The Crux with boundless possibilities – A critical view…

Even if you think that you are familiar with all the networked solutions of consumer electronics, have tens of years of experience in dealing with IT and network technology and mobile solutions, many a problem causes astonishment and helplessness. The world of networked consumer electronics, not least in combination with smart home solutions, has become an immensely complex one, which poses completely new challenges for the industry and the specialist trade.

In recent weeks, many a “mistake” has made headlines in the relevant gazettes and forums on consumer electronics in general. For example, there was the story about Blu-ray players from Samsung, which were simply put out of action by a “simple” update. As it now turns out, an almost banal error in a single file was probably responsible for this, but affected customers cannot simply bring their player back to life with a new firmware, but must send it in for repair. Small error, drastic effect…

Another update also managed to attract a lot of attention, all about Sound United LLC. and their HEOS Built-in Streaming platform. Here, too, a firmware update led to a massive problem occurring in a completely different place, namely with some Denon and Marantz AV receivers. These could no longer be connected to the network after the update. The manufacturer was able to remedy this situation, at least to a large extent, by providing instructions for correcting the error. Whereby, “Press this button for 5 seconds while you…” is not the procedure every customer wants to follow, especially not if he does not feel too confident with the “technology”.

Of course these are two extreme examples, but by far not as rare as one might think. While networked consumer electronics offer remarkable possibilities, there are also many, many pitfalls where anything can go wrong and thus the whole system does not run as smoothly as it should.

Networked consumer electronics has become immensely complex, and a wide variety of things have to play together seamlessly, literally.

Televisions, soundbars, all-in-one systems, wireless speakers, amplifiers, AV receivers, streaming clients, all of these are extremely complex solutions, even “computers” at their core, which must combine more and more functionality. As if this were not complex enough, they have to interact with numerous other solutions via the network, a network that, to put it exaggeratedly, could well develop a “life of its own” and, especially for unneeded consumers, is a book with seven seals. Then there are smartphones and tablets, which are supposed to function as flexible universal remote controls for almost everything anyway. And the very brave ones, who link their consumer electronics with smart home solutions, even rely on voice control from Google, Apple and Amazon. If there’s only one problem, in the worst case nothing will work anymore…

  • Tivoli Model One Digital 04
  • Klipsch T5 True Wireless 02
  • JBL Pulse 3 02
  • JBL BAR 9 1 True Wireless Surround Sound 01
  • Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 und Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 04

The problem with this is, first and foremost, that it is somehow no longer “intended” that all this doesn’t “play”, because of course everything is designed for the simplest possible operation, which the manufacturers themselves like to call “intuitive”. The user should be kept away from all internals as far as possible, and should not come into contact with the underlying technology. But exactly this makes it very, very difficult, even for experts, to investigate the causes of problems and to intervene to solve them.

The examples given in the introduction are, as already described, extreme, but in the end also clearly definable problems that are relatively easy to solve. The manufacturer can update, repair or offer a workaround for his product. It only becomes really complex when several systems should play together and it gets stuck. Then who is “to blame” if something does not work? Who should the consumer turn to?

Would you like a few more examples? Well, just a few stories that I have heard myself in the last few weeks.

The Mystery with the Soundbar Part 1

In my household there are two televisions, both of them, of course, very much to my regret, equipped with Google Android TV. This platform is still a mystery to me too, especially the question of what is supposed to be “intuitive” about it, but that is of course my personal problem.

Of course, both TVs have sound bar systems attached to them, after all, you want to enjoy good sound.

In the living room, an extremely fine system has been used for years and days, which delivers excellent sound and does its job well. I can’t say exactly when, but at some point the “Mute” button on the TV remote control stopped working. As a reminder, HDMI CEC is available via HDMI, so you can control the volume of the soundbar with the TV’s remote control alone, and of course something like “Mute”, i.e. deactivating the sound with one button press.

The exciting thing is that if you turn the sound to zero using the volume control, then up again, then suddenly it works again with the “Mute” button. So… at least most of the time, a real regularity is not to be seen. Whose fault is that? The TV or the soundbar? I’ll probably never know.

The Mystery with the Soundbar Part 2

The second TV with soundbar is located in the bedroom, although I’ve somehow got used to the fact that the manufacturer has been tinkering with the sound characteristics of this model since its launch and has changed them again and again with countless updates. Once more bass, once less, variety is a must…

A little more annoying is that the soundbar only activates occasionally when the TV is switched on. You remember, HDMI CEC also takes care of that … The soundbar is also activated, at least wakes up from standby, but there is not always sound. Here, the mute function is often activated, perhaps as a “contrast program” to the living room, who knows.

Sometimes it is also activated, but is set to the wrong input, so there is no sound at all. The TV then thinks it is particularly “intelligent” and switches back from “external sound system” to the integrated speakers. So if you really want to enjoy TV sound via the soundbar, you have to “manually” create everything again via a few menus – “practical”

On, off, on, off…

In my experience, televisions and external audio solutions can very often be a true source of pleasure. So I wanted to place a really exclusive all-in-one system in the bedroom, which is also a tad more suitable for music than a normal soundbar. This worked very well for weeks, until the “smart” TV made an update and suddenly something wondrous happened. When you turned on the TV, the all-in-one via HDMI was activated. But then there was only sound for fractions of a second, because the system switched without interruption between the internal speaker of the TV and the external audio system, not really a full-length entertainment…

For whatever reason, it just happened. Well, in the meantime there is a firmware update for the audio system, which was obviously the real culprit, the problem is solved.

I’m in a privileged position here, because most of the time there’s some kind of alternative at hand, which has to be tested anyway, but for the normal customer this means, that he won’t be able to use a device he paid a lot of money for for weeks, until there’s hopefully a suitable update…

You don’t…

Bluetooth is a fine thing in principle, simple and easy to use, if, yes, if it works. Neighbours of ours used to have a Bluetooth speaker for music in the garden, and when this one got bitchy, my advice was needed… I know all about it.

The speaker did not and did not want to connect to the smartphone, and if he did, it did not last. It can’t be, give it to me and bang, the connection with my Smartphone was established and everything played smoothly. There you go!

Yes, but only with my smartphone, and with my wife’s smartphone, the smartphone of the neighbour’s junior, only with the smartphone of the neighbour’s wife it just wasn’t supposed to work. Mind you, the lady has the exact same smartphone as her son, bad karma probably…

By the way, this is not an isolated case, because I can report a similar phenomenon around Bluetooth headphones, so-called True Wireless In-ear headphones. This time, however, it didn’t work with my smartphone, but with my wife’s it works without any problems.

Simply learn passwords by heart…

Interesting is also the behaviour of an app for controlling a HiFi system, which does its job smoothly on my smartphone and there is no reason for complaint. My wife sees it a little differently, because the same app constantly asks her to enter her user name and password every time it is started. Does it have to be mentioned that my wife and I have identical smartphones on which the software is exactly the same and the settings are identical? I have no idea what the access data are, I entered them at some point and never needed them again, but my wife knows them by heart now…

Never touch a running system…

A True Wireless headphone was also what kept me busy for a good day recently, although it somehow didn’t work quite right from the start. Once again, the pairing went rather badly than well, but lo and behold, there is a new version of the app and a new firmware, everything will be fine.

Or not, because even the update went smoothly according to the app, the headphones have been dead since then, a total failure. There’s nothing more than a pitiful, subtle flickering of the small status LED on these inear headphones. From the manufacturer’s point of view, one doesn’t know if it’s the firmware update that causes this exodus, or maybe the app that somehow messes up during the update, but one admits that this could well be the case. However, there is no real solution…

“Downgrade” for whatever reason…

I love the Roon software, this is essentially the media management and multiroom audio streaming software that is just perfect for me. It can be used to play music throughout the entire house from any manufacturer. Not only high-end hi-fi for the designated listening room, but also consumer solutions can be integrated via Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast, so that even in the bathroom, bedroom, garden, wherever you want to access the same content with the same control.

Many of my hi-fi solutions have therefore been selected to be Roon Ready, i.e. they can be integrated into the system in the best possible way. This includes a fine all-in-one system that is certified as such from the very beginning. But suddenly it is recognized by Roon as not certified, everything plays without any problems, but in the setup menu of Roon a red warning is displayed.

A lively exchange with the very dedicated support of the manufacturer finally resulted in my solution having an outdated Roon RAAT SDK, for whatever reason. A soon expected update should remedy this situation, but despite all efforts, the problem is not comprehensible for the manufacturer himself.

Export restriction

I also love Roon because it has become for me in every respect the central management of all my audio data. For example, to always provide my portable Hi-res audio players with the right playlists.

Simply compile a suitable playlist in Roon, export it, and then transfer the data to a microSD card for the portable Hi-res audio player.

But at some point it was no longer possible to export playlists, the software froze. Not a single file was exported and a “cold start” was necessary.

A long conversation about the support forum of Roon Labs LLC. followed, but no real solution was apparent. Roon Labs LLC. could not understand the behaviour and the log files that were sent to us did not provide any information at first. But when a second and third user reported exactly the same behaviour, I at least had the realization that I am not alone with my problem, a little comfort, but nothing more.

It was more important that Roon Labs LLC. was able to identify a problem, but they didn’t have a solution suggestion at hand in a hurry.

I then solved the problem in a radical way, killed my entire media library so that all changes and playlists were simply gone, and re-imported the audio data…

Well, the re-creation of the playlists took some time, of course, and they could now be exported again. But Roon is not completely free of mistakes, for example when it comes to the right titles for albums. Some things are simply recognized wrong, whereby one must note that this is only to blame on the underlying databases, and not Roon itself, but it is nevertheless annoying. In a media library with a few thousand albums, there are a few dozen albums that are simply wrongly recognized, especially in the classical music sector this is sometimes a big problem, not only with Roon.

It is also a big problem that Roon recognizes one or the other album correctly in principle, but the order of the songs is not correct, or some songs simply have a wrong name. You don’t get to that so quickly, only when you can’t find a song you know you have, or you play a song that is definitely not the one you chose. Here too, you can easily do your own work in Roon, and at the end of the day, there are only a few dozen albums in my media library, but it’s always annoying.

Especially if you have to do this more often.

Because now, after a few weeks of smooth operation, this problem reappeared again, exactly the same, and for no apparent reason.

And no, there was still no official solution to the problem, we know about it, there is no solution, at least not immediately, and the next release will not solve this problem either.

Just a few examples of many…

All this was just a handful of examples I have seen in the last few weeks, which clearly show that not everything always runs as smoothly as it should.

But they are also examples of the fact that manufacturers, distributors and retailers are sometimes faced with immense problems when it comes to providing the best possible service for their customers. The topic of networked consumer electronics has become so complex that it is no longer possible to really consider all aspects and to really rule out all mistakes.

After all, who is really to blame for a product no longer functioning in combination with other solutions? Yes, even problems that are initially obviously attributable to a product can have their cause in a completely different place, which are not the responsibility of the manufacturer and which he may even have to find out with a lot of effort. And in many cases it is then such errors that even the best quality assurance during development, the most extensive tests before delivery cannot be ruled out, because how can one cover even the slightest idea of all conceivable combinations that we customers actually use?

Yes, some mistakes could clearly be avoided, some problems can really be traced back to simple carelessness, yes, sometimes also to simple stupidity, this should not be denied at all. However, many problems that can arise when dealing with modern networked consumer electronics solutions simply happen and cannot really be avoided.

If we want solutions with a high degree of integration, with the flexibility to use them in all imaginable combinations, then we will have to live with one or two mistakes. It is essential that the manufacturers also become more aware of this fact than they have been so far and also pursue a solution-oriented approach. It would be essential to look beyond the end of one’s own nose, i.e. not only to concentrate on one’s own product, but also to support the customer with advice and action in the event of any problems relating to one’s own product. The same applies, of course, to the specialist trade, because after all, it is often the first point of contact for the customer, especially when problems arise. If he can score points here with competence, he has certainly won loyal customers.

Getting to the point

Even if you have been dealing with consumer electronics in general very intensively for years, are actually quite familiar with “IT” and network technology, and have directly witnessed the development of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets as part of the industry, you are still not immune to problems for which all the knowledge and experience of tens of years does not provide a solution. What about the consumer who doesn’t have this knowledge, and who simply wants to have what the industry promises him, who can play with everything without any problems? The important thing is that manufacturers are becoming more aware of this fact than ever before and are adopting a solution-oriented approach even more than before. It would be essential to think outside the box, not only to focus on one’s own product, but also to provide the customer with advice and assistance with any problems that may arise in connection with one’s own product.

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Michael Holzinger

Michael Holzinger, founder and editor-in-chief of HiFi BLOG and, has been working for years as a journalist in the fields of IT, photography, telecommunications and consumer electronics.

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