Improving the Smart Home Hub

Improving the Smart Home Hub

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It’s a challenge for smart home owners to gather all of their devices together under one simple, straightforward interface, but smart home hubs promise an easy way to bring isolated smart devices together. There are many smart home hubs out there, some of which now serve multiple purposes: the Amazon Echo is both a smart home hub and a voice activated smart speaker, while the Samsung Connect Home doubles as a router. When choosing a smart home hub, users tend to consider variables such as compatibility to their current smart home devices, ease of use, and unique features (such as voice control) to help them decide which hub is right for them. But how can smart home hub manufacturers help meet the demand of their users and ensure the technology’s longevity in the marketplace? And how can consumer electronics manufacturers help bridge the islands that pervade smart home entertainment and create hub-friendly solutions?

 

Before the advent of smart speakers, the best reason to invest in a smart home hub was to unify multiple communication protocols under one platform. Smart home hubs are designed to work across many different wireless standards, including Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth. So if you have devices that work on different standards, a hub will most likely allow you to control them all from one centralized location, i.e., the hub’s app (note: not all smart home hubs work with every smart home device). But today, is this still enough of reason to spend upwards of hundreds of dollars on a hub? To most, the answer is ‘no.’ In a CNET article titled: “The only way to save the smart home hub is to kill it,” contributor David Priest contends that “folding the signal translation and automation capabilities of a hub into another essential device that people already buy — be it a router, TV or perhaps even security camera –…moves standalone hubs out of the middleman position in the smart home. As the market continues to develop, customers will be less inclined to spend over $100 on a device that does nothing in and of itself besides helping two other devices communicate…the smart home hub will only survive if it’s reincarnated as something more.”

 

That’s why products like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Samsung Connect Home are so appealing to consumers: they do so much more than just link up your solitary smart devices. Launched in 2014, the Echo was the first mass market voice-controlled smart home hub, and since then, other companies like Google and Apple have jumped on the bandwagon. Besides it being able to connect to a plethora of smart devices (with more and more being added each quarter) which you can control through voice commands, the Echo is also an excellent standalone smart speaker, which makes it that much more appealing to consumers. What traditional smart home hubs do really well (that devices like an Echo or Google Home do not) is offer better scheduling and automation controls, so there are some reasons why a user may opt for something other than an Echo or HomePod. But in order to stay relevant, smart home hub manufacturers must follow the “more bang for your buck” model and combine unique features (such as voice control or even just a first-class app) with the traditional hub.

 

But what about from the consumer electronics end – the entertainment devices users want to connect to a central hub, such as wireless speakers? Combining individual entertainment systems to work together to create a truly connected smart home is non trivial – it requires precise synchronization, low latency for lip sync and a general reliability over standard Wi-Fi (the best and most commonly used communication protocol for the home.) Something like this hasn’t been done before – until now.

 

Blackfire Research is making the smart home smarter by helping consumer electronics manufacturers get their products off isolated entertainment islands and create hub-friendly solutions. Our revolutionary new protocol, The Blackfire Realtime Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework, allows users to mix and match entertainment devices – from multiple brands that are Blackfire enabled – to create a whole home entertainment system. With the Blackfire RED framework embedded in wireless speakers and the smart home’s voice-activated smart speaker (such as an Echo or a Dot), users can finally enjoy a truly connected home. With Alexa, you can ask any Blackfire enabled device to play music, wirelessly and synchronously throughout the home, in groups and on multiple devices. The Blackfire RED framework also supports low latency and multi-channel, which other wireless solutions do not.

 

The Blackfire RED framework is the most synchronous, reliable, and cost effective wireless solution on the market. Voice service solutions require a high performance, multi-room solution like the Blackfire RED framework, which can allow multiple devices to respond to voice commands, simultaneously, and can be integrated into a broad spectrum of high quality voice service applications.

 

The Blackfire RED framework enhances the smart home hub and does what no other solution has done before. Harman Kardon, Pioneer, and Onkyo have stepped into the future by leveraging Blackfire’s technology in over 100 new products this year alone. Now is your chance. Join the Blackfire Revolution today.

Why your WiFi sucks and what you can do about it

Why your WiFi sucks and what you can do about it

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Imagine your perfect Smart Home. Would it have facial recognition locks so you wouldn’t have to worry about ever losing your keys? Or how about tinted windows that adjust to the amount of sunlight coming in, maintaining a perfect temperature inside at all times? If you’re anything like me, your perfect Smart Home would have a completely wireless, multi-room entertainment system, capable of streaming 4K video and 5.1 channels of discrete audio to speakers and screens placed throughout the home. That idea isn’t impossible today, however, it’s not being done. At the moment, the vast majority of home entertainment systems are wired, and their placement is dictated by cable lengths. And TVs are limited to soundbars that may reduce movies and music into a garbled monophonic fizz. This means that multi-room entertainment systems, a staple for Smart Home Entertainment, aren’t all that common or attractive, unless you’re into the whole tangled-wired-mess vibe.

The most cutting-edge technology for TV today is 4K, or Ultra High Definition (UHD). 4K TVs give flicker-free pictures at 60 frames per second, and up to 10 bit color. To send a 4K TV signal and 5.1 audio signal wirelessly, you’d need to transmit data at just over 80 Megabits per second (MB/s) to avoid any obvious visible artifacts. The newest WiFi routers you can buy use the 802.11ac standard to send data at a 5GHz frequency, which is a theoretical max data rate of 1.3 Gigabits per second (Mb/s).

So, if wireless, multi-room entertainment systems capable of streaming 4K video and 5.1 channels are possible, why isn’t it being done? The problem is in your WiFi. Conventional WiFi runs on TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) which was designed in the 1960’s for transferring files down wired Ethernet lines, not streaming real-time video and wireless audio for the Smart Home.

 

TCP is outdated.

Let’s take a closer look at TCP. TCP was originally designed to break a file into smaller packets of data, and send it piece by piece down a twisted-pair wired network connection to a router. The goal was for all the packets to eventually get to the router, no matter how long it took the file to get there. This is called “asynchronous.” Remember back in the day when you’d download music from Napster or LimeWire and it took an entire afternoon to get just a few songs? Yeah, that’s basically it.

Routers in those days could only handle so many packets at a time before choking.The lost packets were retransmitted, and so each file could only be sent to one destination on the network at a time. And if packets were getting lost, TCP would not only retransmit the lost packets, but also send the packets at a slower rate allowing the router to digest all the packets it was being sent to prevent further data loss.

 

TCP is wasting your precious bandwidth.

Today, in a 5GHz wireless network, it is much more likely that packets are lost through interference (transmission loss) than the router getting choked (continuous data congestion at the router). So, TCP’s approach of throttling back the data rate makes bandwidth congestion worse, not better. Tom’s Hardware site did a benchmark test of TCP vs the raw data transmission without all it’s throttling back. With TCP, they measured between 114 and 180 MB/s across five top router brands. Without TCP re-transmission they could reach 606 to 637MB/s with those same five routers.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that using wireless streaming services like Spotify or Netflix is not like sending an email. Music and video streaming have much higher demands than file transfer: packets of a streamed audio or video file have to arrive and be processed at a speed that allows a constant stream of packets to arrive reliably so there are no dropouts in the music or movie. And, if you just so happen to have multiple wireless TVs and speakers, they each have to receive the same data simultaneously.

Network interference can come from intentional transmitters, like other routers and WiFi devices on the same or adjacent channel, a cell phone or a nearby mesh-network music system, or unintentional transmitters, like a microwave oven. Noise changes by the microsecond, and with each millimeter of position- so perhaps think twice before opening that package of microwavable popcorn if you’re streaming a movie to multiple wireless speakers using a network built on TCP.

 

Enter Blackfire RED.

When it comes to creating your perfect Smart Home of the future, why not start today? Remember earlier when I mentioned that wireless, multi-room entertainment systems capable of streaming 4K video and 5.1 channels aren’t being done? Well, with Blackfire Realtime Entertainment Distribution (RED) protocol, it can be done, and easily. Blackfire RED can interpret all that network interference and identify where it is coming from. Blackfire RED is synchronous, multipoint, and has an intelligent adaptive algorithm for managing packet retransmission, resulting in improved signal reliability, tighter synchronization, and reduced latency. And the best part? Blackfire RED works completely wirelessly throughout your home.

The idea of your perfect Smart Home doesn’t have to remain a distant fantasy. Truly connected, wireless Smart Home Entertainment is possible today, but your current WiFi is built on an outdated protocol that can’t support the latest technology (or technology of the future). You don’t still walk around with a pager, do you? Why do we upgrade some technologies and not others? I know you’ve ditched the pager. Now go ahead, ditch TCP and say hello to twenty-first century Smart Home Entertainment.

Blackfire Research Introduces the Blackfire Red Framework

Blackfire Research Introduces the Blackfire Red Framework

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Blackfire Research Introduces Blackfire RED, a New Wireless Real-time Entertainment Distribution Framework, Rescuing Consumers from “Entertainment Islands” in the Home

Blackfire RED Provides a Common Wi-Fi Framework for Entertainment Consumption in the Home, Enabling New Capabilities and Disrupting the $50B Smart Home Entertainment Product Landscape

 

SAN FRANCISCO – June 12, 2017 – Blackfire Research Corp, the wireless Smart Home Entertainment company, today announced the availability of Blackfire RED, a Real-time Entertainment Distribution framework. Blackfire RED is the industry’s only wireless and entertainment-centric infrastructure software framework built from the ground up to both overcome the limitations of Wi-Fi when used for media applications, and meet the needs of wireless entertainment-related consumer applications and products. It is not enough to just have Wi-Fi connectivity between consumer products. Real-time exchanges of entertainment content require a common framework that can work reliably over Wi-Fi and has a rich set of features for a broad spectrum of entertainment products. This is what Blackfire RED offers, making it an essential component to truly enable smarter Home Entertainment. Blackfire RED rescues consumers from “islands” of incompatible media devices, and finally allows Smart Home owners to enjoy all of their digital content wirelessly, synchronously and seamlessly throughout the home, including high-quality 5.1 audio and 4K video on multiple devices over standard Wi-Fi.

“The Smart Home industry is due for a shake-up,” said Adam Wright, Senior Research Analyst, Consumer IoT, IDC. “While the initial IoT concept has evolved into the Connected Home, we still see that Home Entertainment is lagging behind due to unreliable connectivity and lack of interoperability, among other issues. The Smart Home industry has been in need of a solution that has the ability to link all of these excellent, yet disparate, smart devices. Reliable, real-time connectivity between devices and the ability to work together seamlessly is essential for the Smart Home ecosystem to move past this innovation plateau.”

Top global audio brands, including Harman Kardon, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Integra have already licensed the Blackfire RED framework and are currently shipping products that leverage its capabilities. The Blackfire RED framework is comprised of:

  • A Software Engine; a small lightweight piece of software, embedded in consumer electronic products, and is network, chipset and operating system agnostic, making integration easy.
  • A Communication Protocol, that allows Blackfire RED enabled products to talk to each other, over a standard network stack. This was designed and tailored specifically to overcome the limitations of traditional Wi-Fi by working around the effects of interference and ensuring a reliable, high-speed connection.
  • A Programming Interface that allows easy real time distribution and handling of entertainment content from and to the products.

 

“Today’s Smart Homes, while certainly more intelligent than a decade ago, have left consumers stranded,” said Ravi Rajapakse, founder and CEO, Blackfire Research Corp. “Smart technology has created entertainment islands, but I wanted my entertainment to be accessible anywhere in my home without compromising on performance or quality, which is what led me to create Blackfire RED. I wanted to see the Smart Home Entertainment promise through to fruition and for people to finally have the wireless entertainment experience for both audio and video that they have long deserved.”

 

Blackfire RED features and capabilities include:

  • Reliable multi-room, multi-channel, low latency wireless audio and video over Wi-Fi;
  • Advanced multi-source media pipeline handling for services such as Google Chromecast Audio and Spotify Connect;
  • Native integration into Smart TVs, enabling the TV itself to decode and send multi-channel audio to wireless speakers;
  • Wireless 4K video for transmitting audio and video from a Smart Set Top Box simultaneously to multiple TVs and speakers throughout the home;
  • Voice AI integration into multi-room, enabling a whole-home voice-control system.
  • Easy integration into all smart devices.

 

Blackfire Research

Blackfire Research is making the Smart Home smarter, bridging the islands of entertainment in the home and disrupting the $50B Smart Home Entertainment market with its Blackfire RED, wireless real-time entertainment distribution framework. Based in in San Francisco, California, Blackfire has perfected the industry’s only high-performance wireless software framework that is reliable, fast, and flexible, enabling Smart Homeowners to play all of their audio and video content synchronously and seamlessly throughout the home. Today, leading global audio brands rely on the company’s solutions for real-time wireless media distribution and consumers have now come to recognize the Blackfire logo as a symbol of quality. For more information, please visit: www.bfrx.com.

 

Media Contact

Allyson Scott

McGrath/Power Public Relations and Communications

+1 (408) 727-0351

AllysonScott@mcgrathpower.com