Powered by Blackfire: the HTC U11 Life and the HTC U11+

Powered by Blackfire: the HTC U11 Life and the HTC U11+

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This past year, consumer electronics company, HTC, began shipping the HTC Bolt, the HTC U Ultra, and the HTC U11 smartphones with built-in HTC Connect powered by Blackfire’s wireless multi room technology. Now, HTC has added two more smartphones to the mix: the HTC U11 Life and the HTC U11+, both with HTC Connect, powered by Blackfire.

 

The HTC U11 Life is a more compact, less expensive version of the company’s widely popular HTC U11 smartphone, while the HTC U11+ is a larger, updated version of it with higher-end finishes, a 6-inch screen, and bigger battery. The U11+ is one of the first smartphones to ship with the Android 8.0 Oreo operating system out of the box, while the U11 Life runs on the Android Nougat with HTC Sense in the US. Both phones feature the Edge Sense, which was first introduced in the HTC U11, allowing users to trigger an action, such as summoning Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, by squeezing the sides of the phone. Neither the U11 Life nor the U11+ have a headphone jack (RIP), which seems to be the trend on most smartphones nowadays. But HTC is giving audio quality a huge boost on the U11+, with 30% more volume than the flagship U11, better dynamic range and less distortion.

 

And of course, both the HTC U11 Life and the U11+ both feature HTC Connect, powered by Blackfire, which can stream any local or web-based music or video via Wifi from an HTC smartphone to any Blackfire powered stereo device, wireless multi room speakers, or entertainment system by swiping up the home screen with three fingers. With HTC Connect, users can create a wireless 5.1 surround sound system or stream different music to multiple speakers at the same time. (Check out this easy guide to help you wirelessly stream music from an HTC U11 smartphone to Blackfire compliant speakers.) Setting up your wireless home entertainment system has never been easier.

The HTC U11 Life is available in the US and can be purchased here.

Say Qi: Apple Embraces Wireless Charging

Say Qi: Apple Embraces Wireless Charging

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On September 12th, Apple opened their brand-new 2.8 million-square foot campus in Cupertino to the press- dubbed Apple Park – to announce the company’s latest products. Although personally, I’m most excited for the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular and Apple Music, the biggest stars of the nearly two-hour show were the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus, and, of course – the iPhone X, Apple’s 10 year anniversary phone. From FaceID to animojis, Apple’s newest phones have the entire tech world abuzz. But there’s one advancement in these three smartphones that many have felt is long overdue: wireless charging.

 

Wireless charging has been supported in smartphones for quite some time – even going as far back as 2009 – but it seemed like Apple was holding out on incorporating wireless charging into their products due to lack of industry standardization. But all that seemed to change earlier this year when Apple joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), an organization that helps develop industry standards in wireless charging. The WPC backs the Qi Standard, which works either through induction (where wireless chargers contain special magnets and coiled wires that pass electricity to your smartphone or other device via a mat) or resonant charging. The Qi Standard is used across many brands, including Samsung, Google, HTC, Blackberry, LG, Motorola, and Nokia. And now Apple.

 

At their September 12th Keynote, Apple announced that the new iPhone 8, 8 Plus and the iPhone X all support Qi wireless charging, which is huge news because it means that these smartphones will be compatible with non-Apple products and accessories, such as from Belkin and Mophie, as well as many wireless charging mats that have already been installed in hotel lounges, cafes, and airports around the world.

 

However, Apple wouldn’t be Apple if they didn’t offer sleek (and expensive) accessories. The company also announced that they plan to offer their own wireless charging pad beginning sometime next year. Called AirPower, this wireless charging mat will incorporate the Qi Standard and will have the ability to charge multiple devices at once, such as an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and the new AirPod case.

 

Apple finally introducing wireless charging into their products is a step forward in whole-home wireless connectivity, but the concept of these wireless charging mats are somewhat misleading since the mats themselves still have to be plugged into an outlet, and your device will have to have a physical connection to the mat (i.e. touching it) in order for your device to charge. So yeah, not totally wireless.

 

There are other, truly wireless charging solutions on the market, and we’ll discuss them in the next blog post.

FAQs

FAQs

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General

Q: What is Blackfire Research?
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A: Blackfire Research (Blackfire for short) innovates smart home entertainment solutions, delivering what no one else in the industry can: true multichannel, multipoint and multi-room wireless streaming. Blackfire licenses its Real-time Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework to leading smart home entertainment brands, such as HTC, Onkyo and Harman Kardon; partnering also with several top chipset developers, independent design houses, and contract manufacturers. Blackfire is already licensed by three of the top 10 global audio brands and is built into over four million smartphones. Users have now come to recognize the Blackfire logo as a symbol of quality.

Q: What other technologies can do what Blackfire RED does?

A: There are other technologies that attempt parts of what Blackfire offers, but not one competitor is able to deliver all that Blackfire does. Blackfire built its patented Real-time Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework from the ground up to address issues commonly associated with conventional wireless technologies, delivering high-performance multichannel, multipoint and multi-room 5.1 audio and 4K video wireless streaming across devices over standard Wi-Fi. In addition, the Blackfire RED framework provides extremely high synchronization and very low latency – which allows wireless audio and video to be sent/received from devices reliably and for devices to work together seamlessly. Therefore, users no longer have to choose between a music-only or movie-only audio system, or a Bluetooth speaker for their phone that can’t do multi-room audio.

Q: Which problems does Blackfire technology solve for its partners?

A: Blackfire isn’t just solving problems for its partners. The company is solving industry-wide issues, including the elimination of entertainment “islands” and the mitigation of issues commonly associated with wireless streaming that result in poor streaming performance and quality. A typical household has several independent “islands” of media connectivity in their home: a TV connected to a home theater system or soundbar; a music system; several computers, often containing music files; and several smartphones. Blackfire is the only technology that enables all these islands to interconnect wirelessly and seamlessly, allowing a living room home-theater system to wirelessly play TV audio, Spotify music, or Hi-Res/HD files stored on a PC or NAS drive.

As for partners specifically, Blackfire has overcome the limitations of conventional wireless to deliver true multichannel, multipoint and multi-room wireless streaming of digital content, including 5.1 audio and 4K video. Consumer Electronics brands are again free to innovate and invigorate a stagnant market by imagining and producing new devices that deliver rich content and a dramatically improved experience without barriers. OEM manufacturers can broaden their offerings and increase revenue by designing and producing entertainment content capabilities, services and device designs previously unimaginable.

Q: Which problems does Blackfire technology solve for the user?

A: Blackfire RED overcomes the limitations of conventional wireless products and eliminates entertainment islands. Users can now enjoy any digital entertainment content headache-free for the first time, regardless of manufacturer, device, application or room location.

Q: What is next for Blackfire?

A: Blackfire’s mission is to ignite an industry shift – a shift toward a true smart home – and take the smart home entertainment experience to an entirely new level. A typical household has several independent “islands” of media connectivity in their home. Blackfire has the only technology that allows all these islands to interconnect wirelessly and seamlessly. As more brands adopt Blackfire technology, users will be able to play all their audio and video content synchronously and seamlessly throughout their home and use multiple devices for different rich entertainment applications simultaneously for the first time.


Technology

Q: What is Blackfire RED?

A: Every device that carries the Blackfire logo is built on Blackfire RED. Blackfire RED is the underlying framework that ensures reliable and high-performance media distribution over standard Wi-Fi. The Blackfire RED framework is comprised of:

  • The Blackfire RED software engine, which is embedded in consumer media products;  
  • The Blackfire RED transport protocol, which overcomes the limitations of traditional Wi-Fi protocols by mitigating the effects of interference and ensures a reliable, high-speed connection;
  • The Blackfire RED programming interface, which enables devices with any operating system to stream media from a wide number of content providers.
Q: What does Blackfire RED do?

A: Blackfire RED enables a reliable multi-room speaker system with wireless audio streaming over 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. Blackfire RED-powered devices also include the following capabilities and features:

  • Reliable multi-room wireless audio and video over 2.4GHz Wi-Fi;
  • Low-latency over 5GHz Wi-Fi;
  • Advanced multi-room media pipeline handling, including Google Chromecast Audio and Spotify Connect integration;
  • Multi-room backward-compatibility with previous Blackfire-powered products;
  • Native integration into Smart TVs, enabling the TV itself to decode and send multi-channel audio to wireless speakers (thus replacing the AV Receiver);
  • 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.
Q: What is FireConnect by Blackfire?

A: Fireconnect by Blackfire is the name given to the Blackfire RED framework implemented in Onkyo, Pioneer and Integra products.

Q: Does Blackfire RED support lossless high-resolution audio streaming?
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A: Yes, the Blackfire RED framework is capable of transmitting bit-perfect streams of 24-bit High Resolution audio, and supports a wide variety of codecs including both lossy and lossless formats.


Products

Q: Is the Blackfire protocol an industry standard?

A: Blackfire RED is a patented technology but is built on (and compliant with) several industry standards including Ethernet and the IEE 802.11 (WiFi) standard. Devices using Blackfire RED work on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless bands, as well as over wired Ethernet connections, and will benefit from any future improvements in WiFi speed, reliability and capacity – which non-WiFi, proprietary technologies cannot.

Q: How does the Blackfire protocol work over standard Wi-Fi?

A: Conventional protocols used by other wireless streaming devices, like RTP and TCP/IP, were designed in the 1970s to cope with transmission bottlenecks in early wired networks; this has made them unsuitable for handling transient noise from RF interference. Blackfire built an entirely new protocol from the ground up and is the only transmission protocol specifically designed for ensuring reliable, real-time packet transmission in Wi-Fi networks – coping with both high data traffic, as well as sources of interference. Blackfire RED protocol includes several patented features for overcoming signal loss due to either weak signals or noisy wireless environments –

including Real-Time Packet Management (RPM), Traffic Independent Synchronization (TIS) and Dynamic Stream Balancing (DSB).

Q: How is Blackfire technology able to reduce data packet loss?

A: Blackfire has invested in specialized equipment and years of research to characterize and reproduce the types of interference that Wi-Fi devices in the home face. By designing for these real-world environments, Blackfire has developed algorithms and techniques that ensure reliable packet transfer – without disrupting other network traffic – that factors in the available data bandwidth to minimize the unnecessary retransmission that occurs in conventional protocols. The Blackfire RED protocol reduces packet loss by rapidly identifying transmission errors, recovering the packet and retransmitting it to prevent audible or visible drop outs.

Q: How is Blackfire technology able to deliver precise synchronization and solve the video/audio lip synchronization issues that plague others?

A: Conventional streaming technologies make compromises to achieve one task at a time – for example multi-room audio systems have excessive latency and can’t be used wirelessly with TVs (lip sync issues); and Wireless Home Theater systems can only achieve low latency by using proprietary transmitters that cause interference with compliant Wi-Fi devices. Blackfire is the first Wi-Fi protocol that can cover both low latency and high synchronization without causing interference to other network traffic, enabling wireless systems with up to 7.1 discrete channels of audio – not just a single point “soundbar.” The result is audiophile quality synchronization on multiple channels for a true surround sound experience and offers precise synchronization to deliver in-room multichannel application, acoustic stereo spatial imaging and audio + video sync (“lip sync”) accuracy.

Q: Can Blackfire technology be leveraged by applications beyond home entertainment?

A: Yes, because Blackfire RED is based on WiFi standards, it is flexible enough to be leveraged by just about any device in the IoT space that needs to stream digital content or data wirelessly in real-time, at high speed and with high reliability.

Making the Smart Home Smarter

Making the Smart Home Smarter

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In his entertaining recent editorial, CNBC Technology Product Editor, Todd Haselton, experienced, firsthand, the frustration that many smart home enthusiasts have endured for a long time: smart home products that don’t work with one another. Typically, manufacturers don’t want their customers to “mix and match” products, but rather, they “encourage” them to stay loyal to their brand by deliberately limiting compatibility with competitors. But what manufacturers don’t realize is that these “technology islands” are actually discouraging potential users from buying any smart home products at all. Aside from the more geeky early adopters (ok, my hand’s up), smart home gadget users don’t want to invest in a brand and have that brand become obsolete within the next few years (i.e. “choose wrong”) so many people just aren’t choosing at all. As Haselton points out: “How do you choose which one to go with? It’s almost like the VHS vs. Betamax wars.”

 

A simple solution to this problem, as Haselton notes, is “one single standard that works for everything.” At Blackfire Research, we’ve done just that. A few years back, Blackfire Research founder and CEO, Ravi Rajapakse, became frustrated – much like Haselton himself and countless other smart home gadget lovers – when he realized that there was no seamless way to transfer and share entertainment media throughout his own home. What was once a personal project to create a multi-room entertainment system soon became ten years of research into a revolutionary new protocol, which we call The Blackfire Realtime Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework. The Blackfire RED framework can stream both HD 5.1 audio and 4K video, simultaneously, across multiple devices – all over the standard WiFi you already have. As well as connecting light bulbs, thermostats and door locks, Blackfire also works as a bridge between your smart home and your entertainment systems – with precise synchronization, low latency for lip sync, and overall reliability. Because ultimately, that is what smart home owners want – to mix and match devices while having their music and movies available to them anywhere in the home.

 

Oh yeah, did we mention that Blackfire enabled products are compatible with each other, even across brands? Just look for our logo on select Harman/Kardon, Onkyo, Pioneer, Integra, and HTC devices. It’s just one of the many ways Blackfire Research is making the smart home a whole lot smarter.