility for the 15” variant of the Dell Inspiron 7000 Series. Here, it means that the computer can be equipped with a numeric keypad which is a rarity amongst 15” 2-in-1 computers.

Still there is the limitation with this series where the USB-C port on these computers is the standard USB-C port rather than a Thunderbolt 3 port. If the Inspiron 7000 Series came with the Thunderbolt 3 port, it could then mean that these computers could be teamed with an external graphics module for at-home gaming.

Conclusion

Dell is keeping up its name as a value-for-money computer name but is assuring users that they are creating innovative designs rather than copying established ones.

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