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TCP is outdated.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.

How to Watch Netflix and Amazon Instant Video in 4K UHD

How to Watch Netflix and Amazon Instant Video in 4K UHD

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There’s been a great deal of talk (and hype) recently over 4K UHD TVs and 4K UHD programing. Most new televisions have 4K capability, and streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video (with Prime membership) are promising an increase in 4K content within the coming years. In fact, it’s been estimated that, by 2025, more than half of US households are expected to own at least one 4K-capable TV.

But, what even is 4K?

To summarize, 4K – or, Ultra High Definition – gives you current technology’s best quality picture on an electronic display, such as a television, iPad, or laptop. 4K UHD gives you four times as high a resolution as “Full HD.” It’s name refers to (roughly) the amount of pixels on the horizontal side of the screen you’re watching. To learn more about 4K technology and how it creates such a great quality picture, I suggest checking out this short article and video posted by CNET.

Currently, there’s not much programming in Ultra High Definition, and it will be quite some time before you can watch all of your favorite shows on the platform, including broadcast television. However, if you subscribe to Netflix and have an Amazon Prime membership, some 4K content is available to you, granted you have a 4K capable TV.

Netflix

The majority of what Netflix offers in 4K UHD is original content, such as “House of Cards,” “Marco Polo,” “The Crown,” “Chef’s Table,” “Sense8,” and “Bloodline.” Non-original shows in 4K UHD are harder to come by: so far, they only offer “Breaking Bad,” and “The Blacklist” in Ultra High Definition. Netflix has also teamed with Louie Schwartzberg, an award winning producer, director and cinematographer to create a four-part nature documentary series called “Moving Art,” presented in 4K UHD.

If you’re interested in checking out any of these titles in 4K, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A 4K capable TV
  • A compatible streaming device, such as a Roku 4, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, Roku Ultra, Amazon Fire TV (Second Generation), Nvidia Shield, TiVo Bolts, or most 4K Smart TVs
  • The most expensive package on Netflix ($11.99/month) – it’s the highest tier they offer and it allows you to stream in UHD, as well as on four simultaneous screens
  • Good internet connection –Netflix recommends 25 megabits per second or higher
  • Streaming quality set to “High” on your Netflix account

To browse for Ultra HD content on Netflix, type “4K” or “UHD” into the search menu. Updated versions of the streaming service and supported TVs will also display a row dedicated to 4K content on the app.

Amazon Instant Video

Like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video offers some original content in 4K, such as “One Mississippi,” “The Man in the High Castle,” “Good Girls Revolt,” and “Transparent.” Unlike Netflix, the majority of Amazon’s 4K UHD content is in film, like “Fury,” “Pineapple Express,” “The Patriot,” and “Men in Black 3.”

The good news about watching 4K on Amazon Instant Video is that you don’t need a special subscription plan – you can watch original content in 4K with your regular Prime membership. However, most of the newer movie titles available in 4K are pay-only – even to Prime members – for around $20 each. That could accumulate into a hefty bill over time.

System requirements to watch Ultra High Definition on Amazon is similar to that of Netflix, except that they recommend a high speed internet connection of 15 megabits per second.

If you have a second generation Amazon Fire TV, and it is connected to a compatible Ultra HD TV, the Movies and TV sections on your main menu will include “4K Ultra HD” categories where you can find and browse titles available in UHD.

Since there isn’t much 4K content available at the moment (or any solidified plans to make 4K available on broadcast television), buying a 4K UHD capable TV for the sake of being able to watch your favorite shows and some films in higher resolution doesn’t seem worth it (for now). However, if you are looking to purchase a new TV for the holidays, pretty much all your options are 4K friendly. Therefore, if you have the TV capability, as well as a streaming device that allows for UHD, it’s worth the investment. Netflix and Amazon have both promised to offer more 4K shows and movies on their streaming platforms in the coming years, and other streaming services are following suit.

Do you watch TV and movies in Ultra High Definition? Think it’s worth the investment? Tell us about your experiences with 4K UHD in the comments section below!

https://www.cnet.com/news/what-is-4k/