Letter from America: “Summer Starters” to get excited about

amazon show heat temperature and weather visual on-screen
Amazon’s Show is able to give you a visual temperature and forecast display, as well as read it out to you

If you live anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere you are in the heat of summer. Indeed, as I write this in early July, it is a cool 40.5°/105°F. Face it, when it is that hot you really don’t have the energy to eat, let alone cook, a heavy meal. Instead, it’s much easier to have a few “starters” or Hors d'oeuvres to nibble on.

Vacation aside, everyone needs to still work through the summer. The editors of HiddenWires tell me that applies here, but rather than dive into some hot topics that are just too heavy to digest let’s have a few “starters” to ponder and then act on, or use, as summer moves into autumn.


Last month’s Letter explored the multiplicity of standards in our industry and the many ways often proffered to achieve the same goal. After all, in a quote often attributed to Dr. Andrew Stuart Tanenbaum, a noted astrophysicist but in part also to computer scientist Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper, "The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from; furthermore, if you do not like any of them, you can just wait for next year's model." In today’s 4K/UHD world that includes High Dynamic Range, or HDR.

Following the maxim, there are indeed many HDR standards to choose from. By now we’ve written about, or you have heard of HDR-10, Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) and perhaps Advanced HDR by Technicolor. But, as they say on the infomercials, “Wait! There’s More!."

HDR10+ 1000 nits compared to 400 nits of brightness on two screens

Here’s a “starter” for future discussion at length: HDR-10+ adds dynamic metadata in the form of the SMPTE ST-2094-40 standard so that the HDR rendering is not just set once for a program, but it is able to change on a scene-to-scene basis. That’s what Dolby Vision does, but while Dolby Vision does with a royalty fee to the set manufacturer, Samsung is promoting HDR-10+ as a royalty-free concept that they are encouraging all to adopt.

It remains to be seen precisely which brands and which streaming services adopt HDR-10+. That is important for systems integration, as it has been reported that HDR-10+ connectivity with external source devices may require HDMI 2.1 due to the added bandwidth needed to accommodate the metadata. Internal streaming service apps, such as those in the 2017 model year Samsung displays have them. Beyond that, who knows?

Again, consider this is a topic “starter”. We’ll put a more complete report on our menu in the months ahead.

DTS Virtual:X

You would want the options for starters to include a wide variety of choices. In service to our focus this month on loudspeakers there is an audio item on the menu.

By now you’re all become accustomed to object-based audio systems, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro3D. They all deliver a major improvement in the spaciousness and directionality of sound, but sometimes they meet with client objections due to the need for additional speakers, often, but certainly not always, specified for in-ceiling placement. Both Atmos and DTS:X can render out content to a variety of speaker configurations and placements, and there are upmixers such as Dolby Surround to create an immersive sound field from two-channel and other non-object-based sources.

In the seemingly never-ending battle of “I’ll see you and I’ll raise you!” between the two surround giants, DTS recently introduced a new format called DTS Virtual:X. Designed to provide to deliver an immersive soundfield that rivals native content played through 5.1.2 or greater systems, its first appearance is in a slim soundbar from Yamaha.

After a demo last month at DTS’s Calabasas, CA headquarters, about 45 minutes north of Los Angeles, I can attest to the spaciousness and quality of the sound when the input was everything from full multi-channel to legacy matrix-encoded content, to good, old fashioned, two channel stereo.

The DTS Virtual:X sound bar will be followed by implementation will be followed by AVRs and TV sets as we move through the year and into 2018. It’s literally a “starter” at this point, but we expect that this, and competitive small form-factor systems will be on the full menu sooner than later. Keep an eye – and ear – out for it.

“Trickle up” products

It used to be that technology rolled downhill in the sense that technologies and products started in the professional or enterprise world and then trickled down to consumer products. Remember when everyone lusted after a “pro” product for features or capabilities that were not available in general distribution? That has long since changed, and things trickle “up” as well as “down”. As you take advantage of some slower summer month time, or enjoy vacation time off, this is something to once again ponder as a “starter” to think about and then act on when you get back to the office.

Voyager 3200 UC BT600 Laptop screenA terrific example was brought to my attention with the recent release of Plantronics’ new Voyager 3200UC. If you didn’t know better you would think that it is a consumer Bluetooth headset that almost all of use at one time or another. However, the “UC” nomenclature identifies it as a product customised for “Unified Communications” applications. UC of course covers a broad range of IP phones, from the Cisco, Avaya and many others common for large enterprise, governmental, education and healthcare installations, but it also applies to the less expensive “SMB” (Small to Medium Business) systems many of us use.

By taking a proven consumer product, changing the design a bit to fit in with a business environment, add enterprise reporting and deployment software and bundling a product with USB for business-type products, you can see how the “trickle up” works. SO: while you have some “thought time”, use this concept as a jumping off point to how you can improve the internal operational and productivity side of things in the fall when the heat changes from the temperature to the speed of your business.

Amazon Show

One more starter, as it IS hot and you don’t want to “consume” too much. Much discussion has been had, both here and elsewhere, about the incredible growth of voice-controlled/voice interface products such as Amazon’s Echo, Dot and Tap as well as Google Home and the forthcoming Apple Home Pod. As the summer started, another important product joined the fray on 28 June: Amazon Show.

Of course, it has the far-field mic array, voice recognition, reasonably good audio playback quality (but NO wired audio output for connection to external audio of its predecessors with 7-in touchscreen, 1024x600 resolution display and a front facing 5MP camera. One has been sitting in our kitchen since the release date, with the Dot that was formerly there banished upstairs to a bedroom.

While the ability to control IoT devices and answer queries is the same, having them appear on the screen is very useful. Similarly, if a home’s system has two or more, you can use them as a video/baby monitor or call up the images from Alexa-compatible security cameras. Or, in the kitchen it will not only find a recipe but show it to you so you don’t have to keep a phone or tablet handy.

At $229.99USD, which equates to about £219/239€ when it becomes available outside the US, it’s a tad expensive, but after playing with it for a week or so I offer that it is an interesting item that you’ll likely have to deal with whether you like it or not.

“…it is an interesting item that you’ll likely have to deal with whether you like it or not.”

So thus, our final starter: At the very least, look at what the Amazon Show can do, and give some thought to where it fits into your clients’ systems. For now, it is reasonably unique but one can be certain that it will have competition sooner than later. How will YOU explain it, integrate it, see where it works and where it won’t. Summertime is the perfect opportunity to do some blue-sky thinking while you are, well, under those (hopefully) blue skies.

No, you don’t want to work too hard when it is hot, no more than you really might not feel like a full, heavy, meal when the temperatures rise and perhaps the humidity takes its toll. However, along with a full load of music or a good streaming connection to your service of choice, a few good books, either on a phone or tablet or using a good, old-fashioned print book (!), don’t forget to bring a pad to write down your thoughts on where to go with these starters. Or, a good voice recording app on your phone.

Oh, and don’t think TOO MUCH about work when you don’t have to, and enjoy your down time or vacation. The action will pick up sooner than you think!

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group. Follow him on Twitter: @captnvid.