Powered by Blackfire: The Onkyo TX-RZ920 Network Receiver

Powered by Blackfire: The Onkyo TX-RZ920 Network Receiver

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At CEDIA 2017, premium audio manufacturer and Blackfire Research partner, Onkyo, announced the impressive TX-RZ920. The TX-RZ920 is a 9.2 channel A/V network receiver that boasts 135 watts of sound per channel. Part of Onkyo’s flagship RZ Series of A/V receivers, the TX-RZ920 features top-quality components, a massive custom transformer, and is THX Certified for movie theater quality sound right in your living room. The TX-RZ920 also features Chromecast built-in, so you can stream any music from your smartphone, laptop, or PC to the TX-RZ920 with ease. With the Onkyo Controller app, you can browse and play music from your favorite online streaming services, including Spotify, TIDAL, Deezer, Pandora, and TuneIn. The TX-RZ920 is designed for both a full home theater and smaller listening setups and supports both 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi connectivity.

 

But the best part? The Onkyo TX-RZ920 features Blackfire Research’s own FireConnect Multi-room Wireless Audio. 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 Onkyo NCP-302 Network Speaker) in any room, all over standard Wi-Fi. Now, your favorite music can follow you from room to room.

 

Learn more about purchasing options for the Onkyo TX-RZ920 here.

Wireless Charging Fuels the Smart Home of the Future

Wireless Charging Fuels the Smart Home of the Future

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Last week, we spoke about the latest iPhones all (finally) supporting wireless charging and Apple’s commitment to the Qi wireless charging standard. But the sort of wireless charging that Apple has chosen to back isn’t truly a wireless solution, since you still have to use a charging mat (plugged into an outlet), and your device must be placed on the mat in order for it to charge. However, there are other wireless charging options on the market that are truly wireless.

 

One such company is called Energous, a Silicon Valley-based company whose WattUp wire-free charging technology is gaining a lot of buzz. Energous supplies chips to manufacturers that can be integrated into a wide variety of devices (such as smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and more) that enable wireless power transmission at short, medium, and long distance ranges – the longest of which can bolster energy from up to 15 feet in any direction. Energous uses a Radio Frequency (RF) system, so the experience of charging your devices will feel similar to using a router for Wi-Fi. According to their website: “A WattUp transmitter, or Power Router, sends energy via a Radio Frequency (RF) signal to your WattUp-enabled electronic devices when requested. A WattUp receiver in each device converts that signal into battery power.” To learn more about Energous in action, check out this article about their CES 2017 exhibition.  

 

Another company, Ossia, with their Cota Wireless Power technology, envisions a world in which you walk into your home, an airport, a coffee shop, even a train – and your devices automatically begin to charge. The system comprises of a transmitter, a receiver, and software. The transmitter comes in many different forms: from a smartspeaker-looking cylinder, to a ceiling tile. The receiver is a microchip that can be embedded into numerous devices, which mostly lies dormant, but gets triggered when a Cota receiver sends it a packet of information indicating a need for charge. The software then directs the charge from the transmitter to the receiver’s location, even if there’s movement. Cota uses the same frequency as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and can charge multiple devices at once.

 

Finally, there is Wi-Charge, which just received FDA approval to sell their products in the US. Wi-Charge works differently than Energous and Ossia because it uses infrared beams to transmit power as opposed to an RF system. The range for their charge is up to 10 meters indoors, with 3-4 watts of power per device. In order for the technology to work, your device needs to be in, what they call, the “line-of-sight” (i.e. visible to the transmitter). The first phase of their operations will use dongles or cases attached to your device equipped with the receiver. In the future, receivers will be fitted inside devices, like we’ve seen with Energous and Ossia. The current Wi-Charge charging stations double as lamps, but in the future, the company wants to equip transmitters into ceiling light fixtures in office buildings and homes.

 

While Apple was praised for choosing to implement a fairly ubiquitous wireless charging standard into their latest iPhones, their choice was actually quite underwhelming. Apple is known for being at the forefront of innovation. Because they waited so long to jump on the wireless charging wagon, many expected them to come out with something better than a technology that’s been standard on Android phones for years. They didn’t. Instead, startups like Energous, Ossia, and Wi-Charge now stand at the forefront of wireless charging innovation.

 

Wireless charging is essential to the smart home of the future because the smart home of the future is wireless. From the smart speaker boom to advances in wireless, multiroom audio, this year has brought hi-tech products into the mainstream market, fueling the growth of the smart home sphere. With the introduction of true wireless charging into homes, offices, and public spaces, we’re one step closer to a truly connected world.

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.

Surround Sound Via Bluetooth? Not So Fast…

Surround Sound Via Bluetooth? Not So Fast…

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There was plenty of big tech news to come out of IFA this past September – from voice AI alliances, to the unveiling of Sony’s venture into the smart speaker realm – the end of 2017 has given us a glimpse into what innovations we can look forward to in 2018. A popular trend we noticed at IFA was the expansion of wireless technologies – from headphones, to speakers and smart phones – wireless capabilities are evolving from a simple point-to-point connection (Bluetooth) to more complex multi-room, multi-channel streaming over standard Wi-Fi. We found that the war between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity is still being fought, but some concessions have been made (for example, new Marshall Headphones Bluetooth speakers have added Wi-Fi for multi-room capabilities, signaling an acknowledgement of the limitations of Bluetooth.)

 

One headline in particular caught our eye during IFA regarding the Bluetooth capabilities in the new Moto X4 smart phone, which allows users to link the phone with up to four devices simultaneously. According to CNET, “[t]his is the first phone that lets you broadcast your music to multiple different Bluetooth devices at once. You can connect the phone to four different speakers or headphones — of any kind, as long as they have an A2DO profile — and play the music in sync across all four.” This technology is being lent to Motorola by French startup, Tempow, who specialize in multi-Bluetooth audio and hope to see their version of Bluetooth embedded into smart TVs in the near future to achieve “surround sound-like capabilities” in the living room.

 

The truth is, even with the added ability to connect to more than one device, Bluetooth still has too many drawbacks as a wireless standard to fuel the smart home of the future. For example, you’ll experience interruptions in your music if you get a call or text while using your phone as a source device; there are severe range limitations (around 30 feet), and it produces low quality sound (Bluetooth uses “lossy data compression,” which means that it encodes its data in inexact approximations and partial data discarding to represent its content. This creates a more garbled sound quality and makes Bluetooth audio devices more vulnerable to dropouts.)

 

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, has a much longer range than Bluetooth (roughly 100 feet inside, and up to 300 feet outside) so you can use one system throughout the entire home and extend it into your backyard if you place your router in a central location. Not only can Wi-Fi connect to more than four speakers at a time to create a real 5.1 surround sound system, it can support multi-room systems and multiple channels, which Bluetooth can not. This means that within your wireless home entertainment system, you can actually create a system of speakers, such as “left,” “right,” “center,” and “stereo.” You can also choose to play one speaker, multiple speakers, or all of your speakers at any given time, without always having to reconfigure the devices. Wi-Fi systems also tend to support superior sound quality because they have a wider bandwidth than Bluetooth and it uses a lossless codec, which Bluetooth does not. Therefore, Wi-Fi can support high resolution and lossless audio without significant lag. So for true surround sound in your living room, or anywhere else in your home, Wi-Fi is the best and only wireless standard option. For more information about the differences between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, check out this blog post.

 

Tempow’s multi-Bluetooth technology in the new Moto X4 smart phone has gotten some people excited, especially when it comes to situations where Wi-Fi isn’t available, like at a park or the beach. But in the home, the overall limitations of Bluetooth as a wireless standard prevents it from achieving what Wi-Fi already does. Need we say more?

Onkyo Announces Blackfire Powered CS-N575 Network Hi-Fi CD System

Onkyo Announces Blackfire Powered CS-N575 Network Hi-Fi CD System

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Onkyo has announced plans to ship their latest Network Hi-Fi CD System, the CS-N575, which features Blackfire Research’s own FireConnect Wireless Multi-room Audio technology. The CS-N575 is a compact Hi-Fi system that consists of two speakers and a stereo receiver with a built-in CD player, FM tuner, and the ability to stream your favorite music apps via Wi-Fi through Onkyo’s Next Generation Network Audio which supports Chromecast built-in and our very own FireConnect. The CS-N575 has built in Spotify, TIDAL, Pandora, Deezer, and TuneIn, and boasts a stunning LCD with a new JOG dial so you can control all your music from one place and view song information and album art.

 

With 20 W x 20 W stereo power and a new switching amplification system, The CS-N575 “delivers high speaker-driving power, maximizing sound pressure levels for better energy and punch over an expansive soundstage” (Onkyo). But the best part? With Blackfire’s FireConnect Wireless Multi-room Audio technology, your music can follow you from room to room – so the party never stops.