Tag: tvOS

Consumer Electronics and Personal IT trends for 2020

Every year in January, the Consumer Electronics Show is run in Las Vegas, USA and this show does give a glimpse in to what trends will affect consumer electronics and personal IT. In most cases, these are products that will be on the marketplace this year or products that are a proof-of-concept or prototype that demonstrates an upcoming technology.

The problem is that this exhibition focuses on what will be available in North America but a lot of the technology will be relevant to the rest of the world. In a lot of these cases, localised variants will appear at various trade shows or PR events that occur in Europe or other areas.

As well, the trade-show circuit will attract service-level information-technology companies who don’t need to make hardware or have a hardware platform, or be a content creator. Here, it will be simply about the provision of IT-based services as part of a ubiquitous computing environment including the concept of experience-driven computing.

Connectivity Technology

Over the past year, the two main technologies that were called out regarding online connectivity or the home network were 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless local networks. This is about very-high-bandwidth wireless data communications whether out and about or within your home or other small network.

As various radiocommunications regulatory agencies around the world “open up” the 6GHz waveband for Wi-Fi network use with the USA’s Federal Communications Commission the first to do so, the Wi-Fi Alliance have created a specification identifier for network equipment working this waveband. Here, it is known as Wi-Fi 6E as a way to identify the fact that the device can work the 6GHz waveband, and is in contrast to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) devices that only work the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wavebands.

D-Link DIR-X5460 Wi-Fi 6 router press picture courtesy of D-Link USA

One of D-Link’s Wi-Fi 6 routers that also supports Wi-Fi EasyMesh – setting the standard for home network technology this year

Both these technologies became real with an increase in client devices or small-network infrastructure hardware supporting at least one of these technologies. This included laptop computers and smartphones having this kind of functionality baked in to them as well as more home-network routers, distributed-WI-Fi systems and range extenders being equipped with Wi-Fi 6. There is even the fact that some of the network-infrastructure vendors like Linksys and NETGEAR are offering routers that combine both technologies – 5G mobile broadband as a WAN (Internet) connection and Wi-Fi 6 as a LAN (local-network) connection.

A step in the right direction for distributed-Wi-Fi networks was to see major home-network brands offer routers and/or range extenders compliant to the WI-Fi EasyMesh standard. This allows you to create a distributed Wi-Fi network with equipment from different vendors, opening up the market for equipment from a diverse range of vendors including telcos and ISPs along with a pathway towards innovation in this space.

Bluetooth hasn’t been forgotten about here with the new Bluetooth audio specification being “set in stone” and premiered at CES 2020. This specification, known as Bluetooth LE Audio, works on the Bluetooth Low Energy profile and supports the LC3 (Low Complexity Communications Codec) audio codec that packages the equivalent of an SBC audio stream used by Bluetooth audio setups in half the bandwidth. This allows for longer battery runtimes which will also lead to smaller form-factors for audio devices due to the reduced need for a larger battery.

It also supports multiple independent and synchronous audio streams to be sent from one source device to many sink devices. This strengthens use cases like hearing aids that work with Bluetooth and may supersede the inductive loop as a technology for assisted-listening setups. As well, the multiple-streaming technology will be a boon to applications like multichannel Bluetooth speaker setups; or Bluetooth headphones as part of assistive audio, multilingual soundtrack options or semi-private listening arrangements.

The Bluetooth LE Audio technology is to be released in the first half of 2020 with compatible devices being on the market by 2021. But there will also be the issue of having device support for this technology being baked in to operating systems as a class driver.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

USB 4 will be the next stage for hardware connectivity and will include Thunderbolt 3

As for wired peripheral interconnection, USB 4.0 will be surfacing as a high-speed connection standard for computers and mobile devices. There will be compatibility with Thunderbolt 3 due to Intel signing over the intellectual property rights for that protocol to the USB Implementers Forum. But this may be used by some computer vendors as a product differentiator although the market will prefer that USB 4 computers and peripherals work with those that use Thunderbolt 3. Let’s not forget that the physical connector for USB 4 will be the Type C connection.

Let’s not forget that newer Android phones will use USB Power Delivery as the official standard for transferring power from chargers or powerbanks to themselves. This is about avoiding the use of proprietary fast-charge technologies and using something that is defined by the industry for this purpose.

Computer trends

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15" clamshell laptop press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo IdeaPad Creator 5 15″ clamshell prosumer / content-creator laptop

At the moment, as I outlined in the article about “prosumer” content creators being identified by computer manufacturers as a significant market segment, this year is being seen as a time to launch performance-optimised computers targeted at this user group. These units will be optimised to work with popular content-creation software in a sure-fire manner.

Let’s not forget that Lenovo is tying up with NEC in order to create the LAVIE computer brand that targets mobile professionals. This was after Toshiba spun off their laptop-computer division as “Dynabook” brand then sold it to Sharp; and Sony sold off their VAIO computer brand with it existing as a premium computer brand. But is this symbolic of what the Japanese computer names are heading towards where they focus on creating premium business laptops and tablets.

As well as offering their newer-generation CPUs, Intel has demonstrated that they can offer their own high-performance personal-computer display infrastructure. They even demonstrated a graphics card that use Intel-designed discrete GPU technology. This leads towards them competing with NVIDIA and AMD when it comes to discrete graphics-infrastructure technology and could lead to a three-way race in this field.

It is alongside AMD placing a lot of effort on their Ryzen CPUs which are leading towards them in a position to effectively compete on a par with Intel’s Core CPUs. As well, Intel and AMD could head towards creating performance computing setups that are based around their CPUs and discrete graphics infrastructure technology, including setups that have the CPU and discrete GPU on the same silicon.

There is also an increase in the number of “Always Connected PCs” that run with ARM RISC microarchitecture rather than the traditional Intel i86/i64 CISC microarchitecture. They will be about operating on batteries for a very long time and have 4G, if not 5G mobile-broadband modems with classic SIM or eSIM service authentication. Most likely I would see them as being the direction for portable mainstream business computing.

Dell G5 15 Special Edition budget gaming notebook press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell G5 15 Special Edition budget gaming laptop with AMD Ryzen and Radeon silicon

For gaming, Dell has premiered a budget gaming-grade laptop that uses an AMD Ryzen CPU and an AMD Radeon graphics processor but is styled like their other “G Series” gaming laptops. As well, Lenovo took an interesting step with one of their gaming laptops by using Intel integrated graphics processors for its graphics infrastructure while equipping it with a Thunderbolt 3 port. Here, the user is to buy an external graphics module, typically the Lenovo BoostStation card-cage unit which is their first product of its kind that they released, to have the machine perform at its best. What this is about is a trend towards creating an entry-level performance laptop product range, very similar to buying the increased-performance “GT” variant of a popular family car model.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 FOLD prototype folding-display computer press picture courtesy of Intel USA

Co-engineered by Intel and Lenovo, ThinkPad X1 FOLD is a foldable-screen device built on the Intel Core processor with Intel Hybrid Technology (code-named “Lakefield”). (Credit: Lenovo) – an example of what folding computers are about

 

Another trend that is being shown frequently is multiple-screen or folding-screen portable computers. This is being promoted by Intel and Microsoft in the context of Windows 10X and newer Intel chipsets. It is being driven by the multiple-screen or folding-screen smartphone that Samsung and others are on the verge of releasing as finished products. But this technology will have a limited appeal towards early adopters until it is seen as legitimate by the general user base.

As far as small-form-factor desktop computers are concerned, Intel is working towards a modular “next unit of computing” platform which has the whole computer system on a card the same size as a traditional PCI expansion card. This platform, known as Ghost Canyon uses the “Compute Element” which is the user-swappable card, is intended to bring hack the joys of us upgrading a computer’s performance by ourselves even if we go for a smaller computer platform.

Connected-TV technology

This year has heralded interest in 8K UHDTV which has effectively twice the resolution of 4K UHDTV. As well, the 8K Association has been formed in order to set standards for domestic 8K UHDTV applications and promote this technology.

It is in conjunction with ATSC 3.0, also known as NextGenTV, being premiered at CES 2020 as a new direction for free-to-air TV in the USA. It us being valued thanks to people moving away from cable and satellite pay-TV services towards Netflix and other video-on-demand services augmented by free-to-air TV. Here, it will allow Americans to benefit from 4K UHDTV and Dolby Atmos technology via the TV antenna. Like with DVB and HBBTV-based standards used in Europe and Oceania, this technology combines the over-the-air signal with broadband Internet data to achieve advanced TV experiences.

There is also increased robustness as far as antenna-based reception is concerned which may allow for use of indoor antennas without their associated problems. As well, mobile users will benefit from this newer technology for on-the-road viewing. But there will also be an emphasis towards broadcast-LAN operation with one tuner offering a broadcast signal amongst multiple TVs. Users can upgrade their existing televisions to this technology by connecting an ATSC 3.0 set-top box to their TV as they see fit, but there will be some TVs, most likely “living-room” models from a few manufacturers, that will support this standard.

The 4K AMOLED screen is entering the “Goldilocks” territory when it comes to product price and screen size – not too big and expensive, not too small or cheap, but just right. It is seen by the trade as a “mid-market” territory but, for a TV, it is about something that appeals to more people without being too ostentatious or requiring one to pay a price’s ransom.

The advantage it has over the LCD screen that rules this market territory is to have increased contrast and richer colours, something that those of you who have a smartphone or tablet with an OLED display benefit from. As well, it is a technology that legitimises the high-dynamic-range and wide-colour-gamut video reproduction technology being pushed by the film and video industries.

Here, Sony released the first 48” 4K AMOLED screen that would be able to fit most viewing areas. This includes apartments and small houses as well as use in bedrooms, or secondary lounge areas including living rooms which aren’t frequently used for watching TV. As well, some AMOLED TV manufacturers are pitching sets that cost under US$1000. Here, this price point puts the AMOLED TV within reach of most middle-class families who are considering upgrading to this kind of technology without paying a price that sounds too vulgar.

Another trend affecting TVs is support for variable high refresh rates. Here, it appeals towards games consoles being able to work with game-optimised variable-refresh-rate monitors typically partnered with PC-based desktop gaming rigs, offering the same kind of display refresh rate as the display card on a gaming-rig PC would offer. This is being factored in because the large-screen TV is being valued in the context of gaming, especially with one-machine multiple-player games or the excitement of playing a favourite game on that big screen.

As well, I see the Apple TV and Android TV platforms as dominant smart-TV / set-top-box platforms due to the existence of strong code bases, strong developer communities and a well-nurtured app store. Here, the Android platform will appeal to TV vendors who haven’t invested in a smart-TV platform along with some third-party set-top box vendors. But the Android TV platform as a set-top-box platform has to be disassociated from the so-called “fully-loaded” Android boxes that are sold online from China for access to pirated TV content.

This is being driven by an avalanche of video-on-demand services that will appear over this year. Some of these will be subscription-based and offer new original content produced by the service’s owner while others will use advertising, perhaps as part of a freemium arrangement, and work heavily on licensing deep back-catalogue material. There will also be an effort amongst the new video-on-demand providers to take an international approach, appearing in multiple markets around the world, most likely with the goal of licensing content in all international markets concurrently.

It will even lead to each content-production name having its own video-on-demand service that primarily hosts content from its stable. But the question that will come about is how many video-on-demand subscriptions will we be having to budget for and maintain if we want content that reflects our choices.

Audio Technology

The DAB+ digital broadcast radio platform is increasing its footprint within Europe and across some parts of Africa and Asia. It includes some European countries like Norway and Switzerland moving their broadcast infrastructure away from AM and FM radio to this technology.

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

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

Here, it would be about an increased variety of devices that have broadcast-radio reception functionality based on this platform, including those that have Bluetooth and/or Internet-radio functionality. As well, more vehicle builders are being encouraged to supply DAB+ radios as factory-standard in all of their vehicles. Let’s not forget that value-priced DAB+ and Internet radio equipment will be equipped with a colour display that shows things like station branding or album cover-art while you listen to that station.

RadioDNS will be something that facilitates a hybrid broadcast-broadband approach to broadcast radio. This will include the ability to switch between broadcast-radio channels and an Internet radio stream for the same radio station or allow for richer supporting content to appear on the set’s display. It can also be about a “single-dial” approach to finding stations on broadcast and Internet bands. But RadioDNS has been given more “clout” in to the USA due to it being able to work with AM, FM or HD Radio (IBOC digital radio on AM and FM) which is used there.

Sonos’s partnership with IKEA, the furniture store who sells furniture that you assemble yourself with an Allen key, is demonstrating that a high-end multiroom-audio platform can be partnered with a commodity retail brand. What it could lead to is an incentive to build these kind of platforms around a mixture of premium, value and budget units, allowing for things like a low-risk “foot-in-the-door” approach for people starting out on that platform or people who have the premium equipment building out their system with cheaper equipment in secondary listening areas. It could even put pressure on the industry to adopt a common standard for multiroom-audio setups.

The streaming audio-on-demand scene is moving in a manner as to shore itself up against Spotify. Initially this is about offering either an advertising-supported free limited-service tier as what Amazon and Google are doing, or to offer a premium service tier with a focus on CD-quality or master-quality sound which is what Amazon is doing. But it could easily go beyond the “three-tier service” such as improved playlists, underrepresented content, support for standalone audio equipment, and business music services. As well, your ISP or telco could be providing access to a streaming-audio service as part of their service package or you buy a piece of network-enabled audio equipment and benefit from reduced subscription rates for an online music service.

The headphone scene is setting some strong contenders when it comes to excellent value-for-money for noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets.

Bose initiated this battle with the QuietComfort 35 II headphones with the technological press’s reviewers seeing them as a standard setter for this class of headset. Then Sony introduced the WH1000XM3 headphones and these were seen on a par with the Bose cans but at a more affordable price with some press using terms like “Bose-killers” to describe them. Bang & Olufsen came in to the party and offered a premium noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset known as the Beoplay H9. But lately Bose also answered Sony by offering the Noise Cancelling 700 headset that effectively did that job in a minimalist form. This is while Sony are intending to launch the WH1000XM4 this year to raise the bar against Bose and their current product.

As far as “true wireless” active-noise-cancelling earbuds are concerned, Apple with their AirPods Pro and Sony with their WF1000XM3 have established themselves at the top of the pack for excellence. What I see of this is someone else could answer them to achieve that same level of excellence especially at a value price. This product class is also likely to benefit from the Bluetooth LC Audio specification due to the requirement for a small battery in each earbud and the small size of each earbud.

What Apple, Bose, Sony and B&O are highlighting is that they could easily compete with each other to achieve excellent products when it comes to headphones you use with your laptop, smartphone or tablet. It could even be a chance for other companies to join in and raise the bar for premium everyday-use headset design, including the idea of having audiophile headphone qualities in this class of headset.

Voice assistant platforms and ambient computing

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant will still bring forth newer devices, whether in the form of speakers or displays. But Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana will be part of the Open Voice Initiative allowing the same physical hardware to handle multiple voice assistant platforms.

A question that will arise through this year is whether there will be a strong direction towards having these devices work as a fixed audio or video telephony endpoint. This is whether the device works in a similar fashion to the classic landline telephone service with its own number; or as an extension to a smartphone that is part of a mobile telecommunications service.

The voice-assistant platforms will end up becoming part of an ambient computing trend that is underscored by facilitators like Internet of Things and distributed computing. Here, it is about computing that blends in with your lifestyle rather than being a separate activity.

As far as the Internet Of Things is concerned, the Connected Home over IP protocol was set in stone. This effort, facilitated by Amazon, Google and Apple with the oversight of the Zigbee Alliance, is about an IP-driven Internet-Of-Things data transport architecture. The idea is to do away with protocol gateways which were being used with various smart-home applications but the manufacturers were goading consumers to use their own protocol gateways with their devices rather than a third-party solution. There will be an emphasis on a safe secure interoperable Internet-of-Things network.

Data security and equipment maintenance in our personal and business lives

The Social Web will be considered a very important part of our lives with us primarily benefiting from it on tablets, smartphones or highly-portable laptops.

But it will still be a key disinformation vector. One of the new methods expected to be exploited this year is the creation of deepfakes. These are audio and video items created using artificial intelligence to make it as though a person said something when they didn’t. There will even be the ability to make the voice or face of a deepfaked person appear older or younger than they were when they were recorded, while make the voice or face appear as fluid as that of a real person.

Here, it will be used as a cyber weapon to create political, social and business instability by these representing our leaders whether they be in government, business or other circles. The deepfake will also be of value as a phishing tool in order to make the threat or plea appear to be more authentic to the victim.

As well, ransomware will begin to take on a network-wide dimension and affect business and service availability. Sensitive data, whether of a personal or business nature, will end up becoming the bargaining chip for ransomware hackers. This is in contrast to access to a computer user’s data resources which was often the case with ransomware.

The Internet Of Things will also be considered a continual security risk especially due to poor software and firmware quality control. It will lead to a conversation regarding the maintenance of our online devices through their lifecycle, including making sure they are running software that is stable and secure.

Then there is the “end-of-support” issue where a manufacturer ceases to show interest on older online devices that are currently in use. That is a question that is surfacing when one invests a significant amount of money in to the devices and people don’t want to throw out older equipment just because the manufacturer doesn’t want to support it anymore. It also goes against the grain of the post-Global-Financial-Crisis attitude most of us have adopted where we don’t want to support a throwaway society but want to see what we buy exist for the long haul.

The Sonos debacle raised the issue about what level of functionality the user should expect from their device along with how platform-based setups consisting of legacy and newer devices should behave. It also raised the issue of keeping the device’s software stable and secure.

Conclusion

This year will be considered a very interesting time for our online life as we see improvements to existing technologies along with newer conversations about how system-based technologies continue to evolve with a secure stable mindset.

How to bring back the Up Next function on your Apple TV box

tvOS Apple TV with Up Next list

Personalised Up Next view shows what TV shows you are working through

Before Apple upgraded the tvOS operating system in your Apple TV set-top box to version 13, you used to see at the top row a photo-gallery view of shows you were working through from some of the content providers you set up with your Apple TV. This function, known as “Up Next” mainly happens with most broadcaster-operated video-on-demand services who have Apple TV client apps but doesn’t work with all other video-on-demand services like Netflix.

Here, you would see which episodes of these shows you were up to, including whether you were working through a particular episode of a show. That would be highlighted with a bar that indicates how much of the episode you have seen. This arrangement would actually represent your tastes properly.

The tvOS 13 upgrade replaced this with the ability for Apple to promote its own content or those it has strong business relationships with and promote it in a Hollywood fashion. Here, it didn’t really sit with some viewers who saw it as a form of TV advertising, especially if it is about content that really doesn’t reflect their tastes. It then led towards most of us who know what we are after heading to the video-on-demand services’ apps to find the content we are after or continue watching our favourite series.

tvOS 13.3 confirmed in Software Updates Screen

Your Apple TV must be running tvOS 13.3 for this to work

Thanks to user feedback, Apple has answered this problem properly by restoring the “Up Next” functionality as a user-selectable option for tvOS-based Apple TV devices when upgraded to tvOS 13.3. By default, this will happen when you are not using your Apple TV box with it downloading the upgrade from Apple’s servers, installing it and restarting.

How to set this up

Software update

tvOS Settings - System - Software Updates optionConfirm that the Apple TV is on tvOS 13.3 by selecting “Settings”, then “System” then “Software Updates”. Under the Apple TV logo, you will see the operating system version for your device. If it’s not up-to-date, select the “Update Software” item on that screen to commence updating to the latest version of tvOS.

Selecting the right option

tvOS Settings - Apps - TV screen

In the TV App settings menu (found in the Settings app under TV) is the Top Shelf option which you need to change to Up Next

Head back to the Settings menu on your Apple TV device, then select “Apps”. This will show a list of apps installed on your Apple TV device whose settings can be managed through the Settings menu. Highlight the TV app, which will show an Apple TV logo in a black rectangle, then select this app to adjust its settings.

tvOS 13.3 Top Shelf options description

On-screen description for the Top Shelf display options

Highlight the “Top Shelf” option, which will determine what appears at the top of your Apple TV’s main screen menu if you highlight the Apple TV icon. Select this option to toggle between the “What To Watch” option which shows the trailers and other Apple-driven recommendations, and the “Up Next” option which are the shows you are working through. In this case, make sure you are selecting “Up Next” to have what you had before the tvOS 13 update.

You may find that the “Up Next” view is out of sync with what you are viewing on the compatible video-on-demand services. But, as you use the regular apps for these services to continue watching your content, this view will update itself to what you watch now.

Dual-device videocalling–how about it?

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TV setups with large screens and powerful sound systems could also appeal to videocalls where many people wish to participate

A reality that is surfacing with online communications platforms is the fact that most of us prefer to operate these platforms from our smartphones or tablets. Typically we are more comfortable with using these devices as our core hubs for managing personal contacts and conversations.

But there are times when we want to use a large screen such as our main TV for group videocalls. Examples of this may include family conversations with loved ones separated by distance, more so during special occasions like birthdays, Thanksgiving or Christmas. In the business context, there is the desire for two or more of us to engage in video conferences with business partners, suppliers, customers or employees separated by distance. For example, a lawyer and their client could be talking with someone who is selling their business as part of assessing the validity of that potential purchase.

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

This is more so when there is that family special moment

But most of the smart-TV and set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to work with the plethora of online-communications platforms that are out there. This is although Skype attempted to get this happening with various smart-TV and set-top platform vendors to allow the smart TV to serve as a Skype-based group videophone once you purchased and connected a Webcam accessory supplied by the manufacturer.

The Skype situation required users to log in to the Skype client on their TV or video device along with buying and installing a camera kit that worked with the TV. This was a case of entering credentials or searching for contacts using a “pick-and-choose” or SMS-style text-entry method which could lead to mistakes. This is compared to where most of us were more comfortable with performing these tasks on our smartphones or tablets because of a touchscreen keyboard or hardware keyboard accessory that made text entry easier.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

An Apple TV or Chromecast that has the software support for and is connected to a Webcam could simplify this process and place the focus on the smartphone as a control surface for videocalls

The goal I am outlining here is for one to be able to use a smart TV or network-connected video peripheral equipped with a Webcam-type camera device, along with their mobile device, all connected to the same home network and Internet connection to establish or continue a videocall on the TV’s large screen. Such a goal would be to implement the large-screen TV with its built-in speakers or connected sound system along with the Webcam as the videocalling-equivalent of the speakerphone we use for group or “conference” telephone calls when multiple people at either end want to participate in the call.

Set-top devices designed to work with platform mobile devices

A very strong reality that is surfacing for interlinking TVs and mobile devices is the use of a network-enabled video peripheral that provides a video link between the mobile device and video peripheral via one’s home network.

One of these devices is the Apple TV which works with iOS devices thanks to Apple AirPlay while the other is the Google Chromecast that works with Android devices. Both of these video devices can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi wireless or Ethernet with the Apple TV offering the latter option out of the box and the Chromecast offering it as an add-on option. As well, the Chromecast’s functionality is being integrated in to various newer smart TVs and video peripherals under the “Google Cast” or “Chromecast” feature name.

Is there a need for this functionality?

As I have said earlier on, the main usage driver for this functionality would be to place a group videocall where multiple people at the one location want to communicate with another . The classic examples would be for families communicating with distant relatives or businesses placing conference calls that involve multiple decision makers with two or more of these participants at one of the locations.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Most of the mobile messaging platforms offer some form of videocalling capability

In most cases, the “over-the-top” communications platforms like Facetime, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are primarily operated using the native mobile client app or the functionality that is part of the mobile platform. This way of managing videocalls appeals to most users because of access to the user’s own contact directory that exists on their device along with the handheld nature of the typical smartphone that appeals to this activity.

It is also worth knowing that some, if not all, of the “over-the-top” communications platforms will offer a “conference call” or “three-way call” function as part of their feature set, extending it to videocalls in at least the business-focused variants. This is where you could have multiple callers from different locations take part in the same conversation. Such setups would typically show the “other” callers as part of a multiple-picture “mosaic” on the screen. Here, the large screen can come in handy with seeing the multiple callers at once.

How is this achieved at the moment?

At the moment, these set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to allow for group videocalling and users would have to invoke screen-mirroring functionality on their mobile devices once they logically associate them with the video endpoint devices. Then they would have to position their mobile device on or in front of the TV so the other side can see your group, something which can be very precarious at times.

How could Apple, Google and co improve on this state of affairs?

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

Should this still be the way to make group videocalls on your Apple TV or Chromecast?

Apple and Google could improve on their AirPlay and Chromecast platforms to provide an andio-video-data feed from the video peripheral to the mobile device using that peripheral. This would work in tandem with a companion Webcam/microphone accessory that can be installed on the TV and connected to the set-top device. For example, Apple could offer a Webcam for the latest generation Apple TV as an “MFi” accessory like they do with the game controllers that enable it to be a games console.

When users associate their mobile devices with a suitably-equipped Apple TV / Chromecast device that supports this enhancement, the communications apps on their phone detect the camera and microphone connected to the video peripheral. The user would then be able to see the camera offered as an alternative camera choice while they are engaged in a videocall, along with the microphone and TV speaker offered as a “speakerphone” option.

What will this entail?

It may require Apple and Google to write mobile endpoint software in to their iOS and Android operating systems to handle the return video feed and the existence of cameras connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast.

Similarly, the tvOS and Chromecast platforms will have to have extra endpoint software written for them while these devices would have to have hardware support for Webcam devices.

At the moment, the latest-generation Apple TV has a USB-C socket on it but this is just serving as a “service” port, but could be opened up as a peripheral port for wired MFi peripherals like a Webcam. Google uses a microUSB port on the Chromecast but this is primarily a power-supply and network-connection port. But they could, again, implement an “expansion module” that provides connectivity to a USB Webcam that is compliant to the USB Video and Audio device classes.

These situations could be answered through a subsequent hardware generation for each of the devices or, if the connections are software-addressable, a major-function firmware update could open up these connections for a camera.

As for application-level support, it may require that the extra camera connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast device be logically enumerated as another camera device by all smartphone apps that exploit the mobile phone’s cameras. The microphone in the camera and the TV’s speakers also would need to be enumerated as another communications-class audio device available to the communications apps. This kind of functionality could be implemented at operating-system level with very little work being asked of from third-party communications software developers.

User privacy can be assured through the same permissions-driven setup implemented in the platform’s app ecosystem that is implemented for access to the mobile device’s own camera and microphone. If users want to see this tightened, it could be feasible to require a separate permissions level for use of external cameras and audio-input devices. But users can simply physically disconnect the Webcam from the video peripheral device when they don’t intend to use it.

An alternative path for app-based connected-TV platforms

There is also an alternative path that smart-TV and set-top vendors could explore. Here, they could implement a universal network-based two-way video protocol that allows the smart TV or set-top device to serve as a large-screen video endpoint for the communications apps.

Similarly, a smart-TV / set-top applications platform could head down the path of using client-side applications that are focused for large-screen communications. This is in a similar vein to what was done for Skype by most smart-TV manufacturers, but the call-setup procedure can be simplified with the user operating their smartphone or tablet as the control surface for managing the call.

This could be invoked through techniques like DIAL (Discovery And Launch) that is used to permit mobile apps to discover large-screen “companion” apps on smart-TV or set-top devices in order to allow users to “throw” what they see on the mobile device to the large screen. As well, the connection to the user’s account could be managed through the use of a session-specific logical token established by the mobile device.

This concept can be taken further through the use of the TV screen as a display surface, typically for communications services’ messaging functions or to show incoming-call notifications.

Conclusion

What we still need to think of is to facilitate “dual-device” videocalling with the popular mobile platforms in order to simplify the task of establishing group videocalls using TVs and other large-screen display devices.

You could be using your phone to sign in to Facebook on the big screen

Article

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

You could be able to log in to Facebook on this device using your smartphone’s Facebook client

Facebook Login Updated for tvOS, FireTV, Android | AdWeek SocialTimes

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Developer News Press Release

Improving Facebook Login For TV and Android

My Comments

A holy grail that is being achieved for online services is to allow users to authenticate with these services when using a device that has a limited user interface.

TV remote control

A typical smart-TV remote control that can only offer “pick-and-choose” or 12-key data entry

An example of this is a Smart TV or set-top device, where the remote control for these devices has a D-pad and a numeric keypad. Similarly, you have a printer where the only interface is a D-pad or touchscreen, with a numeric keypad only for those machines that have fax capabilities.

Here, it would take a long time to enter one’s credentials for these services due to the nature of the interface. This is down to a very small software keyboard on a touchscreen, using “SMS-style” text entry on the keypad or “pick-and-choose” text entry using the D-pad.

Facebook initially looked at this problem by displaying an authentication code on the device’s user interface or printing this code out when you want to use it from that device. Then you go to a Web-enabled computer or mobile device and log in to facebook.com/device and transcribe that code in to the page to authenticate the device with Facebook.

Here, they are realising that these devices have some role with the Social Web, whether to permit single sign-on, allow you to view photos on your account or use it as part of a comment trail. But they also know that most of us are working our Facebook accounts from our smartphones or tablets very frequently and are doing so with their native mobile client app.

But they are taking a leaf out of DIAL (DIscovery And Launch) which is being used as a way to permit us to throw YouTube or Netflix sessions that we start on our mobile devices to the big screen via our home networks. It avoids a long rigmarole of finding a “pairing screen” on both the large-screen and mobile apps, then transcribing a PIN or association code from the large screen to the mobile client to be able to have it on the TV screen,

This is where you will end up authenticating that big-screen app's Facebook login request

This is where you will end up authenticating that big-screen app’s Facebook login request

What Facebook are now doing for the 4th generation Apple TV (tvOS) and Android-based TV/video peripheral platforms (Android TV / Amazon FireTV) is to use the mobile client app to authenticate.

Here, you use a newer version of the Facebook mobile client, the Facebook Lite client or the Google Chrome Custom Tabs to authenticate with the big screen across the home network. The TV or set-top device, along with the mobile device running the Facebook mobile client both have to be on the same logical network which would represent most small networks. It is irrespective of how each device is physically connected to the network such as a mobile device using Wi-Fi wireless and the Apple TV connected via HomePlug AV500 powerline to the router for reliability.

What will happen is that the TV app that wants to use Facebook will show an authentication code on the screen. Then you go to the “hamburger” icon in your Facebook mobile client and select “Device Requests” under Apps. There will be a description of the app and the device that is wanting you to log in, along with the authentication code you saw an the TV screen. Once you are sure, you would tap “Confirm” to effectively log in from the big screen.

At the moment, this functionality is being rolled out to tvOS and Android-based devices with them being the first two to support the addition and improvement of application programming interfaces. But I would see this being rolled out for more of the Smart TV, set-top box and similar device platforms as Facebook works through them all.

Spotify login screen

This kind of single-sign-on could apply to your Smart TV

One issue that may have to crop up would be to cater for group scenarios, which is a reality with consumer electronics that end up being used by all of the household. Here, software developers may want to allow multiple people to log in on the same device, which may be considered important for games with a multiplayer element, or to allow multiple users to be logged in but with one user having priority over the device at a particular time like during an on-screen poll or with a photo app.

Another question that could be raised is where Facebook is used as the “hub” of a user’s single-sign-on experience. Here, an increasing number of online services including games are implementing Facebook as one of the “social sign-on” options and the improved sign-on experience for devices could be implemented as a way to permit this form of social sign-on across the apps and services offered on a Smart TV for example. It could subsequently be feasible to persist current login / logout / active-user status across one device with all the apps following that status.

Other social-media, messaging or similar platforms can use this technology as a way to simplify the login process for client-side devices that use very limited user interfaces. This is especially where the smartphone becomes the core device where the user base interacts with these platforms frequently.