Rat Chat – July 2016

Rat Chat – July 2016

Welcome the latest edition of Rat Chat our company newsletter, intended to keep you informed on product development activities, new software releases, firmware updates, support-related information and general company news.


Product Update

IRNetBox IV

RedRatirNBmk4

We have been putting the irNetBox IV through its paces and have just completed the final set of EMC compliance testing. Everything has been completed successfully and the product will be commercially available very shortly.

The irNetBox IV is intended to give our set top box manufacturer customers greater control over their stress testing processes as well as simplify installation and use. It has a number of new features (all of which are based on customer feedback) including a built-in OLED display, which is used when configuring the device (network settings etc.) and can also display client-specific testing information, such as the type, frequency or duration of tests being conducted.

The irNetBox IV is fully compatible with all our other products, including the latest version of Test Manager, and it offers backward compatibility with all other previous product versions.

Other main highlights are as follows;

  • Can be powered via Ethernet (PoE)
  • More robust and powerful IR LED driver circuitry
  • On-board real-time clock (RTC) to support future autonomous operation
  • Extended APIs for more flexible use, including web pages and protocols
  • One expansion header for an RF module (RF4CE or Bluetooth)

We are currently taking pre-orders – please email info@redrat.co.uk 

RedRat-X

Red Rat X Front

We are also enhancing our original RedRat device. Called RedRat-X, our new product version is a hybrid/cross device that can be controlled via USB or LAN, thus allowing manufacturers to simulate IR and RF RCUs at the same time as RF technology is being increasingly used to control and interact with consumer electronics products.

“RedRat-X will allow our existing customers to migrate to RF-based testing environments as more and more devices include RF technology as standard. The TV industry remains in a state of flux as far as the development of low power radio communication is concerned with no common patterns emerging for RF technology, so our products can effectively deliver the linking piece of hardware needed to communicate with multiple STBs using different types of protocol.”

RedRat X will also include the following features:

  • High powered IR blaster with controllable IR output power
  • An additional three IR output ports for plug-in IR emitters
  • Feedback via multicolour LEDs
  • An expansion header for an RF module (RF4CE or Bluetooth)

The RedRat-X will be commercially available in Q4 2016 and will be supported by most RedRat applications and our SDK.

RF4CE & Bluetooth Evaluation Kits

For the last few months we have been actively working with major European and American TV and broadband companies and have developed RF4CE and Bluetooth prototype modules respectively to satisfy their particular requirements. Both modules are being tested for functionality over the forthcoming weeks and, if successful, they will be incorporated into the RF4CE and Bluetooth testing environments of these organisations.

We have also developed a testing and evaluation kit with evaluation software so our customers can easily incorporate RF testing scripts into their standard processes. Our testing and evaluation kit currently comprises a USB Module Adaptor, with modules for either Bluetooth (Classic and Low Energy) or RF4CE.

The Module Adaptors are pluggable into a PC or laptop via USB, and are supported on Windows and Linux (Mac OS on request).

If you would like to find out more about our testing and evaluation kits or become involved in our product development programme, then please call us on +44 1799 520092 or send an email to info@redrat.co.uk.

RF Protocol Challenges

Replacing cost-effective infrared technology with RF has been on the cards for a number of years, but is only now gaining real traction. Two years ago, remote control manufacturers estimated that 25% to 30% of all remote controls would be built using some form of RF technology. This year, it is estimated that almost 50% of new remote controls are RF based[1].

Although RF remotes offer numerous advantages over their IR counterparts (no line-of-sight limitations, reduced interference, two-way communication etc.) they introduce additional complexity into STB engineering, development and testing processes. A few of the issues are:

Interference: RF remote controls generally work effectively in a point to point arrangement with an STB/SmartTV in a low-RF-noise environment such as a living room. However, this does not necessarily translate well to the test lab, with large numbers of STBs, which may also be wireless access points, plus copious amounts of other electronic equipment.

Pairing: The pairing process between a remote and STB is currently very specific to the STB and protocol used. Initiating pairing may require a button press, or an IR signal or some other trigger which has to be done manually or simulated. Once pairing has been started, the correct set of attributes or descriptors needs to be exchanged for a pair or bond to succeed. Generally, we find that some custom development work is needed with each type of STB to support its unique pairing process.

Network Management: RF profiles designed for remote control are generally setup with a one-to- one relationship between the target and controller, often in isolation. Testing environments require a more complex topology, of one controller connected to multiple targets. These networks of connected devices have to be maintained, the test infrastructure itself having to adopt responsibility for the connectivity, even across power-cycles, as the protocols themselves do not include these features (unlike TCP/IP for example).

The move to RF is also having an impact across wider consumer electronics because until now, an ecosystem of smaller component suppliers across different verticals (assistive technology, STB/TV development testing, home automation and the AV installer market) have worked well with infrared technology due to its economical nature and straightforward electronics. RF is presenting challenges in these niche markets because of the different RF protocols currently used, no single device covering them all, plus additional complexity in EE design and EMC compliance testing.

Until a single RF control technology emerges for remote control usage, manufacturers are reliant on third party companies to deliver the linking piece of hardware needed to interconnect the different devices for specific applications (STB testing and assistive technology for example). RedRat RF modules can be used to provide that missing link.

If you are moving to a mixed or an RF testing environment and are facing just some of the challenges mentioned above, then please let us know. We can work alongside your internal teams or independently to develop a purpose-built testing solution for your specific requirements.

[1] A consistent estimate from RCU manufactures at TV Connect 2016.

IBC 2016 – 9th to 13th of September

RedRat will be at IBC 2016, Hall 11, stand B30, so please come and visit. If you would like to arrange to meet up at a specific time, then please contact Chris on chris@redrat.co.uk.

ibc

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