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WQHD Monitors

What appears to be a fantastic combination of features is the new WQHD monitors which are 3440x1440 at 110ppi. The diagonal size most popular is 34". This means software scaling is not required for display, and essentially it can provide about the same screen real estate as two 1920x1080 22" monitors (which have 100ppi). WQHD has 110ppi, and is nearly 5 million pixels (4,953,600) while two 1080p monitors are just over 4 million (4,147,200).

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Thoughts on Amazon Echo Show

The new Amazon Echo Show looks great. Watching the video, it is striking that the interface appears so clean. This is obvious when using voice, since buttons don't really count. Also, the fact that this is not just a piece of hardware and natural language interface, these are applications being shown. In terms of video/voice calls, there is quite a bit of competition, including Facebook, Whatsapp (Facebook again), Viber, Line, Telegram, etc. Oh, and don't forget about Nucleus who seemed to have the idea before Amazon (who is an investor). The fact that the Echo dominates the smart speaker market should be a cause for concern by the likes of the slower-moving Google (who bought Nest years ago), not to mention molassas-like Apple has HomeKit, though that requires that OEMs actually buy Apple chips and integrate them into their devices. Amazon's open approach to connected devices is a repetition of Android vs. IOS. Sure, there are a lot of iphones and even ipads, but the notion that this same rather small minority share will be able to co-opt the vast other connected devices, not really thought out very well. The interaction with other Echo Show devices and other smart devices shows off what is at stake here: Echo as a platform for the home.

Missing from Amazon Echo Show, Release 1.0

My first few thoughts about using this new device in the home are what is missing. - There is no video output, but definitely connecting to a monitor or a TV screen makes a lot of sense (that is, it could perform the function of a FireStick). - There is no keyboard input (but it is a touchscreen, of course), perhaps bluetooth mice/keyboards will work? Not a real deal-breaker - Generic browser user included? We did not see anything resembling such. I get it. This is not meant to become a computer. Rather as its' own unique platform, it will be the heart of the connected home. Which leads to the following significant motivation.

The Future Home will require Echo-integrated Devices and Services

Apparently there are an ever increasing number of devices available to Echo. Certain smart hubs can act as extenders, such as the Almond+ which happens to be our Wifi for the first floor. This is an insight for anyone making buying decisions regarding any kind of home device. Even moreso, those software services which Echo can interact with will have an additional layer of functionality based on that fact alone. This means, for example, that my music cannot be stored only in Google Music (where it reposes for free) but I will need to also ship over the 11,000 songs into Amazon Music (for $25/year), and only then will that become available on the Echo platform. That said, there will be ways of doing some DIY integration, such as using Alexa to interact with Foscam cameras via IFTTT:

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OSMC = Debian + Kodi for Vero 4K

I've gotten fed up with the nonsense that is Chromecast (slow, limited), Apple TV (slow, limited), and Fire TV Stick (slow, limited). I ran across the Vero 4K, which was announced in February, 2017. Besides good reviews about good hardware, the responsive and active half-way decent, half-asshat forum (using Discourse), the system uses OSMC (open source media center) which is an Embedded Linux (Debian) system that uses Kodi as the default UI. In addition, the main developers contribute upstream. This is something I can support, and it looks like a viable way toward a more functional set-top-box/iptv/pvr/media-center.

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360 Photos and Video

Technology has advanced to the point where 95% of the work in 360 images and video is now done by consumer-grade hardware. For a 360 walkthrough or tour of an event or architectural location, all that is needed is a tripod, monopod, or head-mounted camera, and remote shutter or automatic capturing (every 8 seconds). The result can be uploaded to Facebook and Flickr, or onto a website with the open source javascript tool, such as Marzipano, a not-official Google project. Basically these cameras are all made up of two spherical lenses and use stitching algorithms.

Ricoh Theta and Xiaomi Hardware

The Ricoh Theta cameras include the Theta S, Theta SC, and Theta V. The Theta V is the high end model with 4K, live streaming, and an additional surround microphone can be added for several hundred dollars more. The Theta SC is a reasonable 1080p which is also probably a good balance of quality video which also meets requirements for [Google StreetView 360] for extending Google Business listings. For a camera with comparable or better images and video, better audio, though a lack of support for Google StreetView, the Xiaomi Mijia 3.5K Panorama is a great option.

Google Streetview Extensions to Google Business

There is a StreetView App which allows for viewing 360 images in StreetView, as well as contributing images to StreetView, usually walkthrough 360 images for Google Business Listings. 360 Social Sharing

Kuula, a 360 Social Sharing site has a number of advantages, the best are embedding in Twitter, Facebook, G+, and websites so the 360 images are right in the photo stream (natively this cannot be done on Twitter), and also supporting virtual tours (as a set of 360 images).

Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube

Facebook and Flickr support 360 images, and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube support 360 video. Some of these have an additional step for the upload: - YouTube 360 Video Upload - Facebook 360 Community Tools - Twitter supports live 360 video via periscope, but who cares about Periscope anymore? - Flickr, but who cares about Flickr anymore?

Instagram and 360 Content

As of 01 December 2017, it appears that Instagram does not yet support 360 images or video. However, check out the Theta360 Instagram Account to see how 360 images and video are being presented in the non-supported world.

WordPress Support for 360 Images and Video

WordPress has some native support for 360 media, but also there are plugins such as DImage 360. DImage 360 works with jpg images, which is the most portable format. For the web, these files can be resized to 1080p and compressed down to around 100kb.

Summary of 360 Photos and Video

While this is still very much a niche technology, there is enough development on consumer-grade equipment and social media and website support to make this more and more ubiquitous. Even without VR approaching the mainstream, the lowering of the cost and barriers to use make this interesting enough to gain momentum.

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Xiaomi – Brand on the Rise

In my household we have been introducing Xiaomi products for the past six months. Overwhelmingly positive, but not without a hiccup here and there. In general, there is an odd mixture of: quality, design, and value. I say odd because generally those things don't go together. Great price, good looks, and works well. Not perfect, but nothing is. Xiaomi may have much bigger rivals, especially in China, but they have such a strong combination that they are able to compete with, and in some cases beat out such giants as Samsung in markets like India.

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Xiaomi Redmi 4A (aka Rolex)

See also LineageOS on Xiaomi

The Xiaomi Redmi 4A (aka Rolex) is a cheap (~100 USD) and lightweight (131.5g) 5" phone. For price, weight, and size, there is not much competiton. The screen is a 720 x 1280 px 16x9 screen that is pretty decent. Its got a Snapdragon 425 and 2gb of RAM with 16 or 32 gb of storage, and supports dual sim or single sim + microsd card.

On the negative side, the camera is weak, it is slow to open, and of course stock MIUI is slow and bloated, along with an annoying reminder to register your sim aka spyware on the prowl.

That said, there is nothing in a 5" screen that is as light and as cheap, and that means very strong value.

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