San Francisco-based Blackfire has been on our radar for several years with its ‘FireConnect powered by Blackfire’ platform for wireless multiroom, now appearing in some profusion on products from Pioneer, Onkyo and Harman Kardon – you can read our tech brief on FireConnect here.
One of the Blackfire platform’s most interesting promises was that “video is part of the roadmap”. We’ve long wondered when audio wireless systems would evolve to include video – multiroom video streaming has not yet been delivered in a simple consumer version, primarily because the data network in most homes simply won’t be up to the task.
Now Blackfire has announced Blackfire RED, which aims to address exactly that problem.
RED is an acronym for a Real-time Entertainment Distribution framework, a wireless and entertainment-centric infrastructure software framework built from the ground up to overcome the limitations of Wi-Fi when used for media applications.
It will, says Blackfire, rescue consumers from “islands” of incompatible media devices, where the TV doesn’t talk to your music system which doesn’t talk to your PC, and so on. RED aims to let home owners enjoy all of their digital content "wirelessly, synchronously and seamlessly throughout the home, including high-quality 5.1 audio and 4K video on multiple devices over standard Wi-Fi".
Great goal, but how does RED do it? That’s less clear.
Blackfire’s release says that the RED framework is comprised of:
1) A Software Engine; a small lightweight piece of software, embedded in consumer electronic products. This is said to be “network, chipset and operating system agnostic”. It works with anything? Well, good luck getting your Sonos involved, we reckon.
2) A Communication Protocol that “allows Blackfire RED enabled products to talk to each other, over a standard network stack”. This seems to be the bit that will make your home Wi-Fi miraculously able to carry multiple 4K streams, though we reckon there will be limitations on the level of router gear it could possibly achieve this with. Blackfire says the protocol was “designed and tailored specifically to overcome the limitations of traditional Wi-Fi by working around the effects of interference and ensuring a reliable, high-speed connection”. So making the very best of what’s available from your communication network, but presumably operating within its ultimate capabilities.
3) A Programming Interface that allows easy real time distribution and handling of entertainment content from and to the products.
The same brands Harman Kardon, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Integra are said to have already licensed the Blackfire RED framework, and are “currently shipping products that leverage its capabilities”— here we'd guess Blackfire is referring to current FireConnect products, opening the intriguing possibility that existing FireConnect products might be firmware updated to incorporate some elements of RED.
We received a hint in thise regard from the local Pioneer distributor when confirming some of the forwarding limitations of FireConnect, saying "FireConnect does not input forward HDMI inputs or Hi-Res Network streams at this point in time, however future updates are likely to included such capacity, particularly with the impending release of BlackFire Red."
Blackfire lists RED’s features and capabilities as including:
- Reliable multi-room, multi-channel, low latency wireless audio and video over Wi-Fi;
- Advanced multi-source media pipeline handling for services such as Google Chromecast Audio and Spotify Connect;
- Native integration into Smart TVs, enabling the TV itself to decode and send multi-channel audio to wireless speakers;
- Wireless 4K video for transmitting audio and video from a Smart Set Top Box simultaneously to multiple TVs and speakers throughout the home;
- Voice AI integration into multi-room, enabling a whole-home voice-control system.
- Easy integration into all smart devices.
So most interesting in that list is the inclusion of multiroom video delivered wirelessly at 4K, and the “native integration into Smart TVs”. Which brands of TV is not stated, none of the mentioned companies being in the TV business, except of course Harman Kardon, which supplies sound systems for TVs by LG and TCL, while now being owned, along with all of Harman, by Samsung. If those three TV brands were to be along for the ride, RED has a fine chance at reaching critical mass. Another possibility is that FireConnect's early integration with Google's ChromeCast might indicate a native operation within Android TVs, as made by Sony, Philips, TCL, Hisense and others.
We'll post more as it happens; updating this article as further information and products emerge.
You can read more on Blackfire's here: www.bfrx.com