Current and Future Trends Archive

Tablets–another screen for the TV viewing area

Article

The tablet will be the center of the connected lifestyle — Online Video News

My comments

Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet computerThis article is affirming the idea of using a tablet computer like the Apple iPad or the Acer Iconia Tab in the lounge room as you watch TV. Some people may object to this because of the “too many screens” argument. But of course, you will still look at the big screen for the video content.

Small personal TV

One of the most common TV-related apps for the iPad and tablets of its ilk is as a personal screen for viewing content. This could be in the form of downloading or streaming the content to the tablet device and has been subjected to various legal strangleholds with Hollywood.

But it also has been taken further with broadcast-LAN tuner adaptors which tune in and stream TV content to these tablets once controlled via a special app. As well, the use of DLNA media player software can allow you to view video content held on your home network through these devices.

Remote control for large screen

Another application of interest is for the tablet to work as a remote control for the large-screen TV. Here, this would work with apps delivered by TV and set-top-box manufacturers to the various app stores for the tablet platforms.

It would work hand in glove with programming your PVR, use of interactive-TV applications or even using the interactive functions of a Blu-Ray disc; as well as navigating an increasing array of TV channels.

Of course, I have a doubt about this when it comes to activities where you need instant response. I would like to be sure that you tap MUTE on the tablet and you are sure that the racecaller voice that is part of that commercial isn’t heard the moment you press it for example.

As well some manufacturers may limit this function to their tablets, especially if the tablet is the same brand as the TV in question; usually as a way to reinforce brand loyalty.

Show downloaded content on large screen

In a similar way to the previous “small personal TV” application, a tablet computer can be used to show content on the large television or video projector. This can be through a direct connection from the tablet’s miniHDMI socket or AV-out jack to the TV or by pushing the content to an Apple TV or DLNA network media player.

But wait there’s more:

Internet browsing concurrent with TV viewing

A very common application that I have noticed with smartphones and tablets is to engage in Internet use while watching TV. Examples of this include researching a TV programme on IMDB or a concept that was used in the TV program; using the tablet as a persistent scoreboard during a sports game or updating the Social Web during a TV show. I have expanded on the “persistent scoreboard” application in this site by mentioning an increasing number of “scoreboard apps” that are available for most sports codes and leagues and the role of these apps in enjoying your favourite sports fixtures.

The persistent scoreboard could be an app in itself or simply an always-refreshed Web page; and could remind you of where the players stand in that match you are watching. In some cases, the apps provide access to player / team information as well as on-demand video replays or interactive progress maps. Of course, you could head over to other commentary sources for comments other than what the TV commentators are barking about.

As I have seen, a lot of TV shows are integrating the Social Web very tightly in to their programming fabric. This can be typified with selected Twitter and Facebook comments being read out by the compere or a ticker with Twitter comments crawling across the bottom of the screen. Even news and public-affairs events will have official or unofficial tickers running on Twitter or Facebook as people post up comments on these events using the Social Web.

The tablet computer may work better than the “smart TV” Social-Web apps because the TV usually works with one account at a time and you won’t see the show’s video occupying the screen as you post your comment. One or more tablets (or small computers) can perform this function in an individual manner for individual viewers,

Setup requirements

In most cases, a Wi-Fi connection to the home network and broadband connection is all that is needed if the tablet is just being used at home; and would be necessary for network-media-adaptor use. This could allow you to buy a Wi-Fi-only model if it is to stay primarily at home or not be used with an external wireless-broadband router on the road.

Conclusinon

As I have said, the tablet is now working as a supplementary screen in the TV lounge area rather than just as an ebook reader and email terminal.

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QR Codes–a useful tool for promoting your organisation

What are QR Codes

QR code used in a newspaper to link to its mobile site

QR code used in a newspaper to link to its mobile site

A QR Codes is a two-dimensional monochrome barcode that is designed to house a long text string. This may represent contact details or Wi-Fi network parameters but is commonly used to provide a link to a Web-hosted resource. These barcodes may be printed on a newspaper, business card or flyer; or even shown on a Website; the latter method being used to show links to software for the Android platform.

Typically, a person who has a mobile phone equipped with a QR-code reader app can then just point the phone’s camera to the barcode and “take a picture” of that barcode. This then leads to the contact details being put in their contact list or the user being taken to the Web site or Web-hosted resource. This function has even been extended to supplying GPS coordinates to a device for navigation (think of geocaching) or, in the case of Android phones, supplying Wi-Fi service parameters to these phones as part of provisioning hotspot service.

QR Code used on a poster

A QR code as used on a poster to advertise this site

They are popular in Europe especially with cafes and restaurants but are slowing increasing in popularity in other countries. As well, some commentators have described the QR code as a way of providing a machine-readable hyperlink in the field. It is also worth having a look at various QR-code blogs like this one so you can know what the trend is about.

Infact, when I promote HomeNetworking01.info using posters or business cards, I make sure there is a QR code pointing to the site so that people can use their phones to head to the site.

Why QR codes for your organisation

One major benefit that QR codes have for your print-based campaigns is that you can insert a direct link to your Webpage or a resource on that Webpage. Your audience then can visit that resource without having to memorise a URL or transcribe the URL in to the phone using a small touchscreen keyboard or SMS-style with the phone keypad.

The QR code is better than using Bluetooth transmitters to provide content. This is because the user isn’t likely to be annoyed with “accept this” Bluetooth responses from these transmitters when they come in to range of the transmitters. As well, the user doesn’t have to remember how to enable or disable Bluetooth discovery mode on their device. As well you don’t need to make sure there is a transmitter at the advertisement and make sure there is power to the transmitter, which can make the QR code acceptable even for posters on that noticeboard or shop door.

It is also better than using any of the proposed “near-field communication” technology for linking to Web resources because you don’t need to buy and integrate near-field transmitters in your promotional materials for the technology to work.

Direct Link to deep Web resources

You may want to provide a sound clip, video or PDF file to your mobile users. As well, you may want to link the user to a particular Web page about a product or promotion. But mobile users may find these resources difficult to gain access to on your site because of being required to enter a long URL into that numeric or small alphabetic keypad.

The QR code can provide the direct link to your campaign page, PDF file or audiovisual resource in a manner that is ready to download “there and then”. If the resource is a YouTube video, you can provide the link to the video clip as it appears on YouTube and the site or local YouTube client can open when the QR code is scanned.

Appropriate for the Social Web

Here, the QR code can augment your Social Web campaign because most active Social-Web users tend to work their Facebook or Twitter presence more from their smartphones. This is especially as I have noticed a lot of small businesses promote their Facebook presence online through posters and flyers that have the “Like us on Facebook” slogan.

What a simplified way of doing this by pointing the latest ultra-cool iPhone to the QR code on the poster attached to the trendy cafe’s espresso machine or refrigerated display cabinet in order to “like” that cafe on Facebook. It certainly makes it certain that you are seen with that iPhone.

Reading QR Codes

Some mobile-phone carriers and manufacturers will supply a QR-code reader with their Internet-enabled camera phones. But iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7 users can come across many free QR-code readers at their platform’s app store. One example that comes to mind is the free i-Nigma which started becoming available for the iOS platform but lately became available for the Android and Blackberry platform. There are others like Barcode Scanner for the Android platform, BeeTag for the Blackberry platform and ScanLife for most of the platforms.

A main difference that may sort the “sheep from the goats” as far as QR-code reader programs go is whether they can read a light-coloured QR code that is printed on a dark surface. Similarly, there may be differences in how well a difficult-to-read code like a double-sided sign that is backlit can be understood.

At the moment, most QR-code readers are pitched at handheld mobile phones for immediate viewing of the resources on these devices. But it could be feasible to provide “capture-store-sync” transfer of Web URLs or downloaded resources to desktop operating systems or tablet computers as a feature of a QR-code reader. This could then allow a person to view the Web site on their laptop computer using their favourite Web browser at a later time.  It would also be of importance with QR codes being used for presenting Wi-Fi network parameters to Android phones, where the same parameters can be passed up to a laptop and integrated in to the Wi-Fi networks list for that computer.

Preparing QR codes

There are many QR-code generator sites and programs, most of which are free to use. Typically these sites may allow you to provide a URL to a resource as the input text or prepare contact details. A good resource to start from is this blog’s list of the top 10 free QR-code generating sites. As well, i-Nigma also offer a free QR-code generating page as well as their QR-code reader. Yet another resource is the QReateBUZZ Webpage which I have used for the QR codes for promoting this site.

These codes can be yielded as a small, medium or large size. Here, you could use a small size code for business cards and flyers here you don’t have much room or just want a discreet code on the corner of the poster. You could then use the larger sizes if you want people to notice that there is a QR code in the signage’s artwork or need to be far from the artwork to scan it.

Most sites will yield high-resolution PNG or JPEG bitmaps but some may yield EPS Postscript files or PDFs that are vector-images of the QR codes. You typically will then copy-and-paste or import the mage in to your artwork. As well, a lot of the sites will generate a JPEG image that you copy from the site using Ctrl-C / Command-C and paste to your artwork using Ctrl-V / Command-V.

Of course, there are some desktop QR-code generator programs which will run on a regular computer but most of these are Windows-only and a lot of them are offered at “large-business” prices.

It is still good practice to work with dark-graphics-against-light codes because most QR-code readers cannot work effectively with light-graphics-against-dark at the moment. If you are setting a QR code on a dark background, you could use the dark graphic on a light background and have a distinct light-background margin around that barcode.

Conclusion

Once you explore the creation and use of QR codes as part of your online and offline marketing strategy especially where you have online resources

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Home automation and security–now the differentiator for ISPs and telcos

Article

La Bbox seA lance dans la domotique – DegroupNews.com (France – French language)

My comments

If the marketplace for “triple-play” Internet service is so cut-throat, what can a telco, cable-TV firm or ISP offer to their loyal customers to increase service value? Could it be an Internet terminal like a T-Hub, or an Internet-connected device like an online picture frame or Internet radio?

No, it is another service that customers have previously bought through separate providers with names like Intamac or Chubb. This service is home automation and security, with monitored alarm systems and Internet-driven energy dashboards for residential users.

These solutions will typically link to servers or monitoring stations via the Internet link that the telecommunications company provides as part of the package. In some cases, there may be home-automation / security services that work “wholesale” and engage the telco or ISP as a reseller like they do with people like alarm installers. This is with the main goal of having these services available as an extra-cost a-la-carte option or as part of one or more premium communications service plans.

People in the security industry may discredit this move because of reasons like lack of “alarm-event response service” with security guards responding to alarm events, deployment of cheaper “quick-install” hardware rather than fully-installed systems, amongst other things. As well some of them may discredit single-box security/home-automation “panels” that can yield a single point of failure for both these functions.

The example cited in the DegroupNews news article is Bougyes Telecom providing a basic DIY system that links to their Bbox Internet gateway and uses a wireless link to the various peripherals.

This is available in two packages, with one focused on energy monitoring and remote control of appliances and the other focused on security, comfort and energy monitoring/ remote control. The first package, costing EUR€5 per month,would come with a home-automation “base”, a few plug-in appliance controllers and an electricity-meter interface which works with the newer smart meters being deployed in France. The second one, costing EUR€9 per month, has extra sensors for temperature and humidity, PIR motion detectors and a magnet-reed door-contact sensor; with the ability to send an SMS alert in case of alarm conditions.

The article described the provision of these services in a telecommunications package as “quintuple play” ï.e: fixed telephone, Internet, pay-TV, mobile telephone, home automation / security.

This effort of ISPs and telcos providing home automation could make the concept become mainstream and appealing to most householders. This is rather than the DIY “tinkerers” who have the time to mess around with these systems or rich people who own pimped-out “MTV Cribs” and have the money to have professionals design highly-customised home-automation systems.

For this to work effectively, the hardware and software infrastructure needs to work with known standards in order to permit these systems to be evolved through their long lifecycles. As well, these systems must work in a manner where they “just work” properly and exhibit graceful degradation to primary functionality when other systems in the network or key network links fail.

As well, a professioally-designed system must be able to be “re-worked” by other knowledgeable professionals or the householder. This is so that if anything happens with the regular or original installer, the system can be kept in good working order or evolved to newer needs.

I would think that the trend of telecommunications companies and Internet providers providing home automation and security services will become an interesting trend to observe.

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IEEE P1905–A standard to make the heterogenous small network easy to manage

Articles

HomePlug® Powerline Alliance Announces Support for IEEE P1905 Convergent Digital Home Network Standard – HomePlug Powerline Alliance

IEEE P1905 Standard page

My Comments

Realities

More home networks implementing two or more media backbones

As the typical home network evolves, there will be a time when another interface type will be implemented in that network.

There are two examples of this common situation. One is where a person who has run an Ethernet network from the network-Internet edge to their computer decides to “go wireless” with their laptop computers and upgrades to a wireless router yet maintains the Ethernet connection for desktop computers. Another example that is increasingly common in Europe and will become so with the prevalence of IP-delivered TV would be a household that has a Wi-Fi network for the laptop but implements a HomePlug powerline network to serve the set-top box or IP-enabled TV in the lounge.

Infact I have advocated these kinds of network setups in this site in order to encourage a flexible home or small-business network that suits all situations that are thrown at it. This includes handling radio-difficult environments like double-brick walls or foil-lined insulation that can exist in many houses.

Network endpoint devices with multiple network interfaces

An increasing number of network-endpoint devices like computers, printers and Internet media devices are being required to support multiple types of network interfaces. This may be provided out of the box; or the user may have to install a hardware network adaptor for a particular network interface in to the device even though the device has an integrated network adaptor for another interface.

A very common example that I have seen for myself is laptop users switching between a wired Ethernet connection and a Wi-Fi wireless connection. Typically the laptop user who is getting used to the “New Computing Environment” and what it offers will plug their computer into the router’s Ethernet socket while they work at their desk; then disconnect from the Ethernet socket and “go wireless” when they want to use the laptop in other parts of the house. This typically can cause problems due to network storms or switchover problems; and often requires the user to disable or enable Wi-Fi on the laptop as they change connections.

Similarly, most of the network-enabled multifunction printers that I have reviewed at HomeNetworking01.info are equipped with an Ethernet socket as well as an integrated WPA2-secured Wi-Fi interface. This is becoming very common with most network-enabled media players, especially “smart TVs” and BD-Live Blu-Ray players.

Setup and management difficulties with these networks

These networks can yield their fair share of difficulties as users have to set up each network segment or device for secure reliable operation. This can include initial provisioning needs that a media type has like SSID and WPA-PSK security keys for Wi-Fi segments to management of segment-specific problems like Wi-Fi reception issues.

It will become more difficult as advanced networking requirements such as quality-of-service, synchronous media streaming, multiple logical networks and robust security are required out of these small heterogenous networks.

In the case of the devices, it will include making sure that the device works with the best network interface available even if both interfaces are physically connected. The most common example of this is making sure that the Wi-Fi-enabled laptop or printer works on a wired link if connected to the network via that link and works with the Wi-Fi link in other cases without the need for a manual switchover procedure.

What is this new standard intending to provide

You may think that there are standards out there to help with managing a computer network but most of these standards work to a particular network media type. As well, a lot of them require management by an IT team, something which few households or small businesses can have on hand all the time.

One major benefit is simplified media-level control across different media types on the same network. This isn’t achieved through the use of higher-level configuration routines managed by IP or application-level protocols like SNMP or UPnP, but these protocols can be adapted for this standard.

There will also be a focus on end-to-end performance such as allowing a device to choose the network interface that provides best throughput and quality-of-service. It can also allow “end-to-end” quality-of-service to be achieved from the network-Internet “edge” to the end device for IP telephony, multimedia streaming or Internet gaming.

Similarly, there is the ability to manage the media-level network security and energy-management needs that are required for the network in an easier form. This includes coordinating device wakeup across different media types so that a device can exist in an energy-saving quiescent mode yet “come to” when someone else on the network need it no matter how it is connected.

This standard recognises the reality that no one network type suits all needs, different horses for different courses.

Here, a typical setup may use Cat5 Ethernet as a high-speed backbone between floors or across the house, a HomePlug AV segment as a high-reliability wired “no-new-wires” setup for temporary applications and a Wi-Fi wireless segment that is primarily for portable devices.

The main focus that will be achieved is that bridge or switch devices that work across the multiple media types can perform these jobs more efficiently without needing to use higher-level protocols to achieve this goal; and be assured that the requirements for the network data are met as the data travels these devices.

Unanswered questions

Support for and management of VLAN networks

An unanswered question about this standard is whether it can support a VLAN network. This is a network that hosts multiple logical networks across the same physical infrastructure. It would be relevant in the small network space for “guest / hotspot networks” and IPTV setups where end-to-end content protection is required.

Features that may be considered of importance in this regard include replicating VLAN setups across the network as infrastructure devices are added to the network. An example of this could b to use an extension access point to “build out” a Wi-Fi network yet maintain the “guest network” and the “private network” as separate entities with separate SSIDs.

It also includes multi-tenancy-building environments where there is common “LAN” network infrastructure like cable runs that exist to interlink units (apartments, shops, offices, etc) or multi-SSID access points installed to service common areas (common gardens, swimming pools, food courts, etc). Here, it would be required to establish a VLAN interlink between two or more premises under the control of the same entity or establish a link to a common multi-SSID access point with the same SSID and security parameters as your main access point.

Wi-Fi devices and their operating mode

Another questiom that may affect the management of Wi-Fi devices is what kind of operating mode the device should be in. This is whether it is a client device or an access point; or to implement “direct link” or WDS or newer-standard network repeater functionality.

This would cater for an increasing number of “multi-function” access points which was a trend brought about by newer firmware versions for the Linksys WAP54G wireless access point. Here, the access point could be set up to be on the end of a direct wireless link, or be a client bridge for an existing Wi-Fi segment, a Wi-Fi repeater as well as being an access point.

This standard could provide support for a wireless endpoint such as a "multi-function” access point or the Wi-Fi functionality in a printer or other device to work as a client device or as an access point. It could then allow for these devices to quickly serve as infill access points when they are connected to a wired backbone after working on the Wi-Fi network.

Conclusion

At least the IEEE P1905 standard will make some effort towards making the establishment, management and development of the typical heterogenous small network become an easier talsk that is less painful.

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HomePlug as part of a home-vehicle network for electric and hybrid vehicles

Articles

Your BMW wants email; the Merc wants Netflix | ITworld

HomePlug GP Networking Specification | The Tech Journal

My comments

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance have cemented the “Green PHY” standard for energy-efficient powerline networking and energy management in stone,

Now the major German vehicle builders have defined a power connection standard to connect their electric or plug-in-hybrid vehicles to the mains power supply for charging. This includes using these HomePlug standards for transferring required data between the vehicle and the host power supply for charging-process control, metering and other similar applications.

The core benefit is to achieve a successful level playing field for connecting these vehicles to the “smart grid” for overnight and rapid charging. This also includes particular requirements like costing of energy used by “guest vehicles”, road-tax implications as well as grid integration such as off-peak charging or vehicle-to-grid setups for offsetting energy peaks.

This also facilitates IP linking to the Internet service via this connection thus allowing for some possibilities beyond the “obvious Internet applications”. One application I have often thought of in this context is the ability to integrate the vehicle’s infotainment system in to the home network.

Here, it could lead to synchronisation of maps, contact lists and media files between the home network and the vehicle or the ability to simply benefit from the data held on the vehicle’s infotainment system in the home network. This would be the networked equivalent of bringing a tape or CD that was in the vehicle’s glovebox or sound system in to your home so you can play it on your music system there.

At least there is an attempt to achieve a level playing field across the vehicle industry to support electric vehicles while catering for flexible setups.

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With two new standards in the works, we could be approaching the Gigabit wireless network

Articles

Understanding gigabit Wireless LAN: 802.11ac and 802.11ad

My comments

What is it all about

At the moment, 802.11n on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wavebands is the current link standard for the Wi-Fi wireless network. But the IEEE have decided to work on standards for providing increased-bandwidth wireless networks.

The two standards are 802.11ac, which will primarily work on the 2.4Ghz and 5GHz radio bands and be seen as a migration path from the current 802.11n technology; as well as 802.11ad which works on the 60GHz waveband and has a very short range. The latter technology would be considered best for peer-to-peer applications like short-range wireless backhaul.

Both of these systems will use MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) radio technology; a “front-end diversity” system with multiple transceivers which is what the 802.11n network uses. But this technology will work with at least four “front-ends”; known as “4×4” due to four signals coming in and four going out.

Dedicated bandwidth options

One major benefit that I see with these technologies will provide is dedicated-bandwidth wireless networking which each access point compliant to these standards can do. This is brought on through the use of MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multi-Input Multi-Output) Here, it extends “transmit beamforming” technology which provides improved signal quality in an 802.11n network to allow the access point to provide “switched” Wi-Fi with dedicated bandwidth to stations; similar to the way the typical wired Ethernet network works.

It may be an improvement for network setups with many SSIDs per access point like so-called “guest / hotspot” + “private” networks, shared hotspot access points or many university networks; by allowing full bandwidth to each SSID.

The realities

Of course, the actual throughput that a network link will achieve will typically be less than headline link speed due to overheads associated with the link’s transmission requirements. Here, the average real world maximum throughput will be 867Mbps and the figure may be quoted for first-generation equipment or mature-generation equipment.

How it affects my small network

What will be asked of a small network like a home network would be a 5GHz segment that provides the 802.11ac network.

It may provide for dedicated throughput to client devices like laptops or tablet computers. For those networks that run as dual networks like hotspots or guest networks that share the same wireless router as the private network,the dedicated throughput for each wireless-network segment will be a bonus.

Of course, 2.4GHz will still be used as an 802.11n segment for existing devices and there may be a compatibility mode so that existing 802.11n devices can operate on the same segment.

Other issues

If the 802.11ad technology is to be used as a wireless-backhaul for many 802.11ac access points, there will have to be work on a complementary mesh-network technology. It will then provide a level of fault-tolerance in the wireless backhaul as well as a chance for each station to have and pass on full bandwidth networking. This is something that the IEEE standards body are working on with the 802.11s draft standard.

Conclusion.

It therefore shows that when there is a standard in place, there will be a chance to “raise the bar” with the technology that it covers. This will mean that a Wi-Fi wireless network could become close to the goal of a switched Gigabit network.

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Dell XPS 15z–a Sandy Bridge laptop that snaps at the heels of the MacBook Pro

Articles

Dell XPS 15z available in Australia and Asia, fits Sandy Bridge in under an inch of thickness – Engadget

Dell XPS 15z review – Engadget

Le XPS 15z de Dell officialisé (MAJ) – Le Journal du Geek (France – French language)

My Comments

Previously, I had written an article about Windows-platform laptops approaching Apple’s “Super Cool” position on the laptop-computer equivalent of Top Gear’s “Cool Wall”.

Now Dell have come up with a 15” “thin-and-light” laptop which has a very similar look and styling to Apple’s ultra-cool MacBook Pro series of laptops. The XPS 15z, which is driven by an Intel Core i5 processor and Sandy-Bridge chipset is finished in an aluminium housing with a satin-chrome-finished magnesium alloy keyboard keyboard bezel. The keyboard has the same “chiclet” style and finish as the MacBook Pro but is illuminated and flanked by the system’s speakers in that same way.

The side of the machine is very similar to the MacBook Pro, with a slot-load optical drive and audio input/output jacks on the right-hand side and the data and display sockets on the left-hand side. You might think that this computer may end up with an illuminated Dell logo on the lid but it doesn’t.

Of course, from the Engadget review, it competes in price and power to the Apple unit but it still needs to work better on the battery runtime.

Here, it is starting to show that the aluminium or “satin-silver” metal finishes and silver-finish plastics could become a part of laptop styling, especially with “thin-and-light” designs. This is more so as manufacturers try to imitate the looks of the Apple MacBook family and see their laptops appear in the “Super Cool” section of computing’s “Cool Wall”.

Of course, it will be interesting to see whether other industrial-design cues will be implemented in designing that “ultra-cool” laptop computer that is to be noticed in the Wi-Fi-equipped coffee lounge. On the other hand, I hope that this class of computer still is useable, performs powerfully and can work for longer periods on the battery while maintaining the looks and making use of industry-standard connections.

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First device to use Wi-Fi technology for host-peripheral connection

Article

HP Intros The First Wi-Fi Mouse For Your PC | eHomeUpgrade

From the horse’s mouth

HP Introduces Wireless PC Accessories to Enhance the Computing Experience

Click here to play YouTube video

My Comments

This mouse is the first to use the Wi-Fi technology as a “personal area network” i.e. to use a network technology to connect peripherals to a host computer. At the moment it requires the host computer to run Windows 7 and implement the “virtual network adaptor” technology in its Wi-Fi chipset.

Furthermore, the host computer needs also to run a device-monitor applet supplied by HP with this mouse. This whole functionality could be improved through the use of code being integrated in Windows 7.

This mouse is expected to have a 9 month battery life which is meant to be longer than with devices that run current Bluetooth technology. I would see that as a coup for Wi-Fi when it comes to applications ranging from mice and keyboards to other “sensor and control” applications like barcode readers used in business; remote controls or health-monitor devices. As well, if the chipsets used in this mouse are implemented in smartphones, PMP / MID devices (iPod Touch, etc) or tablet computers, this could help with improving device runtime when they are used with Wi-Fi networks.

As far as the software is concerned, I would like to have HP avoid “reinventing the wheel” for Wi-Fi mice, keyboards and similar peripherals by making use of “class drivers” that have been defined for USB or Bluetooth human-interface devices.

There is one question that could be asked about this device as in whether it could work over the regular wireless network using the network’s router or access point and sending the data back to the host computer via that local area network, rather than the host PC’s wireless adaptor being virtualised as an access point. This may be of concern with people who run a desktop computer that doesn’t have integrated Wi-Fi but is connected to a the network via Ethernet or HomePlug and this network has a Wi-Fi segment serviced by a wireless router or access point.

A similar setup has been achieved with the myRemote Android app which converts an Android smartphone in to a mouse or remote control for a computer. This one uses the regular wireless network and requires knowledge of the host computer’s IP address and that computer has to run a monitor program downloaded from the myRemote developer’s Web site.

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IPTV now being featured on mainstream TV media

Articles

Smart TVs (A Current Affair article) – NineMSN VIDEO

My Comments

From the recent “A Current Affair” broadcast on the Nine Network, it seems to me that the “Smart TV” or “Internet TV” concept is now ready for prime time.

What is this trend all about?

This is where functionality like access to IPTV channels, “catch-up” TV and video-on-demand is now being integrated in to most of the big-name TV sets that are to be sold at the likes of Harvey Norman. It will also include an “app-store” interface so that users can add functions to these sets in a similar way to how they add functions to a smartphone or tablet computer.

Some of the sets will come with an integrated hard disk which will provide PVR functionality. But what wasn’t mentioned was that most of the sets from the big brands, especially LG, Samsung and Sony, will support integration with the DLNA Home Media Network. This means that these sets could play content held on a computer or network-attached storage device that uses this standards-based technology.

Typically, these functions will be pitched at TVs targeted for the main viewing area i.e. the main lounge room or family room. But this kind of function may be added to existing sets through the use of some of the current-issue Blu-Ray players and network-media adaptors like the Sony SN-M1000P network media adaptor.

A few key questions that I have

“TV plus Apps” or IPTV and interactive-TV content?

There could be a fear that this could turn out as “TV plus apps” with the same old TV content plus some apps such as clients for the popular social networks, photo-sharing sites and YouTube-type sites thrown in.

But some providers are making ties with the various manufacturers to set up free and pay-TV front-ends through the IPTVs. Examples of this include Samsung establishing a tie with BigPond TV to provide direct access to that content or most of the manufacturers running ABC iView through their TV sets. It may also open up opportunities like video-on-demand or boutique content services. As well, once there is a level playing field for adding TV services, this could lead to the addition of extra TV content.

If there is a desire to provide new live or on-demand IPTV services, there needs to be support for adding the newer services to existing IPTV equipment. This could be achieved through an always-live app store on these sets. Similarly, existing broadcast content, both editorial and advertising, must be able to support links to apps and interactive front-ends that are accessible to the average viewer with one click of a particular button through the use of interactive-TV content-delivery standards.

This can include applications ranging from interactive games and competitions that are part of children’s TV through “play-along” quiz shows to polls run in conjunction with current-affairs shows which have the option for you to view “extended-version” interviews.

Equipment Useability

A key issue that I have raised in this site was the useability of services like the Social Web on this class of equipment. Typically, the “smart TV” concept prides itself on connection with social-network services like Twitter and Facebook; but there will be the desire to gain access to photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa or gain full benefit from sites like YouTube. These can make use of “smart-TV” services more daunting for someone who doesn’t find themselves competent or isn’t experienced with technology.

An example of this was when I mentioned to a friend of mine about the Pixel Eyes app on the TiVo platform where they could view their Picasa albums through the lounge-room TV connected to the TiVo PVR. I mentioned that they would have to log in to their Google account using the “pick-pick” method of entering their credentials in order to view their pictures on this service and this idea frightened them off it.

The main problems is that different users will want to log in to this common terminal or, in the case of the Social Web, leave comments in relation to what they are viewing. Typically, this will require a fair bit of text entry and most remote controls won’t be fully engineered to cater to this requirement. The user will typically have to work a D-pad or wave a Wii-style “magic remote” around to pick letters from an onscreen keyboard and may have to switch between logical keyboards to use different character sets like numbers, different-case characters or punctuation. Try entering in a Facebook / Twitter / Google username and password that way or “knocking out” a Tweet that way.  As well, I have raised in that same article methods in which logging in to these services from devices like TVs and set-top boxes can be simplified and referenced how Facebook achieved a login experience suitable for these devices with their HP ePrint app. This includes being able to change the active user associated with a TV or set-top box to another user.

Similarly, I would look at issues like keyboard support for IPTVs. This is whether a TV comes with a QWERTY-enabled remote or not. The best method for add-on keyboard support would be to use Bluetooth HID connectivity so that a Bluetooth-based wireless keyboard can be used as a text-entry tool. Similarly, the ability for one to plug a standard USB computer keyboard in to the USB port usually reserved for USB memory keys and use this for text entry may make things easier. This would work well with those wireless-keyboard sets that plug in to the computer’s USB port.

A remote that doesn’t have a QWERTY keyboard but uses a numeric keypad for direct-channel-selection or parental-code-entry could use this keypad as an “SMS-style” text-entry interface, something which many nimble-fingered teenagers are used to. This would work better if it used the character-set-selection practices used on popular mobile phones.

Other methods that can be looked at include the use of smartphone apps as virtual remote controls like what Samsung has done for their Android smartphones. Here, a user could download an app to their Galaxy S phone and have this become the TV remote control. This could be extended to ideas like multi-control for interactive applications such as “own-account” operation for Social Web and similar applications with the TV screen becoming a “common monitor”.

What to consider when choosing or using your network-enabled TV

DLNA functionality

The TVs or set-top devices should support DLNA Media Player functionality at least, with preferable support for DLNA 1.5 Media Renderer functionality. Initially this would give you access to content held on your computer’s or network-attached-storage device’s hard disk.

The Media Renderer functionality can allow the TV to be controlled by a UPnP AV / DLNA control point such as TwonkyMobile, PlugPlayer or Andromote on your smartphone or tablet computer, or TwonkyManager on your netbook.  In the case of Blu-Ray players and set-top devices, you may even be able to play music from your network storage through your favourite stereo without the need to have the TV on to select the music

If the TV or set-top box offers integrated PVR functionality, look for DLNA Media Server compatibility because this may allow you to play recorded TV shows on other TVs in the house without them needing to be of the same brand.

It is also worth noting that some DLNA functions like DLNA server or Media Renderer may not be enabled by default even though the set has these functions. Here, you may have to go to the setup menus and look for “DLNA control”, “Media Server” or similar options and enable them to benefit fully from these functions.

For further information, it is also worth reading the DLNA Networked Media articles that I have written on this site.

Connecting the set to your home network

When you connect one of these TVs to your home network, I would suggest that you avoid using Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, especially if the TV or set-top box uses a dongle for this connectivity rather than integrated Wi-Fi connectivity. This is because of the fact the Wi-Fi network is radio-based and if anything is shifted slightly between the Wi-Fi router and the TV, you may have service-reliability issues.

Instead, I would recommend that you use a wired method such as Ethernet cable or a HomePlug AV powerline-network setup. The Ethernet-cable solution would work well if the router and TV are in the same room; you have wired your home for Ethernet or you can get away with snaking Ethernet wiring through windows. On the other hand, the HomePlug solution would work well for most users who don’t want to or can’t lay new wiring through their homes because this uses the house’s existing AC wiring.

In fact, if you are renovating or rewiring your home, it may be worth considering wiring the house for Ethernet and making sure you have an Ethernet connection in the main TV-viewing areas of the house. This may be achievable if you have an electrician who is competent or knows one who is competent with communications or data work doing the job.

Conclusion

This site will have regular coverage of home media network issues that will become of importance as we head down the the path towards online home entertainment.

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Authenticating users to services on limited-user-interface devices

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

A Blu-ray player that has advanced set-top-box functionality and access to online services

There is an increasing trend to interlink services like photo-sharing and social-networking services with network-enabled devices other than PCs or “lightweight computers” like smartphones or tablet computers. This includes set-top boxes, network printers and digital picture frames and example applications include showing photo albums from Picasa or Facebook on the large TV, printing out pictures from Picasa or Facebook without the need for a computer or showing one’s Facebook Feed on an advanced Internet terminal like the Pure Sensia. One reason that is leading the concept on is the use of device platforms like HP ePrint, Panasonic VieraCast and Google TV, where an operating-system developer or a device manufacture use the platform to build up an “app” library for the device or operating system.

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer

Printers even now can print material from online services

It will also become more common with VoIP telephony encouraging the development of “personal landline telephone” services as well as “personalised home environments” being brought about by home automation and security functions being part of the connected home.

The current situation

The main problem with these services is that they require the user to log in to the service using an alphanumeric user name and an alphanumeric password. This would be best done using the regular QWERTY keyboard of a computer.

But most of these devices would require one of these methods to enter the credentials:

TV remote control

A typical smart-TV remote control that can only offer “pick-and-choose” or 12-key data entry

  • “Pick-n-choose”, where the user uses a D-pad on the device’s control surface to pick letters from a letter grid shown on the device’s display. This is a method used primarily with set-top-box applications like “Pixel Eyes” (a Picasa / Filckr front-end) for TiVo; or used on most Internet radios to determine the network password for a Wi-Fi network.
  • Small on-screen QWERTY keyboard for a touchscreen device. This is a practice used on smartphones and tablet computers that have this interface but is becoming common with network printers and other devices that use a touchscreen. This interface can be awkward and prone to errors if the device uses a small screen as common with most printers.
  • “SMS-style” with a 12-key keyboard. This is where the device is equipped with a 12-key numeric keyboard not dissimilar to a telephone and the user enters the credentials as if they are tapping out a text message on a mobile phone. This practice may be used on communications devices (dialling phone numbers), security devices (entering access codes) or consumer electronics (direct-entry channel / track selection).
  • 26-key alphabetic keyboard. This is where each letter of the alphabet is allocated a key usually in a 5×5 matrix in alphabetical order. You still may have to press a button to change case or switch to numeric or punctuation mode. This has been used with some of Sony’s MiniDisc decks for track labelling and is still used with some Brother labellers for entering label text, but is not commonly being used as a text-entry method for consumer electronics devices due to size, design or cost limitations.

As well, most of the implementations don’t allow for proper “hot-seat” operation by remembering just the user name; and therefore require the user to provide both the user-name and password when they want to use the service. This can then be made more awkward with the interfaces listed above.

Facebook’s login method

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer (D410a)

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer -implementing a simplified device enrollment for Facebook’s HP ePrint setup

Facebook have improved on this with their HP ePrint app which is part of the HP Envy 100 printer which I have on loan for review. Here, the printer displayed an “authentication code” which I had to enter in to the Facebook Devices page (http://www.facebook.com/device). Here, you would have to log in with your Facebook credentials if you haven’t done so already. Then the printer is associated with your Facebook account.

The only limitation with this method is that the device is bound to only one FB account and multiple users can’t switch between their Facebook accounts. This can also make a Facebook user more vulnerable to undesirable control-panel modification to their account if the app allows it.

The reality with most devices

Most devices like network printers or set-top boxes are typically operated by multiple users. What needs to happen is a simplified multi-user login and authentication experience that suits this class of device.

This is also more so as the authentication parameters used by Google (Picasa, YouTube), Facebook and others are becoming central to the “single sign-on” environments offered by these service providers and these “single sign-on” providers could appeal as credentials bases for home network applications like NAS management or even building security.

What could be done

A situation using a combination of the “Facebook limited-device login” method and the login experience that one encounters when using an automatic teller machine or EFTPOS terminal would be appropriate here. This is where a device can keep multiple “device account codes” for multiple accounts as well as securing these accounts with a numeric PIN.

Main points

A credentials service like Facebook, Windows Live or Google could add a simplified “numeric PIN” field for limited user-interface devices as well as the text-based password. The simplified “numeric PIN” which would be four or six digits long would only be able to work on qualified devices and the user would need to key in their text-based password to log in from a computer or smartphone.

Devices that support “limited interface” operation create a “device account passcode” for each account that is to use the device. This allows the device to create a reference between the account on the service and the account on the device. When a user is added to the device, this would be shown on the device’s user interface and the user enters this in to a “Devices Login” page at the credentials service’s Website.

Add user

  1. A user selects the option to “add user” to the device using the device’s control surface.
  2. The device’s user interface creates a “device account passcode” and shows it on the device’s user-interface (LCD display, TV screen, etc). In the case of a network printer, it could also print out this “account passcode”.
  3. The user transcribes this “device account passcode” to the credentials service Website (Google, Facebook, Windows Live, etc) using a regular computer or other Web-browser-equipped device.
  4. If the user hasn’t previously defined a numeric PIN for “limited-interface access”, the service invites the user to enter and confirm a numeric PIN of own choosing if they agree to “protected device access”. This could be done either through the Web browser or continued at the device’s control surface.
    If they have previously defined the numeric PIN, the device will challenge them to enter the numeric PIN using its control surface.
  5. The user’s account is bound to the device and the user would be logged in.

Switching between users on a device;

1 A user would go to the “Users” menu on the device and selects their user name represented as how they are known on the credentials service (Facebook name, etc) from the user list.

2 The user then keys in the numeric PIN using the device’s control surface

3 If successful, the device is “given” to the user and the user then interacts with the service from the device’s control surface

Other points of note

All users have opportunity to “remove themselves” from the device by going to the “user settings” UI and selecting “Remove User” option. Some devices may allow privileged users to remove other users from the device and there could be the option for users to change their numeric PIN from the device’s control surface.

It could be feasible for a device to provide varying levels of access to a user’s account. For example, a device shared by a household could allow “view-only” access to certain data while a user who is directly logged in can add or modify the data.

There could be the option to integrate local user-authentication information on devices that support this by relating the “device passcode” with the local user-authentication data record. This could allow a device like a security system to allow the user to gain access to functionalities associated with the credentials service but the user still uses their regular passcode associated with the device.

Conclusion

Once companies like social-networking or photo-sharing sites work on ways to support multi-user one-device scenarios with limited user-interface devices, this could open up paths of innovation for the devices and the services.

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