Revenge of the Smart TV

Revenge of the Smart TV


According to research firm Parks Associates, 45% of U.S. broadband households own a Smart TV, “making it the most commonly used platform for streaming video content among this group.” Additionally, roughly 60% of the those surveyed said that the device display on a Smart TV is easier to navigate and easier to find content than other connected devices, such as a set top box (STB).


Despite the high praise from devoted users, overall sales of Smart TVs, including those with 4K/Ultra HD resolution, have plateaued in recent years. “As a result, we are seeing new partnerships among device manufacturers focused on ways to improve or refresh the UI [user interface] of the smart TV, to make the device easy to use and a single point of content in the living room,” says Jennifer Kent, Director of research quality and product development at Parks Associates.


Additionally, streaming services are only gaining in popularity. Thanks to engaging, original content and an abundance of mainstay classics, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are gradually killing cable. Data from financial services company Raymond James “shows that 31 percent of Internet users polled in November cited a streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu as their primary source of video content, up from 24 percent a year ago and only a few percent behind the 35 percent of survey respondents who named cable as their primary video source.” (Sound and Vision) That means, now, more than ever, entertainment device manufacturers need to start designing their products with streaming at the forefront.


Another feature that has been gaining traction over the last few years is voice control, and we should expect to see more entertainment devices, such as Smart TVs, unveil voice control functionality in 2018. Research from Parks Associates shows that “consumer demand is pushing voice control into the connected entertainment area” fueling it’s growth in the market.


This study proves that instead of having many disparate devices that play media throughout the home, consumers want to have access to all their entertainment content – such as music and video streaming services – from one central place. And what better place than the living room TV? Establishing the living room TV as a central hub from which all entertainment content can be easily accessed (and sent out to other devices in a multi-room setup) cuts down on the confusion for what can be played from which device. It’s time the TV stepped into the 21st century…

Implemented into the home’s central Smart TV, Blackfire’s revolutionary new protocol, The Blackfire Realtime Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework, allows users to to create a wireless, whole home entertainment system. With the Blackfire RED framework embedded in wireless speakers and the Smart TV, users can finally enjoy a truly wireless, connected home. The Blackfire RED framework is the most synchronous, reliable, and cost effective wireless solution on the market, and can be integrated into a broad spectrum of high quality voice service applications as well. Many companies have already stepped into the future by leveraging Blackfire’s technology. Now is your chance. Join the Blackfire Revolution today.

Improving the Smart Home Hub

Improving the Smart Home Hub


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


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.