Network Media Devices Archive

Web-based favourite station function back on with Frontier-based Internet radios

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Airable by TuneIn (different from the TuneIn Radio app)

http://airablenow.com/its-available-the-all-new-frontier-smart-radio-podcast-portal/

Frontier Smart (Frontier Silicon)

Frontier Nuvola Smart Radio portal

Favourites (Knowledge-base page)

My Comments

The Web-based favourites portal returns to Frontier-based Internet radios like these Ruark sets

Frontier Smart have revised their Web-based Internet-radio-management portal to work with the Airable by TuneIn Internet-radio directory. This is after Frontier Smart, formerly Frontier Silicon, jumped from vTuner to Airable after it was recently found that vTuner recently “lost it” with Internet-radio service quality.

This account-driven portal offers Web-based favourites management which also supports the ability to create personalised station groups like “Favourite European Stations”. As well it brings back the ability to upload the Web address of an audio stream for your Internet radio to pick up, which can be useful if you are dealing with a station not on the Airable directory.

At the moment, you can have a favourites list available to a particular Internet radio or have them across all of the compatible devices you have bound to your account.

… including the Ruark R7 Radiogram

You need to create an account with the Frontier Nuvola Smart Radio portal for this feature to work. This supports social sign-on with Google and Facebook as credential repositories for both signing up and logging in.

As well, you have to enrol each Frontier-based device (Internet radio, wireless speaker, etc) with your Frontier Nuvola account for this function to work. You would then log in to the above-mentioned portal then select the “Connect New Device” option on the “Devices” screen to bind your device to your account.

You would need to bring up the device’s access code by using its control surface or companion app to select “Stations” then “Help” while it is in Internet Radio mode. Then you transcribe this number from the device’s display or companion app in to the “Connect New Device” web form. This number has a validity time of 10 minutes.

As well, you have the option to name the device with an easy-to-remember name so you know what it is. I would recommend the use of its make and, perhaps, model name or number plus its location in your home like “Kitchen Sangean DDR-66BT” for a Sangean DDR-66BT stereo Internet radio / CD player installed in the kitchen  as an easy way to identify it.

How could Airable and Frontier Smart improve on this feature?

Airable could improve on the Web-based favourites functionality so that your favourites aren’t confined to devices based on a particular platform or offered by a particular make. This is because some manufacturers; especially those who provide “big sets” like hi-fi tuners and receivers, or those offering to the automotive market whether line-fit, dealer-fit or aftermarket, will create their own highly-branded user interfaces to this directory.

As well, Airable could then be in a position to offer an Internet-radio / podcast app for mobile and desktop computing platforms so you can benefit from its resources with your smartphone, 2-in-1 laptop or desktop computer. It can extend to smart-TV and set-top-box platforms where an Internet-radio app is considered to be a desirable function. This could then compete with established app-based Internet-radio providers like TuneIn Radio and give a boost for European IT in the consumer space.

They could also provide the ability for a user to create preset-list and personal-stream groups that are available to a subset of Internet radios or other devices bound to your account. It could suit a situation such as to have one favourites list for in-car use or the office and another for the home.

Similarly, it could be feasible for a device to support multiple users such as to cater for larger households or the hospitality industry where different people have their own favourites lists or streams but want to use their accounts with the same devices.

The Airable effort is still being seen as a way to keep the essence of Internet radio – the “new shortwave radio” alive as a medium when it comes to standalone devices.

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Why should a common retailer join in to a tech platform with their own brands?

IKEA SYMFONISK speaker range press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B V

IKEA’s affordable path to the SONOS multi-room audio ecosystem

I have seen IKEA present a set of speakers that work with the premium SONOS multiroom audio platform but are more affordable than the SONOS speakers. Then I did some research on IKEA’s Tradfri smart-lighting infrastructure and found that the affordable smart lights offered by them can work with other Zigbee Light Link compliant home-automation setups.

A very similar practice is taking place with some of the German hypermarkets who are offering multiroom audio products under their private labels such as SilverCrest by Lidl / Kaufland.

But there are attempts especially by telcos who are offering “smart-home” systems where they don’t disclose what technical platforms their system supports. This is more so when users buy “starter packs” then want to “build out” their smart-home setup by adding on the devices that suit their needs.

What benefit does this offer?

Here, a retailer or telco’s retail arm can provide a set of equipment that is part of a particular multiroom-audio, smart-home, distributed Wi-Fi or similar device platform at a price affordable for most people. This is more so where they offer the products under their own private labels that are dedicated to value-priced or budget equipment.

Such a system can allow for a low-risk entry path to the multiroom-audio, home-automation or similar platform for most users. This is more so where a user wants to start out small, typically to suit a particular need like having a few lamps managed by a smart-lighting system.

Another advantage that exists for those of us who have invested in that platform is that we can build on it in a cost-effective manner. In the case of IKEA Symfonisk speakers, a person who has one or more SONOS speakers serving one or more primary living areas like the living room or the family room could extend their SONOS multiroom-audio setup to other rooms like the bedrooms in a cost-effective manner by using Symfonisk speakers. IKEA even took this further with Symfonisk by allowing you to have a compatible SONOS soundbar and a pair of the Symfonisk speakers in order to set up a full-on surround-sound system for your TV.

The retailer also benefits from the fact that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel if they are heading towards multiroom audio, smart-home or similar technology. Here, they can come on board with a range of products that suit their brand identity and focus on their specialities like, perhaps, home furnishings.

How does this work effectively

The key devices that are part of the device platform have to be designed as entities that can work with any systems or standards that drive the home-automation, multiroom-audio or similar platform. This means that they are to be interoperable with other devices working on that platform in a transparent manner.

If the retailer is offering a “hub” or “controller” device under their label, they may get away with something focused around their identity. But they could gain better mileage out of these devices by making them work to common technical standards so the devices can become part of the system that you want.

Some systems that allow a device to perform a supporting role like a pair of speakers augmenting a soundbar as “fronts” or “surrounds” for example could open up the path for accessing the desirable functionality.

Conclusion

When common retailers, telcos and installers offer equipment that works according to one or more common technical platforms and is affordable, this means that we can get in to the technical realms that the platforms offer with minimal risk. It also means that we can build out and add functionality to these systems in a cost-effective manner even if we use premium equipment based on these platforms.

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Internet-radio platforms are drifting towards new content directories

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Kogan Internet table radio

You may find that the Internet radio service is not working if you are using the vTuner Internet-radio directory used by most Internet radios

Frontier Silicon

Support Notice regarding changeover (English language / Deutsche Sprache / Langue Française)

Airable by Tune In Gmbh

Product Page regarding Internet radio directory service

Message From The Team (Press Release)

My Comments

Recently, it has been found that vTuner, the Internet-radio directory used by many Internet radios and audio equipment with that functionality including the ones previously reviewed on this Website, has become unreliable as a service. This has caused some of the set manufacturers to receive user complaints about their products through their product-support contact paths.

These manufacturers and Internet-radio platform providers like Frontier Silicon have found that they can’t assure their end users can benefit from proper service continuity. So they are changing their Internet-radio and audio-on-demand service provider to Airable by Tune In. This German company is a different company to the TuneIn Radio app and Website we commonly use to bring Internet radio to our computers, smartphones and tablets.

Revo Domino Internet radio

Check the update options in your Internet radio’s menus for any directory service updates

In a lot of cases, the manufacturer will supply a firmware update which may be delivered via the Internet connection or as a downloadable software package to be transferred to the Internet-radio device via a USB memory stick. Devices based on the Frontier-Silicon platform which includes Roberts, Bush, Kogan, Ruark, Revo or Sangean equipment will simply take on a small configuration update which may require the set to be turned off then on for it to be implemented.

There will be some older audio-equipment models, mainly “big sets” (hi-fi equipment, stereo systems and the like) offered by some of the big names, that may not be able to be updated to newer Internet-radio services. In most cases, these units will lose Internet-radio functionality and this is due to a traditionalist approach towards managing “end-of-life” models by these brands.

The same issue will also apply with equipment like the Ruark R7 Radiogram

If your device is based around a mobile-platform app, something that would be common with Wi-Fi-based multiroom speakers, you may have to update your app from the mobile platform’s app store. Typically this is facilitated using the “Update” option within the app-store menu. The same issue also applies to smart TVs, set-top boxes, games consoles, mobile-platform apps and the like whereupon you would have to visit the platform’s app store or download location to obtain an app update or a substitute Internet-radio app.

Other than that, check with your set’s manufacturer’s support Website for any software updates if you have found that you aren’t benefiting from Internet-radio service continuity.

Once the firmware update or configuration update has completed, you will find that the menu tree for your equipment’s Internet-radio or online services mode has been revised. You will also find that you will have to store your favourite stations using your set’s preset buttons rather than an online resource. This means you will have to rely on your set’s preset-station functionality for this purpose.

Since 5 August, Frontier Silicon have built up a new Web portal for you to manage your favourite stations in addition to using your set’s preset-station buttons. This will work with devices based on their platform like Bush, Roberts, Ruark or Kogan sets that are updated to use Airable.

Speaking of which, you may have to reallocate your favourite Internet-radio stations to your set’s preset buttons. This is because these buttons keep a reference to the station’s entry to the Internet-radio-directory-service’s directory rather than the full URL for that online stream. For example, a reference to Heart London’s Internet stream as a preset button on your set may only point to the reference in the vTuner Internet-radio directory which has all the stream addresses for that “turn up the feel good” London pop-music radio station. But this station would be under a different reference with Airable or another directory.

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

Some of these sets may not be able to benefit from Internet radio thanks to the manufacturer not supplying further software updates

Airable were even stating in their latest press release that they were on the receiving end of various support tickets as each brand was switching over to them to provide Internet-radio service continuity. They were even finding that they had to claw through the support requests while the switchovers were taking place.

If you discover a new online media resource, you may have to share the resource’s stream URL for audio streams  or RSS Webfeed URL for podcasts to Airable’s “suggest content” page. This will be something that podcasters and new Internet-radio broadcasters will have to do as they come on board with online content.

The same issue about Internet radio service continuity can apply to smart TVs, set-top boxes and game consoles that implement an Internet radio app

Companies who are using the Airable internet-radio-directory service on their products have the ability to “link” with audio-content services that implement the Airable.API interface. Here, it avoids the need to add to their device’s firmware many software “hooks” to allow the online service to be available from that device’s control surface. It also avoids the need to refresh device firmware if the content directory has to be amended.

What may also have to happen is for the Airable API to implement RadioDNS as part of their directory and software. It is becoming important where the Internet radio concept is very much about “hybrid radio” operation with “single-dial” tuning and rich displays along with the classic view of Internet radio as the “new shortwave”.

The changeover will take time to complete and will yield useability problems but it will, in most cases, be about continuing to listen to Internet radio. At the same time, Tune In will have to scale up their servers to answer increased demand and keep investing in their service all the time to avoid becoming oversubscribed or running on old data.

Update: 8 August 2019 – Frontier Silicon rebuilding their favourite-stations Web portal that works with Airable for their Internet-radio platforms.

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The UK to mandate security standards for home network routers and smart devices

Articles UK Flag

UK mulls security warnings for smart home devices | Engadget

New UK Laws to Make Broadband Routers and IoT Kit More Secure | ISP Review

From the horse’s mouth

UK Government – Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Plans announced to introduce new laws for internet connected devices (Press Release}

My Comments

A common issue that is being continually raised through the IT security circles is the lack of security associated with network-infrastructure devices and dedicated-function devices. This is more so with devices that are targeted at households or small businesses.

Typical issues include use of simple default user credentials which are rarely changed by the end-user once the device is commissioned and the ability to slip malware on to this class of device. This led to situations like the Mirai botnet used for distributed denial-of-service attacks along with a recent Russia-sponsored malware attack involving home-network routers.

Various government bodies aren’t letting industry handle this issue themselves and are using secondary legislation or mandated standards to enforce the availability of devices that are “secure by design”. This is in addition to technology standards bodies like Z-Wave who stand behind logo-driven standards using their clout to enforce a secure-by-design approach.

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

Home-network routers will soon be required to have a cybersecurity-compliance label to be sold in the UK

The German federal government took a step towards having home-network routers “secure by design”. This is by having the BSI who are the country’s federal office for information security determine the TR-03148 secure-design standard for this class of device.  This addresses minimum standards for Wi-Fi network segments, the device management account and user experience, along with software quality control for the device’s firmware.

Similarly, the European Union have started on the legal framework for a “secure-by-design” certification approach, perhaps with what the press describe as an analogy to the “traffic-light” labelling on food and drink packaging to indicate nutritional value. It is based on their GDPR data-security and user-privacy efforts and both the German and European efforts are underscoring the European concern about data security and user privacy thanks to the existence of police states within Europe through the 20th century.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

… as will smart-home devices like the Amazon Echo

But the UK government have taken their own steps towards mandating home-network devices be designed for security. It will use their consumer-protection and trading-standards laws to have a security-rating label on these devices, with a long-term view of making these labels mandatory. It is in a similar vein to various product-labelling requirements for other consumer goods to denote factors like energy or water consumption or functionality abilities.

Here, the device will be have requirements like proper credential management for user and management credentials; proper software quality and integrity control including update and end-of-support policies; simplified setup and maintenance procedures; and the ability to remove personal data from the device or reset it to a known state such as when the customer relinquishes the device.

Other countries may use their trading-standards laws in this same vein to enforce a secure-by-design approach for dedicated-function devices sold to consumers and small businesses. It may also be part of various data-security and user-privacy remits that various jurisdictions will be pursuing.

The emphasis on having proper software quality and integrity requirements as part of a secure-by-design approach for modem routers, smart TVs and “smart-home” devices is something I value. This is due to the fact that a bug in the device’s firmware could make it vulnerable to a security exploit. As well, it will also encourage the ability to have these devices work with highly-optimised firmware and implement newer requirements effectively.

At least more countries are taking a step towards proper cybersecurity requirements for devices sold to households and small businesses by using labels and trading-standards requirements for this purpose.

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The battle’s on for streaming-music services

Articles

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

Spotify’s ad-supported free music service faces competition from Amazon and Google

Free ad-supported service tier

Amazon Music’s free ad-supported tier goes live, but only for Alexa users | The Verge

Amazon and Google Are Making Music Free — And That Could Be a Big Headache for Spotify | Rolling Stone

Hi-Fi-grade premium service tier from Amazon

Amazon may be working on a high-fidelity music streaming service | Engadget

Amazon Planning To Hi-Fi Music Streaming Service: Report | Android Headlines

Amazon Music rolls out a lossless streaming tier that Spotify and Apple can’t match | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Amazon Music HD (Product Page – Sign up here)

My Comments

The Silicon Valley establishment are realising that other companies are offering streaming-music services that offer service options that they don’t provide in their own services.

Ad-supported free-to-end-user service tier

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo will benefit from Amazon’s free music service

One of these is a free-to-end-user service option which is supported by audio advertising that plays in a similar manner to commercial free-to-air music radio.

Spotify had, for a long time, established its streaming-music service on a “freemium” model with an ad-supported basic service tier free to the end-user. This is alongside their Premium service tier which can be fully enjoyed on your mobile device or Spotify Connect endpoint audio devices and without advertising.

The advertising models included display advertising on the user interface along with radio-commercial-type audio ads at regular intervals. They also offer to marketers advertising ideas like sponsored playlists or sponsored listening sessions.

Now Amazon and Google are offering a free-music ad-supported streaming tier for their “online jukeboxes” but this will be limited to their smart-speaker platforms rather than a Web-based or mobile-based experience. There will also be a limited music offering available through this music tier.

Premium hi-fi-grade service tier

Cambridge Audio / Rega hi-fi system

Amazon to undercut Tidal and Deezer when delivering a streaming music service fit to play through hi-fi equipment

The other is a premium streaming service that yields at least CD-grade audio fit to be played through that hi-fi system rather than an experience similar to FM radio.

TiDAL and Deezer based their music-streaming service on listeners who value high-quality sound for a long time. You may have heard music streamed from one or both of these services if you have recently attended a hi-fi show like any of the Chester Group hi-fi shows where I have heard TiDAL in action, or visited a boutique hi-fi or home-AV store.

Amazon aren’t taking this lightly and are offering the HD and Ultra HD service tiers which are the hi-fi-grade premium service tiers for their Amazon Music Unlimited streaming-music service. This is priced at US$15 per month with a view to undercut TiDAL and Deezer and is also targeted towards people who use Alexa-platform audio devices with their hi-fi system or use an Alexa-based network multiroom setup.

The Amazon service offers the high-quality service as two tiers – the HD one that is equivalent to CD quality and the Ultra HD one that is equivalent to “master quality”. These use the FLAC codec to trasfer the music to your equipment and you may find that the HD tier is similar to what you get if you are “ripping” a CD to FLAC files with, perhaps, Windows Media Player in Windows 10.  They are working with the record labels to license their music libraries to this service in order to have more high-grade content.

What is this to lead to

I see this opening up the floodgates for a highly-volatile streaming-music service market with companies wanting to cut in with entry-level free tiers driven by advertising or premium hi-fi-grade subscription tiers for those who value high-quality sound. Here, I would see at most of these companies running a three-tier music service for consumers – an ad-supported limited-content free service, a standard package with the whole library delivered ad-free and a premium package that has access to the whole library with CD-grade or master-grade audio.

There will be some factors that will allow each streaming-music service to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. They will become more important as a way to attract new subscribers or retain their existing subscriber base. It will also become important in encouraging people who have subscriptions with all of the services to focus their attention to a particular service.

One of these would be the quantity and quality of music playlists, especially curated playlists. Another would be the richness of information available to the user about the performers, composers, genres and other factors regarding the music library.

There will also be whether the music library contains underrepresented content and how much of this content is available to the users. This includes whether they offer a classical-music service with the expectations of such a service like composer-based searching.

Another issue that will show up is the provision of client-side support in standalone audio equipment so you aren’t running extra software on a computer or mobile device to get the music from that service to the speakers. This will also include having software for these services integrated in your car’s dashboard.

There will be the issue of what kind of partnerships the streaming-music service provider can have with the business community. It ranges from  “business music” service tiers with music properly licensed for public-performance on business premises to advertising and sponsorship arrangements like what Spotify has achieved.

As far as the creative team behind the music is concerned, a differentiation factor that will come about is how each streaming-music service renumerates these teams. It is whether they are the composers, arrangers, lyricists or music publishers behind the songs or the performers and record labels behind the recordings.

There will also be the issue of encouraging other vendors to tie-in streaming-music subscription as part of a package deal. This could be through an ISP or telco providing this service as part of an Internet or mobile-telephony service plan. Or buying a piece of equipment like an Internet radio could have you benefit from reduced subscription costs for a particular streaming-music service.

What I see of the online music-streaming market is something that will be very volatile and competitive.

UPDATE

19 September 2019 – Amazon formally launches the HD and Ultra HD hi-fi-quality service tiers for their Music Unlimited streaming service.

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Gigaset Alexa smart speaker is a cordless phone

Articles

Gigaset L800HX Alexa DECT smart speaker press picture courtesy of Gigaset AG

This Gigaset smart speaker works as a DECT handset for fixed-line telephony services

Gigaset reinvents the landline phone – Gigaset smart speaker L800HX | Business Insider

German language / Deutsche Sprache

Gigaset L800HX: Smart Speaker mit DECT- und Amazon-Alexa-Anbindung | Caschy’s Blog | Stadt.Bremerhaven.de

Gigaset L800HX: Alexa-Lautsprecher mit Festnetztelefonie | Computerbild.de

Gigasets Smart Speaker ist auch ein Telefon | Netzwoche (Schweiz / Switzerland)

From the horse’s mouth

Gigaset Communications

L800HX Smart Speaker

German language / Deutsche Sprache

Product Page

Press Release

Blog Post

My Comments

Amazon effectively licensed the Alexa client software that is part of the Echo smart speakers that they sell for third parties to use. This opens up a path for these third-party companies to design smart speakers and similar products to work with the Alexa voice-driven assistant ecosystem.

This kind of licensing opens up paths towards innovation and one of the first fruits of this innovation was Sonos offering a smart speaker that worked with multiple voice-driven home assistant platforms that they licensed. But I will be talking about another approach that links the traditional fixed-line telephone to the smart speaker.

Amazon Echo Connect adaptor press picture courtesy of Amazon

The Amazon Echo Connect box enables your Amazon Echo speakers to be your traditional household telephone

When faced with Google offering telephony functionality in their Home speaker, Amazon one-upped them with the Echo Connect box. This box connects to your home network and your fixed telephone line so you can make and take telephone calls through the traditional fixed telephone service or its VoIP equivalent using an Echo smart speaker or similar device. The device had to connect to the telephone socket you would connect the traditional telephone to as though it was an extension telephone and if you implemented a VoIP setup using a VoIP-enabled router, you would connect it to the telephone-handset port on this device.

Now Gigaset Communications, a German telecommunications company who is making innovative telephony devices for the European market, has approached this problem in a different way. Here, they have premiered the Gigaset L800HX smart speaker that works on the Alexa ecosystem. But this uses functionality similar to the Amazon Echo Connect box but by working as a DECT cordless handset.

The Gigaset L800HX can be paired up with any DECT base station or DECT-capable VoIP router to become a telephony-capable smart speaker. It is exploiting the fact that in competitive telecommunications markets in Continental Europe, the telcos and ISPs are offering multiple-play residential telecommunications packages involving voice telephony, broadband Internet and multiple-channel TV service on fixed and/or mobile connection.

Increasingly the fixed-line telephony component is provided in a VoIP manner with the carrier-supplied home-network router having VoIP functionality and an integrated DECT base station along with one or two FXS (telephone handset) connections for this service. This is due to use of dry-loop xDSL, cable-modem or fibre-optic technology  to provide this service to the customer and a drift away from the traditional circuit-based telephony service.

Onboarding this speaker requires you to interlink it to your Wi-Fi home network and your DECT-based cordless base station or VoIP router. Then you also set it up to work with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem using the Amazon app or Webpage associated with this ecosystem. A separate Gigaset mobile-platform app provides further functionality for managing this device like synchronising contacts from your mobile or DECT base-station contacts list to the Amazon Alexa Calling And Messaging service. It provides all the other expectations that this service offers like the Drop In intercom function. Let’s not forget that this device can do all the other tricks that the standard Echo can do like play music or manage your smart home under command equally as well.

The German-speaking tech press were raving about this device more as tying in with the current state of play for residential and small-business telecommunications in the German-speaking part of Europe. They also see it as a cutting-edge device combining the telephony functionality and the smart-speaker functionality in one box that fits in with the Continental-Europe ecosystem tightly.

Here, it is another example of what the licensing approach can do for an ecosystem like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. This is where there is an incitement for innovation to take place regarding how the products are designed.

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IKEA to provide an affordable path to the Sonos ecosystem

Articles IKEA SYMFONISK speaker range press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B V

IKEA’s Sonos-powered lamp and bookshelf are speakers in disguise | Engadget

Sonos And IKEA Made Some Wacky Speaker Furniture | Gizmodo

IKEA’s Sonos-powered SYMFONISK lamp-speaker gets confirmed for Australia | PC World

Sonos Ikea Symfonisk speakers officially revealed, starting at €99.95 | Pocket-Lint

From the horse’s mouth

IKEA

Meet our new family member, SYMFONISK {Product Page)

IKEA and Sonos shine a new light on sound {Press Release)

Sonos

How Sonos and IKEA Plan to Furnish Homes Through Sound And Design (Blog Post)

SYMFONISK Product Page

My Comments

IKEA have introduced a wireless multiroom speaker system that doesn’t need to be assembled with that allen key. Here, it is actually a multiroom system that is totally based on the SONOS platform and can interwork with a set of SONOS speakers.

It isn’t the first time IKEA have dabbled in technology, especially marrying it with furniture. A previous example was to offer some tables and lamps that have integrated wireless charging mats for smartphones.But the SYMFONISK speaker range are based on the Sonos multiroom platform and can easily integrate with Sonos multiroom speakers and devices. It is part of IKEA’s way of seeking outside help to design tech-focused products rather than “reinventing the wheel” and taking a huge gamble with tech devices they design themselves.

IKEA SYMFONISK multiroom speaker press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B V

IKEA SYMFONISK Sonos-compatible network multiroom speaker

The Wi-Fi-based multiroom speakers, presented at the Salone Del Mobile which is Italy’s premier furniture design show, are known as the SYMFONISK speakers. They come in two forms – a traditional speaker that looks very similar to one of the small bookshelf speakers of the 60s and 70s; and a table lamp that has an integrated speaker implementing the 360-degree speaker approach.

The SYMFONISK speaker can be used as a shelf, whether with the KUNGFORS kitchen-rack hardware or not, or parked in a bookcase like one of the many IKEA bookcases you may have assembled. The expected price for these speakers is EUR€99 and it also has local volume and play-pause buttons on the front.

IKEA SYMFONISK multiroom speaker lamp press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Group

IKEA SYMFONISK network multiroom speaker lamp

The SYMFONISK table-lamp speaker has the 360-degree speakers in the lamp-base and is able to be part of IKEA’s Tradfri Zigbee-driven smart-lighting system. The expected price for these lamp/speaker units would be EUR€179 each.

The fact that these work with the Sonos multi-room platform may open up various use cases concerning affordability. Here, you could “put your foot in the door” for a Sonos-based multiroom setup using the IKEA SYMFONISK bookshelf speaker compared to buying the cheapest Sonos multiroom speaker. Then, as you can afford it, you could buy more Sonos or IKEA SYMFONISK speakers to build out your multiroom audio system.

If you do have Sonos speakers, you could use the IKEA SYMFONISK speakers as a way to build out your Sonos multiroom system such as to “expand” in to a kitchen, bedroom or secondary lounge area. Similarly, Sonos suggested in their press release the idea of running two of the SYMFONISK bookshelf speakers as companion surround-sound speakers for a Sonos soundbar. It also underscores the idea with the Sonos multiroom platform of configuring a pair of like speakers to work as a stereo pair in one logical room with the wide stereo separation that this offers.

If you have a favourite sound system with its existing sources and want to play it through the IKEA SYMFONISK speakers, you would need to purchase the Sonos Connect box. This box, as well as being an “off-ramp” to play our Sonos-provided audio content through the sound system, also has a line input to connect the sound system’s tape output or an audio source to this device so you can stream that source to the IKEA SYMFONISK or Sonos speakers.

What I like of IKEA’s partnership with Sonos in developing the SYMFONISK speakers as though they are part of the Sonos multiroom ecosystem is that they bring affordability to that ecosystem. It is an approach that companies involved in network multiroom audio platforms need to perform in order to increase the ubiquity of their platform and avoid the attitude of their platform being so ethereally expensive that it ends up as a status symbol.

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Using Bluetooth as part of the hybrid radio concept

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – a representative of the current trend towards the “hybrid radio” concept

Previously, I have covered the concept of “hybrid radio” which is being put forward by RadioDNS. This is about integrating the reception of audio-based radio content from a radio station either through the traditional analogue or digital broadcast technologies or through the Internet.

It is based on the common Internet-radio application where traditional radio stations transmit a simulcast of their broadcast output as an Internet stream. You would experience this with an app like TuneIn Radio or by using an Internet radio, of which I have reviewed many. This has been used to listen to overseas radio stations by those of us who like the “vibe” of a particular country or to learn a new language, but has been used as a way to hear a national radio station that isn’t received in one’s local area, a situation that is common in rural Australia.

It is intended to provide automatic switching to an Internet-based simulcast of the radio station if you are out of the reception area for a broadcast transmitter and you can’t be “handed over” to a better transmitter’s output of the same station. It is also underscored by the concept of a “single-dial” tuning approach to select stations without worrying which broadcast methodology they are using, whether traditional or Internet-based. here is also the availability of richer metadata that can be shown on screens that support rich graphic displays along with an electronic programme guide for radio broadcasts.

This functionality is dependent on the radio having Internet connectivity of some sort. It is typically with the set being equipped with Wi-Fi or Ethernet connectivity for use on a small network, or a car radio being equipped with a mobile-broadband modem provisioned with mobile-broadband service.

This may not work properly with enterprise or public-access networks that require authentication beyond a Wi-Fi passphrase or WPS-PBC setup or we have to make sure the mobile-broadband service is provisioned for the car radio that we are using in the way the radio expects. This was something I had come across when someone posted a question about attempting to use the Internet capabilities of the Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-capable bookshelf music stereo system with a “headline” public-access Wi-Fi network in the place they were living in.

As well, the Internet connectivity is offered by consumer-electronics manufacturers as a product differentiator with it typically ending up on the premium products in the range. Similarly, some manufacturers want to steer clear of Internet-connectivity as a feature for their consumer-electronics product ranges.

But an increasing number of radio sets and audio equipment are implementing Bluetooth technology typically to allow streaming of audio content from mobile devices paired with the set. In the car-audio scene, this is to facilitate a safe hands-free telephone setup that allows the driver to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Smartphones or tablets could be used to provide “hybrid-radio” functionality

The RadioDNS hybrid-radio concept could be extended to the Bluetooth link by a standard application-level class or profile for the Bluetooth specification. Here, this would work in conjunction with a computing device that runs companion “hybrid-radio” software and is linked to the radio via Bluetooth in order to enable full “hybrid-radio” functionality.

This could allow for broadcast station selection using the companion device or the display of rich metadata for the currently-listened-to station on the companion device’s display irrespective of the source of the metadata. This would be of benefit to those sets that can’t show rich graphic metadata such as what DAB+ or Digital Radio Mondiale are capable of.

The concept cam make use of the voice-driven home assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home for many options. Here, it would exploit the idea of having a device like Amazon Echo or Google Home provide the Bluetooth – Internet bridge to your small Wi-Fi network and play network-hosted or Internet-hosted audio content through the radio’s speaker. It would be important where the radio’s amplifier and speaker does a better job at reproducing music compared to what the Amazon Echo or Google Home device.

… as could devices like the Lenovo Smart Display

For example, you could ask Alexa or Google Assistant to select a station and the local broadcast signal will then play. Or if you use something like Google Home Hub, you could have the station’s audio coming through the radio while a graphically-rich interface for that station appears on the Home Hub’s screen.

What RadioDNS needs to look towards is the idea of using Bluetooth or similar peripheral-level connections as a way of allowing a companion computing device to facilitate hybrid radio functionality for equipment or use environments that don’t support integrated Internet connectivity.

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Netflix works harder on interactive video

Article Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix to create more interactive content | Advanced Television

With Interactive TV, Every Viewer Is a Showrunner Now | WIRED

My Comments

Netflix is working harder towards providing interactive video as part of its subscription video-on-demand service.

This popular service took baby steps towards this goal with the Puss N Boots children’s TV show, using it as a proof-of-concept show. It is part of having to compete with Apple and Disney who are running or wanting to launch subscription video-on-demand services that are replete with family-friendly content. There is also the public-service broadcasters who are filling their broadcast-video-on-demand services with children’s content of high educational value as part of their public-service remit.

But Netflix have taken this concept in to the mainstream with Black Mirror Bandersnatch which is a sci-fi “time-travel” program about creating a video game in the 1980s. It uses an interactive metaphor that is based on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books but could be also seen as something similar to some interactive films or adventure games released through the 1980s and 1990s.

With these two titles, they have taken the video-on-demand concept further by linking it to interactive video. It is facilitated by streaming alternate video content under the user’s control rather than loading it from local storage whether it’s an optical disc of some sort or a computer’s local file system.

User-experience problems and inconsistencies

Netflix still faces problems with how their interactive-video efforts work with the different client-side setups that their users use. What is being highlighted is that some of their platforms and viewing setups won’t play this interactive content properly and is underscored most with popular setups involving the large-screen TV. For example, the popular Apple TV device, whether through its interface or as an AirPlay target for an iOS device, doesn’t handle these titles as doesn’t the Chromecast device or the Windows Netflix app.

This is a key issue regarding interactive video because video content has always been conducive towards viewing on a large-screen TV, especially in a “lean-back” manner.

Some titles like Puss N Boots do resolve to running as a traditional linear experience if the viewing setup doesn’t support interactivity whereas others just won’t play at all.

Netflix will have to answer this problem by updating the client software for tvOS, Windows 10, Chromecast and other platforms to cater towards interactivity. Some articles even raised issues like multiple buffering for interactive titles especially where the devices don’t have much in the way of RAM or storage.

Privacy issues associated with interactive content

The technology press are raising concerns about the issue of end-user privacy when users engage with interactive content. It is although the responses are encrypted using SSL encryption technology used to make Websites secure.

In the Black Mirror Bandersnatch application, the user interactivity would be considered to be benign with “The Register” seeing it like whether one liked Thompson Twins or the contents of a “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilation album. But the interactivity in a subsequent title could be seen as a way to identify factors such as a householder’s political affiliations for example.

If an interactive-video platform is being used to gather user preferences, there needs to be a user-privacy and data security framework concerning this activity. For example, any data to be collected has to be anonymised so it doesn’t point to particular households.

Taking it further

Different genres

Netflix is intending to take the interactive concept towards other genres like history, adventure and romance especially by making this kind of content targeted towards adults. This will lead towards a way to legitimise interactive video content and cause the screen arts community to explore it further.

This could be achieved through modelling the interactive titles on various point-and-click graphic adventure games that existed through the 1980s and 1990s and working these concepts harder.

As well, it has to be realised that non-fiction content like documentaries can benefit heavily from interactive video. For example, viewers could work through one of these shows but choose to see more detail on something they are curious about, whether as a slideshow, animation or full-motion video. Similarly, a non-fiction title can give viewers the know-how and opportunity to follow a call-of-action relevant to the title at any point during the viewing session.

Different approaches

Most likely, interactive video will be underscored in the form of  a multiple-choice storyline where certain options affect how the content evolves.

But it can also be in the form of a traditional linear storyline that has the ability to “telescope” at particular points. This is where viewers have the option to view a more-detailed version of a concept that is a point in the storyline, whether as video, animation or on-screen text. It can also extend to a 360-degree video-tour of a space relevant to the storyline where the viewer can use their remote control to navigate that space and, perhaps, see explanations about particular details. It is more so with remote controls that implement trackpads or gyroscopic sensors.

In some cases, you could integrate a “mini-game” or programmatic simulation within the title that the user can play if they so wish. An example of how this could take place could be a crime drama based on the Dick Francis novels that are set within the murky world of horseracing and betting. In this case, there could be the option to emulate one or more betting scenarios concerning one of the subject horse races or see comparative “market odds” for a race before and after a situation highlighted within the drama’s storyline.

This kind of approach may require the use of computing power within the client device or the server to perform any necessary calculations. Here, it may depend on how powerful the client device is and what is being expected for the necessary calculations.

Interactivity as an option

One thing that needs to be thought of as interactive video catches on is the concept of offering “interactivity as an option”.

This is where the content is run in a linear fashion following a known storyline from beginning to end in order to satisfy group-viewing scenarios, viewing setups that don’t support interactivity or simply where you just want to simply relax and view. It may also allow critics to get the essence of the content to make a fair judgement on what the content’s baseline is about.

But it has to allow the user to enable an interactive-viewing mode to allow the individual viewer to benefit from the interactivity.

Taking the interactive TV concept to other VOD platforms

As well, other video-on-demand platforms will want to explore interactive TV as part of their operating software so they can work towards creating their own interactive content. Here, it could be achieved through an operator offering a white-label interactivity solution that other video-on-demand platforms could implement.

Then there is also the issue of having end-user setups work properly with interactive-TV abilities. Here, it will require the software on all of the platforms especially the popular “big-screen” ones, that facilitates the end-user experience whether as a Web-page or a native app to work tightly with these experiences. It also includes operational setups that are used to “point” a regular computer’s or mobile device’s screen to the big screen such as a hard-wired connection, AirPlay or Chromecast.

One of the video-on-demand providers or a third party may decide to approach this situation by offering a “white-box” interactive-TV solution with software libraries for playout and end-user applications. This approach can then speed up the deployment of an interactive-video experience within a video-on-demand service, especially if the service provider is a broadcast video-on-demand type or one that targets niche audiences.

Conclusion

By issuing Black Mirror Bandersnatch as an interactive video title, Netflix is putting forward a strong case for taking interactive video content in to the mainstream. But they will need to work harder to make this new content type work properly for everyone.

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Why is broadcast-LAN technology still relevant nowadays

There is still in most areas of the world an undercurrent of interest regarding broadcast-LAN setups where a server box is connected to a TV-broadcast source and streams it across a small network to be picked up by various network-enabled devices. Such setups are used to facilitate access to traditional TV services from a tablet or laptop without the need to use a USB tuner module.

What is broadcast-LAN technology

Broadcast-LAN setup

A broadcast-LAN device like the HDHomeRun devices is a network server device that houses one or more radio or TV tuner front-ends and streams the audio or video content from radio or TV broadcasts over a local network. Client devices like computers, smartphones, tablets or smart TVs pull in these streams offered by the broadcast-LAN device to show on their screens or play through their speakers.

The broadcast-LAN device is typically connected to the RF source it is designed to work with like an aerial (antenna) for a traditional terrestrial radio / TV setup, a satellite dish for a satellite-TV service or a cable-TV infrastructure.

Some of these systems may even decrypt premium pay-TV content themselves through the use of a separately-installed hardware decryption module or integrated software. On the other hand, software in the client device may decrypt the premium content. Here, it is about providing access to pay-TV from multiple TV sets without the need for a set-top box.

Why is there interest in broadcast-LAN technology

One advantage is that there isn’t a need to run a connection from the RF source (cable TV, outdoor TV aerial, satellite dish) to each viewing device. It also obviates the need to use a dodgy indoor antenna such as “rabbit’s ears” as a substitute set-local connection. Nor is there the need to have a cable-TV or TV-aerial technician install cable-TV or TV-aerial sockets in each room you would likely to use an easily-transportable TV in, something that can easily be required when you use a room for a different purpose.

A broadcast-LAN setup provides a method of streaming TV over your network that is independent of your Internet service’s quality. It can then appeal to those of us who use a laptop, smartphone or tablet to watch TV content via our home network in lieu of using a small TV to watch broadcast content in secondary areas. This is because it can use your home network, especially if you use Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug powerline technology, to transport the video streams from the broadcast-LAN device to the client devices.

As well, there isn’t the need to run multiple client apps or Web URLs to pick up the different broadcasts that are available to you. If you use the app or interface associated with the broadcast-LAN setup, you are able then to have a viewing experience similar to traditional TV viewing including the ability to channel surf like you always did.

Such technology plays in to the hands of people and societies who show a strong interest in traditional free-to-air TV content such as countries with a strong public-service broadcast scene like Europe or Australia, or the cord-cutting trend that is taking place among young people in America where people are dumping cable TV services and watching online content and local broadcast TV.

Some manufacturers have seen these facts as a point of innovation by integrating a broadcast-LAN server function in a TV-antenna device or component. For example a number of European satellite-dish component manufacturers have offered “IP LNB” devices which comprise a broadcast-LAN server device including multiple tuners in an LNB antenna device that mounts on to a satellite dish, with these devices being powered by Power-Over-Ethernet technology. Similarly, some indoor TV aerials and portable satellite dishes are being equipped with this functionality including, in some cases, DHCP and Wi-Fi access point functionality to allow for a transportable TV setup for your tablet or laptop.

Another factor being called out for broadcast-LAN by some vendors is the idea of using multiple broadcast-LAN server devices to increase the capacity of a TV-viewing setup based on this technology. This is through adding additional broadcast-LAN server devices to the same RF source in order to allow an increased number of TV channels from that source to be watched or recorded concurrently. On the other hand, adding an additional broadcast-LAN server device associated with different RF technology such as satellite TV to a home network equipped with an extant broadcast-LAN device could open up access to programming offered by that different technology.

Key drivers

SAT>IP concept diagram

What SAT>IP is about with satellite TV

For Europe, Asia and Oceania, the European technology-standards bodies have worked on standards that facilitate broadcast-LAN setups. These are SAT>IP, better referred to as SAT-IP, which links satellite-TV tuners and client hardware or software to an IP-based small local network; and DVB-I which is about integrating IP-based TV sources to the same setup and usage experience as regular RF-based TV sources. It has also led to both standards bodies to work towards using the same protocols no matter whether it’s cable, terrestrial or satellite.

Another driver that has been called out in the US market through the Obama presidency was the idea of access to cable TV across one’s household without the need to equip each TV with a set-top box provided by the cable-TV provider. But this idea has fallen apart thanks to a newer government that supports the status quo with the cable-TV providers.

It also had been pitched towards the cable and satellite TV industry as a way to save money on set-top-box inventory and allow, for example, the rental of one highly-capable multi-tuner PVR box that connects to the subscriber’s home network and the main TV. The household then connects secondary TVs and computing devices to this PVR box via the same home network to view live or recorded TV content offered by the pay-TV service on these devices.

Similarly, an increasing number of broadcast-LAN server devices support DLNA / UPnP AV content-discovery standards which are supported by most Smart TVs and video peripherals. Here, it means that most of these devices can pull in the TV stations without the need for extra software.

A broadcast-LAN setup offers a way to future-proof one’s TV experience for newer broadcasting technologies. This is more so as ATSC and DVB are investigating, trialling or driving the market to implement newer digital TV standards that can support 4K UHD TV broadcasts. Here, a standards-compliant broadcast-LAN device could be able to use its DLNA presence or a single app to bring forth TV delivered according to newer standards to existing equipment.

What needs to happen

At the moment, the broadcast-LAN idea is primarily being used by people with higher technical / IT skills. This is typically due to various rigmaroles being required to set up most of these server boxes or a requirement to use set-top boxes or other video peripherals with most existing TVs. It also includes being able to track down necessary client software for most operating systems if you are using a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Simplified setup and operation

There will have to he the idea of a simplified setup routine to reduce the time taken to get a broadcast-LAN setup running or adapting it to newer broadcast conditions like the arrival of new stations or stations changing their output channels. With SAT>IP setups, it would be facilitated by the client devices and software “remembering” channel details as a channel update is performed. On the other hand, it may be about the broadcast-LAN box remembering these details and you using a Web-based user interface to instigate a channel scan.

The SAT>IP setup could support server-side caching so that new clients can quickly download a broadcaster details list when they are setup rather than causing the broadcast-LAN box to do a channel scan. Similarly a server-based setup could provide for a Web-based UPnP-compliant setup with a lean-back display optimisation to allow users or installers to complete tune-in procedures, along with a hardware-based “install” button to instigate tuning and network-interface setup.

One issue that has to be raised is to provide station-listing-aggregation or EPG-aggregation so that you see a TV station as one entry even if you are using multiple broadcast-LAN devices. This could be facilitated by one server device acting as an aggregator or through the use of advanced client software. Answering this question could facilitate handling sites with many end-users or PVRs recording many shows concurrently. This is a situation that comes up during peak TV-ratings seasons where all the broadcasters concurrently run shows of popular interest.

Another issue that will come up is for client devices to support standards-driven Web-based interactive TV like HBBTV or RVU when they receive broadcast content through a broadcast-LAN setup.

Marketing the concept to everyone

Then there is the issue of marketing the broadcast-LAN concept to mainstream TV viewers. Firstly, it would be successful for setups that are standards-based like SAT>IP and aren’t dependent on particular manufacturer-supplied apps.

The main use cases that would be positioned here are to support the use of supplementary viewing devices without the need to pull extra RF cable; or to support satellite TV in a convenient manner. It is of key importance to those of us who live in rented homes or multi-dwelling buildings where you have to seek your landlord’s or building committee’s permission to have extra TV outlets installed.

It also includes the use of portable computing devices especially tablets and laptops for viewing TV anywhere within the scope of your home network.

TV manufacturers would also have to provide network and broadcast-LAN client functionality within cheaper TV sets that are pitched as second or supplementary sets (typically sets with screens less that 40 inches or having reduced functionality), as well as the larger TVs typically pitched for primary use. As well, providing easy-to-use client software that can be an add-on app or baked in to the operating system could open up this experience for people using devices like tablets, games consoles or laptop computers.

As well, games consoles, media boxes, Blu-Ray players and similar video peripherals would need to support standards-based broadcast-LAN client functionality. This would be of importance with the fact that these devices can enable secondary TV sets not equipped with broadcast-LAN client capabilities such as older sets that have been pushed down from primary-area service.

Conclusion

The concept of broadcast-LAN server devices that work with your home network still has relevance today especially where receiver-setup flexibility is important. It also allows for multiple receiver devices to be operated in premises where installation of RF infrastructure will be difficult like rented premises.

But these setups need to be simplified when it comes to installation or operation and awareness of this concept needs to be underscored across the general populace.

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