Immersive DSP: A Product That Inspires

MG_5192_6e28b20d-90c2-4d2b-a25a-71616216bc9d_1024x1024Now and then I discover a product that inspires my imagination. I’ve long dreamt of very sophisticated, whole house audio. In fact, whole property would be a better characterization. The ability to put any sounds I like anywhere. Not to be loud, but well distributed and zoned to be able to create effects.

We’ve achieved this to some degree, by deploying streaming music devices that feed multiple zones: front porch/yard, back yard, office, garage and dining room. At first each was a Logitech Squeezebox 3, but as these have died off I’ve transitioned to Raspberry Pi 3B+ with HiFi Berry audio cards. While I first tried the HiFi Berry DAC+ Pro, I now use the DAC+ Pro XLR.

In some places the streaming engine is connected to pair of small, self powered monitors. I still like the M-Audio BX5 Series. Very good sounds and great value.

While I’m not unhappy with this arrangement it does not satisfy some of my more outlandish desires. For example, I’d like to do a proper Halloween haunted house & yard. To my mind that would include sound effects located all around the yard.

This idea resurfaced when I recently saw the Immersive DSP SPK-4P, a PoE+ powered, IP-connected loudspeaker. It tickles the imagination to consider a small, powered speaker that could be located almost anywhere on the property. Each one treated as a discrete channel for the purposes of directional sound effects. No one loud enough to be annoying, but collectively very capable.

PoE_speaker_1024x1024

Each SPK-4P has two 15 watt class D amplifiers, allowing each powered cube to be mated to a passive twin. I can envision a speaker mounted to every fence post, roughly every 8 feet, along three side of the property. A great ring of inward aimed acoustic cannons, ready to send the spiraling sound of dragons flying past across the property.

I see other companies are starting to offer POE capable amplified speaker for commercial installation. Newer PoE standards that deliver more power make this more and more practical. PoE+ (802.3at) provides for 25 watts. 802.3bt provides up to 71 Watts. Digital switching amplifiers are highly efficient, turning most of that available power into sound.

It would be fund to experiment with AVB, which is a standard method for distributing digital audio over an IP network. Like DANTE, but backed by different group.

Alas, wee wonders cost. Around $350 for the powered version. My implementation would require at least 20! So it remains with the dragon of my dreams. Even before Game of Thrones, I always wanted a dragon. Think of the screams at Halloween.

dragon

Polycom VVX-1500 Keeps On Truckin

The other day I had to stage a little test that required a few SIP end points. For a lark, I powered up a Polycom VVX 1500 that has lived on my credenza for quite some time. It’s been idle for a long while, basically since the VVX 600 took the prime spot on my desk and became my daily driver.

vvx-1500 frontal

It happens that we don’t have POE everywhere I’d like, so the elder VVX had been powered off for a bit. Applying power, it began to boot, which is a process that can take some time. On this particular occasion, a considerable time, as it seems the device found a firmware update and automatically began to install it. I had forgotten that the VVX 1500 had been configured to use boot.onsip.com as its boot server.

While it fetched and loaded new firmware I had some time to lookup the current state of software offered for the VVX 1500. I was amazed to find that the old VVX 1500 is still actively supported! The latest firmware is 5.9.1.0615 released in January 2019. The OnSIP provisioning server offered 5.8.3.2414 which appears to be from Q4-2018.

that’s impressive for a device over ten years old. This one came my way when Small Net Builder asked me to review a pair. That review was published in September 2009. The folks at OnSIP did their own review in 2011.

While its video capabilities now seem dated (CIF resolution) the VVX 1500 remains the single best sounding phone I’ve ever used. It’s impressive that Polycom is still able to offer firmware updates for the mighty beast. Such longevity is testament to a very forward looking hardware design.

Other products I’ve used, Gigasets for example, are so hardware constrained that software support tends to be limited. The device has just enough memory to function. Over time, as the firmware invariably grows in size, it will be left behind.

I see that other iconic Polycom, the SoundStation IP7000, is currently sporting 4.0.14 firmware released in December 2018. It is also a remarkably long-lived product. We were still buying them for ZipDX projects in June 2017. In truth, it has well and truly been superseded by the Trio 8000 Series, which are dramatically more flexible.

My sit/stand desk has a little more space since I switched from a dual-monitor arrangement to a single 4K display. Maybe it’s time to take the burly VVX 1500 for a spin as my daily desktop phone once again. It sounds so great, and those metal buttons are just so…polished.

Using four webcams on a single computer

The other day over the in the vMix User Group on Facebook Mark Schutte asked the following:

Is there a way to get VMIX to work with multiple USB webcams at the 720 or 1080 settings? I’ve been able to get up to four webcams to work only if they are set to lower resolutions. USB 3.1 and USB-C provide more than enough bandwidth but it always gives a USB bandwidth error message when the webcams are set to higher resolutions.

Mark Schutte

Given my long-running exploration of webcams, I felt that I was especially well positioned to address this question. After all, how many people have a collection of such items readily at hand? While I answered in the comment trail on facebook, I think the info is worth sharing here as well.

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Everything Old Is New Again. Logitech Introduces C920s HD Pro Webcam.

Our friends a Logitech made some news recently. They introduced the C920s HD Pro Webcam. This model is a minor respin of their older C920, which was and remains, the most popular webcam in the world, despite the introduction of several new models.

C920S-frontal

What’s changed vs the older variant? Not much. The “s” in the C920s name supposedly denotes stereo microphones, which should impact almost no-one. It also has an external privacy shutter. That’s a nice thing. In the past those concerned about privacy bought one of these after-market solutions.

It’s curious to compare the C920s to the C922x Pro Stream Webcam which was introduced around 18 months ago. These two models are very similar. The major technical difference is the fact that the C922x can deliver 720p at 60 frames/second, which is potentially of interest to the game streaming crowd.

C920s vs C922x

From a bundling point of view the C920s gets the external privacy shutter, while the C922x comes with a 3 month trial of XSplit.

The C922x originally included a copy of Personify’s Chromacam. I’m told that offer has been withdrawn. I tinkered with ChromaCam but found it less than useful.  Such a tool trades performance for the convenience of not having to setup and light a green screen. I’ve rarely seen an acceptable result.

Xsplit now offers VCam, which is their own freestanding background removal tool.

I accept that my opinion may be harsh. It’s informed by direct experience with Ultimatte and broadcast production switchers in a past life.

The biggest change brought by the new model is the fact that it’s sold as UVC compliant. The old C920, while basically UVC compliant, by default installed a Logitech driver. That driver did not allow more than one camera to be used per computer. The XSplit team found that the Logitech driver leaned hard on the CPU, which was a problem for gamers streaming their game play.

It was trivially easy to hack Windows into treating the C920 as a generic UVC webcam. I did this so long ago I can’t even remember how. Happily, if you buy the C920s you won’t have to. The C920s will simply appear via the built-in UVC driver of your host OS.

While no driver is required, Logitech now offers their Capture application, which I intend to examine on its own. A Windows version of Capture was released into beta in Q4-2018, with a Mac version planned for later this year.

I suppose it was inevitable that such a successful product could not simply be retired. Logitech’s venerable C920 webcam lives on as the C920s, at a reduced price and with updated supporting software.

 

End of the Line For 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphones

Back in June 2016 I took a chance and bought the 1MORE Triple Driver in-Ear Earphones. While they seemed well-regarded, and well priced, their performance proved to be disappointing. For listening to music I eventually switched to a new pair of Etymotic ER3XR ear buds.

I continued to use the 1More headset for listening to podcasts, most typically when I was walking the dogs. The means that I used them quite routinely. So, it’s worth noting that, after two-and-a-half years, they’ve reached a point where they are physically degraded to the point of not being usable. In essence, I’ve discovered their lifespan.

The insulation on the wires from the point of the Y to the individual ear buds is now seriously brittle and falling away. This happened more on the right-hand side, which has the volume control. That’s because I often listen using just that side while walking the dogs. This helps me maintain greater situational awareness, which is important when walking two large dogs on leash.

At this point, the wire from the 3.5mm plug to the Y-point is not similarly degraded. I expect this is because it has a protective covering of woven cloth.

I cannot recall another headset that was so short-lived.

Videomaker Reviews the NewTek NDI HX-PTZ1 Camera

Not long ago I openly admitted that I wear the rants in the family. This goes along those lines. It was inspired by the Chris Monlux’s review of the NewTek NDI HX-PTZ1 Camera published January 14th by Videomaker Magazine. I found this review to be deeply disappointing, and I’d like to tell you why.

First, take the time to read their review. I’ll wait. And you need the context.

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