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Overcoming the challenges of remote working and learning

Qualcomm Technologies is working with PC ecosystem players, including Microsoft, to make it possible to successfully work and learn from home.

Oct 16, 2020

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

The year 2020 has proven to be incredibly challenging.

However, humanity’s ability to adapt is promising. While we’ve been physically distancing from one another, we’ve connected virtually with friends and family more than ever using video conferencing apps like Zoom. Office professionals who can no longer gather in conference rooms, meet virtually from their home offices using Microsoft Teams, which has just been announced in native ARM64 for Windows on Snapdragon devices! Children, whose days often revolved around classrooms and recess playgrounds, now spend hours in front of computer screens — not playing games but listening to teachers, then meeting up with friends on social apps such as Houseparty. The entire family working and learning from home has its challenges, with noise from the bustle of family activities in the background.

While we’ve always envisioned a transition to these technologies, we never imagined the transition happening so quickly. What was expected to happen over the course of several years, happened over the course of a few months.

The accelerated use of these technologies has brought to the forefront two key challenges — connectivity and video conferencing from a video and audio perspective — that Qualcomm Technologies and Microsoft have teamed up to resolve with Windows 10 Always Connected PCs, powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon compute platforms.

The PC connectivity challenge

When the ability to work or learn is directly dependent on your internet connection, having fast and reliable connectivity is essential. Today, the requirements for internet bandwidth from the home are higher than ever. Unfortunately, not everyone has that all-important super-fast connectivity.

Windows on Snapdragon laptops and 2-in-1s are ready for today’s use cases and challenges. In fact, the Snapdragon compute platform has redefined the mobile PC, enabling:

  • Unmatched performance in an ultrathin, super portable, fan-less form factor
  • Fast 4G LTE and 5G cellular for secure and reliable network connectivity*
  • Up to multiple days of battery life**

Selecting a cellular-enabled laptop ensures that you have robust and reliable connectivity from home, and virtually anywhere you may go. 4G LTE is an established technology that blankets the world, and 5G is rapidly deploying. In case you missed the launch of the world’s first 5G PC, the Lenovo Flex 5G — powered by the Snapdragon 8cx 5G compute platform — was tested on the Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband (UWB) network and produced speeds of more than 2 Gbps!

For greater flexibility, Snapdragon compute platforms allow you to seamlessly switch between cellular and your trusted Wi-Fi networks, just like your smartphone, keeping your connection highly secure wherever and however you’re connecting.

The PC camera quality challenge

With most meetings held in person prior to 2020, video and audio quality on your laptop was likely a consideration, but rarely a priority. As we’ve rapidly transitioned to an environment in which video conferencing is becoming the norm, the image quality produced by your laptop’s camera and the quality of the audio have moved to the forefront.

How well you are seen and heard can directly impact your presence and effectiveness in video conferences. Using a laptop that lacks quality video capabilities, as well as the ability to filter out background noises/echoes, can limit your ability to participate in video conferences. And then there’s the issue of privacy. With multiple people working and learning from home, you’ll want a laptop with powerful, on-device AI that can help blur or change your background and to do so efficiently, without draining your battery. The quality of that capability is directly impacted by the quality of your device’s camera – it’s much easier to alter the background of a crisp, clean high-quality image than a blurry, low-resolution one.

Many traditional laptops use low resolution cameras that may not be optimized to provide the best image quality. However, those equipped with Snapdragon compute platforms   benefit from built-in image signal processors (ISPs) that help ensure you look true-to-life on video. Using the Qualcomm Spectra ISP, laptop manufacturers can deliver camera quality that far surpasses what has been the norm in traditional PCs. In his 2020 IFA keynote, Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon showed a video comparing the quality of video delivered on the Snapdragon platform versus a traditional platform. Take a look:

Traditional PC vs. Snapdragon compute platform

Oct 15, 2020 | 0:08

With Qualcomm Spectra, everyday video conference interactions like waving your hand or changes in facial expression can be seen with dramatically improved video clarity. It can be difficult to truly appreciate the higher level of detail in video. The still image below, taken from videos, highlights the differences in detail between a video taken with a system using Snapdragon Spectra image processing with an image processor on a competitor’s platform. As you can clearly see, the Snapdragon Spectra image captures much more detail.

The PC audio quality challenge

Great quality video is only part of the equation. It’s equally important that people can hear you clearly. We’ve all experienced calls where a participant has a bad network connection or is in a noisy environment, and everyone on the call politely “listens” or waits for their teammate to reconnect, get to a quiet environment or put on their headphones. This causes major disruptions with lost time and productivity for everyone. The connection issues can be addressed by adding cellular support as mentioned above. For clean and clear audio, there are two key components to consider: echo cancellation and noise suppression, sometimes referred to together as ECNS.

  • Echo cancellation, to dramatically simplify a very complex and difficult task, “listens” to the audio coming into your speakers, then filters out that audio from your microphone and, thereby, eliminating the echo.
  • Noise suppression filters out background noise from your environment. There are a number of components and technologies that assist with this, including different types and quantities of microphones.

The real magic happens when the audio is processed by Qualcomm Aqstic Audio Technologies. Listen to the audio clip below that has not been processed by Snapdragon. Then, listen to the other clip when noise suppression has been applied using Aqstic Audio Technologies.

In the clip with noise suppression applied, you can clearly hear what is being said. That is what Qualcomm Aqstic Audio Technologies can do for you with ECNS.

Adapt… now overcome

While we’ve faced an incredibly challenging year, as technology users we’ve shown that we can adapt rather quickly. Now, we look forward to putting 2020 behind us – overcoming its challenges and embracing 2021. Whatever “normal” is going forward, we know for sure that how “working and learning from home” are perceived has changed forever. Our mission is to make the transition smoother for more people in more places with always-connected PCs, powered by a Snapdragon compute platform. Today, you need — you deserve — a mobile PC as connected as your smartphone, with battery life that can last for days, and can deliver incredible audio and video for your video conferences. You deserve Snapdragon.

*Always On, Always Connected PCs require network connectivity and compatible networks. **Battery life varies significantly based on device, settings, usage, and other factors. Qualcomm Snapdragon, Qualcomm Spectra, and Qualcomm Aqstic are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

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