IP-based broadcasting Archive

Product Review – Revo IKON stereo table Internet radio (Frontier Internet Radio platform)

I am reviewing the Revo IKON, which is the first Internet radio that I have reviewed to be designed in a similar manner to a classic boombox. Here, it has been designed with that similar footprint in mind and also is equipped with stereo speakers that are angled outwards.

Description

The unit actually has an oval shape and has a pop-out iPod dock on the front, under a colour LCD touchscreen which is the set’s main user interface. The volume knob and the power button are located on top of the set, although the volume knob is a rotary-encoder type which doesn’t show on the display what volume position you have set it to.

Operation and Sound Quality

The colour LCD touchscreen is easy to read and the user interface that it presents to you when you select stations or other options is similar to an automatic teller machine that uses a touch-screen. The home menu shows a list of all the sources available – DAB, FM, Internet, LAST.FM, Media Player (UPnP AV), iPod dock and auxiliary input.

It also comes with a remote control which offers volume control, snooze / sleep control, transport control for the UPnP media player function or attached iPods, LAST.FM song voting as well as the ability to turn the unit on and off. You don’t have the ability to change stations or sources from this remote control.

If you are using the Internet radio mode, you can’t have ready access to the preset stations like you can with DAB or FM where you press a star icon to see the preset list. Instead, you have to meander around the menus to see the preset list. This can be an annoyance to those who tune in to local RF-based radio and are likely to visit Internet radio programs frequently and can be a pain for older users.

The unit works with DLNA-compliant media servers but you have to use the touchscreen or remote control to navigate the DLNA media server. This is common with Internet radios because Frontier or Reciva, who make most of the firmware for these radios don’t support “three-box” operation using UPnP AV Control Points.

The set supports LAST.FM and can allow users to “scrobble” (expose listening habits to LAST.FM) content from LAST.FM content or from content from a UPnP AV / DLNA media server.

The set has a “clean-up function” that makes it easier to manage changes to the DAB station list, which can be of importance if it is taken between locations or the DAB multiplexes in a city are being re-arranged.

Revo IKON - iPod dock exposed

iPod dock exposed

The set has a similar tone control to the previously-reviewed Revo Domino, where you can select one of five tone presets or set up a customised tone preset. Here, you have bass and treble controls and a loudness-compensation switch. Infact, the “normal” tone preset is with flat bass and treble settings and with loudness compensation switched on.

Speaking of the sound, the sound quality is very similar to most of the low-end to mid-range portable radios made through the late 1970s to early 1980s. It can also fill a small to medium-size room with sound in an intelligible manner.

Connectivity

The set can work with WiFi networks that use conventional WPA2-PSK passphrases or can be “bonded” to routers that support WPS “push-button” configuration. This function should be made available not as a WiFi network option but as part of the setup wizard. It can store the parameters relating to four different WiFi networks, which can be useful for home networks with more than one SSID or if you take the radio between multiple locations.

This radio also has an Ethernet socket which adds plenty of flexibility to how it is connected to the Internet. Here, you could connect it to a HomePlug or MoCA “existing-wires” segment using the appropriate bridge adaptor, a WiFi network that it can’t connect to using a WiFi-client bridge or directly to to an Ethernet network like in business premises.

There is only one external output socket in the form of an SPDIF optical socket for connection to a digital amplifier, home-theatre receiver or a digital recorder like a MiniDisc deck. This is limiting as far as outputs are concerned because a set like this could benefit from an analogue output like a headphone jack (to connect to headphones or external active speakers) or a line output jack (to connect to another amplifier or a cassette deck).

Advantages

One main advantage with this set is the stereo sound provided by the two speaker systems built in to the unit. This is an advantage compared to the Internet radios that I have been reviewing in the blog so far. The other main advantage that this set has is the ability to work with an Ethernet network rather than just a WiFi wireless network, which opens up a world of flexibility.

Other features that I like include the colour display, improved DAB handling and support for stations that present logos as part of their Internet-radio streams.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation with the Internet radio function is the inability to access the preset-station list from all of the Internet-radio screens unlike what you can do with FM and DAB. This limitation could be rectified through a software update and impairs an otherwise very good Internet radio.

The other limitation with this set is the lack of a headphone jack or line-level output. This also limits the flexibility that the set could offer as far as connection to external audio equipment is concerned.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Other than the few limitations concerning output connectivity and ready access to Internet-radio presets, this radio does have a lot going for it as a general-purpose Internet table radio.

It would work well as a radio for a kitchen, office or small shop, especially if it is used as a direct replacement for an older boombox or iPod dock or as an upgrade from a single-speaker Internet radio like the Revo Domino or Kogan Internet radio.

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BBC reception problem now rectified for Kogan Internet radios

Kogan Internet table radio

Kogan Internet table radio - BBC updates now available

Over the last few months, those of you who own a Kogan Internet/DAB+/FM table radio, which I have reviewed in this blog in November, wouldn’t have been able to receive any Internet radio services from the BBC. It may be of concern to UK expats or Anglophiles who have bought this radio primarily to listen to the sound of the BBC radio stations that broadcast there like BBC Radio 4. The symptom was typically in the form of the radio showing “Network Error” when you select a BBC radio service. This was because the BBC were doing a technical re-engineering of their online radio streams and were moving away from the original Real-Audio streams to newer technologies.

vTuner had updated their “master” Internet radio directory which services Frontier-based sets as well as a lot of other Internet-radio designs to reflect the BBC changes. The set manufacturers had to then roll out the updates to each of their set designs through the over-the-air updates. In the case of this Kogan table radio, it took a frustrating long time for the update to materialise because the OEM who makes these sets had to make sure it was working properly before releasing the update.

As of 18/03/2010, Kogan have rolled out the updated directory to these radios and next time you turn on the set and select “Internet radio”, you will have an “update notice” appear on the display. Press the INFO button in response to this “update notice” and wait for the update to complete. The radio must not be disconnected from the power at all during this process. The progress of the update is highlighted with a “fuel gauge” bar that appears on the bottom row of the display and when the set is updated, the display will show “Press SELECT to continue”. At this point, press the large “tuning knob”, and the set will restart and, a while later, the last Internet radio station that you listened to will play.

Then you can tune to the BBC stations using the menu system or recall any BBC stations that you previously allocated to the preset buttons. This update does not affect any other functionality or personal settings that you have established when using this set.

If you had bought one of these radios and the BBC reception problem had made you think of returning the radio to Kogan, now you don’t need to do so because of this update/

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Now Google is proposing search for the big screen in the home

 Google Testing TV / Web Search on DISH Network Set-top Boxes | eHomeUpgrade

Video business-news bulletin including story about Google’s TV / Web search

My comments on this technology

Google has become a byword for searching for information on the Internet in a similar manner to the way the word “Walkman” became a byword for personal stereo equipment or “Hoover” became one for vacuum cleaning. Their presence is now strong on the computer screen and the mobile screen, but the territory that they haven’t conquered yet is the television screen.

Now they are working with DISH Network (one of two major satellite-TV services in the USA) to develop a TV-show / Web search user interface for use on the set-top boxes that DISH Network provide to their satellite-TV customers. Could this mean that we could be able to find RF-broadcast content as well as content on the Web like YouTube clips or Web sites such as online episode guides. They reckoned that this may need the use of a QWERTY keyboard near the TV.

But I have observed an increasing furtherance towards text entry from the couch, which would be important with Google’s TV/Web search. For example, some remote controls are implementing text entry on a 12-key keypad similar to how those teenagers type out text messages on their mobiles and others, including TiVo are issuing remote controls that have a slide-to-expose QWERTY keyboard for text entry. On the other hand. there have been manufacturers who offered small wireless or USB keyboards being pitched at “lounge-room” use.

This is even though I have seen situations where teenagers have brought laptops in to the lounge area so they can IM or Facebook friends while watching their favourite TV shows, or where I have used Google or the Internet Movie Database from my mobile phone to search for information relating to a show that I am watching.

So it definitely shows that the Internet is becoming part of the regular TV-viewing life rather than a separate activity.

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First production car with Internet radio to be presented at Geneva Auto Show

Article

Mini Countryman to be first production car with internet streaming radio? – Engadget

MINI Connected Technology Adds New Infotainment Options, Debuts in Geneva | Motor Trend (USA)

My comments

Previously, I had talked in this blog about the idea of Internet radio in the car and the way this goal would be achieved. Now BMW have integrated Internet radio functionality of the kind that the Kogan Wi-Fi Internet Radio, the Revo iBlik RadioStation and the Pure Evoke Flow provide in to the Mini Countryman as part of the Mini Connected infotainment pack.MINI Connected Internet radio press picture

The article had described some of the gaps about how this goal would be achieved, but I would reckon that the technology would be based on a user-supplied 3G USB dongle or tethered 3G phone; or an integrated 3G modem working with a user-supplied USIM card. They talked of the idea of choosing a few stations from a directory akin to the vTuner / Frontier Silicon or Reciva Internet-radio directories and allocating them to presets so you can “switch around” your favourite streams. The author had suggested that there may be a reduced station list and that, for example, his favourite “speed-metal” Internet station may not be in the list. But if the software works in a manner similar to Frontier’s “wifiradio-frontier” or Pure’s “Lounge” portals, he could be able to add the “speed-metal” Internet station.

There is a strong likelihood of this feature being available as part of the“connected” infotainment packs supplied by vehicle builders to high-end vehicles at the moment but it could be made available to the aftermarket car-audio scene soon.

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Use of broadcast-network tuners to democratise pay-TV

 TiVo, Sony and others to FCC: ‘gateways’ should replace CableCARD — Engadget HD

My comments on this idea

The common situation with most TV households is that if they sign up to a pay-TV service like Foxtel (Australia), a local cable-TV franchise in the USA, DirecTV (USA) or Sky TV (UK), they can only watch TV through the set-top box provided by the service provider. The TV remote control ends up becoming redundant as they have to use the set-top box’s remote control for their TV viewing.

If they want to use a DVR i.e.. a “personal TV service”, they have to use the DVR option provided by the pay-TV provider rather than get a retail DVR solution like TiVo, a home-theatre PC such as Windows Media Center or one offered by a major consumer-electronics brand. In some situations like some cable-TV implementations in the US, you may be able to use a retail DVR solution along with a special “CableCARD” and, perhaps, a “tuning adaptor”. But this doesn’t provide the full service that the customer has put money up for, such as interactive TV or access to “pay-per-view” or “on-demand” content.

As well, a lot of these providers often charge an extra fee if the user wants to deploy a set-top box in other rooms. This typically means that one TV set, usually the one installed in the main lounge room or family room, is subscribed to the pay-TV service. At best, most users may deploy the second set-top box in a secondary lounge area like the rumpus / games room.

What is the layout preferred by TiVo, Sony and others?

The layout would consist of the following:

  • A “gateway device” or broadcast-network tuner connected to the cable service or satellite dish which “tunes” the pay-TV services and manages access to these services. It then makes them available over the home network using IP-based standards and technologies.  This device can also pass back information relating to “pay-per-view” content orders or interactive television from the endpoint devices. It can also handle on-demand content offered by pay-TV providers in the convention context and fulfil the content to the desired end-devices.
  • Standards-compliant endpoint devices (TV sets, DVRs, etc) that are connected to the home network and discover the services and content using technologies like DLNA. These devices can work with interactive services provided by the TV service provider and provide the viewer’s responses to the gateway device via the home network.

This is similar to the “broadcast-network tuner” setups like Devolo’s dLAN Sat, the Tivit ATSC mobile DTV WiFi tuner and the HD HomeRun tuner, where there is a digital-broadcast tuner that passes the signal via an IP-based home network to a hardware set-top box or software player program in a general-purpose computer so people can view the TV programme. These solutions typically used a non-standard control method and, in most cases, a single RF front-end so that only one TV set could operate at a time and they couldn’t work with a DVR or similar device.

Why develop this layout?

There is a desire for true competition in the multichannel pay-TV industry concerning end-user devices that is similar to what has occurred with telephone hardware since the Carterfone Decision in the USA and the Davidson Inquiry in Australia. One of the goals is to provide a TV navigation interface that encompasses off-air, pay-TV and IP-delivered content in the one electronic programme guide. This guide’s interface would be “skinned” to match the host device’s branding or any user customisations that are available to the device’s user. It also means that the user only needs to deal with one remote control to find whatever they want to watch.

This kind of layout could allow each TV set and each computer in the house to have access to all of the pay-TV services, rather than the common situation of having to deploy pay-TV set-top boxes to each place where there is a TV set.

There is the ability to upgrade the gateway to suit changing technological needs such as change of infrastructure or improvement in transmission or security protocols. That same ability also exists if the user wants to change providers or sign up to a supplementary-content service. Here, in all the situations above, there is no need to replace the end-user’s devices like DVRs or Internet-enabled TV sets, nor is there a need to replace software on any of the computers in the house to accommodate these changes.. In these cases, the software or firmware can discover the new services that are provided through the new hardware.

What needs to happen

One thing that needs to happen is high-profile implementation of common standard technologies like UPnP AV in the broadcast-reception sphere. This includes having endpoint and recording devices work to these standards when discovering and receiving broadcast signals via an IP network. It also includes the recognition of electronic-programme-guide data provided by these gateway devices, especially if the device that benefits from the data is a recording device like a “personal TV service”. It doesn’t matter whether the client device has the programme-guide data or the broadcast-network tuner has that data. This also includes handling situations where the same broadcast service can be received through different paths such as one or more over-the-air channels and / or a cable or satellite service.

In a similar light, broadband routers that work as the network-Internet “edge” could work as a “gateway” for IPTV services by storing channel lineups and service-authority information for these services.  This device may also have to support handling of interactive-TV sessions in situations where the endpoint device cannot handle the sessions itself.

As well, interactive-TV setups would need to work with an IP backhaul irrespective of whether the TV signal is delivered via RF (cable, classic-TV-aerial or satellite) means or via an IP feed. This also includes allowing access to downloaded assets associated with interactive content.

Conclusion

As mentioned before, what needs to happen is the use of common standards and device classes to support broadcast-network tuners; standard viewing and recording devices; and the home network in order to democratise the provision of pay-TV services.

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Internet radio in the car – why not?

A few weeks ago, a young teenager friend of mine had the Kogan internet radio, which I previously reviewed a sample of and had bought, “tuned” to an Iranian pop-music station that was broadcasting via the Internet. This youth, who had just turned 18 and was about to get his driver’s licence, was asking whether Internet radio in the car would be a reality.

Issues that limit this concept

One of the main issues would be for the wireless-broadband standards like 3G and WiMAX to support media-streaming in a reliable manner and at a cost-effective rate. Recently, there were issues with AT&T raising concerning about Apple iPhone users drawing down too much data, especially multimedia and another 3G provider wrote in to their subscriber terms and conditions a prohibition against media streaming.

The main issues were how these networks handle real-time content and whether they can stream this content reliably when the vehicle is travelling at highway speeds or faster. This also includes how to achieve this cost-effectively without limiting users’ ability to enjoy their service.

One way that it could be mitigated would be for mobile carriers and ISPs to look towards providing “sweeter” wireless-broadband deals, such as integrating voice and data in to single plans. Similarly,the providers could optimise their services to cater fir this kind of use.

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

In this setup, the car-audio equipment, whether as part of the in-dash “head unit” or as an accessory tuner box, has access to a TCP/IP LAN and Internet through a modem or an outboard router. It uses any of the common Internet-radio directories like vTuner or Reciva to allow the user to select any of the audio streams that they want to listen to.

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

The car-audio equipment would have a wireless-broadband modem integrated in the unit or connected to it. The latter situation could be in the form of a USB “dongle” plugged in to the unit, or a mobile phone that supports wireless broadband being “tethered” by USB or Bluetooth to the unit. If the setup involves an integrated modem or an attached USB “dongle”, the setup may use authentication, authorisation and accounting data from a SIM installed in the unit or “dongle”; or simply use the data from a phone that uses Bluetooth SIM Access Profile.

This practice had been implemented in a Blaupunkt car stereo which was being used as a “proof-of-concept” for Internet radio in the car.

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

This method involves the use of a mobile wireless-broadband router which has an Ethernet connection and / or USB upstream connection with a standard “network-adaptor” device class along with a WiFi connection. Of course, the device would have a wireless-broadband connection on the WAN side, either integrated in to it or in the form of a user-supplied USB modem dongle or USB-tethered mobile phone. A typical example of this device would be the “Autonet” WiFi Internet-access systems being pitched for high-end North-American Chrysler-built vehicles or the “Ford Sync” integrated automotive network available on high-end North-American Ford-built vehicles that gains Internet access with a user-supplied USB wireless-broadband dongle.

Here, the car-audio equipment would have a network connection of some sort, usually an Ethernet connection or a USB connection that supports a common “network interface” device class and would be able to “pick up” Internet radio as mentioned before.

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

At the moment, this will become the way to bring Internet radio to most car setups in circulations for some time. The setup would typically represent a mobile phone or laptop computer with an integrated or connected wireless-broadband modem. This would have software or Internet access to the Internet-radio directories and stream the audio through Bluetooth A2DP, an FM transmitter or hardwired through a line-level audio connection, a cassette adaptor or an FM modulator.

Increasingly, there is interest from car-audio firms and Internet-media software firms to establish an application-programming interface between a computer or smartphone running selected Internet-radio directory software and the car sound system. This would typically require use of Bluetooth or USB and use a control method of navigating the directory, in a similar manner to how most current-issue car-audio equipment can control an attached Apple iPod.

The primary platform where this activity may take place would be the Apple iPhone, because of it being the most popular programmable smartphone platform amongst the young men whom the car-sound market targets.The setup was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in the form of Pioneer and Alpine premium head units controlling a front-end app for the Pandora “custom Internet radio” service installed in an iPhone connected to the head unit via the special connection cable that comes with that unit.

On the other hand, if a smartphone or MID that is linked to the head unit via Bluetooth A2DP does support the AVRCP profile properly, an Internet-radio application installed on that smartphone could achieve the same goal. This would require that the directory applications are able to expose links to the AVRCP commands and requests.There will also have to be requirements to allow “source selection” between multimedia applications through the AVRCP protocol.

Further comments

This concept will become part of the “connected vehicle” idea which provides real-time access to navigation, telematics, communication and entertainment in a moving vehicle or craft, especially as companies involved in this segment intend to differentiate their offerings. It may also be very desireable as an alternative to regular radio in those areas where most regular radio broadcasts leave a lot to be desired.

Once the cost and quality of wireless broadband Internet is brought down to a level that is par with reasonably-priced wired broadband service, then the concept of Internet radio in the car will become reality.

Send to Kindle

Internet radio in the car – why not?

A few weeks ago, a young teenager friend of mine had the Kogan internet radio, which I previously reviewed a sample of and had bought, “tuned” to an Iranian pop-music station that was broadcasting via the Internet. This youth, who had just turned 18 and was about to get his driver’s licence, was asking whether Internet radio in the car would be a reality.

Issues that limit this concept

One of the main issues would be for the wireless-broadband standards like 3G and WiMAX to support media-streaming in a reliable manner and at a cost-effective rate. Recently, there were issues with AT&T raising concerning about Apple iPhone users drawing down too much data, especially multimedia and another 3G provider wrote in to their subscriber terms and conditions a prohibition against media streaming.

The main issues were how these networks handle real-time content and whether they can stream this content reliably when the vehicle is travelling at highway speeds or faster. This also includes how to achieve this cost-effectively without limiting users’ ability to enjoy their service.

One way that it could be mitigated would be for mobile carriers and ISPs to look towards providing “sweeter” wireless-broadband deals, such as integrating voice and data in to single plans. Similarly,the providers could optimise their services to cater fir this kind of use.

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

In this setup, the car-audio equipment, whether as part of the in-dash “head unit” or as an accessory tuner box, has access to a TCP/IP LAN and Internet through a modem or an outboard router. It uses any of the common Internet-radio directories like vTuner or Reciva to allow the user to select any of the audio streams that they want to listen to.

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

The car-audio equipment would have a wireless-broadband modem integrated in the unit or connected to it. The latter situation could be in the form of a USB “dongle” plugged in to the unit, or a mobile phone that supports wireless broadband being “tethered” by USB or Bluetooth to the unit. If the setup involves an integrated modem or an attached USB “dongle”, the setup may use authentication, authorisation and accounting data from a SIM installed in the unit or “dongle”; or simply use the data from a phone that uses Bluetooth SIM Access Profile.

This practice had been implemented in a Blaupunkt car stereo which was being used as a “proof-of-concept” for Internet radio in the car.

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

This method involves the use of a mobile wireless-broadband router which has an Ethernet connection and / or USB upstream connection with a standard “network-adaptor” device class along with a WiFi connection. Of course, the device would have a wireless-broadband connection on the WAN side, either integrated in to it or in the form of a user-supplied USB modem dongle or USB-tethered mobile phone. A typical example of this device would be the “Autonet” WiFi Internet-access systems being pitched for high-end Chrysler vehicles or the “MyFord” integrated automotive network that gains Internet access with a user-supplied USB wireless-broadband dongle.

Here, the car-audio equipment would have a network connection of some sort, usually an Ethernet connection or a USB connection that supports a common “network interface” device class and would be able to “pick up” Internet radio as mentioned before.

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

At the moment, this will become the way to bring Internet radio to most car setups in circulations for some time. The setup would typically represent a mobile phone or laptop computer with an integrated or connected wireless-broadband modem. This would have software or Internet access to the Internet-radio directories and stream the audio through Bluetooth A2DP, an FM transmitter or hardwired through a line-level audio connection, a cassette adaptor or an FM modulator.

Increasingly, there is interest from car-audio firms and Internet-media software firms to establish an application-programming interface between a computer or smartphone running selected Internet-radio directory software and the car sound system. This would typically require use of Bluetooth or USB and use a control method of navigating the directory, in a similar manner to how most current-issue car-audio equipment can control an attached Apple iPod.

The primary platform where this activity may take place would be the Apple iPhone, because of it being the most popular programmable smartphone platform amongst the young men whom the car-sound market targets.The setup was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in the form of Pioneer and Alpine premium head units controlling a front-end app for the Pandora “custom Internet radio” service installed in an iPhone connected to the head unit via the special connection cable that comes with that unit.

On the other hand, if a smartphone or MID that is linked to the head unit via Bluetooth A2DP does support the AVRCP profile properly, an Internet-radio application installed on that smartphone could achieve the same goal. This would require that the directory applications are able to expose links to the AVRCP commands and requests.There will also have to be requirements to allow “source selection” between multimedia applications through the AVRCP protocol.

Further comments

This concept will become part of the “connected vehicle” idea which provides real-time access to navigation, telematics, communication and entertainment in a moving vehicle or craft, especially as companies involved in this segment intend to differentiate their offerings. It may also be very desireable as an alternative to regular radio in those areas where most regular radio broadcasts leave a lot to be desired.

Once the cost and quality of wireless broadband Internet is brought down to a level that is par with reasonably-priced wired broadband service, then the concept of Internet radio in the car will become reality.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2010

I have written some other posts about the Consumer Electronics Show 2010, mainly about the rise of Android and about Skype being integrated in to regular TV sets. But this is the main post about what has been going on at this show.

TV technologies

The main technologies that were present at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show were those technologies related to the TV set.

US consumers are in a TV upgrade cycle due to the country undergoing a digital TV switchover and are preferring flatscreen sets over CRT sets. This is even though there are digital-TV set-top boxes being made available at very cheap prices and through government subsidy programs. The main reality is that the older sets will be “pushed down” to applications like the spare bedroom with the newer sets being used in the primary viewing areas.

Screen Technologies

The main technology that is capturing the CES show floor is 3D TV. This has been brought on by the success of “Avatar” and requires a 3D-capable TV and, for Blu-Ray discs, a 3D-capable Blu-Ray player. In the case of broadcast content, some HD-capable set-top boxes and PVRs that are in the field can be upgraded to 3D functionality through an “in-the-field” firmware update.

In most cases, viewers will need to wear special glasses to view the images with full effect and most implementations will be base on the “RealD” platform. Some eyewear manufacturers are even jumping in on the act to provide “ready-to-wear” and prescription glasses for this purpose.

Vizio had also introduced a 21:9 widescreen TV even though activity on this aspect ratio had become very dormant.

Blu-Ray

The US market has cracked key price marks for standalone lounge-room players and there is an increase in the supply of second-tier models, especially integrated “home-theatre-in-box” systems and low-cost players.

US ATSC Mobile DTV standard

You may not be able to get away from the “boob tube” at all in America with portable-TV products based on the new ATSC Mobile digital TV standard which has been released to the market this year.

LG are launching a mobile phone and a portable DVD player with mobile DTV reception capability. They are also releasing a mobile ATSC DTV tuner chip that is optimised for use in in-car tuners, laptops and similar designs. Vizio are also releasing a range of handheld LED-backlit LCD TVs for this standard.

A key issue that may need to be worked out with this standard is whether an ATSC Mobile DTV device can pick up regular over-the-air ATSC content. This is more so if companies use this technology as the TV-reception technology for small-screen transportable TVs typically sold at the low-end of the TV-receiver market. It is also of concern with computer implementations where a computer may be used as a “one-stop entertainment shop” with TV-reception abilities.

There is a small Mobile-DTV – WiFi network tuner, known as the Tivit, that was shown at the CES. It is a battery-operated device that is the size of an iPhone and uses the WiFi technology to pass mobile TV content to a laptop, PDA or smartphone that is running the appropriate client software. It has a continuous “battery-only” run-time of 3 hours but can be charged from a supplied AC adaptor or USB port. I consider this product as being a highly-disruptive device that could be deployed in, for example, a classroom to “pass around” TV content, but it also has its purpose as something to show the ballgame on a laptop during the tailgate picnic. The main question I have about this is whether it can be a DLNA broadcast server so that people can use them with any software or hardware DLNA-based media playback client.

Network-enabled TV viewing

This now leads me to report on what is happening with integrating the TV with the home network.

More of the “over-the-top” IPTV and video-on-demand solutions (Netflix, CinemaNow, Hulu, etc) are becoming part of most network-enabled home video equipment. In the US, this may make the concept of “pulling out the cable-TV cable” (detaching from multichannel pay-TV services) real without the users forfeiting the good content. They could easily run with off-the-air network TV or basic cable TV and download good movies and television serials through services like Netfilx or Hulu.

The main enabler of this would be the “Smart TVs” which connect to the home network and the Internet, thus providing on-screen data widgets, YouTube integration, DLNA content access, as well as the “over-the-top” services. Even so, the TV doesn’t necessarily have to have this functionality in it due to peripheral devices like home-theatre receivers (Sherwood RD-7505N) and multimedia hard disks (Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD) having these functions. Of course, games consoles wouldn’t be considered complete nowadays unless they have the functionality.

RF-based two-way remote control

Some home-AV manufacturers are moving away from the regular one-way infrared remote control, mainly in order to achieve increased capability and increased reliability. These setups are typically in the form of a hardware remote control or software remote control application that runs on a smartphone and they use Bluetooth as a way of communicating with the device.

These setups will typically require the customer to “pair” the remote control or the smartphone as part of device setup, which will be an experience similar to pairing a Bluetooth headset with a mobile phone. They have infra-red as a user-enabled fallback method for use with universal remote controls, but this could at least foil the likes of disruptive devices like “TV Turn-Off”.

The main driver behind this form of two-way remote control is to provide a secondary screen for interactive video such as BD-Live Blu-Ray discs. Infact, Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” Blu-Ray disc implements this technology in the form of an iPhone app which links with certain Blu-Ray players to use the iPhone’s user interface as a jukebox for the title.

Smartphones and MIDs

Previously, I had done a blog article on the rise of the Android platform as a challenger to the Apple iPhone market share as far as smartphones are concerned.. There is even talk of Android working beyond the smartphone and the MID towards other device types like set-top boxes and the like, with some prototype devices being run on this operating system.

There is an up-and-coming MID in the form of the Adam Internet Tablet MID. This Android-based unit which can link to WiFi netwoks and has a 32Gb SSD, also has a new display-type combination in the form of an anti-glare LCD / e-ink display

This year. the “smartbook” is gaining prominence as a new general-purpose computing form factor. It is a computer that looks like a netbook but is smaller than one of them. It is powered by an ARM-processor abd could run integrated 3G or cellular calls; and its functionality is more equivalent to that of a smartphone.

There have been some E-book readers shown but these are mostly tied to a particular publisher or retail chain.

Connected Car Media

Pioneer and Alpine have equipped their top-of-the-line multimedia head units with “connected radio” functionality. This function works with a USB-tethered iPhone running the Pandora Internet Radio app. Both these solutions act as a “controller” for the Pandora app, with the iPhone pulling in the online content through that service. The Pioneer solution also offers a “virtual-DJ” function in the form of an extended-functionality app that works alongside iTunes. All these solutions are intended to appeal to the young fashion-conscious male who sees the iPhone as a status symbol and likes to have his car “thumping” with the latest tunes. These solutions don’t seem to go anywhere beyond that market, whether with other mobile-phone platforms or other online-media applications like Internet-radio streams.

Ford  have developed the MyFord sophisticated dashboard and online telematics system and were demonstrating it at this show. This will work with a user-supplied 3G modem and also supports WiFi router functionality. Typically, this will be rolled out to the top-end of Ford’s US market, such as the Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Digital Photography

The new cameras of this year have seen improved user-interfaces, including the use of touchscreen technology and some manufacturers are toying with the use of fuel-cell technology as a power-supply method.

As far as network integration goes, Canon have enabled their EOS 7D digital SLR with this functionality once equipped with the optional Canon WiFi adaptor. This solution even provides for DLNA media-playback functionality.

The aftermarket Eye-Fi WiFi SD memory card was shown as a version, known as the Pro Series, that can associate with 802.11n networks.

The unanswered question with network-enabled digital photography hardware is how and whether these solutions will suit the needs of many professional photographers.  The main questions include whether the units will associate with many different wireless networks that the photographer visits without them having to re-enter the network’s security parameters. Another question is whether these solutions can work with higher-security WPA2-Enterprise networks, which is of importance with photographers working in most business, government and education setups.

Computer equipment

“New Computing Experience” alive and well in the US market. Market interested in powerful lightweight laptops that are slightly larger than netbooks. These will be driven by processors that are energy-efficient but are powerful. They could become an all-round portable computer that could appeal to college students and the like or simply as a desktop replacement. The machines that I think of most with this market are the Apple Macbook Pro comoputers that are in circulation, the HP Envy series or the smaller VAIO computers.

Nearly all of these computers that are being launched at the show are running Windows 7, which shows that the operating system will gain more traction through the next system-upgrade cycle.

USB 3.0

There has been some more activity on the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed front.

Western Digital had released an external hard disk that works on this standard, which is known as the MyBook 3.0. This my typically be slow as far as peripherals go because of not much integration in to the computer scene. VIA have also shown a USB 3.0 4-port hub as a short-form circuit, but this could lead to USB 3.0 hubs appearing on the market this year.

ASUS and Gigabyte have released motherboards that have USB 3.0 controllers and sockets on board. These may appeal to system builders and independent computer resellers who may want to differentiate their desktop hardware, as well as to “gaming-rig” builders who see USB 3.0 as bragging rights at the next LAN party. None of the laptop OEMs have supplied computers with USB 3.0 yet.

As far as the general-purpose operating systems (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) go, none of them have native USB 3.0 integrated at the moment but this may happen in the next service lifecycle of the major operating systems.

Some more benefits have been revealed including high-speed simultaneous data transfer (which could benefit external hard disks and network adaptors) and increased power efficiency, especially for portable applications.

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Ethernet AV – What could it mean for the home media network?

 Will home networks bank on Ethernet?

One of the next points of research that will be appearing for the home network is “Ethernet AV” or “AV-optimised networking”. The main goal with this research is to deliver time-sensitive content like music or video over an Ethernet-based network so it appears at each endpoint at the same time with the bare minimum of jitter or latency.

This research is being pitched at any application where a data network may be used to transport AV information. In the home, this could include multi-room installations where the same programme may be available in different rooms or multi-channel setups where a Cat5 Ethernet, Wi-Fi or HomePlug network link may be used to distribute sound to the rear-channel speakers. In a vehicle or boat, the Cat5 Ethernet cable could be used as an alternative to analogue preamp-level or speaker-level cable runs to distribute audio signals to the back of the vehicle or through the craft. The same method of moving AV signals can appeal to live-audio setups as the digital equivalent of the “snake” – a large multi-core cable used to run audio signals between the stage and the mixing desk that is located at the back of the audience. It can also appeal to the use of IP networks as the backbone for broadcast applications, whether to deliver the signal to an endpoint installed in a home network like an Internet radio or IPTV set-top box; or to work as a backbone between the broadcast studios and multiple outputs like terrestrial radio/TV transmitters and/or cable/satellite services.

The main object of the research is to establish a “master clock” for each logical AV broadcast streams within the home network that represents a piece of programme material. This then allows the endpoints (displays, speakers) to receive the same signal packets at the same time no matter how many bridges or switches the packets travel between the source and themselves.

Once this goal is achieved at the Ethernet level of the OSI stack, it could permit one to implement software in a router to provide Internet broadcast synchronisation for endpoints in a logical network pointing to the same stream. This means that if, in the case of Internet radio, there are two or more Internet-radio devices pointing to one Internet broadcast stream, they appear to receive the stream in sync even if one of the devices is on the wireless segment and another is on the Cat5 Ethernet segment.

This issue will need to be resolved in conjunction with the quality-of-service issue so that time-sensitive VoIP and audio/video applications can have priority over “best-effort” bulk data applications like e-mail and file transfer. Similarly, the UPnP AV / DLNA standards need to implement a quality-of-service differentiation mechanism for bulk transfer compared to media playback because there is the idea of implementing these standards to permit media-file transfer applications like multi-location media-library synchronisation and portable-device-to-master-library media transfer. Here, bulk transfer can simply be based on simple “best-effort” file practices while the time-critical media synchronisation can take place using higher QoS setups.

The other issue that may need to be resolved over the years is the issue of assuring quality-of-service and AV synchronisation over “last-mile” networks like DOCSIS cable, ADSL and FTTH so that IP broadcasting can be in a similar manner to classic RF-based broadcasting technologies. This also includes using the cost-effective “last-mile” technologies for studio-transmitter backbone applications, especially if the idea is to serve “infill” transmitters that cover dead spots in a broadcaster’s coverage area or to feed small cable-TV networks.

Once these issues are sorted out, then the reality of using an IP network for transmitting media files can be achieved.

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Windows 7 – What does it mean for multimedia and the home media network

Improved sound-reproduction infrastructure

Some of you may use two or more sound cards in your computer; such as using the sound circuitry that is part of your motherboad as well as an aftermarket sound card. Windows 7 caters for that by allowing you to relegate a particular sound subsystem to a particular program or activity. A common use would be to use a Bluetooth headset for Skype and related VoIP communications, gaming taunts and similar applications while you have your music playing through the main speakers. Similar you could connect a “good” sound card to a good sound system for recording and playback while the onboard sound infrastructure can be used for system sounds.

Even the ability to send digital audio signals to home-theatre equipment via the HDMI port has been improved. It includes the ability to pass the high-definition audio streams from BluRay and similar applications as a raw bitstream. It will also provide the multiple-sound-device functionality as mentioned previously with HDMI audio setups that use a dedicated sound infrastructure rather than feeding an SP-DIF audio bitstream from the computer’s main sound card.

As well, there is functionality that permits the music or video sound to be reduced in volume whenever a VoIP or similar call comes in even if the call goes through a different sound device, which makes life easier when you take these calls using the computer.

DirectX and Gaming

DirectX in Windows 7 has been taken up to version 11 and this has brought forward a lot of improvements as far as computer games go. This also includes a lot of work “under the bonnet” to improve game responsiveness with the screen and sound and bring up PC gaming to current-generation console level.s

Streamlined network management

The network management functions are similar to what Windows Vista users have expected in the Network And Sharing Center, But this interface has been streamlined and made easier to use. The “full map” is still available and you can gain access to shared resources or UPnP-provided device management pages when you click on the various devices.

HomeGroup

This feature is a way of establishing a “circle of trust” within a home network when it comes to sharing resources around that network. This is based on a computer-generated password that is used across the HomeGroup to authenticate all of the computers on the network to the resource pool. At the moment, this only works across Windows 7 boxes on the network, but it may be worth keeping an eye out for Microsoft and third-party downloads that allow Windows 2000 / XP / Vista, Macintosh and Linux boxes to work in with a HomeGroup setup.

This is another way that Microsoft implemented a practice commonly associated with locks and keys, Here, the identifying factor that only allows the lock to work with particular keys is already determined by the tumblers that are integrated in the lock’s mechanism and these tumblers are configured to work that way either by the manufacturer or by a locksmith when you have the lock rekeyed.

The first instance of this was with Windows Connect Now, which was implemented in Windows XP Service Pack 2 as a way of configuring a highly-secure wireless network. Here, the WPA-PSK passphrase was determined randomly by Windows Connect Now and used as part of a “configuration manifest” file to be transferred to routers and other computers using a USB memory key. This was extended to Windows Vista through the WPA-PSK passphrase being uploaded to a compliant wireless router using an Ethernet connection, and was integrated in to Wireless Protected Setup which is implemented as part of Windows Vista Service Pack 2.

Another advantage provided with HomeGroup is that it can work with “work-home” laptops that move between a domain-managed business network and a home network. HomeGroup can also cater for other small networks, because there is the option to share particular resources with particular users as you were able to do son with any Windows-based CIFS network.

Improved DLNA support

Windows Media Player 12, which is part of the Windows 7 distribution or, in some cases, available as a free download from Microsoft, has DLNA built in to its ecosystem. This doesn’t just stop at sharing media files with DLNA / UPnP AV media devices or streaming media files from other DLNA / UPnP AV media servers like NAS boxes. It allows you to “push” content to DLNA / UPnP AV media devices that present themselves as “MediaRenderer” devices. This is typically provided in the form of the “Play To” right-click shortcut for multimedia files.

Remote Media Streaming

You can stream content from one Windows 7 computer to another over the Internet as long as you use the same identifier, like a Windows Live ID. with each of them. This can be useful for situations like temporary accommodation like hotels, holiday homes or serviced apartments where you may have your computer at home running and you may want to play media at your temporary location. I have discussed this feature before on this blog and have raised issues regarding VPN operation and the computer that is pulling the media being able to serve it to DLNA-compliant media hardware on its local network.

Inherent support for current digital-TV standards and Internet TV

Windows 7 provides its Media Center application with inherent operating-system support for currently-deployed digital-TV standards so there isn’t much need for TV tuner card manufacturers to supply software to work with the current standards. As well, this operating system provides improved support for “over-the-top” Internet TV services that may be released in your country. In some cases, this may do away with the need for the coaxial TV cable to the computer or the need to sign up to cable services full of “fodder channels” to gain access to the “good channels”.

Next article in the series will touch on how Windows 7 will benefit the small business and the work-home laptop.

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