Acer has now refreshed most of their Intel-powered laptop lineup with Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon and is about to put these new computers on the market.
One of the benefits associated with this new silicon is the Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics processors which are as capable as baseline mobile discrete graphics silicon. This means that it could do “all-round” graphics tasks like photo rendering or even Full HD gaming quite easily and is considered credible for integrated graphics silicon.
Acer Spin 5 and its stablemate Spin 3 also have the same kind of integrated graphics and connectivity as the Swift 3x
The Acer Swift 3x ultraportable clamshell laptop that has a maximum ask for US$900 or EUR€850 also impresses me further. That is something that holds true of Spin 5 and Spin 3 2-in-1 laptops with the Spin 5 available for USD$999.99 or EUR€1099. That is while the Spin 3 will be available for USD$849.99 or EUR€899.
The Aspire 5 is available with Intel Tiger Lake silicon but also with NVIDIA GeForce MX450 discrete GPU as an option. But the question that will arise is what relevance will the GeForce MX graphics processor have in the face of Intel’s Xe integrated graphics which has similar, if not slightly better, performance chops.
I would rather that Acer offers an Aspire 5 mainstream clamshell laptop with the Intel Tiger Lake Core i7 CPU, Xe integrated graphics and at least one Thunderbolt 4 port. Here, it would be about something that can do most graphics work including Full-HD gaming but offer an “after-the-fact” upgrade path for better graphics through the use of an external graphics module that has better-performing graphics silicon inside.
But Acer are showing some reasonably-priced laptops that use decent integrated graphics that could appeal to most users who want some performance out of their computer graphics. It could be seen as the way to go when it comes to portable computers that can do what most people want them to do.
Interest still exists in DSL-based WAN technology especially in VDSL-based fibre-copper setups like fibre-to-the-basement or fibre-to-the-cabinet / fibre-to-the-node. Here this is to utilise existing telephone cabling between the fibre-copper point and the customer’s premises while it is worth it to keep this cable in use.
But Deutsche Telekom have offered to their German market the SpeedProt Pro Plus DSL modem router which is the first of its kind for that market to have Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) for the Wi-Fi segment. For network security, this router works to the WPA3 security standards for Wi-Fi networks, and it can support meshed operation with Deutsche Telekom’s Speedport equipment. It is answering a reality that an increasing number of Wi-Fi client devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops are being equipped with Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking.
The use of Wi-Fi 6 network technology is being seen as very important within Europe where most people who live in the cities live in apartments. It also will underscore for countries like Australia where apartment dwelling within urban areas is gaining acceptance.
This device has 12 antennas compared to the AVM Fritz!Box 7590 having eight antennas. This allows for higher local-network-level throughput and increasingly-robust operation. There is also for Gigabit Ethernet connections for the local network and a Gigabit Ethernet connection as an alternative Internet connection. That is important for fibre-to-the-premises connections or fibre-copper setups implementing cable-TV or Ethernet technology and dependent on an external modem.
As is the trend nowadays with European-made home-network routers, the Telekom Speedport Pro Plus has a VoIP endpoint including a fully-featured DECT cordless-telephone base station. This device supports smart-home functionality for smart-home peripherals that work according to Wi-Fi, Zigbee or the European favourite technology that is DECT-ULE. That is part of their Magenta SmartHome platform that they are offering within Germany.
This is an example of Wi-Fi 6 coming to a carrier-supplied modem router and proving its case with Internet subscribers who stick with the equipment offering that their telco or ISP provide. Who knows when your local telco or ISP will offer their service with Wi-Fi 6 equipment in tow?
TruePic, an image authentication service, are partnering with Qualcomm to develop hardware-based authentication of images as they are being taken. Qualcomm has become the first manufacturer of choice because of themselves being involved with ARM-based silicon for most Android smartphones and the Windows 10 ARM platform.
This will use actual time and date, data gained from various device sensors and the image itself as it is taken to attach a certificate of authenticity to that image or video footage. This will be used to guarantee the authenticity of the photos or vision before they leave the user’s phone.
TruePic primarily implements this technology in industries like banking, insurance, warranty provision and law enforcement to work against fraudulent images being used to corroborate claims or to where imagery has to be of high forensic standards. But at the moment, Truepic implements this technology as an additional app that users have to install.
The partnership with Qualcomm is to integrate the functionality in to the smartphone’s camera firmware so that the software becomes more tamper-evident and this kind of authentication applies to all images captured by that sensor at the user’s discretion.
The fact that TruePic is partnering with Qualcomm at the moment is because most of the amateur photos are being taken with smartphones which use this kind of silicon. Once they have worked with Qualcomm, other camera chipmakers including Apple would need to collaborate with them to build in authenticated image technology in to their camera technology.
It can then appeal to implementation within standalone camera devices like traditional digital cameras, videosurveillance equipment, dashcams and the like. For example, it can be easier to verify media footage shot on pro gear as being authentic or to have videosurveillance footage being offered as evidence verified as being forensically accurate. But in these cases, there may be calls for the devices to be able to have access to highly-accurate time and location references for this to work.
The watermark generated by this technology will be intended to be machine-readable and packaged with the image file. This will make it easier for software to show whether the image is authentic or not and such software could be part of the Trusted News Initiative to authenticate amateur, stringer or other imagery or footage that comes in to a newsroom’s workflow. Or it could be used by eBay, Facebook or Tinder to indicate whether images or vision are a genuine representation of the goods for sale or the p
But this technology needs to also apply to images captured by dedicated digital cameras like this Canon PowerShot G1 X
The idea of providing this function would be to offer it as an opt-in manner, typically as a shooting “mode” within a camera application. This allows the photographer to preserve their privacy. But the use of authenticated photos won’t allow users to digitally adjust their original photos to make them look better. This same situation may also apply to the use of digital zoom which effectively crops photos and videos at the time they are taken.
There is the idea of implementing distributed-ledger technology to track edits made to a photo. This can be used to track at what point the photo was edited and what kind of editing work took place. This kind of ledger technology could also apply to copies of that photo, which will be of importance where people save a copy of the image when they save any edits. This will also apply where a derivative work is created from the source file like a still image or a short clip is obtained from a longer file of existing footage.
A question that will then come about is how the time of day is recorded in these certificates, including the currently-effective time zone and whether the time is obtained from a highly-accurate reference. Such factors may put in to doubt the forensic accuracy of these certificates as far as when the photo or footage was actually taken.
For most of us, it could come in to its own when combatting deepfake and doctored images used to destabilise society. Those of us who use online dating or social-network platforms may use this to verify the authenticity of a person who is on that platform, thus working against catfishing. Similarly, the use of image authentication at the point of capture may come in to its own when we supply images or video to the media or to corroborate transactions.
Facebook’s Portal TV is a set-top box with built-in Webcam that is part of Facebook’s Portal smart-display platform. The platform has shown an increase in takeup thanks to us staying home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague.
This device is acquiring access to more of the video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV and Showtime. As well, newer Facebook Portal TV devices will come with remote controls that have one-touch access to the video-on-demand services. You may find that if you even bought a replacement remote control for your Portal TV device, it will come with these extra buttons. I see the Facebook Portal TV as an attempt for another of the Silicon Valley big names to have a set-top device based around their core online-services platform and offering the video content services that “every man and his dog” wants.
But the feature that has a strong appeal to me is the Facebook Portal TV turning your TV in to a large-screen group videophone. This initially works with Facebook’s messaging platforms – Messenger and WhatsApp and you have to bind it to your account on either of these services. You can bind the Portal TV to multiple Facebook / Messenger and WhatsApp accounts to make and take calls from these accounts. But it is being extended to Zoom along with some business-grade videoconferencing platforms, with a notable absence of Microsoft’s platforms i.e. Skype and Microsoft Teams which do have a significant user base.
Here, it will legitimise the idea of your household joining in to a long-distance videocall and being able to see the participants on the end of the line on the big screen without squinting. A classic example of this could be Thanksgiving or Christmas and you want to have your family chat with your relatives that are located a long distance away so the distant relatives can be in on the celebrations.
The Portal platform even has the camera and sound self-adjust to follow the action or to encompass more people coming in to view, This is very much a reality as more people crowd in to and join that long-distance videocall. As well, it could be seen as a direction to have video watch parties like what Sling TV is proposing come to your big-screen TV.
The Portal TV set-top box assures users of their privacy by having a hardware switch to enable and disable the camera and microphones. As well, there is a physical camera shutter so the user can mask the camera out. It is also compliant with HDMI-CEC operation thus allowing for one-touch call answering where the TV (and audio peripherals if connected) will come on and select the appropriate input when you answer a Portal videocall. For older people who would benefit from this device, this behaviour means that they only need to press one button on the Portal’s remote to answer that videocall.
What needs to happen is for Google, Amazon, Apple and others to work towards introducing group videophone devices that can work with a regular TV and use the common videoconferencing platforms. This can be through Wehcam accessories that work with existing set-top devices that they have designed and made available or newer set-top devices that have integrated Webcam functionality or support for such accessories. They would have to work with videoconferencing platforms that are popular at work and at home.
The Apple TV has ruled the roost as an add-on set-top box that ties in tightly with their MacOS and iOS platforms. Here, this set-top box has access to an app store with the native-client apps for the main online video content services amongst other things. This is in addition to being an audio-video AirPlay destination for streaming content from your iOS device, Mac regular computer or iTunes software.
You have to have your Apple TV bound to your Apple ID account (of which many such accounts can be bound to the same device) but you can control it using its remote control. This can be either the Siri Remote which is a Bluetooth voice remote with trackpad operation or the classic Apple TV remote which is a simpler infrared D-pad remote. You also had the ability to install native client apps for the popular video-on-demand services, while it existed as a front-end for Apple’s iTunes transaction-based video-on-demand service.
Newer iterations can be bought that can offer 4K UHDTV video and all the newer tvOS-based Apple TV devices use HDMI-CEC control, allowing you to press any button on the Apple TV remote to cause your TV to come on and switch over to the input the Apple TV is connected to.
But those of us who use the Android platform weren’t sure of any add-on set-top device that works properly with our phones or tablets. There are some TVs that run Android TV and some set-top boxes do work this platform but you need to be sure they aren’t running the mobile Android operating system rather than Android TV. As well, some of these Android TV set-tops run an “operator-tier” variant of that platform which may limit access to the Google Play app store for Android TV apps.
Or you would simply use a Google Chromecast device or a smart TV or set-top device that fully supports the Chromecast (Google Cast) streaming protocol and stream video content from your Android device to your TV using that device. This would have you keeping you Android device on while you were viewing the content and being aware of its battery status.
Now Google have offered their latest Chromecast device which is really a Google TV / Android TV set-top box rather than just a Chromecast-protocol audio-video endpoint, dependent on your smartphone. This device, called the Chromecast with Google TV, has its own remote control which is a Bluetooth / infra-red remote voice remote, along with an Android TV operating environment and Google Play app store.
This device also provides a unified content-search experience so you can search for a title and it will show you if it exists in any video services you subscribe to as well as offering you the ability to view it through Google’s Play Store’s transaction-driven video-on-demand service. The voice remote also allows you to search for content using your voice and Google Assistant.
The Google Chromecast with Google TV will require you to bind it to your Google account. But I am not sure whether this device offers multiple-account support to cater for multiple-adult households.
It has a USB-C connection that is primarily used for power-supply purposes but Google is wanting to see it used as a data connection for supplementary peripherals. The use they initially have in mind is an Ethernet adaptor similar to an Ethernet-equipped USB-C hub that implements USB Power Delivery Charge-through (pass-through) support. But it could be a chance for Google to supply and support a companion Webcam as a way to purpose this device as a group videophone.
At least for Android users, Google has done the right thing towards having an add-on set-top device that is a known quantity which provides smart TV functionality.
The Dell XPS 13 range of ultraportable laptops and 2-in-1 computers has over the last few years been seen as the “top of the pack” for that class of computer. Here, it has been about delivering the right mix of features, functionality and build quality for the price with this being reflected through the different generations of that computer.
In this case, there was an emphasis on the quality aspect of the Tiger Lake silicon refresh for the Dell XPS 13 series. This was about a faster range of CPUs, the availability of integrated graphics silicon that is on a par with baseline mobile discrete graphics silicon, and the use of Thunderbolt 4 connectivity which is a reliability and connectivity improvement on that specification. Here, this graphics improvement was about combining an ultraportable computer design with graphics processing technology that isn’t a wimp.
Even as a 2-in-1 that has been engineered to work with higher-power processors nut not overheat
The computers will have a thinner lighter design with the 2-in-1 variant having improved thermal design to cater towards the use of more powerful processing silicon. But that variant will be limited to the Intel Core i7-1165G7 as the most powerful CPU that can be specified. It will have the smallest integrated camera ever which clocks in at 2.25mm. The XPS 13 traditional laptop variant will use an edge-to-edge keyboard and achieve a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio.
XPS 13 computers that are specified with the 4K UHD+ display will have the display being certified for HDR and Dolby Vision use. But computers specified with the Full HD screen will have a battery runtime rated for 19 hours. The question with this is whether this can be about 19 hours with a mixture of activities ranging from Web browsing, word processing, viewing video content and playing a game like Civilization 6 on that long flight or roadtrip.
These computers will normally be delivered with Windows 10 but Dell is offering the XPS 13 traditional clamshell laptop as a “Developer Edition” variant. Here, this will be preloaded with Ubuntu 18 Linux, which will please software tinkerers and open-source computing advocates.
The minimum prices for Australian users are AUD$2999 for the 2-in-1 variant and AUD$2499 for the clamshell variamt. It will be interesting to see what the press reviews will come up with when the review units start to appear – whether they underscore Dell’s commitment to keeping the right mix of features, functionality, build quality and price for these computers.
Amazon are premiering a new lineup of Echo smart-speaker and smart-display devices that work on the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.
These devices convey a lot of the aesthetics one would have seen in science-fiction material or “future living” material written from the 1950s to the 1970s. It is augmented by an indoor camera drone device that Amazon released around the same time.
It is even augmented further with the base of the Echo and Echo Dot lighting up as a pin-stripe to indicate the device’s current status. This industrial design also permits the implementation of a 360-degree sound approach that can impress you a lot. It also is a smart-home hub that works with Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy and Amazon Sidewalk devices so you don’t need to use a separate hub for them.
Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition that is available either as a panda or tiger – for the young or young at heart
The small Echo Dot comes in two different variants where one of these has a clock on the front while the other doesn’t. It also comes also as a “Kids’ Edition” with an option of a panda face or a cat face. It is offered as part of Amazon’s Alexa Kids program which provides a child-optimised package of features for this voice assistant. But I also wonder whether this can be ran as a regular Echo Dot device, which may appeal to those adults who are young at heart and want that mischievous look these devices have.
The Echo Show 10 smart display uses a microphone array and automatic panning to face the user. This is driven by machine vision driven by the camera and microphone array. But the camera has a shutter for your privacy. Of course you can use this device as a videophone thanks to the Alexa platform’s support for Amazon’s calling platforms, Zoom and Skype.
Amazon Echo Show 10 that can swivel towards you
What makes this generation of Echo devices more interesting is that they implement an edge-computing approach to improve sound quality and intelligibility when it comes to interacting with Alexa. This is even opening up ideas like natural-flow conversations with Alexa or allowing Alexa to participate as an extra person in a multiple-person conversation. It is furthering Amazon’s direction towards implementing ambient computing on their Alexa voice-driven assistant platform.
Oh yeah, you can make and take Zoom or Skype videocalls on an Amazon Echo Show 10
I do see this as a major direction for smart-speaker and voice-driven-assistant technology due to improving responsiveness and user interaction with these devices. It may even be about keeping premises-local configurations and customisations on the device’s memory rather than on the cloud, which may improve a lot of use factors. For example, it may be about user privacy due to minimal user data held on remote servers. Or it could be about an optimised highly-responsive setup for the home-automation setups we build around these devices.
What needs to be looked at is a way to implement localised peer-to-peer sharing of data between smart speaker devices that are on the same platform and are installed within the same home network. This can allow users to have the same quality of experience no matter which device they use within the home.
There also has to be support for localised processing of data by devices with the edge-computing smarts for those devices that don’t have that kind of operation. This would be important if you bring in a newer device with this functionality and effectively “push down” the existing device to a secondary usage scenario. In this use case, having another device with the edge computing smarts on your home network and bound to your voice-driven-assistant platform account could assure the same kind of smooth user experience as using the new device directly.
These Amazon Echo devices are showing a new direction for voice-driven home assistant devices to allow for improved intelligibility and smoother operation.
A significant trend over the last few years is to see the use of gallium nitride as the new electronics semiconductor. It is being seen as the “new silicon” – a new highly-impressive highly-capable semiconductor material that opens up new doors.
At the moment, the application that impresses is highly-compact highly-efficient power supply circuits. Here, such power supplies run very cool and a USB-C PD “wall-wart” AC charger based on this technology occupies the same space on a power outlet as an ordinary AC plug yet able to yield at least 30 watts.That is due to it wasting less energy as heat therefore not needing much in the way of cooling space.
Belkin, a household name associated with computer accessories, has now joined the party with their own gallium-nitride-based USB-C Power Delivery wall chargers.
One of these can support a 30-watt load which would answer use cases like smartphones or tablets. The other is a 68-watt unit that has two USB-C outlets and a dynamic load-balancing circuit. This can mean that one of the outlets can be used to power something like a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook while the other is used to charge that smartphone or battery pack.
The idea of combining USB-C PD and the GaN power-supply technology is appealing towards having these devices that can work with laptops, smartphones and tablets yet not take up much room on that powerboard.
What Belkin and other respected accessory vendors need to work on are multi-outlet USB-C PD charging stations that can support at least two or three USB-C PD devices with a draw of at least 45 watts each. This would be important for situations where multiple tablets or ultraportable laptops are likely to be used in the same space.
The UK is still pushing on with the idea of providing gigabit-class broadband in to its rural areas in a few different ways. It is becoming very real as COVID-19 validated the concept of working from home and has made the idea of “tree-changes” to rural areas more appealing.
Government assistance being provided
At the moment, the government is providing national-level financial help to these rural communities, especially those that are relatively distant. This is in the from of subsidising connections to current-specification gigabit broadband Internet through the implementation of a voucher scheme. It is also being supported by local-government funding in some areas thus making these efforts more affordable. The driver will be to have the Internet connection future-proofed to suit newer connection needs.
Here, it’s about subsidising costs associated with activity necessary to bring broadband out to distant areas like digging long trenches to lay fibre-optic cabling. This is something that most commercial operators would find difficult to cover out of their budgets alone.
Of course a lot of this effort is being driven by a number of independent broadband networks who are laying down their own infrastructure in to these areas. Some of these efforts like Gigaclear are ordinary businesses while some like B4RN are co-operatives that have local help towards laying down infrastructure through the rural areas. It is seen as a way to sidestep the likes of Openreach who may see the rural market as being less profitable to have to current specification.
Wholesale broadband market for independent infrastructure providers
The UK market is gaining an increasing number of independent broadband Internet infrastructure providers who are courting particular geographical areas, be it large cities or rural areas. Examples of these include Gigaclear and B4RN serving rural communities, through Zzoom who serve large towns and suburbs, to Hyperoptic and Cityfibre who serve large cities. Most of them offer very-high-bandwidth service using fibre-optic technology, usually fibre-to-the-premises and offer this service on a retail footing.
Another factor that is being considered is to give independent network infrastructure operators access to the wholesale broadband trading market. This is so they can allow retail Internet service providers to buy bandwidth on their networks to sell to end-users, which is part of a lively competitive Internet-service market.
The main issue that plagues independent network infrastructure providers is the fact they can only sell wholesale access to retail ISPs directly. That makes it hard for a retail ISP or telco to buy bandwidth on multiple infrastructure providers serving many communities and they would have to deal one-to-one with each infrastructure provider. It may appeal to a speciality ISP who provides bespoke Internet services to particular user groups but wouldn’t satisfy ISPs targeting the mass market.
It makes it also confusing to end-users who want to take advantage of a particular technology offered by one or more of these providers but want to be sure of what is offered on their platform and by whom. This includes knowing who will offer their Internet service and at what prices. As well, there is the difficulty associated with admitting competing providers to these networks to permit a highly-vibrant broadband market using these technologies.
The UK’s independent infrastructure providers are working towards a wholesale-broadband market that simplifies the processes required of retail ISPs to buy wholesale bandwidth (and operating rights) in multiple communities. The ability to easily sell bandwidth wholesale may make it more economically feasible for independent infrastructure providers to build out in to more areas due to tbem being able to sell more of the bandwidth and recoup infrastructure costs quickly.
Here, these infrastructure providers offer the bandwidth to ISPs in an aggregate approach. As well, there will be mechanisms that will exist to facilitate the switching of a connection between ISPs who use the same infrastructure. The
I also see this facilitating the ability for retail ISPs to provide single-pipe triple-play services to residential customers using the independent infrastructure providers. This means that customers could benefit from packages that have landline telephony, multichannel pay-TV and broadband “hot and cold running” Internet through the same connection on the same account. It would mean that moving to that large AGA-stove-equipped farmhouse won’t have you forego the cost-savings associated with these packages when you want landline telephony, pay TV and an Internet connection at the farmhouse.
A question that can easily arise is the possibility for a retail ISP to offer its services on multiple infrastructure providers that serve the same geographic area. In the UK, it could be an independently-operated fibre-to-the-premises network or it could be Openreach’s infrastructure for example.
This may be of benefit with providing all levels of service within a neighbourhood even if different providers offer differently-capable infrastructure to that neighbourbood. Or it can be about assuring service competition when there are exclusionary agreements regarding access to a premises for supplying network infrastructure.
Britain is still keeping its foot on the accelerator regarding the availability of current-specification. Here, it will have to be about public subsidies for reaching hard-to-reach rural areas along with measures to assure competitive Internet service to current specifications.
Telstra has become the first telco in the world to offer a “Mi-Fi” mobile-broadband router that supports both 5G mobile broadband across all bands including mmWave on the Internet side and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity on the LAN side. This was offered when they initially launched their 5G mobile broadband service and this kind of coverage was important for Australian use where 5G services are likely to be deployed in sparsely-populated regional and rural areas.
AT&T now is offering to the general American public a Mi-Fi device that works on the full 5G waveband for its Internet connection side, and Wi-Fi 6 for its local network side. Here, that covers the lower frequencies of the 5G waveband along with the higher frequencies associated with mmWave coverage.
They previously offered a 5G Mi-Fi device but this was offered to a very limited customer base. Also Verizon offers a similar device with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 but their device only works the mmWave bands rather than the whole of the 5G band.
In addition, the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro, also known as the MR5200, that AT&T offers has an Ethernet LAN connection for use with printers, network-attached storage devices, desktop computers and smart TVs. It has USB-C connectivity, most likely for power and data (5G modem) functionality.
The Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is fit for purpose with American emergency service thanks to its ability to work with FirstNet, which is AT&T’s LTE emergency-services communications network,
This device is expected to cost US$510 upfront or US$17 / month over 30 months before service costs. As well, AT&T are offering data service plans for this device with you paying US$60 per month for a 15Gb monthly data allowance or US$85 per month for 35Gb.
But AT&T’s Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is one of the first devices of this kind offered to a dense Northern-Hemisphere country that ticks all the boxes for the latest wireless mobile-communications technologies. That is to provide 5G mobile broadband across the low frequency bands and high-frequency mmWave bands and supply this data across a Wi-Fi 6 LAN.
It is showing that mobile-telephony carriers are fronting up with Mi-Fi devices that work the 5G mobile broadband and WI-Fi 6 standards, leading to some very capable devices and services.
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