Meet Google Home Mini and Google Home Max

Meet Google Home Mini and Google Home Max

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At their recent hardware event, Google announced two new additions to their smart speaker agenda, both of which are ready to take on the ever-increasing number of competitors in the field. Say hello to the Google Home Mini and the Google Home Max.

 

The Google Home Mini has the same functionality as the original Google Home, but at a fraction of the size (and cost). With voice command, you can ask Google Assistant to stream music, control your smart home, check your calendar, and search the internet. The Mini is nearly 4 inches in diameter (roughly the size of a hockey puck), with the top portion covered in fabric, which is available in three colors: chalk, charcoal, and coral. The fabric hides the speaker (1.5-inches) and a far-field voice-recognition microphone. The design is pretty simple and sleek (although as a cat-parent, I wonder how much hair that fabric covering will collect over time). The Mini is a direct response (and a direct competitor) to the Amazon Echo Dot, the cheaper, more popular version of Amazon’s flagship Echo smart speaker. Will The Mini overtake Echo Dot as the most popular pint-sized smart speaker? According to some reviews, The Google Home Mini certainly sounds better than the Echo Dot (it boast 360 degree sound with a 40mm driver), but in overall functionality, there isn’t much of a difference between the two. At $49, the Mini is the cheapest smart speaker option currently on the market.

 

The biggest announcement of the day, however, belonged to the introduction of Google Home Max, a premium version of the Google Home smart speaker designed to compete against Apple’s HomePod and Sonos. The Home Max is a stereo speaker that runs Google Assitant and looks quite similar to the Sonos Play:5 speaker. The speaker is designed to intelligently adjust audio depending on a user’s surroundings using AI (or what Google calls “Smart Sound”), similar to what Apple’s HomePod speaker does. The Max has two tweeters and two 4.5-inch woofers and the company has emphasized the speaker’s powerful bass. The Max supports multi-room audio via Chromecast Audio only, but supports many streaming services including Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. In terms of connectivity, the Home Max supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Chromecast. At roughly 12 pounds, this is by far the largest smart speaker on the market, and the priciest as well. The Google Home Max will set you back almost $400, but Google is giving away 12 months free of YouTube Music with every Home Max purchase. The speaker will be available in two colors: chalk and charcoal, and can be displayed both vertically or horizontally via an adjustable silicon base.

 

The real question is: will the Google Home Max sound as good as the company claims? The answer is, most likely, no. Smart speakers don’t have a very good track record when it comes to audio quality. That’s why many smart speaker owners look for alternative ways to playback their music, especially for multi-room. To achieve excellent wireless multi-room, or multi-device set ups, entertainment systems need greater reliability over standard Wi-Fi, more precise synchronization, and multichannel capabilities, which smart speakers like Google Home, and the Echo, lack.

 

The good news: Blackfire Research offers the most synchronous, reliable, and cost effective wireless solution on the market. We call it the Blackfire RED framework, and it can be embedded into premium wireless speakers and voice-activated smart speakers, creating a truly connected home smart entertainment system. Voice service solutions require a high performance, multi-room solution like the Blackfire RED framework, allowing for multiple devices to respond to voice commands simultaneously.

 

Combining individual entertainment systems to work together to create a truly connected smart home is non trivial – but with Blackfire RED, it can be done, and with stunning results. Blackfire RED can be integrated into a broad spectrum of high quality voice service applications, so the Blackfire connected smart home ecosystem has no limits.  

 

Harman Kardon, Pioneer, and Onkyo are leveraging Blackfire’s technology in over 100 new products this year alone. Join the Blackfire Revolution today!

Powered by Blackfire: The Pioneer Elite SC-LX502

Powered by Blackfire: The Pioneer Elite SC-LX502

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At CEDIA 2017, high-end audio manufacturer and Blackfire Research partner, Pioneer, announced the latest models in the brand’s Elite Receiver line. One network A/V receiver in particular has caught a lot of attention, and that’s the SC-LX502.

 

The SC-LX502 is a 7.2 channel Direct Energy HD Network A/V Receiver that supports many high-resolution audio formats and PCM files like FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and AIFF at a max 24-bit/192kHz resolution. The receiver includes several built-in streaming services, such as Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, and Pandora, as well as built-in Google Chromecast technology, with support for both 2.4Ghz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands.

 

And of course, the SC-LX502 features multi-room audio thanks to FireConnect by Blackfire. FireConnect mirrors network audio and external analog sources connected to a master component (from streaming services to vinyl records) to any Blackfire-compatible speaker (like the Pioneer MRX-3 wireless speaker) in any room, all over standard Wi-Fi. Music selection, speaker grouping, and playback management across the home are built into the Pioneer Remote App for iOS and Android. Now, your favorite music can follow you from room to room.

The SC-LX502 retails for $999 – get yours today!

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.

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FireConnect

FireConnect, powered by Blackfire, is the name given to the Blackfire RED framework implemented in Onkyo, Pioneer and Integra products - including A/V Receivers, Sound Bar Systems, Home Theater Systems, and Wireless Speakers. FireConnect creates wireless, multi-room, multi-channel audio over standard Wi-Fi, operating on 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and over 5GHz Wi-Fi, with advanced multi-room media pipeline handling.

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Harman/Kardon Omni Wireless HD Audio

Harman/Kardon Omni Wireless HD Audio, which features the Blackfire RED framework, can be found in any Harman/Kardon Omni products, including the new Omni + Series. With the Blackfire RED framework embedded into Harman/Kardon products featuring Omni Wireless HD Audio, users can enjoy flawless multi-room audio; wireless, multi-channel surround sound; and wireless streaming through services like TIDAL and Deezer, built-in.

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HTC Connect

With HTC Connect powered by the Blackfire RED framework, you can wirelessly stream any local or web-based music or video over Wi-Fi from an HTC smartphone to any Blackfire powered stereo device or entertainment system - including Harman/Kardon and Pioneer - by swiping up the home screen of your HTC smartphone with three fingers. With HTC Connect powered by Blackfire, you can stream music to multiple speakers across the home simultaneously using your HTC smartphone as the controller. 

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Bridging the Islands

Bridging the Islands

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We live in a world driven by the applications on our smartphones and viral videos on the internet. Because of this, we expect to receive all the entertainment content we want, anywhere, at any time. We also expect our entertainment devices to be connected seamlessly for sharing. But in reality, connectivity in the home is far from perfect, especially when it comes to wireless, smart home entertainment systems. Rather than enjoying our entertainment content wherever we want in the home, we find ourselves stranded on “entertainment islands”: the smart TV you have in your living room is an island separate from the stereo system; the stereo system is separate from the blue tooth speakers; the PC is its own thing, and the kids’ rooms…well…let’s just say that’s something completely different as well.

 

Current solutions like video dongles (Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire) and multi room audio, such as Sonos, are great for individual use. However, combining these individual 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, something that hasn’t been done – until now.

 

Blackfire Research is making the smart home smarter, achieving whole home connectivity by getting entertainment content and devices off their islands. With our revolutionary new protocol, The Blackfire Realtime Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework, smart home owners are able to mix and match devices – from multiple brands that are Blackfire enabled – to create a whole home entertainment system that sounds great and looks stunning, all over standard Wi-Fi. The Blackfire RED framework is superior to all other solutions and does what no other solution can: wirelessly stream both HD 5.1 audio and 4K video simultaneously across multiple devices and stream both audio and video content from any device to many devices throughout the home.

 

According to IT Pro Portal, analysts are predicting the average smart home in the year 2025 “will include 50 to 100 plus connected ‘things’, including appliances and lighting with a huge mesh of wireless sensors.” That’s a lot of devices that need to be connected, and that number will just continue to grow as more and more smart home products enter the market. With the growing number of smart home products, Wi-Fi is, and will continue to be, the glue that holds it all together. Currently, more than 75% of U.S. broadband households use Wi-Fi for connectivity” (Parks Associates), and Blackfire leverages standard Wi-Fi, a basic utility for many at this point, to achieve stunning, high-end results.

 

You’ve never seen anything like the Blackfire RED framework because it’s never been done before. Harman Kardon, Pioneer, and Onkyo have all began shipping Blackfire powered products in over 100 new products this year alone.

At Blackfire Research, we’re fired up. Join The Blackfire Revolution today.