Category: Current and Future Trends

OneWeb to team up with BT to offer satellite broadband in the UK

Article

Aylesbury Vale countryside picture courtesy of Adam Bell (FlyingDodo)

OneWeb to partner with BT to bring LEO satellite broadband to the countryside

OneWeb signs up BT for rural connectivity | (advanced-television.com)

My Comments

OneWeb is to partner with BT in order to offer satellite broadband Internet to rural areas within the UK. This is more so in areas within the British Isles which have geographic conditions where the provision of fixed-line Internet service or fixed-wireless Internet service that implements a wireline backhaul would be a difficult and expensive task.

This is part of the UK’s economic clawback effort being undertaken to get the country on its own feet after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

BT is also wanting to use OneWeb as part of providing resilience and backhaul functionality for mobile telephony as well as seeing OneWeb as a backhaul for fixed-wireless services. Here, I would see this as part of getting more of the UK’s difficult-to-connect rural areas with up-to-date communications technology.

The question here is how BT will offer this infrastructure to Britons, whether as an Openreach wholesale product for that retail telecommunications providers sell use to sell Internet service. Or whether BT will use the OneWeb partnership to offer a retail satellite broadband service to the rural community.

Another question that will crop up is whether the OneWeb / BT partnership will be also about offer offering “mobile satellite broadband” service. That is about offering satellite broadband installations to vehicles, vessels and aircraft to use anywhere within the UK.

But being in a position to have someone who can offer OneWeb satellite broadband Internet at a retail level can open the path for competition in the low-earth-orbit satellite broadband Internet space. This could be about offering cost-effective decent Internet service to rural areas within the UK at least.

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A call for a public-service Internet

Article

ABC News 24 coronavirus coverage

Services like the BBC and the ABC are calling for public-service Internet platforms to complement their services

Media experts demand public service Internet | (advanced-television.com)

My Comments

The BBC and similar public-service broadcasters are calling for the existence of a “public service Internet” arrangement around the world.

Here, most of these broadcasters are considered by most people as being of high respect for both factual content and entertainment. For example, in countries with a strong public-service-broadcasting culture, childrens’ TV content from these broadcasters like  “Bluey” on the ABC or “The Wombles” on the BBC was seen to he safe and pleasing to watch by both adults and children.

Or there is a significant preference to tune in to public-service broadcasters for news on issues that matter. For example I have been using the ABC as a “go-to” news-media source during the COVID-19 coronavirus plague due to its accuracy and impartiality on these topics.

It is about maintaining and safeguarding the existence and funding of these public-service broadcasters in an environment where younger people are moving away from traditional broadcast media. For that matter, Generation X people born between 1965 and 1981 are considered to be the last generation to value traditional broadcast media thanks to watching or listening to that kind of media through affordable equipment through their teen years.

But the issue that has become of concern is the dominance of Big Tech in the media space. Here, it’s about using services offered by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and co for social-media, search-engine or news portal functionality with younger people simply using TV sets as display devices for online media services.

This has led to issues being raised about monopoly and cartel power exercised by these companies. It also has been about data surveillance and creation of algorithm-driven politics facilitating online populism and filter bubbles. There is also the issue of these companies creating or facilitating an Internet experience equivalent to that of shopping in a large suburban shopping mall full of mainstream store chains.

The call had been strengthened by the COVID-19 coronavirus plague along with the light shone on climate change and social inequality issues. I also see it underscored by the rampant disinformation and fake news campaigns targeting the various COVID-19 public-health and climate-change mitigation measures. This is especially where a lot of the disinformation was targeting minority groups and disadvantaged, and their allies.

The idea of a public-service Internet is to create a space that is free from information-polarisation while supporting affordable access to accurate and reliable news. It could be about assuring access to proper educational resources, provide safe relevant children’s content or properly and sensitively reflect a nation’s culture.

Here, the public-service broadcasters’ representatives will push this concept as a manifesto that will be put in the public eye and in front of policyholders in the coming months.

But how could this be achieved?

I would see the online presence offered by public-service media to have an effective “right of way” on the Internet. This is similar to public-service broadcasters gaining effective right-of-way with broadcast-spectrum allocation or cable-TV services being required to carry public-service broadcasters’ signals.

For example the public service media would have their online services provided through a high-quality always-accessible content-delivery-network that is established and maintained according to public-service terms. This could include support for “edge-based” content distribution like Netflix’s approach of content servers at ISP headends along with a high quality-of-service mandate for content distribution,

It could include a public-service-focused social-network and blogging platform used by the public-service broadcasters or government departments’ public-relations efforts.

On the other hand, this could be about creating a retail ISP service that is operated on public-service terms. This may be supported by an entity like the national post-office and providing Internet presence for public-service broadcasters, hospitals and similar essential-service entities. It would also be about offering affordable fixed and mobile Internet service to needy people like students or people on welfare.

What about the community broadcasting sector?

A question that can also crop up is whether the non-profit community-broadcasting sector should be seen in the same light as public-service broadcasters in the concept of a “public-service Internet”, In some countries like the USA, these services are highly valued thanks to most affiliating with public-service-broadcast networks like PBS or NPR.

But areas like Europe or Australasia see these broadcasters as complementary to the main public-service and commercial broadcasters. In that situation, could these community broadcasters be seen as needing access to a public-service Internet setup. This is more so where such broadcasters can reach particular communities such as Indigenous groups or minority-language speakers on a grassroots level.

Conclusion

At least the idea of creating a public-service Internet platform is being put forward by the public-service broadcasters in order to extend their remit in to the online space. It would also appeal to adults and children who value accurate and unbiased information or content reflecting their nation’s culture without pandering to commercialism.

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Qobuz now in Australasia

Qobuz logo courtesy of QobuzArticle

Hi-fi music streaming service Qobuz launches in Australia (themusicnetwork.com)

Qobuz hi-res audio streaming service lands in Australia and New Zealand | TechRadar

From the horse’s mouth

Qobuz

Qobuz launches high-resolution streaming and download platform in Australia, New Zealand, and Northern Europe | Press Room

Home Page

Subscription page

My Comments

Qobuz is a music service that was founded in France in 2007. This service offers sobscription-based music streaming and transactional download-to-own music purchasing but offers these services with Hi-Fi-grade sound. It had existed in Europe for a long time and since 2020, Australians and New Zealanders can use this service to stream or purchase high-quality music.

Here, the music is available using lossless streaming and file formats with CD-quality audio as a baseline and the option for master-grade audio. There is also the ability to download a PDF copy of the album’s liner notes which typically will have lyrics for an album’s songs or a biography and discography in the case of a artist-specific compilation.

The Studio Premium subscription costs AUD$24.99 per month or AUD$229.99 per year which offers up to “master-grade” streaming quality. There is also a more expensive Studio Sublime+ subscription tier costing AUD$299.99 per year which gives you a discounts for “download-to-own” music tracks that you purchase.

There are native clients for Windows, Mac OS, Android and iOS along with the ability to interact with Qobuz through the Web. The Android and iOS apps allow streaming of Qobuz audio through the Apple AirPlay or Google Cast (Chromecast) to endpoint devices compatible with these protocols. Issues that were raised include the desktop apps for Windows and Mac OS regular computers not being available through the operating systems’ native app stores. This may be of issue where the app stores are preferred by some users as a software update path.

Naim Uniti Atom and Uniti Core

Qobuz can work with Naim equipment

As far as other devices are concerned, there is support for Sonos speakers and some network-capable hi-fi equipment, usually some of the premium hi-fi brands like Sony, Yamaha, Linn or Naim. But none of the popular games consoles, smart speakers or smart TVs don’t support Qobuz yet in a native manner.

But the omission of synchronous lyrics or music videos on Qobuz is more about focusing this service to music listening.  This is similar to how most of us would be listening to our music whether on packaged media like vinyl or CD; or as file-based audio and we either want it in the background or to concentrate on the actual music.

There will still be calls for interlinking Qobuz, Deezer and Tidal with music-recognition services or the Shazam or Soundhound kind so people who hear songs on the radio for example can bring them up on these high-quality services. Similarly, there will be the need to make curated playlists available across multiple platforms through the use of a standard datatype and export / import abilities.

At least Qobuz is coming to the fore as a high-quality file-based audio service that offers both a subscription-based streaming approach and a transactional download-to-own approach for your music.

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How could CD-quality lossless audio be marketed when it comes to streaming

Sony MAP-S1 network CD receiver

A strong direction for music streaming services is to offer CD-quality sound for all of their library at least

Apple, Amazon and Spotify are lining up or have lined up hi-fi-grade service tiers as part of their audio-streaming services. It is in response to Tidal and Deezer already offering this kind of sound quality for a long time along with the fear of other boutique audio-streaming services setting up shop and focusing on high-quality audio.

Now there is something interesting happening here regarding hi-fi-grade streaming. Here, Apple is having a CD-grade lossless-audio service as part of their standard premium subscription while making sure all music available to their Apple Music streaming service is CD-quality.

So how could these streaming music services compete effectively yet serve those of us who value high quality sound from those online music jukebox services that we use?

What are these hi-fi-grade digital audio services about?

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

This will be something that is expected of Spotify at least

The hi-fi-grade service tiers typically offer a sound quality similar to that of a standard audio CD that you are playing on your CD player, with the same digital-audio specifications i.e. 44.1 kHz sampling rate and 16-bit samples representing stereo sound. Some of these services may offer some content at 48 kHz sampling rate that was specified for the original DAT audio tapes and may be used as a workflow standard for digital radio and TV.

In the same way that a regular audio CD stores the audio content in the original uncompressed PCM form, these hi-fi-grade streaming services use a lossless data-compression form similar to the FLAC audio filetype to transmit the sound while preserving the sound quality. That is equivalent to how a ZIP “file-of-files” works in compressing and binding together data from multiple files.

CD-grade digital audio was adopted during the late 1980s as the benchmark for high-quality sound reproduction in the consumer space. As well, the DAT tapes that recorded 16-bit PCM audio at 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rates were considered the two-channel recording standard for project studios and similar professional audio content-creation workflows. It is although MiniDisc which used a lossy audio codec caught on in the UK and Japan for personal audio applications.

Some of these services offer extras like surround-sound or object-based audio soundmixes or supply the audio at “master-grade” specifications like 96 or 192 kHz sampling rates or 24 or more bits per sample. But these are best enjoyed on equipment that would properly reproduce the sound held therein to expectations. This is while most good audio equipment engineered since the 1970s was engineered to work capably with the audio CD as its pinnacle.

The provision of these hi-fi-grade services is having appeal thanks to telcos and ISPs offering increased bandwidth and data allowances for fixed and mobile broadband Internet services. This is more so in markets where there is increased competition for the customer’s fixed or mobile Internet service dollar.

As well, there is a highly-competitive market war going on between Bose, Apple and Sony at least for high-quality active-noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets with the possibility of other headset manufacturers joining in this market war. This is something very close to the late-1970s Receiver Wars where hi-fi companies were vying with each other for the best hi-fi stereo receivers for one’s hi-fi system and increasing value for money in that product class.

Here, a streaming music service that befits these high-quality in-ear or over-the-head headsets could show what they are capable of when it comes to sound reproduction while on the road.

Let’s not forget that Apple and others are working on power-efficient hi-fi-grade digital-analogue-converter circuitry for laptops, tablets, smartphones and other portable audio endpoint devices. Then hi-fi-grade digital-analogue-conversion circuitry that connects to USB or Apple devices is being offered by nearly every hi-fi name under the sun whether as a separate box or as part of the functionality set that a hi-fi component or stereo system would offer.

Current limitations with enjoying hi-fi-grade audio on the move

There are limitations with this kind of service offering, especially with the use of Bluetooth Classic streaming to headphones or automotive infotainment setups from mobile devices. At the moment, it is being preferred that a wired connection, whether via a traditional analogue headphone cable or via an external digital-analogue converter box, is used to run the sound to a pair of good-quality headphones while “on the road”.

Similarly, Apple’s and Google’s smartphone-automotive-integration platforms need to be able to support use of these hi-fi-grade audio services properly so you can benefit from this class of sound when you are at the wheel of your car.

What could be done?

One step that can be taken by many music-streaming services is to create a service-level distinction between CD-quality stereo lossless audio service and create a higher-grade extra-cost audio services that focus on “master-grade” or multichannel soundmixes.  Here, most of us like our music in stereo sound and see CD quality sound as the pinnacle with equipment engineered to that calibre. This is while the esoteric audiophiles would invest in equipment and services that can handle master-grade audio or multichannel soundmixes.

The music services could them move towards offering the CD-quality stereo lossless sound as the audio quality for the standard paid service subscription. That includes moving the service’s music library towards that kind of quality. The user would need to have the ability to enable and disable the CD-quality lossless stereo sound on a device-by-device basis perhaps to cater for smartphone use or limited bandwidth.

Where a music service offers transactional “download-to-own” music, the recordings could be offered at CD quality stereo as lossless files. There could be the ability to provide a complementary download of previously-purchased material as the CD-quality stereo lossless files.

At the moment, there are a number of open-frame and proprietary paths that are able to use a home network to transmit CD-quality or master-quality lossless digital audio from a computing device or streaming audio service to audio endpoint devices within the home. But there needs to be more done to support mobile and portable setups where one is likely to hear audio files while out and about.

The Bluetooth SIG could investigate how CD-quality lossless audio can be sent wirelessly between devices using the various audio profiles that they oversee. This is more so as Bluetooth is used primarily to send multimedia audio from a smartphone or tablet to speakers, headphones or home and car audio equipment. Here, it could be based on their Bluetooth LE Audio specification which is being used to revise the Bluetooth multimedia audio use case effectively.

Similarly, the use of USB-C as a “digital audio path” from a computing device to an audio-output device needs to be encouraged. This would come in to its own with connecting to audio devices or systems that have highly-strung digital-analogue conversion circuitry which can come in to its own with high-quality audio streaming services.

In the automotive context, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which are used to provide integrated smartphone-dashboard functionality could be improved to provide lossless audio transfer between the smartphone and the car’s infotainment system. This may be valued as a differentiator that can be applied to premium car-audio setups.

Once there are a list of standard protocols adopted for streaming lossless hi-fi grade stereo sound to headsets and automotive setups and that support wired and wireless connectivity, this could make proper CD-quality stereo sound more relevant on the road.

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IKEA’s latest Symfonisk speaker is in the form of wall-art

IKEA SYMFONISK picture-frame speaker press image courtesy of IKEA

IKEA’s latest SYMFONISK speaker – as a piece of wall art or on the table

Articles

IKEA and Sonos built a speaker into a piece of wall art | Engadget

Ikea and Sonos’ new $199 picture frame speaker goes on sale July 15 – CNET

From the horse’s mouth

IKEA

IKEA introduces new SYMFONISK picture frame WiFi speaker (Press Release)

My Comments

IKEA have added another speaker to their Sonos-based SYMFONISK multi-room speaker lineup, continuing their idea of an affordable path to the Sonos network multi-room audio platform. These work in the same way as Sonos speakers and you can establish a Sonos-based multi-room audio setup based on a mix of Sonos or IKEA SYMFONISK speakers and use your home network’s Wi-Fi segment to transmit the sound.

The previous SYMFONISK speakers came in the form of a traditional bookshelf speaker and a table lamp. But this latest product has been described as appearing in the form of a picture frame but you have to use IKEA’s decorative art panels for these speakers. Here, it is more about the front of these speakers serving as the speaker grille that allows the sound to come out.

These speakers are able to be mounted on a wall or can stand on a table. But the framework and legs that allows them to stand on a table is designed to allow them to reproduce sound without adding extra vibration or noise to that sound as what is expected for a speaker enclosure.

There are hardware buttons on the IKEA SYMFONISK wall-art speakers to adjust the volume and start or stop the music with. But you use the Sonos mobile-platform apps or desktop software to choose what you want to hear through these speaker.

It is expected for IKEA to sell the SYMFONISK wall-art speakers for US$199 each with replacement wall-art fronts for US$20 each. But it will be interesting to hear whether these speakers can displace the SONOS One when it comes to sound quality

From what I have seen, it seems like IKEA have bothered to stay on with the Sonos-driven SYMFONISK network multiroom audio platform if they have bothered to design and market another SYMFONISK speaker. But it could mean that people who use the Sonos multiroom audio platform could be buying these IKEA speakers to build out their setup in a cost-effective manner.

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German government subsidises Starlink satellite Internet

Article

Starlink satellite launch photo courtesy of SpaceX

German government to subsidise satellite Internet installations for Starlink and similar setups at the consumer end

Germany to subsidise Starlink subs | (advanced-television.com)

Germany readies subsidies for satellite internet providers such as Starlink | Reuters

My Comments

The rise of low-earth-orbit satellite technology to enable decent Internet service for regional, rural and remote parts of the world has gained a bit more traction.

This time, it is the German Federal Government (Bundesregierung) with its Transport ministry who are subsidising Starlink installations across rural Germany. The US’s FCC has engaged in some form of subsidisation for Starlink but this is at a corporate level as part of their US-government-based program for enabling decent rural Internet service there.

The German approach is to provide EUR€500 towards Starlink hardware purchase for installation in Germany’s rural areas. This doesn’t just apply to Starlink but to any satellite or other radio-link-based Internet service provided on a retail level. It is intended to be consumer-focused and provider-agnostic in the same manner as what is expected for the provision of broadcasting and telecommunications in modern Germany.

It doesn’t apply to ongoing service costs that customers pay to keep the service alive. In the case of Starlink, the monthly service costs are EUR€99 / month at the time of writing.

German countryside - By Manfred&Barbara Aulbach (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

.. to improve access to real broadband in German rural areas

This was just announced as Tesla were about to commence work on building its European Gigafactory near Berlin and was riding on the fact that Tesla and SpaceX Starlink are owned by Elon Musk. The Bundesregierung need to seek approval from all of Germany’s 16 Federal States for this retail-level subsidy to go ahead.

The question that will come up is  whether public subsidies for satellite or other radio-based Internet service is the way to go to bring decent broadband Internet to rural areas. This is compared to current efforts by local or regional governments in cohort with local chambers of commerce to bring fibre-optic Internet to rural and regional areas.

There will also be the issue of whether to extend this kind of subsidy to people living in boats along Germany’s inland waterways. Think of retirees who have riverboats on the Rhine, Elbe or Wupper rivers or cabin cruisers on the likes of Lake Constance (Bodensee).

Personally, I would see Starlink and similar technology come in to play for sparse rural areas while fibre or similar deployments are considered for more dense settlements. The long fibre-optic trunk link between towns or to serve a remote employment / industry area should never be forgotten as a way to encourage economic growth along its path.

At least Germany is taking another approach to dealing with the rural Internet deficiency issue by subsidising the installation of Starlink and similar technology in its rural households.

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USB-C to allow 240 watts power for gaming laptops

Articles

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

High-performance laptops of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop and its ilk will soon benefit from single-cable operation

USB-C power upgrade to 240W could banish some of your proprietary chargers – CNET

USB-C upgrade will more than double its power capacity to 240W | Engadget

Proprietary laptop cables could be a thing of the past, thanks to new USB-C spec | Windows Central

Gaming notebooks should get their own USB-C chargers soon – PC World Australia (idg.com.au)

My Comments

Since I had bought my Dell XPS 13 9300 laptop computer, I had found that the charger that Dell supplied with that laptop was able to charge my Samsung Galaxy S8 Android phone quickly. It is in addition to this charger being an external power supply for use with this laptop when it’s away from my desktop and the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock used as the hub there. This is thanks to both devices implementing the USB-C connection and USB Power Delivery specification.

But if you are using a gaming laptop, you will have found that you have to use a highly-powerful power supply to charge that computer up or run it from the mains. Dell had used some sort of proprietary kludge to allow some of their high-performance business computers to work with their WD-19 series of USB-C and Thunderbolt docks.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock

and docks similar to this Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock will support that class of computer in a “single-cord” manner independent of whoever manufactures the host computer product.

Now the USB Implementers Forum have revised the USB-C Cables and Connectors standard to version 2.1. This creates an “Extended Power Range” class of cables and power supplies which has been scoped in to the USB Power Delivery specification. It allows the delivery of 48 volts at 5 amps but is required to support 50 volts at 5 amps at the most.

Effectively this is to extend the power supply capability for a USB Power Delivery setup to 240 watts and will apply to all USB and Thunderbolt standards that implement the same physical and electrical connection.

What kind of benefit will this achieve? It will be about high-performance computers like gaming laptops benefiting from a “single-pipe” connection that also supplies the power these computers need. It will also open up the market for cheaper higher-powered power supplies that can serve these computers no matter the power-source kind (AC mains power, DC automotive power or battery packs). This will be facilitated more with the use of GaN power electronics in these power supplies which will allow for highly-compact designs.

Some also see the idea of the USB Extended Power Range cables being able to power computing peripherals like 4K monitors or inkjet printers. In the case of 4K monitors, it may be about reducing the number of power outlets needed to power a multi-screen computing setup where some of the screens work at that resolution.

Could this also open up an extra feature for gaming-ready 4K TVs?

But I also see the idea of home-entertainment equipment like 4K gaming-ready TVs or home-theatre receivers being equipped with USB-C sockets that support PD to the Extended Range level along with DisplayPort alt connectivity.

Here, this would come in to its own where one cable powers a gaming laptop while running video and audio from that laptop to the TV’s screen or, in the case of home-theatre equipment, a connected TV or projector. The benefit here would be a “quick-to-connect, quick-to-disconnect” setup when it comes to using that big-screen TV in the main lounge area for playing games.

At least the USB Extended Power Range addition to the USB-C Cable and Connectors specification will underscore the idea of making sure that the USB Type-C is the universal multipurpose connector for today’s tech life.

For that matter, I had bought the Dell XPS 13 9300 laptop and the WD-19TB Thunderbolt dock at a discount from Dell thanks to my reviewing of some of their computer equipment on this site.

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Apple to implement eARC on their upcoming Apple TV 4K

Articles

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content – and now to stream TV sound

Apple TV 4K can use HDMI eARC to play any TV audio on your HomePod | Engadget

Apple TV 4K supports ARC and eARC – perfect for your HomePod – Techno Stalking

Apple Working on eARC Support for Newly Announced 2021 Apple TV 4K | iPhone in Canada Blog

Previous coverage on set-top box / smart-speaker integration and HDMI-ARC setups

Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms

Video peripherals increasingly offering audio-output abilities

Philips and DTS implement full network multiroom audio functionality in a TV set

My Comments

Apple’s up-and-coming Apple TV 4K is to capitalise on the idea of using set-top and smart-speaker platforms to provide enhanced stereo sound or home theatre setups that they, Google and Amazon are dabbling in.

Here, it is about using the smart speakers as a means to play the sound from video content streamed through the Apple TV, Amazon Fire or Google Chromecast with Google TV set-top devices. This is about either using a pair of like smart speakers to provide increased stereo separation for the video content’s sound. As well, it can be about using a smart speaker for remote listening to the video content’s sound.

As well, there have been approaches towards having various video peripherals offer their own audio output abilities usually for their own sources along with soundbars and the like implementing HDMI-ARC to play TV audio through their own speakers, In some cases, some of the soundbars that are part of network multiroom speaker platforms have the ability to stream sound from the TV to one or more remote speakers.

The next direction for set-top-box and smart speaker platforms

The next direction for set-top-box and smart speaker platforms

But Apple is bridging their Apple-TV/AirPlay/HomePod set-top and smart-speaker platform with HDMI-ARC technology including the eARC revision to do more. This time, it is to allow a user to stream audio from the TV’s own sources such as the broadcast-TV tuner to Apple HomePod speakers. This can be about remotely listening to a sports call or 24-hour TV news channel via a HomePod speeaker or using a pair of HomePod speakers to have better stereo separation for your favourite TV shows.

At the moment, this is intended to work with the original HomePod speakers rather than the HomePod Mini, with this causing confusion in the press as Apple is discontinuing the original HomePod speakers. The question that will come up is whether this kind of setup will apply to other AirPlay-compatible devices connected to your Apple TV 4K set-top box, including an AirPlay-based multiroom setup which your Apple TV device is part of.

This could have Amazon and Google looking towards ARC / eARC support for their set-top devices with the idea of playing TV audio via their Echo or Home / Assistant smart-speaker products.

As I mentioned in my article about video peripherals offering audio-output abilities, there will be the issue of using HDMI-ARC and HDMI-eARC more for delivering TV audio to these devices and how that can be improved upon. For example, I would see a requirement for an “any-HDMI-socket” approach to ARC/eARC connection rather than connecting the ARC-capable audio peripheral to one particular HDMI socket. Similarly, a TV may have to support streaming TV-show sound to multiple HDMI-ARC ports concurrently as well as passing PCM or bitstream audio streams representing surround sound to multiple HDMI-ARC ports.

But I am surprised that Apple supports HDMI-ARC with their Apple TV 4K device and HomePod smart speaker setup which would facilitate access to traditional broadcast TV via their equipment. That may be considered “out of touch” by some of the trendy Apple fanbois who aren’t necessarily in to the traditional way of consuming TV content. But I do see this as a significant trend in bringing traditional TV to smart-speaker platforms especially where a company owns a set-top media player platform and a smart-speaker platform.

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Return to portable computing

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

Portable computing with a laptop like this Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 after those COVID lockdowns is something to think of

There is a slow return to laptop-based portable computing at offices or “third places” in jurisdictions who have successfully tamed the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and have allowed increased freedom of movement. It is becoming more so as the vaccines are being rolled out to more people in more neighbourhoods; and more of us take the opportunity to get these shots in our arms as they become available in order to limit COVID’s effective spread.

This includes an increase in returning to offices for meetings or part-time work there or heading to cafés, bars and libraries to work there. Some workplaces are even examining the idea of mixed on-site / off-site working arrangements such as working some days of a workweek on-site and others remotely. This kind of work, known as hybrid working, is being encouraged by local governments as a way to keep the CBD or major business areas active during the workweek even though workplaces are seeing more of the benefits of remote work.

Even if your work ends up being “home-based” including those of us who run our own businesses from home, you will end up engaging in more portable computing. This could be to use that café or library as an “away from it all” workspace or even to make use of co-working facilities for that same purpose. Those of us whose effort has a public-facing storefront of some sort may want or will have to use our laptops at that location for some IT needs. This is more so as we make use of these storefronts more as they can be opened up to the public more frequently.

Making sure your laptop computer is ready for increased portable computing

What you may be thinking of is how to make sure your laptop is ready for this kind of computing. This is more so if you were using your laptop at home due to the requirement to work or learn form home.

One issue that will come about is how the battery will perform for all-day computing activities. Here, if your computer has power management software built in like most Dell and Lenovo Windows laptops have, you may have to run it on an adaptive setting rather than “primarily AC” or similar settings that you may have used as a measure to conserve battery life due to you staying at home. The “adaptive” setting adapts the battery charging and discharging limits to suit your current needs whereas the “primarily-AC” setting was often about managing charging and discharging so that the laptop can run from external power without compromising the battery life.

You may even consider the idea of undergoing a “dry run” with your computer before you start heading out regularly. That is to run it in a portable or “on-road” usage scenario for a significant part of your day, including to do some productive computing activity during that time so you can know if it will last the distance at your favourite “third places” without the need to look for power outlets to plug it in to.

An example of this would be to use your laptop at seasonally-comfortable locations like the backyard, balcony or garden during warm weather or at the fireside during colder weather.

Logitech MX Anywhere 3 mouse on glass table near laptop

A travel mouse like the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 as used with my Dell XPS 13 9300 can work well for on-road use

Such a practice would be about running your laptop only on battery power for a significant amount of time during the day in order to effectively “drain out” the battery. That then has the laptop able to charge for a longer time and get used to increased amounts of portable use.

It will also be a chance to adapt between use at your primary desktop workspace which you have kitted out with better (and multiple) screens and input devices; and portable use where you are just using the laptop’s keyboard and trackpad / thumbstick.  Here you may think of whether to take a travel mouse like the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 with you if you are still comfortable with “mousing around” while on the go.

You may also need to think of accessories that you can stuff in your bag or briefcase with the laptop computer. Here, you need to focus on portability and work towards small lightweight durable accessories to suit your needs. If you are likely to be absent-minded, you may want to buy a spare charger for your laptop. Here, you could keep it in a drawer in your home office even if you have a device like a USB-C dock powering your laptop at the primary workspace. This is in addition to the charger you would be keeping in your bag.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

A small-sized USB-C dock or hub could be worth keeping in your laptop bag

For example, if you are dealing with an ultraportable computer that uses nothing but USB-C-based sockets, you may want to keep a compact USB-C travel hub so you can connect USB, display or other peripherals to that computer. Most of these will support “charge-through” operation, commonly known as “pass-through” charging. This is so you plug your laptop’s USB-C charger in to the travel adaptor that is connected to the laptop in order to run the computer from external power without forfeiting the ability to use the peripherals connected to that dock.

It may also be a good time to check that your laptop bag or similar hand luggage that you use to transport your computer with when on the road is still “fit for purpose” even though you may not have used it for a long time. Here, you may have to check that it is still intact and in good condition, including to check that zippers, press-studs (snap-fasteners) and other fasteners still work properly. You may even have to lubricate the zipper by rubbing a candle, dry bar of soap or a “lead”(graphite) pencil along its teeth if it is stuck. It may also be a good time to get rid of any dust, vermin or other stuff that has accumulated on or in that laptop bag which you haven’t used.

As always, make sure that your computer’s operating system and other software is up-to-date with all the latest patches before you head out. This is to make sure that your computer runs smoothly and securely as it should be. Business users who use company-provided hardware may need to check with their IT-support professionals associated with their employer regarding keeping their computer up-to-date with the latest software updates and patches.

Then you are able to confidently return to work or to your favourite “third places” and use your laptop there.

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Cloudflare to work on simplified CAPTCHA

Article

CAPTCHA text

Cloudflare is intending to replace CAPTCHA authentication on Web forms with …

CAPTCHAs May Soon Go Extinct (gizmodo.com)

From the horse’s mouth

Cloudflare

Humanity wastes about 500 years per day on CAPTCHAs. It’s time to end this madness (cloudflare.com)

My Comments

The CAPTCHA is being used as a means to prevent spam emails or comments on Websites or to assure that people who register in an online context are real people.

But these measures, typically ranging from transcribing letters or identifying objects, can be very frustrating for many people. This is caused by hard-to-read or small letters or instructions relating to object identification being difficult to understand on a language or cultural context. As well, some of these CAPTCHAs don’t work well for mobile setups like smartphones which is increasingly the common way to use the Internet. That leads to abandoned registrations or online-shopping carts or people not joining in to online services for example.

HP Elitebook 2560p business notebook fingerprint reader

you scanning your fingerprint on your flaptop’s fingerprint scanner or you entering your device’s PIN code to prove that a person is entering the data

CloudFlare are working on a different approach to authenticating the personhood of a device user without resorting to letters to transcribe or objects to identify. Initially they are using USB security keys for this purpose but are moving towards full WebAuthN implementation for this purpose.

This approach will work with WebAuthN-capable browser and operating-system setups and work in a similar vein to password-free authentication for online services using that technology. This will require you to enter your device PIN, use face recognition or use the fingerprint reader, operate a USB security key or an authenticator app on your smartphone to prove your personhood, as if you are enrolling in to an online service that implements WebAuthN technology.

The success or failure of the WebAuthN test will simply allow you to submit that form or not on the Website. The logic won’t cause any extra identifying factors to be stored on the online service’s server under default setups. But it may store a device-local cookie to record success so as to treat the session as authenticated, catering towards data revision approaches in wizard-based forms or long data-entry sessions.

A question I would have with this CloudFlare approach is how it can work with computing setups that don’t support WebAuthN. This will also include shared computing setups and public-access computers where the use of this kind of authentication may not be practicable for a single session.

But Cloudflare’s effort is taking WebAuthN further as a way to prove that a real person rather than a robot is actually operating an online account in a manner that is universal to abilities, languages and cultures.

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