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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Could a logical network be a data-security attribute?

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

The local network created by one of these routers could be seen as a way to attest proximity or effective control of these devices

In data security, there has to be a way to attest that a user has effective control of their computing devices when they are authenticating with a device or service. Increasingly, most of us are handling two or more devices in this context such as to move data between them, use one of them as an authentication factor or to verify mutual trust between two or more people.

The logical network, also called a subnet, represents the devices connected to the same router irrespective of what media they use to connect to this network like Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless. It is represented at Layer 3 (Network Layer) on the OSI network model stack and is represented by IP (Internet Protocol) whether version 4 or 6. Routers that implement guest or hotspot/community network functionality create a separate logical network for the guest or hotspot network.

But a hotspot network can be set up to cover a large public area like a bar or cafe’s dining room or even the whole of a hotel or apartment block. As well, if a hotspot network is properly set up for the end users’ data security, it shouldn’t be feasible to discover other devices on that same logical network. This is thanks to IP-based isolation functionality that the router that serves the hotspot offers.

Here, the existence of devices on the same logical network can be used as a way to attest proximity of these devices or to attest effective control over them.

Use cases

Enhanced two-factor authentication

Increasingly, most of us who implement two-factor authentication use an app on a smartphone to provide the random key number that confirms what we have along with what we know. But in a lot of situations, we have the smartphone and the computer we want to use to gain access to the resources existing on the same network. This may be our home or business network, a public-access hotspot or tethering our laptop to a smartphone for Internet access via the mobile network.

Having both devices on the same network could be seen as a way to assess the security level of a multifactor authentication setup by assessing the proximity of the devices to each other. It is more so if the devices are communicating to each other behind the same Wi-Fi access point or Ethernet switch. This concept would be to prove that both devices are effectively being controlled by the same user.

It can also work as an alternative to Bluetooth or NFC as a device-to-device link for a transcription-free multi-factor authentication setup if you are thinking of two devices that are able to connect to a network via Wi-Fi. This is more so where the issue of phishing of multi-factor authentication setups involving the transcription of a one-time passcode has been raised.

Discovery of devices in the same network

The same concept can also be examined in the context of interlinking between devices that exist on the same network or even determining one’s “home” domain in the context of AV content rights. In some ways, the concept could also be about tokenised login for online services where a user’s credentials are held on one device like a smartphone but a session-based token is passed to another device like a set-top box to facilitate login from that device.

It is a practice that has been used with UPnP and Bonjour technologies primarily for device and content discovery. The most obvious situation would be to use Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast to throw content to the big screen from a compatible mobile device. It also works in the same context when you set up and use a network-based printer from your computer or smartphone.

Across-the-room discovery and mutual-user authentication

Another use case this concept can apply to is “across-the-room” device discovery and mutual-user authentication. This would be used for data transfer, social networks or online gaming where you intend to share a resource with someone you talked with, invite them as a friend / follower in a social network or engage them in an online game.

Proof of presence at a particular location

Use of a logical network’s attributes can be a tool for proving one’s presence at a particular location. This is more so where the Internet service for that network is being provided using a wired-broadband or fixed-wireless-broadband approach for its last-mile, like with most home and business networks. It may not work with “Mi-Fi” setups where a mobile broadband network is being implemented for the last-mile connection.

Here, it could be used for time-and-attendance purposes including “proof of presence” for home-based carers. Or it could be used to conditionally enable particular functionality like app-based on-premises food-and-beverage ordering at a venue. To the same extent, it could be used to protect delivery services against orders that were instigated at one location being sent to another location.

Methods

Both devices existing on the same network

In a premises-specific network like most small networks, testing that both devices are on the same subnet / logical network behind the same gateway device (router) could be a way to attest that both devices are in the same premises. The same test can be performed by the use of a “hop count” on Layer 3 of the OSI network-layer tree, which also determines the number of logical networks passed.

It is a method used with a wide range of network-based AV and printing applications to constrain the discovery and control of devices by controller software to what is local to you.

But assessing whether the two devices are connecting to the same access point on a Wi-Fi network can be used to attest whether both devices are in the same room in a large Wi-Fi setup. It may not work in a network setup where different devices connect to a network using different connection media like Ethernet, Wi-Fi Wireless or HomePlug powerline. This also includes situations where multiple access points cover the same room or floor such as with large rooms or open-plan areas.

Another approach that can be used for Wi-Fi hotspot networks honouring the Hotspot 2.0 / Passpoint setup would be to read the “venue” metadata for that network and compare whether both devices are in the same venue. If this technology is able to support subdividing of a logical venue such as based on floors or rooms, this could work as a way of further attesting whether both devices are in close proximity.

A Wi-Fi wireless network can be attested through the use of the BSSID which identifies the same access point that the devices are connecting through or the ESSID which is the network’s “call sign”. The BSSID could be used for a public hotspot network including a “hotzone” network ran by a local government or ISP,or a large network that uses many access points while the ESSID approach could be used simply for a small network with a few access points.

Trusted networks with authentication certificates

On the other hand, there could be the concept of creating “trusted networks” where authentication certificates relating to the network are stored in the network’s gateway device or in infrastructure devices associated with that network. It could be used to work against man-in-the-middle attacks as well as a stronger approach to attesting trust between the client device and the network it proposes to access.

The initial appeal for this concept could be to attest the authenticity of a business’s network especially in the face of business partners or customers who want to use that network as a gateway to the Internet or use the host business’s resources.

It could have some appeal to the food, beverage and hospitality industry where particular cafes and bars are often seen by individuals and workgroups as favoured hangouts. In this context, if an individual wants to use the Wi-Fi public-access network in their favourite “watering hole” or “second office”, the “trusted network” approach can be used to verify to the customer that they have connected to the venue’s network at the venue to avoid “man-in-the-middle” attacks.

This approach is being implemented with the Wi-Fi Passpoint / Hotspot 2.0 technology to provide for the simple yet secure public-access Wi-Fi network.

The same approach can be used with a home network if the router can store data like digital certificates in onboard non-volatile memory. Then this data could be created by the ISP as a “known trusted network” with a network-specific certificate relating to the router and network equipment. Such a service could be offered by an ISP as a value-added service especially to cater for “proof-of-presence” applications.

Conclusion

Using a logical network as a data-security attribute can be effective as a security tool for some use cases. With current network equipment, this can be a surefire way of assessing device proximity.to other devices. But use of certificates stored on network-infrastructure devices like routers and provided by ISPs or similar entities can be of use for authenticated-network or proof-of-presence applications.

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Cross-platform online game leaderboards–how about it?

Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet

Playing that game on a mobile tablet or..

Most video and computer games nowadays implement an online leaderboard as part of the way they operate. They typically require you to log in to the leaderboard to persist game data “in the cloud”, support social gameplay including discovering newer opponents or the maintenance of challenges and leaderboards so players can compete against each other on the game.

Game studios tend to write their own leaderboard that is specific to that game’s needs but the game-distribution platforms are running their own leaderboards to offer this same functionality to all studios and games.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

a smartphone or..

It typically leads to a game-recommendation engine to recommend games similar to what you play a lot, subscription-driven gameplay or digital software locker functionality for the titles, typically to keep you with that platform. In some cases, they offer a means to measure your prowess as a gameplayer or as a specialist in particular game types, typically to match you with opponents of a particular skill level in that kind of game.

The leaderboards offered by the distribution platforms make it feasible for a small-time or indie studio to have this functionality without the game developer having to create a leaderboard and rent the necessary server space by themselves.

Sony PS4

a games console like the Sony PS4 or ..

But there is a reality for users who play the same game title across multiple platforms. It is highlighted through someone owning or regularly using computing devices based on different platforms for gameplay such as a “gaming rig” that runs Windows 10, a smartphone that could either run iOS or Android, and perhaps a mobile-platform tablet running either iOS or Android along with a set-top box or games console. The set-top box situation is very real as an increasing number of set-top and smart-TV platforms like the Apple TV or the “décodeurs” offered by French telcos as part of their “n-box” triple-play platforms within France are moving towards the kind of performance associated with games consoles.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

a laptop like the Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook or ..

Increasingly, it encourages game studios to port titles to many different platforms but there has to be an approach that allows the player to carry the online experience between the platforms. At the moment, Facebook has achieved the goal of a cross-platform leaderboard but it requires players to be part of this social network which may put some people off the idea due to the various controversies about this Silicon Valley giant. Facebook’s leaderboard supports “provisioning” from one’s Facebook account along with support for native and Web-based games.

Microsoft has extended their XBox Live leaderboard beyond the XBox One games console and Windows 10 computers by providing limited support for iOS and Android mobile platforms. But this is focused towards a Windows 10 or XBox One setup as your main gaming platform.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

a set-top device like the Apple TV should lead towards you keeping score and matching opponents on one or more cross-platform online leaderboards

What needs to happen is an effort towards a truly platform-independent gaming leaderboard that facilitates cross-platform gameplay and appeals to multiple game developers and distributors. It has to appeal to a userbase and developer-base that wants to stay away from large social-media powerhouses who see users’ data as the new gold.

A key feature would be to provide support for native-coded and Web-coded games including the newer Progressive Web App games. This is more so as independent game studios work on “free-to-play” games that are written as Web-coded games for play in a Web browser as well as being ported in a native-coded form to iOS and Android mobile platforms. As well, the Progressive Web App is being pitched as a “write once run anywhere” app solution for mobile, tablet and desktop computing.

XBox leaderboard app in Windows 10

The expected functionality would include:

  • the ability to persist gameplay data and scores in the cloud
  • support for challenges and leaderboards including allowing venues, sponsors and others who partner with the game developer to run their own challenges
  • social gaming with opponent discovery on a local and global basis, in-game chat on a one-to-one or party-line basis, and gift exchange for in-game items like microcurrency or game lives.

The leaderboard would have to be child-safe according to established norms and protocols like requirement of parental permission for signing in or participating in sponsored challenges, and support for minimum ages.

Google Play Games app

Google Play Games – the online leaderboard for the Android platform

The issue of allowing venues and marketers to use the leaderboard to run their own challenges may be of concern to some people who want a life free from marketers and commercialism. But there are people who want to build a tighter relationship with the brands that they value and allow these brands to participate in their online life. Similarly, some games studios may associate with various popular brands to underscore their players’ relationship with these brands and as a monetisation tool.

As well, user privacy would need to be valued in many different ways like user discovery or game-chat access. It also includes whether a notification about gaming accomplishments or level-up scenarios should be shared on to outside social networks, which social networks should be used and who should see this information.

It also includes the ability to provide a single-sign-on experience that can work with a wide variety of credential pools. This is important where a user maintains a set of personal credentials with multiple different credential pools like Apple ID for iOS, MacOS and Apple TV devices; Facebook; Microsoft Account for Windows 10 and XBox One; and Google for Android and ChromeOS.  The reason this can happen is due to playing the same game across the multiple platforms.

This could be a goal for companies who are behind content-streaming services, IP-telephony services and the like to engage in if they do want to diversify their offerings. European companies could even jump on the bandwagon especially if they want to tout their end-user privacy and data-security prowess.

What needs to happen is for the games studios to gain access to one or more highly-capable cross-platform game leaderboards so that users can play the games and benefit from leaderboard or game-recommendation functionality no matter the platform they use without being required to “reinvent the wheel”.

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WhatsApp now highlights messaging services as a fake-news vector

Articles

WhatsApp debuts fact-checking service to counter fake news in India | Engadget

India: WhatsApp launches fact-check service to fight fake news | Al Jazeera

From the horse’s mouth

WhatsApp

Tips to help prevent the spread of rumors and fake news {User Advice)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

As old as the World-Wide-Web has been, email has been used as a way to share online news amongst people in your social circle.

Typically this has shown up in the form of jokes, articles and the like appearing in your email inbox from friends, colleagues or relatives, sometimes with these articles forwarded on from someone else. It also has been simplified through the ability to add multiple contacts from your contact list to the “To”, “Cc” or “Bcc” fields in the email form or create contact lists or “virtual contacts” from multiple contacts.

The various instant-messaging platforms have also become a vector to share links to articles hosted somewhere on the Internet in the same manner as email, as has the carrier-based SMS and MMS texting platforms when used with a smartphone.

But the concern raised about the distribution of misinformation and fake news has been focused on the popular social media and image / video sharing platforms. This is while fake news and misinformation creep in to your Inbox or instant-messaging client thanks to one or more of your friends who like passing on this kind of information.

WhatsApp, a secure instant-messaging platform owned by Facebook, is starting to tackle this issue head-on with its Indian userbase as that country enters its election cycle for the main general elections. They are picking up on the issue of fake news and misinformation thanks to the Facebook Group being brought in to the public limelight due to this issue. As well, Facebook have been recently clamping down on inauthentic behaviour that was targeting India and Pakistan.

WhatsApp now highlighting fake news problem in India, especially as this platform is seen as a popular instant-messenger within that country. They are working with a local fact-checking startup called Proto to create the Checkpoint Tipline to allow users to have links that are sent to them verified. It is driven on the base of a “virtual contact” that the WhatsApp users forward questionable links or imagery to.

But due to the nature of its end-to-end encryption and the fact that service is purely a messaging service, there isn’t the ability to verify or highlight questionable content. But they also have placed limits on the number of users one can broadcast a message to in order to tame the spread of rumours.

It is also being used as a tool to identify the level of fake news and misinformation taking place on the messenger platform and to see how much of a vector these platforms are.

Personally, I would like to see the various fact-checking agencies have an email mailbox where you can forward emails with questionable links and imagery to so they can verify that rumour mail doing the rounds. It could operate in a similar vein to how the banks, tax offices and the like have set up mailboxes for people to forward phishing email to so these organisations can be aware of the phishing problem they are facing.

The only problem with this kind of service is that people who are astute and savvy are more likely to use it. This may not affect those of us who just end up passing on whatever comes our way.

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Using Bluetooth as part of the hybrid radio concept

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

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

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

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

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

… as could devices like the Lenovo Smart Display

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

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

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Netflix works harder on interactive video

Article Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix to create more interactive content | Advanced Television

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

User-experience problems and inconsistencies

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

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

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

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

Privacy issues associated with interactive content

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

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

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

Taking it further

Different genres

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

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

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

Different approaches

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

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

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

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

Interactivity as an option

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

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

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

Taking the interactive TV concept to other VOD platforms

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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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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