Onkyo TX-RZ610 with FireConnect named “Top Pick”: Sound & Vision

Onkyo TX-RZ610 with FireConnect named “Top Pick”: Sound & Vision

Share

Did you know that the Onkyo TX-RZ610 A/V Receiver was named a “Top Pick” by Sound and Vision Magazine? In their glowing review of the receiver – which features Blackfire’s FireConnect Multi-Room Wireless Technology – they call FireConnect the “icing on the triple-layer cake of Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth.” Sounds delicious.

Read the full product review here and check out Amazon or another authorized Onkyo reseller to purchase yours today!

The CES Wrap Up

The CES Wrap Up

Share

Blackfire Research kicked off 2017 in Viva Las Vegas to participate in the world’s largest, annual consumer electronics trade show, CES. At the start of each year, CES (and roughly 4,000 exhibiting companies) takes over the Las Vegas Strip, showcasing the latest in hi-tech innovations and prototypes for technology of the future. The exhibition floors were abuzz with the soon-to-be year’s hottest trends: unbelievably thin TVs, autonomous vehicles, multi-screen gaming laptops, Virtual Reality headsets, and – in what tech bloggers are dubbing “The Amazon Home Takeover,” – a wide range of smart home appliances, such as toasters, washer & dryer units, refrigerators, security systems, fans, and more, all aided by Amazon’s voice-activated speaker – Alexa.

As exciting and eye-catching as the exhibition floors were, we at Blackfire couldn’t get too distracted, for we were on a mission to present the industry’s best wireless audio solutions for a wide variety of home entertainment systems and applications.

Over the course of four days, Blackfire held meetings at a suite in the luxurious Venetian, with global industry leaders, partners, investors, and old friends, to demonstrate why we are setting the standard for wireless home entertainment. Among those who visited our suite was Arabian Prince, founding member of the rap group NWA, and driving force behind INNOV8 NEXT. As you may recall, this past November, Arabian and Blackfire’s founder and CEO, Ravi Rajapakse, sat together on a panel to discuss innovation in the music industry at the annual Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

This year at CES, Blackfire had plenty to boast, unveiling not one, but three wireless solutions ready for product integration: Blackfire MA – a cost-effective wireless audio solution for smartphones and multiroom music systems; Blackfire MXD – delivering high-resolution multiroom music with native GoogleCast Audio and Spotify Connect support; and Blackfire IXD – the industry’s first low-latency Wi-Fi surround sound solution enabling smart TVs and set top boxes to deliver the ultimate home theater experience. Blackfire IXD also supports multiroom media streaming, transforming the smart TV or set top box into a whole home media center.

In addition to presenting our audio solutions upstairs at the Venetian, we had the opportunity to visit products with Blackfire’s patented streaming technology on display downstairs at the Onkyo/Pioneer booth. The Onkyo SBT-A500 Network Surround Sound Bar System, The Pioneer SC-LX701 Network A/V Receiver, and the Pioneer MRX-3 Wireless Speaker all proudly displayed the Blackfire Logo. CES also revealed a new, Blackfire enabled 6.1-Channel A/V Receiver and Object-Based Surround Sound Bar from luxury consumer audio company, Integra.

At the Harman/Kardon floor in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, we caught a glimpse of the wireless HD Audio line, The Omni+ Series, featuring Blackfire’s patented streaming technology. Recently, the Omni 10+ and the Omni 20+ were joined by the Omni Soundbar System, a 2.1 channel soundbar with a wireless subwoofer, powered by Blackfire wireless streaming technology.
So, at the end of a long, but successful conference, the Blackfire Team had plenty to celebrate (over margaritas) before packing up “The Beast” and heading back to San Francisco. Here’s to a great start to 2017!

Music Review: Fleetwood Mac, “Mirage, The Deluxe Album”

Music Review: Fleetwood Mac, “Mirage, The Deluxe Album”

Share

A newly reissued, deluxe edition of Fleetwood Mac’s 13th studio album, Mirage (1982), features a remastered version of the original, plus 13 live tracks, outtakes, and songs picked up from the cutting room floor. Stevie Nicks has never sounded better, her lyrics of loss and joy, never more poignant, than on this remastered version of “Gypsy.” The band’s high profile, personal turmoil (and subsequent struggle to come together to create this album – an attempt to break the chain of hostility that plagued them) although less apparent in Mirage, still pulses through the album’s veins, almost 35 years later.

Amazon      iTunes 

Retail Drives Smart Home Innovation

Retail Drives Smart Home Innovation

Share
By Rohit Verma
The popular focus on smart home technology is on home automation, such as smart lighting, environmental control, smart appliances and home security. These technologies make up a rapidly growing, multi-billion dollar market. However, that is small change compared to retail. The retail market accounts for a quarter of the U.S. economy, or, about 100 times that of home automation (in 2015, U.S. GDP was $18 trillion and consumer spending accounted for roughly $12 trillion, of which, retail spending was $4 trillion). Growth in retail tracks the economy and has been slow – for instance, Q2 2016 growth was 2% year-over-year.  Online retail, however, expanded 16% over the same period and is now almost 10% of overall retail spending. It is no wonder then, that fighting to win control over this huge prize is the driving force behind The Smart Home Wars.  

blackfire-research-amazon-echo-blog-chart

­   The (re)tail winds have shifted the smart home industry to not necessarily make smart products for the home, but rather, making a home smarter so it can buy products. The most ferocious battle for smart home domination is between Amazon and Google, and this battle is already transforming how we interact with our homes.

 blackfire-research-amazon-echo-blog

A River Runs Through Your Smart Home

With revenues of $100 billion, Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer. Amazon is relentless in its goal to establish and maintain strong, long-term relationships with their customers. They pride themselves on making innovations to make purchasing easier, already taking immense strides to make the home “smarter” for purchases. It comes as no surprise that Amazon’s smart home product direction is geared toward enabling growth in retail sales through immediacy and ease of use.  Amazon’s Dash buttons and the Amazon Echo, along with the Echo’s siblings, the Dot and the Tap, are poster children for a smart home in its formative years.  Dash buttons are essentially free ($4.99 for a $4.99 credit), and each is associated with one of a few hundred household products, such as Bounty paper towels, Tide laundry detergent, even Diet Coke. The Dash Button is simple: a press of a button initiates the product’s purchase and delivery to you (all through Amazon). However, Amazon’s most major advancement in smart home technology is the Echo. Echo is a Wi-Fi connected smart speaker, whose key innovation is its skillful application of voice recognition and AI responses. It can play music, provide web search results, and control home automation devices all through voice command.  Amazon wants to make the Echo indispensable in the home, and provides a platform for third parties to write programs that leverage the Echo’s voice recognition and connectivity.  This will make the Echo’s value increase over time as its functionality expands, much like the Google and Apple app stores. However, the Echo’s main value to Amazon is it’s ability to maintain shopping lists and make purchases from an increasing selection of products through Amazon. This is the biggest step in smart home technology and has set the bar for any competing devices. As investment continues, the Echo will eventually be able to make most of your household purchases on demand or (where AI technology and the market is headed) predictively. This will lead to consumers making more purchases through, and increased loyalty with, the Amazon ecosystem.  

blackfire-research-ok-google-blog

OK Google…

Google has proven itself the leader in developing AI technologies, placing it at the forefront of innovation for smart home solutions. Although a bit late to the direct-to-consumer marketplace, Google’s heavy investment in AI has it marching into battle with a fully loaded arsenal. When you have $80 billion in cash, you take a few chances. To have a more direct presence in the home, Google has bought Nest and Dropcam, released Chromecast Audio, Chromecast Video and Google OnHub, and even made their own Amazon competing retail delivery service - Google Express.  Most recently and most loudly, Google has released Google Home, a voice-activated smart home speaker.  Google Home was unveiled earlier this Fall to positive consumer and critical reviews. Like the Echo, you can use Google Home to search the web, set reminders and play music from your Spotify account (as well as other streaming services). However, a major reason behind the introduction of Google Home is defensive. Internet advertising continues to comprise the vast majority of Google’s revenue. And, a large part of that revenue is related to retail.  U.S. internet advertising revenue was at $60 billion in 2015, and growing at 23% quarter-over-quarter in Q4 2015.  Of that $60 billion, 22% was from retail, and another 13% from fields closely related to retail. It is the loss of this revenue that Google is threatened by with Amazon’s smart home successes.  Consumers using devices like Amazon’s Echo and Dash undermine Google’s growth in its search revenue: the more a company like Amazon gets consumers to buy directly through their platforms, the lower the need for individuals to search and browse the web to find products, and the less money Google makes through ad sales. Google must protect their search business at all costs.

 blackfire-research-retail-drives-smart-home-innovation-blog-chart3


blackfire-research-smart-home-wars

The Two Tower Speakers

Amazon Echo and Google Home. Two similarly shaped speakers with similar functionality and similar intent.  So, who will win the “Smart Home Wars?” On the one hand, we have a retail giant with a clear focus on consumers and the ability to churn out innovative products. On the other, a company with, probably, the largest collection of software talent and massive AI skills. Each is fighting for the future of their core business. There are two distinct directions their smart home innovations favor. Amazon is all in for ease of purchase, it’s “one stop shop.” If Amazon makes their shopping experience the most intuitive and convenient, they have a large shot at controlling the retail market. For consumers, however, the captivity of convenience will alleviate pricing pressure on Amazon and lead to higher prices.  At least, prices that are higher than they would otherwise have been. Google is repurposing its basic search engine for smart home products and AI, making it easier for individuals to find the best value for their retail purchases. Google’s investment in AI technology also means that it leads the industry in the most innovative ways to predict what you may want, or need, for your home. The winner may well be decided by whether consumers prefer convenience (Amazon) or whether the ability to find the best deal is more important (Google).

 blackfire-research-retail-drives-smart-home-innovation-ending-blog

Back to the Smart Future

Conventional wisdom predicts a bright future for smart home products and solutions. It’s still in the early stages, so what shape the products take and what revenue streams the solutions inspire will only unfold in time.  The importance of retail is driving Amazon and Google to make the Echo or Home indispensable, and to try and make them the “hub” of the future smart home. However, the market is young and growing rapidly each year, and there will inevitably be additional competitors in this space - Apple will certainly play a part, Microsoft will likely build something based on Cortana, Samsung and LG are working on voice-based assistants, and other players like AT&T, Comcast, and Sony seem poised to enter the field. Amazon and Google chose the humble speaker.  The ubiquity of speakers and their naturalness for two-way communication through the clever use of voice interface and AI makes this the most compelling effort so far. But they still have a long way to go. While a hub based on home entertainment is persuasive, consumers are still looking for products that can not only replace existing ones, but connect the entire home into one large system. Amazon and Google’s focus on retail and associated aspects of the smart home experience has led to initiatives that do not meet consumers’ complete home entertainment needs. The natural path for the “Next Big Thing” in smart home technology will incorporate comprehensive wireless home entertainment into the hub:  speakers throughout the whole home with multi-channel 5.1 capability, TVs with varying streaming and gaming platforms, and your smart phone, all connected, all on standard Wi-Fi.

The battle is just beginning, with the field, and combatants, not yet fully defined. The war is nowhere near over.

About Rohit Verma - Rohit is the head of  corporate strategy and CFO at Blackfire Research Corp. He has held executive management positions in wireless and software technology companies, as well as management consulting at A.T. Kearney, with an expertise in strategy, corporate finance, and business development. Rohit holds a Ph.D. in economics from The University of Pennsylvania with a focus on strategy, and received his undergraduate degree in computer science and mathematics.
The Pioneer VSX-1131 AV Receiver is Named One of 2016’s Best

The Pioneer VSX-1131 AV Receiver is Named One of 2016’s Best

Share

So Make Sure to Add it to your Black Friday Shopping List

Today marks the official start to the holiday shopping season and everyone is panicking. So many gifts to buy, so little time! Perhaps you’re looking for a fantastic gift for the music lover in your life? Or maybe you are searching for the perfect addition to your own home entertainment system to show off during holiday dinners? Look no further:  as a proud partner of top audio-visual company Pioneer, Blackfire Research is happy to announce that the Pioneer VSX-1131 AV Receiver, powered by Blackfire Research’s “FireConnect,” has been named one of the best AV Receivers for 2016 by Thewirecutter.com and Themasterswitch.com – so make sure to add it to your Black Friday shopping list!

The Pioneer VSX-1131, which features Blackfire’s FireConnent, placed “runner-up” for Thewirecutter.com’s “The Best Receiver” of 2016 award. On their decision to include the VSX-1131 as one of the year’s best AV Receivers, WireCutter expressed that “the VSX-1131 has AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Dolby Atmos, and integrated Wi-Fi support. It will convert an analog video signal to HDMI, too, so you need to run only a single cable to your TV. It even offers…component-video and phono inputs…[and] features Google Cast for Audio support, which we really like to see.”

As if one wasn’t enough, Themasterswitch.com has ranked the AV Receiver as #10 on their list of “Best A/V Receivers of 2016,” stating that “[t]his is a good, solid all-round system” and that “it’s one of the more reliable units out there…We do like the increased HDMI ports, and we really enjoyed the room correction system, which calibrated the system nicely.”

The Pioneer VSX-1131 AV Receiver “has seven amplifier channels [and] the serious home cineaste can also operate a Dolby Atmos loudspeaker set with its additional ceiling speakers. With 160 watts per channel, the amplifier output meets higher demands, similar to the seven HDMI ports, one of which is located on the front panel. This allows you to quickly connect external players without much hassle. The VSX-1131 supports 4K UltraHD with HDR on every HDMI port, while it can convert Full HD into 4K using its powerful video scalers.” (Pioneer 2016)

The receiver also features “various streaming options [already] installed. With Spotify, Tidal and Deezer, all the payment streaming services are supported…TuneIn adds thousands of web radio stations, while AirPlay, Google Play and Bluetooth provide matching wireless access to every tablet or smart phone. And if you’re planning a multi-room system in the near future, you’ll be happy to know that the VSX-1131 is already compatible with FireConnect and so able to feed all connected sources into a corresponding system.”(Pioneer 2016)

Pioneer explains that Blackfire’s Fireconnect “enables any audio source connected to the receiver—from vinyl to streaming audio—to be sent wirelessly to a compatible speaker placed anywhere in the home.”

“The new Pioneer AV receivers with FireConnect enable the concurrent playback of every audio source connected to the AV receiver via an optional wireless speaker. Conveniently control the multiroom playback with track selection and volume via smart phone and tablet.” (Pioneer 2016)

Congratulations Blackfire Research and our partners over at Pioneer. Let’s keep setting the standard for wireless home entertainment.

You can purchase the Pioneer VSX-1131 on Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart.