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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Microsoft to allow streaming of games from your laptop to XBox One

Article

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

You can use the XBox One to play PC games hosted on your computer through the big screen

Microsoft’s Wireless Display app streams PC games to your Xbox | Engadget

Microsoft now lets you stream PC games to an Xbox One and use a controller | The Verge

My Comments

Microsoft is now making it feasible to stream your Windows 10 computer’s video output via your XBox One games console. It is being pitched at people who play Windows-based games on their computer, whether from a CD or an online games resource like Steam, GOG or the Windows Store.

This is based on the same Miracast technology used to stream PowerPoint presentations, video clips and the like from a laptop to the Surface Hub large-screen conference-room computer. There is also the ability to use the XBox One’s controllers attached to the XBox to provide player input to the PC game.

You have to have your Windows computer and your XBox One on the same logical network and have the latest version of the Wireless Display app on both devices. It can stream video and audio from most apps and games on the computer to the XBox. The only exception would be protected video content like iTunes or Netflix.

Dell G7 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell USA

You could play a game that exists on this Dell G Series gaming laptop through your XBox One

As well, your XBox’s game controllers can become the player input for your Windows-based computer game, something that may be of benefit in those games where the keyboard may not be ideal. The software has variable latency configurations so you can set your controller input and display output’s behaviour in an optimum manner for the game you are playing.

At the moment, a keyboard or mouse connected to the XBox cannot serve as an input device for your regular computer, which may be of a limitation to game players who deal with “point-and-click” user interfaces or for combining remote-desktop / remote-assistance software with  the biggest screen in the house. You can get around this situation by using a keyboard and pointing device connected to or integrated in your computer.

Another question that will be worth raising with the evolution of this software is whether you are limited to stereo soundmixes when it comes to the sound that passes through this setup. This may be of concern with Windows games that are being offered with surround-sound mixes rather than just stereo mixes.

Here, I would see the new step towards linking your Windows PC to your XBox One as being beneficial for gamers who spend their gaming time between console and PC games. This is more so if they want to use the same large screen for both activities.

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USB 4.0 is to arrive as a local-connection standard

Articles

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port on Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

Thunderbolt 3 like on this Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 paves the way for USB 4

USB 4.0 to adopt Thunderbolt 3 with 40Gbps data transfer speeds | NeoWin

With USB 4, Thunderbolt and USB will converge | TechCrunch

USB 4 Debuts With Twice the Throughput and Thunderbolt 3 Support | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

USB Implementers’ Forum

USB Promoter Group Announces USB4 Specification (Press Release – PDF)

Intel

Intel Takes Steps To Enable Thunderbolt 3 Everywhere – Releases Protocol (Press Release)

My Comments

Intel and the ISB Implementer’s Forum have worked together towards the USB 4.0 specification. This will be primarily about an increased bandwidth version of USB that will also bake in Thunderbolt 3 technology for further-increased throughput.

USB 4.0 will offer twice the bandwidth of USB 3.1 thanks to more “data lanes”. This will lead to 40Gb throughput along the line. It will use the USB Type-C connector and will take a very similar approach to the USB 3.0 standard which relied on the older USB connection types like USB-A, where a “best-case” situation takes place regarding bandwidth but allowing for backward compatibility. There will also be the requirement to use higher-performance cables rated for this standard when connecting your host system to a peripheral device using this standard.

Opening up Thunderbolt 3

Intel is opening up Thunderbolt 3 with a royalty-free non-exclusive licensing regime. It is in addition to baking the Thunderbolt 3 circuitry in to their standard system-on-chip designs rather than requiring a particular “Alpine Ridge” interface chip to be used by both the host and peripheral. This will open up Thunderbolt 3 towards interface chipset designers and the like including the possibility of computing applications based on AMD or ARM-microarchitecture silicon to benefit from this technology.

This effort can make Thunderbolt-3-equipped computers and peripherals more affordable and can open this standard towards newer use cases. For example, handheld games consoles, mobile-platform tablets or ultraportable “Always Connected” laptops could benefit from features like external graphics moduies. It may also benefit people who build their own computer systems such as “gaming rigs” by allowing Thunderbolt 3 to appear in affordable high-performance motherboards and expansion cards, including “pure-retrofit” cards that aren’t dependent on any other particular circuitry on the motherboard.

It is also about integrating the Thunderbolt specification in to the USB 4 specification as a “superhighway” option rather than calling it a separate feature. As well, Thunderbolt 3 and the USB 4 specification can be the subject of increased innovation and cost-effective hardware.

Where to initially

Initially I would see USB 4.0 appear in “system-expansion” applications like docks or external-graphics modules, perhaps also in “direct-attached-storage” applications which are USB-connected high-performance hard-disk subsystems. Of course it will lead towards the possibility of a laptop, all-in-one or low-profile computer being connected to an “extended-functionality” module with dedicated high-performance graphics, space for hard disks or solid-state storage, perhaps an optical drive amongst other things.

Another use case that would be highlighted is virtual reality and augmented reality where you are dealing with headsets that have many sensors and integrated display and audio technology. They would typically be hooked up to computer devices including devices the size of the early-generation Walkman cassette players that you wear on you or even the size of a smartphone. It is more so with the rise of ultra-small “next-unit-of-computing” devices which pack typically desktop computer power in a highly-compact housing.

Of course, this technology will roll out initially as a product differentiator for newer premium equipment that will be preferred by those wanting “cutting-edge” technology. Then it will appear to a wider usage base as more chipsets with this technology appear and are turned out in quantity.

Expect the USB 4.0 standard to be seen as evolutionary as more data moves quickly along these lines.

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How to set Bedtime mode on iOS so you don’t miss important calls

Options area in iOS Bedtime Mode screen

Select Options to set up the Bedtime Mode behaviour

Apple’s iOS operating system since version 12 have support for “Bedtime” mode which allows you to have a good sleep. This is achieved through optimising the display to reduce blue light in a sleep-friendly manner along with default automatic enablement of “Do Not Disturb” mode where the iPhone won’t ring through during the hours the Bedtime mode is in operation. This will be heralded by your iPhone ringing a phrase of Brahms’ Lullaby with a music-box sound when that mode is effective.

But some of us may don’t want to miss important calls that come through at night due to work or personal reasons. An example of this could be a person who is a registered keyholder for a premises and needs to know of alarm incidents affecting that premises. Or someone you expect home may be arriving late and wants to let you know they are on their way or changed plans. In a simple case, you may not want to miss that important call from someone who is on the other side of the world.

The default implementation for Bedtime mode has your iPhone in “Do Not Disturb” mode where your iPhone won’t ring or sound a notification tone for text messages while that mode is in effect. But you may want most of the sleep-friendly benefits of this mode while being able to be woken by those important calls.

iOS Bedtime Mode options screen with Do Not Disturb option called out

Clear the Do Not Disturb option to allow calls and texts to come through during Bedtime Mode

To enable this, you need to go to the Clock app and select the Bedtime screen. Select “Options” and turn off the “Do Not Disturb” mode on that screen to allow calls to come through. The display will still be dimmed through this time but the iPhone will ring or sound a notification tone.

You may also have to check for scheduled “Do Not Disturb” times in case you used this feature to set up a “do-not-disturb” period surrounding your normal bedtime. This is a feature that an iOS user may have implemented before updating to iOS 12. You can check this feature in the “Do Not Disturb” option in the Settings app.

If you do use the “Do Not Disturb” option, you can allow certain caller groups to break through and cause your phone to ring irrespective of when this option is in effect. One of these is “Favourites” which allows you to mark contacts as a “favourite”. Or you can use the Groups option to allow calls from contact groups that you have pre-defined. This is important if you mark out your contacts in to contact groups like “work” or “family” and is a complex procedure that requires you to use your Apple iCloud.com account on a Web browser.

The use of a predefined caller list to override “Do Not Disturb” may not work well with callers who call you using VoIP or from behind a business phone system. This is because you may find that the caller ID for their call may be different from their phone number due to them, for example, calling from the nearest extension rather than their own extension.

iOS and Android could natively follow the Symbian (original Nokia feature-phone operating system) approach where you have different situation-specific alerting presets that affect your phone’s audio / vibration / indicator-light behaviour. This can also allow the use of one or more priority call lists so that callers you select for a particular situation can ring through. Such presets can be linked to operation modes like the “Bedtime” mode or alarm clock so they can be effective during these modes.

As well, Apple could simplify the process of creating and managing caller groups on the iOS contacts list while you are using your iPhone’s user interface. This is important for processes like adding new contacts to your list or revising your contacts, and can make the process more intuitive.

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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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The MicroSD card undergoes evolutionary changes

Articles

1TB microSD cards will boost the storage of your device, if you can afford it | TechRadar

From the horse’s mouth

SD Association

microSD Express – The Fastest Memory Card For Mobile Devices (PDF – Press Release)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

The microSD card which is used as a removeable storage option in most “open-frame” smartphones and tablets and increasingly being used in laptops has gained two significant improvements at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The first of these improvements is the launching of microSD cards that can store 1 terabyte of data. Micron pitched the first of these devices while SanDisk, owned by Western Digital and also a strong player with the SD Card format, offered their 1Tb microSD card which is the fastest microSDXC card at this capacity.

The new SD Express card specification, part of the SD 7.1 Specification, provides a “best-case high-throughput” connection based on the same interface technology used in a regular computer for fixed storage or expansion cards. The microSD Express variant which is the second improvement launched at this same show takes the SD Express card specification to the microSD card size.

The SD Express specification, now applying to the microSD card size, achieves a level of backward compatibility for host devices implementing orthodox SD-card interfaces. This is achieved through a set of electrical contacts on the card for PCI Express and NVMe interfaces along with the legacy SD Card contacts, with the interfacing to the storage silicon taking place in the card.

As well, there isn’t the need to create a specific host-interface chipset for SD card use if the application is to expressly use this technology and it still has the easy upgradeability associated with the SD card. But most SD Express applications will also have the SD card interface chipset to support the SD cards that are in circulation.

This will lead to the idea of fast high-capacity compact removeable solid-state storage for a wide range of computing applications especially where size matters. This doesn’t matter whether the finished product has a smaller volume or to have a higher effective circuit density leading to more functionality within the same physical “box”.

One use case that was pitched is the idea of laptops or tablets, especially ultraportable designs, implementing this technology as a primary storage. Here, the microSD Express cards don’t take up the same space as the traditional SATA or M2 solid-state storage devices. There is also the ability for users to easily upsize their computers’ storage capacity to suit their current needs, especially if they bought the cheapest model with the lowest amount of storage.

Photography and videography will be another key use case especially when the images or footage being taken are of a 4K UHDTV or higher resolution and/or have high dynamic range. It will also be of benefit for highly-compact camera applications like “GoPro-style” action cams or drone-mount cameras. It will also benefit advanced photography and videography applications like 360-degree videos.

Another strong use case that is being pitched is virtual-reality and augmented-reality technology where there will be the dependence on computing power within a headset are a small lightweight pack attached to the headset. Here, the idea would be to have the headset and any accessories able to be comfortably worn by the end-user while they engage in virtual-reality.

Some of the press coverage talked about use of a 1Tb SD card in a Nintendo Switch handheld games console and described it as being fanciful for that particular console. But this technology could have appeal for newer-generation handheld games consoles especially where these consoles are used for epic-grade games.

Another interesting use case would be automotive applications, whether on an OEM basis supplied by the vehicle builder or an aftermarket basis installed by the vehicle owner. This could range from a large quantity of high-quality audio content available to use, large mapping areas or support for many apps and their data.

The microSD card improvements will be at the “early-adopter” stage where they will be very expensive and have limited appeal. As well, there may need to be a few bugs ironed out regarding their design or implementation while other SD-card manufacturers come on board and offer more of these cards.

At the moment, there aren’t the devices or SD card adaptors that take advantage of SD Express technology but this will have to happen as new silicon and finished devices come on to the scene. USB adaptors that support SD Express would need to have the same kind of circuitry as a portable hard drive along with USB 3.1 or USB Type-C technology to support “best case” operation with existing host devices.

This technology could become a game-changer for removeable or semi-removeable storage media applications across a range of portable computing devices.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer. This is Brother’s attempt at a high-ink-capacity approach to inkjet printing where there is an ink tank for each colour. But, unlike Epson who use separate tanks that are filled from a bottle, they use cartridges which hold some of the ink and the ink is transferred to a holding tank before it is used.

There is the Brother DCP-J1100DW which doesn’t have the fax ability and may be an economical path. Luckily it has the automatic document feeder which is of importance if you do want to scan or copy multiple pages at once.

Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour
B/W
A4 x 1 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-Jet 1200 dpi ID Copy
Book Copy
Thin Paper Copy
Multi-purpose tray capacity Ethernet
Wi-Fi 4
(802.11g/n)
Own-access-point
Wi-Fi 4
(802.11g/n)
(Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Colour Fax via phone
Email-based Scan-to-email TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Print and Scan USB
SD Card
PDF Print
JPG (Print and Scan)
TIFF (Print and Scan)
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support
NFC support with Android iPrint
Online Services Print From Scan To
Dropbox, Box.com, OneDrive, Googlr Drive

Evernote, OneNote

Dropbox, Box.com, OneDrive

Evernote, Onenote

Multiple Users for Online Services Yes
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services No

 

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$300

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$41 3000
Cyan AUD$41 1500
Magenta AUD$41 1500
Yellow AUD$41 1500

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

The printer can be connected directly to the host computer using a USB cable. But it can be connected to your network via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi wireless. This supports the ability to directly enter your Wi-Fi network’s passphrase as part of a wizard-based setup routine on the control panel.

Like with most of Brother’s inkjet printers, the cables for the USB or Ethernet connection are snaked in under the scanner platen which may be seen as being awkward for a newcomer.

Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer - ink cartridges

Ink cartridges as part of Brother INKVestment system – no need to deal with ink bottles

The Brother INKVestment approach offered by the MFC-J1300DW inkjet multifunction printer is based around high-capacity cartridges that offload ink in to tanks integrated in the machine. This is based upon a continuous-inking approach that Epson and others use for their “tank-based” printers but uses the simplicity associated with cartridge-based printers. It meant that there were no special procedures needed to be performed to get the printer up and running.

Paper Handling

Being a compact printer, the Brother MFC-J1300DW uses the traditional portrait feed-through method that most inkjet printers use. As well, it has a small A4 paper tray for storing paper, but this can be a limitation if you expect it to print a large job.

There is a low-profile automatic document feeder that works as expected and can come in handy for copying or scanning multiple pages or sending a fax.

Walk-up functions

Brother MFC-J1300DW INKvestment colour inkjet multifunction printer

A low-profile design is what this printer is about

There is support for Brother’s cloud-driven Web Connect functionality. This includes cloud-hosted scan-to-email, a fax-vault function with the ability to receive faxes to email or online storage, amongst other things.

A problem that can appear with “walk-up” scanning directly to removeable media is that the pictures don’t come out with a similar kind of quality that you would expect if you scan to a regular computer. I had noticed this with a project where I was to scan some pictures for broadcast use and found that you can’t determine the level of JPEG compression for pictures stored to the removable medium. This could be rectified through the use of an option to determine the JPEG compression level for SDXC cards or large-capacity high-speed USB devices along with support for USB 3.0 for the “walk-up” USB interface.

There is a USB port and SD card slot for printing photos from memory cards but this function is very limited. It doesn’t support DPOF printing where you can set up a print order on your camera, nor does it support PictBridge printing from your camera. As well, I could only see the first 300 pictures on an SDHC card that has 1099 pictures on it available for printing. What seems to be happening is that the user class who value the high-quality digital cameras is being forgotten about when it comes to walk-up printing functionality.

The Brother MFC-J1300DW is able to work as a Super G3 fax machine but doesn’t support T.37 or T.38 IP-fax endpoint abilities. It may not be seen as an important feature except for some professions like the legal and medical profession who do rely on fax transmission of documents. This is augmented with a “fax vault” function that allows received faxes to be forwarded to an online-storage service like Dropbox or an email address, but this function requires forwarded faxes to be printed locally by the machine as they arrive.

I would personally require this forwarding-to-online-storage function to have an option of not printing faxes successfully forwarded to online storage. This would be of value for out-of-hours fax reception in an environment where there is a risk of confidential faxes being seen by the wrong eyes. It could also use an SSD or SD card as an alternative to these options where you don’t want confidential material on an online service or via an insecure email setup.

Computer and mobile-device functions

I have installed the drivers from Brother’s Website for this printer on to both my Windows 10 computer and a friend’s Macintosh running one of the newer versions of MacOS which was to be used by them to scan some photos. Here, the driver-installation procedure went according to plan for both platforms.

I used my Samsung Android mobile phone to print out an email using the Mopria driver-free printing protocol and this setup worked properly via the home network. Here, the Mopria subsystem discovered the printer properly and turned out the document as expected.

Print / scan speed and quality

The print speed was very typical for an average inkjet printer that uses the orthodox printing arrangement rather than the newer landscape printing arrangement.  Here, it still turned out a sharp document for each print job I had sent to it.

I kept an eye on how this printer handles two-sided printing, especially when it comes to any “drifting” between the front and back of the page. There wasn’t any of that issue with this machine which would make it work properly with desktop-publishing jobs involving oddly-shaped documents like bookmarks or hang-tags.

I have test-printed two photos on to photo-grade paper and have found that there is the sharpness and definition in the images. The pictures do come out bright but the colour saturation could be improved slightly especially when handling reds.

I have scanned some photos with this printer and have found that there are problems with handling high-contrast photos especially if they are the kind of snapshot prints you get from a minilab. It may be a problem associated with most consumer scanners especially when it comes to reflective material.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

This baseline home printer could be improved upon through the use of landscape printing. It is more so if the goal is to make this class of home multifunction printer more compact. As well, it could benefit from a “mezzanine” photo-printing tray like what the previous Brother home MFC printers offered along with having a deeper paper tray so you can have a larger amount of paper on board.

Having a higher-capacity paper tray can exploit the INKVestment system further by allowing for larger print runs to be fulfilled. Here, it would work well towards the end of school or college / university semesters where there is the likelihood of large assignments being printed out, whether at a proof-reading stage or for handing in.

Similarly, having the output tray as a separate item that is integrated with the printer rather than being attached to the paper tray can make the printer easier to load. This could also allow Brother to innovate further by designing an output tray that automatically extends when a print job is about to be turned out and retracts when the documents are removed.

Most of these Brother printers could support SMB or HTTP-based scanning to or printing from network and Internet resources. A feature like that could make more use of NAS systems as a digital document archive. Similarly, Brother could maintain interest in the standards associated with walk-up printing of digital images from cameras , be it PictBridge wired connectivity or DPOF removable-media-based print orders. This would earn its keep with printing out “there-and-then” prints of photos you took with your digital camera.

A question that can easily crop up with the Brother “INKVestment” approach is the cost of buying replacement ink cartridges at a later time like after that promised year of use. Here, it will be about whether it would be cost-effective to buy newer cartridges for the printer or simply to replace it with a machine of similar standard. But I have found that the cost to replace all cartridges on this printer wouldn’t be more than the initial purchase price of this machine, thus it doesn’t appear to be “disposable”.

Similarly, using the tank approach in the INKVestment system could allow for the ability to replace empty cartridges while there is ink in the tank so as to cater for heavy print runs. This could be facilitated through the use of an indicator that shows whether a cartridge is empty while there is reserve ink in the tank. Even an option for higher-capacity cartridges can come in handy where there is a situation of peak usage.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I expect that the Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer is being positioned as a general-purpose home or home-office printer with the focus on a long time between replacing ink. Here, I would see it work well as a multifunction printer to be kept in a study or similar location and handle a typical household’s print requirements.

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Constance Hall puts trolling and bullying in the TV spotlight on Dancing With The Stars

Article

‘It hurts me so much’: Constance Hall targeted by trolls after reality TV announcement | Sydney Morning Herald

Dancing with the Stars: Constance Hall is ready to rumba! Here’s what you need to know about her | NowToLove.com

Video – Click or tap to play (Facebook page)

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Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

Dealing with Internet trolls

Useful Resources

Crash Override Network – A resource centre based in the USA focused on online-abuse issues.

My Comments

Constance Hall, an online personality who has run a blog and is maintaining a Facebook public presence, is participating in the latest Dancing With The Stars season on Ten Network Australia. But because she had decided to star in this popular dancing talent-quest TV show, she got a lot of online abuse from various trolls. She often copped this abuse in her online presence due to how she looks, her outspokenness or her alternative lifestyle.

I have seen this happen with two of the contestants in MasterChef Australia season 10. One of them was accused of being close to George Calombaris because she had him taste a sample of something she was preparing before cooking it in quantity for the contest, while the other who was a nutritionist was turning out desserts which went against the grain of someone whose profession was about “clean eating”.

Even a few years ago, I observed a situation of online abuse directed at a cafe I was visiting because they wouldn’t accept the placement of a protest group’s campaign flyers near their till. It was while their neighbourhood was effectively being divided by the potential presence of a McDonalds fast-food restaurant with this protest group against the proposed development. I even defended that they had the right to defend their space but they even had to effectively shut down the commenting ability on their Facebook presence.

This kind of bullying has become very toxic with the Gamergate saga which was an attack on female game developers and female gaming journalists. This situation got to a point where there were death threats against one of the game developers along with the publication of her home address and phone number.

Typically this can be about a perverse innuendo about intimate relationships involving one or more of the victims; that the victim doesn’t “fit the mould” expected of them; or that they are “taking the wrong side” on an issue.

But Constance Hall produced a Facebook video addressing this kind of behaviour in the online space. Here, it was about stopping the acceptance and normalisation of online bullying and she had related it to what happens to children and teenagers. This video was even played as part of the introductory video package that preceded her dance routine in Dancing With The Stars. This meant that the issues being raised in the video had a good chance of being aired on prime-time traditional TV.

It is also part of her personal campaign to reach out to and encourage teenagers and other young people who are at risk of being bullied during their life’s journey especially in the online context.

A good practice to deal with trolling in an online environment would be to “insert” some common-sense in to the conversation. It may be best to approach it in a neutral form without appearing to take sides.

If it is getting out of control, most social-media platforms and some other online environments have the ability to “mute” participants or “hide” conversation threads so you don’t have them in your view. Social-media platforms also have the ability to block participants so they can’t follow you. As well, you may also have to report offensive behaviour to the online environment that it’s occurring in if it is becoming consistent.

If the online environment has the ability for users to upvote or downvote comments or threads, it can be used as a way to bury questionable comments. It is a feature that has appeared in some commenting platforms like Disqus or some online forum software, but is slowly being rolled out to major social media platforms like Facebook.

I applaud Constance Hall for how she has turned a negative experience around for something positive as well as underscoring a “you can do it” approach. This is more so for people who are or are likely to become an online personality who can easily fall victim to the ugly side of the Internet.

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Computers that are secure by design are less likely to be bugs

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

Running modern always-updated operating systems and applications on your laptop is a way to keep your computing environment safe and secure.

Should you be scared of your laptop’s webcam? | ZDNet

Previous Coverage

Regular operating systems and their vulnerability to security threats

My Comments

An article appeared about whether one should be scared of their computer’s integrated Webcam and microphone. Here, a Webcam and microphone integrated in a computer or monitor or a USB Webcam that is always plugged in could turn the computer in to a surveillance device. But it highlighted the fact that recent versions of operating systems and productivity applications are “secure by design” when used to default settings.

It went through two different “what-if” hacking scenarios with different software combinations to see how hard they were to penetrate in order to “open up” the Webcam. The trigger point was to receive a “loaded” document with instructions that the user must follow, something that can be done through an email phishing attempt. Here, the document would have a macro that would install malware to open up the Webcam and stream its vision remotely.

The first scenario involves a Windows 10 computer running the latest version of Microsoft Word while the second scenario involved MacOS 10.14 Mojave and the latest version of LibreOffice. All operating systems and applications were run in the default protected mode but MacOS Mojave was temporarily configured to admit software from other sources in order to admit LibreOffice on to the Mac.

What was highlighted was the recent operating systems’ flagging or blocking of questionable software when the article’s author was asked to click on the required link within the document. The operating systems having their own basic endpoint-protection software underscored the ability to keep users safe from rogue software. Even productivity application software running documents supplied by email or from questionable sources in a protected mode to inhibit the execution of macros was also highlighted.

Creative Labs LiveCam Connect HD Webcam

Webcams, whether external like this one or integrated in a computing device, aren’t able to be bugs if you keep your computer software up-to-date with the latest patches and have it running “secure by default”.

This meant that neither the Webcam nor the microphone could not be accessed without the user knowing. It was demonstrating the recent “secure by design” approach of newer regular-computer environments that assured the average user of their data security. You may harden that attack surface by masking an integrated Webcam that is part of your computer or monitor, or disconnecting an external Webcam.

Unless you need to, keep your computer’s operating system, applications and endpoint-security utilities running in a “default-for-security” manner. This also includes updating them to the latest version, preferably with the software updating themselves.

If you are supporting other systems, don’t disable the computing environment’s security features unless you are sure they need to be disabled. Also educate the other users about data-security risks including the security warnings that will pop up on their computer.

If you are dealing with an old computer that is running a very old operating system and application software that doesn’t have the “secure by design” approach, you may have to cover or disconnect the Webcam. This is more so if it is found to be running the software “out of the box” without any patches or updates applied to it.

In most cases, the “secure-by-design” approach of most modern computing environments allows us to be able to use regular or mobile computer equipment in a secure manner.

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HID Global uses Bluetooth for emergency signalling in the health sector

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Ekahau Wi-Fi Pager Tag panic button

Bluetooth 4.1 now becoming a connection path for newer wearable emergency-alert devices

HID Global

HID Global Helps Hospitals Keep Doctors, Nurses and Staff Safe from Workplace Violence with New IoT-Based Duress Badge (Press Release)

Product Page with Healthcare use case (PDF)

My Comments

A key use case for Internet-of-Everything technology are wearable devices that have an emergency-signalling function. In the workplace, they are intended to be used by lone workers to signal for help from a security team in an emergency situation, with use cases being focused towards situations where they are at risk of being attacked. In the home, the primary use case is for elderly or disabled people who need to summon help, but it may also be applied to people at risk of falling victim to family violence or similar situations.

They are also being integrated in indoor-navigation technology so it is feasible to quickly locate the person who is at risk and provide help to them. There was a device offered by Ekahau that worked on multiple-access-point Wi-Fi networks and used the access points as a location means.

But HID Global have taken a different path with devices pitched to this use case. Here, their new Bluevision BEEKs Duress Badge Beacon, which is in a staff-badge form, is based on the same Bluetooth Smart 4.1 Low Energy technology as Bluetooth beacons. This device can also be integrated with building-access-control systems at the card level. Pressing the back of the badge can allow them to seek help from security who would know where they are in pre-defined areas thanks to the beacon-based technology.

It could be feasible to implement this technology with the badges as peripherals for smartphones, answering the needs of mobile workers for example. In this case, the device takes advantage of the phone linking to either a Wi-Fi LAN or a mobile broadband network.

As far as the home network is concerned, the Bluevision BEEKs badge would have to work with Wi-Fi to Bluetooth bridge devices. This could be a function that could be asked of with smart speakers or home AV that supports Wi-Fi (or Ethernet) and Bluetooth functionality, especially if the device is about working with peripherals including remote controls. But there could be the imperative to have Bluetooth 4.1 or 5 technology within Wi-Fi access points that are part of a distributed Wi-Fi system, typically to court IoT use cases.

This could lead to wearable emergency-call devices like this one that are pitched to workplace use being pitched towards home use especially with “ageing at home”  which would be the main use case.

I also see the possibility of this kind of emergency-call functionality being integrated within smartwatches and other wearables, whether the wearable uses a Bluetooth link to the smartphone or has its own mobile-broadband connection. This can easily be delivered in a software form for platform-based wearables like watchOS (Apple Watch) or WearOS (Android Wear) or Fitbit Versa.

Here, it may encourage the user to have this kind of functionality always available without needing to wear other items, encouraging you to wear it more. Also having emergency / duress call functionality in a smartwatch or similar wearable allows you to signal for help without doing something obvious, something that may be of importance in a highly-charged situation.

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