LAS VEGAS – The International Consumer Electronics Show last week established three unmistakable trends beyond the emergence of Ultra HDTV: the rise of better audio to keep up with ultra HD images; advances in voice and vision technology to improve navigation on smart TVs; and the emerging 802.11ac, which will set the stage for gigabit data communication in the home.
“Now that they’ve seen images jumping out of UHDTV, people are more interested in better audio experience,” said CSR CEO Joep Van Beurden. (right). Cinema-like, surround-sound audio will become much more important to consumers, Van Beurden predicted. “Audio must keep up with UHDTV.” Most likely, sound systems will be implemented not by forcing consumers to wire up a complex 5.1 channel setting but by simply adding a sound bar or a few wireless speakers running high-quality audio.
CSR, for example, is adopting apt-X Lossless HD audio coding technology, capable of up to 96 KHz sampling rates and sample resolutions up to 24 bits. Expect more audio solutions to spring up on the market, all aimed at HD audio.
Natural User Interface
The industry is also scrambling to find a better user interface beyond hard-to-use and easy-to-misplace remote controls. “People want to interact with smart TVs with voice, vision and gesture,” said Eran Briman, vice president of marketing at CEVA. CEVA is rolling out a fully programmable platform dubbed MM3101 specifically designed to perform complex, real-time signal processing tasks related to imaging and vision. “This allows system companies to build a user interface that’s always ‘listening’ to you, or ‘watching’ you,” said Briman, instead of prompting you to push a button.
A tiny camera integrated into Panasonic’s new smart TV, for example, recognizes the face of a user sitting in front of the TV and changes the user interface to one pre-defined for that face.
Conexant, meanwhile, is touting its far-field voice input processor SoC. The chip, when designed into a set-top box or TV, allows consumers to speak a pre-defined command (in its demo, the company used, “Hey, Conexant!”) to turn a TV on or off.
Sailesh Chittipeddi, president and CEO at Conexant Systems Inc. (left), said it is leveraging a suite of algorithms, including acoustic echo cancellation, noise reduction, beam forming as well as pre- and post-processing.
The idea of talking to TV is no longer foreign to users. More are accustomed to voice recognition-based services like Apple’s Siri. “The technology has almost gotten to the point with which people are feeling comfortable,” said Henry Samueli, CTO of Broadcom.
Integration of voice-control functions is feasible either inside a remote unit or in a TV or set-top. LG CTO Scott Ahn said voice control will reside in LG’s new "magic remote," so “there will be no confusion as to whose commands the TV must listen.” Others advocate voice control inside the TV because remotes often get lost between the couch cushions. “Far-field voice input technology – that works on a voice trigger even in a large, noisy room – will be perfect for that,” claimed Conexant's Chittipeddi.
I'm glad to hear about audio and especially wireless speakers getting more attention. The comment about "not by forcing consumers to wire up a complex 5.1 channel setting" was spot on. Even for those consumers who have a room that was pre-wired for 5.1 channel sound are discovering that 7.1 channel support is there in all newer home A/V receivers -- and digging into the walls to add wires for 2 more speakers isn't a very attractive option.
Over the holidays, I had an inquiry from a relative who was shopping for new HDTV. After advising her on that, she asked if she should get a sound bar. I replied that she should get an A/V receiver and a bunch of good quality speakers, but she felt that hooking all that up was way too much hassle -- and hiding speaker wires is always the biggest hassle -- so I advised her to at least get a sound bar rather than simply relying on the speakers in the TV.
Unfortunately, even in the A/V receivers that have built-in wireless support (WiFi and/or BT), the wireless is geared toward bringing audio into the receiver, not sending it out. To set up a truly wireless surround sound system with appropriately placed speakers still requires more gadgets and more effort than most consumers are willing to accept -- but hopefully that will start to change.
Broadcom has to sell wireless chips. I think the emphasis is simply on the wrong links of the chain.
Surely ISPs know that in-home networks are not a big obstacle. Both 802.11g and 802.11n, readily available and cheap to households, are perfectly adequate already for in-home HD distribution. ISPs should worry instead about their broadband links.
As you and others have said, these broadband links are expensive in the US (mostly due to the large distances and low population densities in many parts). And they are often not that fast. Most are probably at or less than 4 Mb/s. Way less than even 802.11g can carry. If the ISPs would take care of that, the rest is easy.
You are absolutely right, Bert. 802.11ac is not designed for the last mile, but service providers like cable operators who are responsible for that last mile, are apparently feeling confindent, long at last, to adopt 802.11ac in their set-tops to enable HD video delivery within home, according to Broadcom.
As to this quote:
"Broadcom CTO Samueli said this is 'the first time carriers are convinced that they can deliver reliable HDTV programming throughout the home.' In this scenario, carrier-grade video content comes to a media gateway that distribute it to set tops, notebook computers and smartphones."
I think this in-home server idea is far fetched, unnecessary, and unlikely to be adopted by the vast majority of households. It's good for geeks, perhaps, but as long as I've heard it touted, hasn't happened big time yet. There's a reason.
Why bother with this home server thing, if each device in the home can get that content via the ISP, independent of every other device? Isn't that what this "cloud computing" is all about? Why bother having to set up the server to fetch the material first, when any device in the home can bypass the server and go directly to the source(s)?
We have PCs, tablets, smartphones, and my TV-with-PC-STB at home. I can see all these devices listed in my ADSL modem/router status display. And each device is perefectly capable of doing its own thing, independent of all the others, fetching any content it wants. Our "home server" is called "the Internet."
Once again, though, 802.11ac is *not* "designed to "bring HD video to the home." At best, you might say it is designed to distribute HD video inside the home, once that video has been received over your broadband link (or stored in some hypothetical in-home storage device).
What "brings HD video to the home" is the ISP last mile link, or perhaps BluRay stored onto some home server device. In the real world, the weak link continues to be the broadband connection from ISP to homes. The best ones today are no more than 100 Mb/s. Hardly need 802.11ac for that.
As to distributing HD inside homes, 802.11n is plenty good enough. One compressed HD channel requires about 10 to 20 Mb/s. Surely 270 Mb/s of 802.11n is MORE than adequate to distribute several of these channels inside homes?
I'm anxious, though, to see what develops about better sound. Even there, though, the sound we now get from TV over the air or over the Internet is more than excellent, if people bother to send it through a good sound system. The weak link there is definitely the audio equipment on the premises, and not the source or the transmission channel.
However, I understand why vendors feel the need to sell new stuff. I just wish they would address what really needs addressing, such as real web browsers on smart TVs.
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