Network Media Devices Archive

Keeping online video going with an older TV

Cable TV in the man-cave

Older TVs may end up in a secondary lounge area or bedroom

There is a very strong reality as far as the modern television set is concerned. It is that they last for more than 10 years thanks to electronic design that is about long-term reliability. This is bolstered by technical standards relating to broadcast TV or device interconnectivity that stay the same for the long haul.

Increasingly, as we buy a better or larger TV for the main lounge area where we watch most of our content, the older set that this new set will replace ends up in a secondary lounge area, a bedroom or even a secondary residence. In some cases, the older set will end up in the hands of a family member or friend who doesn’t have a TV or has one that is on the way out.

It is the same practice that happens with the refrigerator where an older fridge serves as an overflow-storage fridge whenever one buys a newer better fridge for their kitchen.

Online video via your home network

But it is underscored by a problem that will get worse with the rise of online video. Increasingly, manufacturers who don’t understand this reality are abandoning their older sets as they evolve their smart-TV platforms. This leads to smart TVs based on the older software not being supported by content providers when they launch front-end software for their new online video services. Or the set works with a limited, buggy operating system and applications which can impact your enjoyment of online video.

Let’s not forget that there are the TVs that don’t have any smart-TV functionality. Typically they will have, at best, network connectivity to work with a DLNA-based media player so you can see images or video you have on a NAS on these sets.

Here, you may have to rely on set-top devices to keep your older TV working in an optimum manner with the latest online video services. In this situation, it is easier to replace the set-top device if its manufacturer abandons the device’s software or the content providers abandon the set-top device’s platform.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – an example of a popular online-media platform

At the moment, there are a few set-top platforms that are worth using for this purpose. The tvOS-based Apple TV; Android-based boxes running the Android TV operating system; Chromecast and Roku platforms still maintain support for older devices. The XBox One and PlayStation 4 games consoles also benefit from continual software upgrades as well as having apps for popular online-video services. Let’s not forget that you may find that some of the “décodeurs” offered as part of the multiple-play “n-box” setups by the French telcos like the Freebox Révolution may qualify in this regard.

Telstra TV media player (provisional design) press picture courtesy of Telstra

A Roku set-top box that is continually updated can also serve this need

You will also find that Apple TV and Chromecast are still alive with the AirPlay and Chromecast mobile-to-set-top streaming protocols. This will mean that most content services can be streamed from your iOS or Android mobile device to the set-top device. You may also find that Android TV will also support Chromecast streaming.

Other considerations

HDMI connection on video peripheral

HDMI connections – a preferred output on video peripherals

Your TV will have to, at least, support HDMI connectivity in order to work with these set-top devices. This is because most of these devices will have HDMI as their only AV connectivity option.

But you may find that the TV in question may provide only one HDMI input. This is more so with cheaper sets like house-brand specials offered by discount stores. In this case, you may end up having to use an HDMI switcher if you need to run multiple set-top boxes or other devices with these sets. Some audio devices like home-theatre-in-box units or AV receivers may answer this functionality need through the provision of extra HDMI inputs.

If your TV supports HDMI-CEC under its many names like Anynet+, Simplink, Bravia Sync or Viera Link, some of the set-top boxes like the tvOS-based Apple TV or the Chromecast will take advantage of this functionality. This will be in the form of the TV coming on and selecting the input the set-top device is connected to when you use its remote or, in the case of the Chromecast or Apple TV, you start streaming to that device from your smartphone. You may also find that you can control the set-top device with your TV’s remote so you don’t always have to rely on the set-top device’s remote.

HDMI-ARC is also relevant in relation to your older TV especially if you intend to use a soundbar, home-theatre-in-box system or AV receiver with it to improve its sound. This allows you to hear the sound from the set’s own broadcast tuner, network functionality or video devices connected directed to the set’s HDMI inputs via that audio device. If the older TV doesn’t have this connection but you want to use an external audio device, you may have to connect that device to the set’s digital audio output.

As far as traditional broadcast TV is concerned, you may find that your old TV will support the current digital-TV standard that is in place in your country. This is true if the digital-TV standard hadn’t changed since your country switched over to digital TV. But if your country is yet to switch to digital TV, you can plug in a set-top box when that day comes. Similarly, if your country has started to implement a newer digital-TV standard like DVB-T2 or ATSC 3.0, you would need to use a set-top box to gain access to broadcasts based on these standards. This extends to implementing interactive-TV platforms like HBBTV or the interactive provisions that ATSC 3.0 offers.

What manufacturers need to do

TV manufacturers need to understand the reality that the sets they make will be serving us for a very long time even if they try to force planned obsolescence on their products.

Here, if they offer a smart-TV product, they have to provide continual software support for at least 5 years, if not more. This may also have to be about at least providing software updates that answer data-security, software-quality and newer industry-standards needs.

As well, the manufacturers would need to maintain their products to commonly-accepted standards for broadcast reception and device / network interconnection. This is more so as a TV set ends up relying on external devices in order to stay up-to-date.

Conclusion

In order to keep your older TV set that you have pushed down to that secondary lounge area or bedroom, or have inherited from someone else going, you will need to consider the use of extra devices. This is more so if you want to keep it using the online services reliably.

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Why I support multiple accounts with online media endpoints at home?

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – an example of a popular online-media platform

It is so easy to think of the idea of one person associated with an account-based online media service that is run on a commonly-used online media device. The classic example of this is a smart TV or set-top box that is installed in the main living room. It also extends to smart speakers, Internet radios and network-capable audio setups that work with various online audio content services.

There is a reality that many adults will end up using the same device like the aforementioned smart TV. But a lot of online-media services like Netflix, the broadcast video-on-demand services run by the free-to-air TV broadcasters or online audio services implement user-account-driven operation so customers benefit from their subscription or user-experience personalisation like “favourite shows” lists. With these smart TVs or similar devices, you can only associate the device with one user account for each of these services. This assumes that one person owns and operates the device.

Dish Joey 4K set-top box press picture courtesy of Dish Networks America

Set-top boxes connected to TVs in common areas are used by many people

It is although Apple has started work with having one Apple TV device work with multiple Apple ID user accounts, leading towards concurrent operation of these accounts in tvOS 13. But, at the moment, this only works with Apple-provided online services that are bound to end-users’ Apple IDs.

This reality is driven by the rise in multi-generational households with adult children living under the same roof as their parents. That has come about due to strong financial pressures on young people driven by costly housing in major cities, whether owned or rented. It goes along with that long-time adult reality of maintaining personal relationships under the same roof, while other adults end up staying at the home of another person they are friendly with as a temporary measure. As well, younger adults are increasingly living in share-houses in order to split their living costs easily amongst each other.

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

An online media account set up on a laptop, tablet or smartphone is typically set up for one user having exclusive use of that device

But a significant number of the accounts for the various online-media services are established on computing devices that are primarily or exclusively used by a single adult. Then a person may decide to register their online-media service account on a commonly-used online-media device to use their subscription or customisations there.

The problem that easily happens is that other people cannot operate their accounts for the same service on that same device thus losing the benefit of their customisations being valid at that device. Or if they do so, they have to complete a rigmarole of logging others out before they log in, with some services having a login procedure requiring you to enter usernames and passwords on the media device using that dreaded “pick-and-choose” method even if the service was set up using social sign-in.

What does the single account problem affect?

Netflix menu screen - favourites

Shows you have marked as “favourite” for your profile in your Netflix account

The situation can also affect the account that is associated with the commonly-used device in a number of ways. This is more so with the content recommendation engines that most online media services implement which help in the discovery of new content that may be of interest. The behaviour of these engines manifests in the form of a “recommended content” playlist that appears on the service’s homepage, the customer email that is sent out to each of the service’s customers with a list of recommended content or a content suggestion that appears at the end of content you were engaging with.

SBS On Demand - favourites screenshot

Another example of shows you have marked as favourite – this time on SBS On Demand

Here, you may have “steered” SBS On Demand’s content recommendation engine to bring up European thrillers due to you watching these shows. But someone else comes in with a penchant for, perhaps, Indian Bollywood content. They binge on episodes of this content and you end up with the recommended-content list diluted with Indian content.

SBS On Demand - recommendations screenshot

The recommended-content playlist like this one can be diluted when there is one account shared by many with different tastes like with SBS On Demand

Another area where this will affect is the list of favourite shows or currently-viewing series that these services keep. Here, you use these lists to identify where you are up to in a show or series you are viewing. Similarly, your member email may alert you to new seasons of your favourite series or if the show is to be removed from the service. But if you started working through a show or series on a computing device you exclusively use but want to continue it on the large-screen TV bound to someone else’s account, you won’t be able to do so unless you log in with your account to continue your viewing there.

In the same context, it doesn’t permit a user who is enjoying the content on the account associated with the commonly-used device to another device associated with their own account. This may be of concern if, for example, you commenced viewing of an episode of a binge-worthy series on the main TV in the house’s main living area but had to continue it on your 2-in-1 laptop in your bedroom because someone else wants to do something else.

Common workarounds

Using a setup like AirPlay, Chromecast or hard-wired connectivity to link your own computing device to the large-screen TV may be seen as a workaround for access to your account even if the set or main set-top device is associated with another account.

But this can yield problems like mobile devices not yielding a best-quality picture with a hard-wired connection or the existence of an Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV setup or appropriate cable that is connected to the TV you want to use. Let alone it not being feasible to carry that desktop computer of yours around to the main TV to watch that Netflix show there using your account and its customisations. Or your smartphone or tablet going to sleep and interrupting your viewing due to it taking battery-conservation measures or simply running out of battery power.

You may find that connecting multiple set-top boxes or similar devices to the main TV with each one bound to different accounts may exist as another workaround. This is typically demonstrated by the use of a games console bound to its owner’s online media service accounts connected to a Smart TV that is bound to someone else’s online-media-service accounts.

But this can look very ugly, become less useable and you may not have enough HDMI ports on your TV or audio peripherals (soundbar, AV receiver) to cater for each set-top device bound to each individual household member’s accounts. It is made worse by most TVs having up to 3 HDMI inputs and most popularly-priced audio peripherals only having the one HDMI-ARC connection to the TV.

What can be done?

An online media service that works through a particular online media endpoint device could support multiple logins with the number being this side of 10.

Here, you could have an option to add or delete extra accounts to the online media-service interface as if you are managing your own account on that interface. The authentication process for adding accounts would be the same as for your own account, whether through supplying a username and password or transcribing an on-screen number in to the Website or mobile app for that service to enrol a limited-interface device.

A question that will come up is whether to have the accounts concurrently operating with the device exposing the customisations associated with each account on the same interface; or require the end-users to switch accounts for exclusive operation when they want to use their account.

Concurrent operation may be considered of relevance to, for example, a couple who watching their shows with each other whereas exclusive operation may come in to its own with an adult who watches their shows by themselves. This can also help with building out content recommendations or the online-media service keeping track of the popularity of a particular piece of content including how it is enjoyed.

What features can this add to online media consumption?

One feature would be the ability to easily enjoy the same content across different devices associated with your account, no matter whether they are exclusive to your account or not. This would benefit where you are working through the same content in different locations like hearing a playlist from that online music service in the car, or at home on the hi-fi; or watching that series on an iPad while you come home from work on the train then continuing it on the TV in the main lounge area at home.

Concurrent operation could also allow for an amalgamated content-choice experience, perhaps with separate menus or playlists for each person. It can extend to providing a list of common favourites or content recommendations that appeal “across the board”.

You also make sure that the content recommendations offered by the online media service reflect your content-consumption habits rather than be diluted by someone else’s choices. This is more so for music or video content that you enjoy and you want to discover similar content.

In some cases, you could have the ability to have the content-recommendation engine come up with content that appeals to the tastes represented by a group of accounts like a household rather than just one account. Such recommendations could be listed alongside account-specific recommendations lists.

Conclusion

What needs to be considered as the rise of online multimedia consumption occurs is the ability for multiple online media-service accounts to be used for the same service on the same device. This means that these services can work well with the reality of multiple-adult households such as couples or multi-generation households.

It then means that the service is personalised to each end-user’s tastes and the content recommendation system in these services reflects what they watch.

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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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