Kudos Where Due: Phillips Hue Smart Bulbs

We’ve had remote control lighting of some kind for almost twenty years. In the early days it was simple X-10 remote controlled outlets. For a while it was some Z-wave stuff. For the past two years it’s been Phillips Hue lights, which leverage Zigbee.

A few weeks ago one of the Phillips Hue bulbs began to occasionally turn itself on, completely on it’s own. This particular bulb was in my night stand. After going to bed, I’d ask Alexa to turn off the bedroom lights, which she would do as usual. A few minutes later my night stand lap would turn itself on.

The first time this was completely unexpected, and quite a shock. The second time wasn’t so shocking, but each time got progressively more annoying.

One Sunday morning I reached out to Phillips via the contact page on their web site. Also, via their Facebook page. Surprisingly, someone responded to the FB query with some simple suggestions; disable all third-party app integration and see if it still occurred. Also, try moving the bulb into a different lamp.

I removed the Hue connections to Yonomi and IFTTT, the two smart home apps that I’d used in the past. Over time the Hue and Alexa apps had themselves grown to encompass the functions I wanted without using these services.

Disabling all third party apps meant severing the link between the Hue lights and our Amazon Echo devices. Thus the only remote control of the lights was be via the app on our Android phones. No more asking Alexa to turn lights on or off by room. That was sure to annoy the Mrs. Nonetheless, it was only for a day or two as a diagnostic process, so I did as they requested.

As a backup, I ordered a Phillips Hue dimmer that would give us acceptable remote control of the bedroom lights. This dimmer acts in the Zigbee realm, so we’d have remote control even if we took the Hue hub off our local network. Taking it offline is the ultimate act of isolation from third-party apps.

Even before the new dimmer arrived the bedside lamp again misbehaved. On that basis, we know that the problem is not some remote app or service. We were narrowing the scope of possible causes.

Then something unexpected happened. Someone from Phillips called me. They were responding to the email contact. Given the experiments I had already run they were quickly able to point to a fault bulb as the most likely cause.

Further, they were able to decode the serial number to determine when that bulb was manufactured. That would suggest if it might still be under warranty. The bulb in question was made in June 2016, and most likely purchased in October 2016. Thus it was under warranty and Phillips would replace it.

Just knowing that the bulb itself was the cause of the behavior was useful. Until it can be returned, I moved it to a different location where its odd behavior would not cause a problem.

Kudos to Phillips for being in touch and being informed.

Sennheiser’s New SDW-5000 DECT Cordless Headsets

A Polycom VVX-600 and Sennheiser DW Pro2 headset are my workaday tools of choice. They have been for years. Polycom VVX remains best-in- class. The DW Pro 2 gives me hands-free flexibility and cordless mobility, sufficient to reach the coffee machine, which is clearly a critical issue.

This pair addressed my quest for practical tools leveraging HDVoice. They explain why I’ve not put much effort into reviews of new desk phones in recent years. The matter has been largely settled hereabouts.

However, they not perfect. There’s room for improvement. In particular, the advent of WebRTC brought a tide of Opus-capable services that would benefit from full-bandwidth audio. The 16 KHz sampling required to support G.722 was great in 2010, but nearly a decade down the road it seems more than a little limiting.

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Pixel Receives Pie

Android Pie

Today my Pixel phone received an update that was reported to be Android Pie. This was the general rollout of Pie, which is Android 9.x. Since I participate in the beta program I’ve actually been running an earlier version of Pie for a couple of months.

USB Headsets

One of the new things in Pie is the ability to access the USB port for general purpose functions. Specifically, it now supports both generic UVC and UAC devices.

USB Audio support has been around for quite some time. Given a suitable USB-on-the-Go adapter I have connected a USB headset and it just worked. I’ve done this in the past, using a USB call center headset with my Nexus 5 and Pixel.

I’ve also used a miniDSP UMIK-1 calibrated microphone to make sound measurements using AudioTool. This combination worked especially well connected to the now discontinued nVidia Shield K1 tablet.

USB Cameras

Similarly, you can connect a USB webcam and it will be available to apps on the phone. Most apps will not have access to the USB camera. They simply aren’t aware that it’s possible to have such a device.

I’ve used USB Camera along with a common Logitech webcam. The USB-Type-C-to-A adapter that comes with the phone makes the physical connection possible. Once the app is running it can record and stream the camera output.

Webcam-via-Pixel

It can be added in vMix as a stream source using a simple URL as shown below.

Webcam-via-Pixel-in-vMix

With a little experimentation I suspect that this could be used to record or stream the output of a UVC compliant video capture dongle. That would make the phone effectively an RTMP encoder for live streaming.

USB Ethernet

While at Cluecon last month I had occasion to connect my Pixel to Ethernet. The main stage at Clueon was in the Lucerne Room at the Swissotel, which is in the basement. There’s no T-Mobile coverage down there so I had the Pixel connected to the Cluecon Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi for Cluecon attendees was sensibly configured with client isolation. No-one connected to the Wi-Fi could see anyone else also connected. As it should be.

That also meant that my desktop, connected via ethernet, could not see a live stream from the Pixel while on Cluecon Wi-Fi. This got in the way when I wanted to use RTSP Camera Server to turn the Pixel into a roaming wireless camera.

As a quick experiment, I connected a USB-Ethernet adapter to the Pixel. I’ve carried one of these ever since buying the Lenovo X1 Carbon, which lacks on-board ethernet.

Putting the Pixel into airplane mode it was thus on the same wired network as the desktop. So arranged, the desktop could “see” the RTSP stream from the app.

I later discovered that the Cluecon “Presenter” Wi-Fi, a separate network, had client isolation defeated, making it possible to roamed untethered with a phone acting as a wireless camera.

Greater USB device support in Android will doubtless be handy.

Logitech Rally: A New 4K PTZ Webcam

It was almost 5 years ago that I first posed the question, “Where are the USB 3.0 webcams.” They seem to have finally arrived. Logitech’s Brio is now over a year old. Their MeetUp product, not exactly a traditional webcam, is well suited to smaller meeting rooms, aka “huddle rooms.”

Vaddio and PTZ Optics each have several models available, although they remain focused on 1080p models. A USB 3.0 webcam can deliver uncompressed 1080p30 to a host application, which means that the application doesn’t need to specifically configure the camera for MJPEG or H264 modes.

Logitech Rally Camera

Earlier this year, Logitech teased the availability of a new webcam. This new model, known as Rally, rides atop their webcam lineup, a 4K PTZ camera for video conferencing applications.

As to the basics, Rally connects to a host via USB 3. The connection on the camera itself is USB 3 type C, with a 2.2m C-to-A type cable provided. USB is the sole interface, which sets Rally apart from some of its competition, which may also provide SDI or Ethernet interfaces.

The camera supports UVC 1.5, able to deliver uncompressed, MJPEG or H264 encoded streams. It can deliver 1080p, 720p at 30 fps and 60 fps.

A 15x lens with a 90 degree field-of-view fronts a 13 megapixel sensor delivering up to a 4k30 stream.

The PTZ mechanism provided +/- 90 degrees of movement left-right. Tilt range is from +50 to -90 degrees. When turned off the camera swings down to the –90 degree position effectively providing a privacy shutter.

When mounted upside down the camera automatically senses this, inverting the output image. This makes ceiling mounting a especially simple.

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Deal Alert: Etymotic ER3XR or ER3SE In-Ear-Monitors for $149

er3xr_box_mo_1As was mentioned a short while back, our young Dogo mix Julio ate my headphones. Of course, that’s not entirely true. He didn’t actually ingest them. He simply chewed them up. In that simple act, he rendered them useless.

In my attempt to pay more attention to this site I detailed his misadventure here. I asked for opinions on a replacement, but you were no help at all! I suppose that’s my fault since I’ve been ignoring this project for quiet a while.

Lacking for direct input, I set about researching replacements. I’ve had a couple different models of Etymotic products over the years. I began with a couple of pairs of ER6i, then the now-destroyed HF5s. The HF5s are still offered. They sound good, and at $100, they’re attractively priced.

Over the years, I’ve recommended Etymotic headphones to various friends and associates. The balanced armature design sounds crystal clear, which I admire. Some people have justifiably commented that they lack truly deep bass. I thought it worth finding a product that could do a little better in that arena.

To bring this ramble to a conclusion, after much research I came more-or-less full-circle, settling upon the Etymotic ER3XR. These are a good step up from the HF5s, and have the bass extension that I was seeking.

Since they’re a brand new model there was no deal to be found. I paid $179 for the pair that I’ve been using the past few weeks. However, this week I see that Massdrop is offering the ER3s for just $149.

I’m quite pleased with these so far. They don’t have a microphone, so they’re for listening only. However, they do have a removable cable using the standard MMCX connector. That presents the opportunity to replace the cable with a third-party replacement that includes a microphone.

Koss Presents Two Issues: Gaming & Wireless Headphones

The past week or two I’ve been revisiting Koss, the legendary makers of headphones. Koss invented stereo headphones (they called the “Stereophones”) in 1958. They’ve mostly be known for headphones, although they have made a few communications headsets over the years.

Koss GMR-540 Series Gaming Headphones

It had been a while since I reviewed a headset suitable for use by interpreters using ZipDX multilingual. Then I stumbled upon the Koss GMR-540 Series. Introduces in the summer of 2017, these are relatively inexpensive headphones targeting gamers. As such, they have a microphone.

KOSS-GMR-545-vs-GMR-540

More interestingly, the microphone is part of the cable, which can be completely removed from the headphones. The maker provides each headset with two cables;

  • A short (4 foot) cable with an inline microphone, suitable for use with a mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
  • A long (8 foot) cable with a boom-mounted microphone, suitable for use with a desktop computer or gaming console.

Depending upon which model you choose, the long cable will terminate in dual 3.5mm mini-plugs for mic & headphones, or a USB connector.

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