Analog vs. Digital Signals

As signals, both analog and digital signals denote an electromagnetic or electrical current used for transmitting information between systems or networks. The two, however, differ fundamentally in their characteristics and applications. In addition, they feature different advantages and disadvantages.

Analog signals are time-varying and have a minimum and maximum value, typically ranging from +12 Volts to -12 Volts. However, an infinite number of values exist within this continuous range. Analog signals use a specific property of the medium to convey the information. For example, to represent the information in an electrical signal moving through a wire, one can vary its voltage, current, or frequency.

Analog signals measure changes in natural or physical phenomena such as colors, lights, sounds, temperature, pressure, and position. When represented in a voltage vs. time graph, an analog signal is a smooth, continuous sine wave without any discrete value changes.

Technological advances have led to the digitization of traditional audio and communication systems using analog signals. However, most systems interacting with real-world signals continue using analog interfaces for information capturing or transmission. Common analog signal applications include audio recording and reproduction, temperature and image sensors, and radio signals and control systems.

Among the main advantages of analog signals are easier processing, higher density, and the ability to represent more refined data. They are the best fit for transmitting audio and video. Furthermore, they more accurately represent changes in real-life signals. Analog signals use less bandwidth, or a range of frequencies within a band, compared to their digital counterparts. And communication systems using them display less sensitivity concerning electrical tolerance.

On the downside, in the case of long-distance data transmission, using analog signals may lead to undesirable signal disturbances. Analog cables are highly susceptible to external influences, and analog wire is expensive and lacks ease of portability. Analog signals also tend to have higher generation loss or progressive loss of quality when making copies of the source material. Generally, they are more prone to noise and distortion and are of lower quality than digital signals.

Digital signals, on the other hand, represent information as a sequence of discrete values. They can take on a single value from a fixed set of possible values at a specific moment. Digital signals carry the data in binary format (zero or one), and each bit represents two distinct amplitudes. In a voltage vs. time graph, digital signals form square waves, with small discrete steps.

The physical quantity representing the information in digital signals can come from variable electric current or voltage, an electromagnetic field phase or polarization, or the magnetization of a magnetic storage medium. Digital signals find a wide application in broadband and cellular communication systems, networking and data communications, and computing and digital electronics.

The key advantages of digital signals include the ability to convey information over long distances with better quality and higher accuracy, combined with a lower error probability rate. Digital signals are highly noise and distortion-immune, and the deployment of error detection and correction codes ensures their accuracy while minimizing errors. They are simple and relatively low-cost to mass reproduce and easy to store on all types of magnetic or optical media via semiconductor chips. In addition, digital signal processing offers higher security thanks to the ease in which digital data can be encrypted and compressed.

In terms of disadvantages, digital signals communication and processes require higher bandwidth and more complex hardware resources, which in turn mandate higher power dissipation than their analog counterparts. Furthermore, sampling, or the process of converting analog signals to digital ones, may result in the loss of information.

A Brief History of Curling at the Winter Olympics

Although its origins date back to 16th century Scotland, curling wasn’t perceived as a “legitimate” sport until the 19th century, when the Grand Caledonian Curling Club created its official rules. Today, the sport is played on an indoor sheet of ice 150 feet by 16.5 feet that features a three-ring circle known as a “house.” Teams of four compete against each other with each player throwing (actually pushing) two stones (large heavy discs with handles on top) into the house per end. There are 10 ends in a typical curling match. Teams are awarded one point for each of its stones that are closer to the “button” (the middle of the three-ring circle) than those stones thrown by the opposing team.

Curling was included as part of the inaugural Winter Olympics in 1924. Great Britain won the first-ever Olympic curling gold in the men’s competition, while Sweden and France earned silver and bronze, respectively. There was no women’s competition in the 1924 Chamonix Games.

Despite its history, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropped curling from the Olympic program after 1924. It reintroduced curling as a demonstration sport at the 1932 Lake Placid Games. Curling was again contested as a demonstration sport in 1988 and 1992. The IOC approved its status as a medal sport with men’s and women’s events for the 1998 Nagano Games.

The Switzerland rink led by skip Patrick Hurlimann won gold in the men’s event at the 1998 Nagano Games. Switzerland finished tied with Canada for the best record at 7-2, and defeated Canada 9-3 in the gold medal game. Norway won the bronze with a 9-4 victory over the United States. Sandra Schmirler’s Canadian rink became the first group of women to win an Olympic curling gold medal following a 7-5 victory over Denmark in the final. Sweden defeated Great Britain to win the bronze medal.

Curling has since been contested at each of the following Winter Olympics, including the recently concluded Beijing 2022 Games. Canada and Sweden have been the most dominant nations, winning nine of the 15 gold medals awarded in men’s and women’s competition since the first event at the 1924 Chamonix Games. Canada also won the inaugural gold medal in the mixed doubles event at the 2018 PyeongChang Games.

Niklas Edin’s Sweden rink is the most accomplished curling team in Olympic history. Edin led the rink to a gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Games and won a silver and bronze in 2018 and 2014, respectively. Agnes Knochenhauer and Oskar Eriksson have been part of each of those medal-winning teams. Eriksson, meanwhile, is the only curler in Olympic history with four medals, as he also won bronze in mixed doubles in Beijing.

Nine other curlers from Sweden have won multiple Olympic medals, while six Canadian curlers have also accomplished this feat. Others to win two Olympic curling medals include Eve Muirhead (Great Britain), Torger Nergard (Norway), and Mirjam Ott (Switzerland).

While Canada leads all nations with 12 curling medals, it hasn’t been as dominant in the past two Winter Olympics. The Canadian men and women won a medal at every Winter Olympics from 1998 to 2014. In the 2014 Sochi Games, Canada became the only nation to win gold in men’s and women’s curling. Since then, Canada has only claimed a gold in mixed doubles (2018) and bronze in the men’s event (2022).

In addition to its gold medal win in the men’s competition at the Beijing Games, Sweden won bronze in both the women’s and mixed doubles competitions. It now has 11 Olympic medals in curling. Great Britain defeated Japan in the women’s final, and Italy defeated Norway in the mixed doubles final.

Canada Defeats US in Latest Chapter of Olympic Women’s Hockey Rivalry

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Canada and the United States have met in the gold medal game at each of the seven Winter Olympics that women’s ice hockey has been contested, dating back to the 1998 Nagano Games. Canada, after losing to the US in the gold medal final at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and failing to reach the final of the 2019 World Championship, experienced a redemption of sorts as it defeated the US 3-2 in the final of the 2022 Beijing Games. The Canadian women have now won five of the seven Olympic gold medals in women’s ice hockey.

The US ended Canada’s run of four consecutive gold medals in 2018 with a 3-2 shootout victory. After another disappointing result the following year at the 2019 World Championships, Canadian general manager Gina Kingsbury distributed a clock to each player on the team with a countdown displaying the exact seconds until the start of the 2022 Beijing Games. Canada won the 2021 World Championships in August and concluded its redemption tour with a 3-2 victory over the US in Beijing to win its first Olympic gold medal since 2014.

Marie-Philip Poulin led the charge offensively for Canada, which had previously defeated the Americans in the round robin and outscored its opposition 57-10 through its first seven games of the tournament. Poulin scored two goals, including the game-winner, to cement her legacy as Canada’s “Captain Clutch.” Poulin has scored a combined seven goals through four Olympic finals. She scored the overtime winner against the US in 2014 and scored both of Canada’s goals in its 2-0 victory over the Americans in the 2010 Olympic final. She’s the only player (male or female) in Olympic history to score in four Olympic gold medal games.

Canada jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the gold medal game, but the Americans fought back to make it close and ultimately outshot Canada 40-21. Hilary Knight cut the US’ deficit to two goals with a short-handed goal in the second period and Amanda Kessel added a power-play goal with a dozen seconds left in the game to close the gap to one. Canadian goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens stopped 38 of the 40 shots she faced to earn the victory.

In addition to the impressive play of Poulin and Desbiens, Canada received contributions from players throughout its lineup. The team scored a record 57 goals in the tournament, surpassing their previous record of 44 in 2010. Sarah Nurse, the first Black woman to win an ice hockey Olympic gold medal, had one goal and one assist in the final and led all players in tournament scoring with 18 points. She now holds the record for most points in a single tournament.

Brianne Jenner, who played on a line with Poulin and Nurse, led all players in goals in the tournament with nine and was named MVP. Canadian defensive player Claire Thompson, meanwhile, scored three goals and added 10 assists to lead all defenders in scoring.

Canada reached the final after recording an 11-0 victory over Sweden and 10-3 win over Switzerland in the quarter-final and semifinal, respectively. The Americans scored 4-1 victories over both the Czech Republic and Finland to advance to the gold medal game. Finland defeated Switzerland 4-0 in the bronze medal game.

Americans Who Won Medals in Ski and Snowboard Events at Beijing 2022

The United States had its best showing at a Winter Olympics since 2006 at the 2022 Beijing Games. Team USA won 24 medals, including eight gold, and finished fourth on the Olympic medal table behind Norway, Germany, and the People’s Republic of China. American athletes won 14 medals in ski and snowboard events at the Games.

Surprisingly, alpine ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t contribute to Team USA’s medal count. A three-time Olympic medalist and 73-time winner on the World Cup stage, Shiffrin was disqualified from three of the five individual events in which she participated and narrowly missed out on a bronze medal on the final day of competition in the mixed team parallel. Ryan Cochran-Siegle was the lone American to win a medal in the 30 individual alpine skiing events.

Alex Hall and Nick Goepper won gold and silver, respectively, in the men’s slopestyle skiing event on February 16. Hall, who finished 16th in the event at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, scored an impressive 90.01 in his first run and remained in first place through the duration of the event. Goepper won his third Olympic medal with his second-place finish.

Team USA also won a pair of medals in aerials skiing. The team of Ashley Caldwell, Christopher Lillis, and Justin Schoenefeld won the gold medal in the mixed team aerials on February 10. The victory was notable not only because it was the Olympic debut of the event, but also because it was the first aerials medal for the US since Jeret Peterson won a silver medal in the men’s event in 2010.

Lillis received the highest individual score of all competitors in the event for his double full-full-double full, and Schoenefeld secured the gold for the Americans by executing a clean back double full-full-full. Megan Nick added a second medal for Team USA in aerials with a third-place finish in the women’s individual event.

David Wise and Alex Ferreira added to the Americans’ medal count on February 19 with a silver and bronze medal, respectively, in men’s skiing halfpipe. Wise, who won gold in the event in each of the past two Winter Olympics, finished with a score of 90.75 in the event. He was 2.25 points back of Olympic champion Nico Porteous of New Zealand. Ferreira, who won silver in 2018, settled for bronze.

Jessie Diggins won a pair of medals in cross country skiing. The American won bronze in the women’s sprint even on February 8, and won a silver in the women’s 30-kilometer mass start on the final day of competition. Colby Stevenson won silver in the men’s big air event and Jaelin Kauf won silver in women’s moguls.

Julia Marino won Team USA its first snowboard medal in the slopestyle event on February 6. It was a redemption of sorts for Marino, who finished 11th in the event four years prior. Lindsey Jacobellis won gold three days later in the women’s snowboard cross. Jacobellis also redeemed a past performance at the Olympics. The 36-year-old cost herself a gold medal at the 2006 Turin Games by showboating near the finish. She won a second gold medal at the Beijing Games with teammate Nick Baumgartner in the debuting mixed team snowboard cross event.

Finally, Chloe Kim won gold in the women’s snowboarding halfpipe on February 10. Kim, who also won gold in 2018, is the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic snowboard halfpipe titles.

The Process for Obtaining a Class A Skydiving License

The adventure sport of skydiving, which involves jumping from an airplane and deploying a parachute on the way down, provides a rush of adrenaline and an unparalleled perspective of the earth’s surface. When individuals acquire a taste for skydiving, they often pursue a certification, allowing them to jump alone. Due to the potential risks, obtaining a skydiving license involves multiple steps.

The most common certification process involves accelerated freefall (AFF), an industry training standard nationwide. While some skydiving schools offer instructor-assisted deployment (IAD) training, this involves lower jumps and does not offer true freefall potential until around the sixth jump. This type of training is much less common than AFF.

Before embarking on a skydiving course, an individual might consider going on a tandem jump, which can be done with no previous training or experience. During a tandem jump, an individual will partner with an instructor who has undergone rigorous training that likely includes 500 jumps and multiple hours of freefall time. The pre-flight training generally consists of an orientation, some equipment briefing, and a description of what to expect during landing.

A tandem dive before beginning a course can ensure the person wants to pursue certification. That first experience is enough for some jumpers, and they will know this before investing their time and money in a full course. For other people, a tandem jump will only whet their appetite for more. Those individuals can then enroll in a certification course, which likely comprises four to six hours of classroom learning.

During academic training, students learn how to operate skydiving equipment and how to troubleshoot when problems arise. Then, they participate in assisted jumps supervised by an instructor certified through an agency such as the United States Parachute Association (USPA). During an accelerated freefall (AFF) dive course, students practice modern procedures, skills, and maneuvers to ensure their safety.

In addition to packing their parachute, students learn procedures for jumping from a plane at lower altitudes. This allows them to complete dives even when aircraft issues prevent planes from flying higher. Once students have completed their instructor-assisted freefalls, they are ready to jump alone. To receive an “A” license from the USPA, students need to have 25 total dives. Once the instructor clears a student for self-supervision, they will complete the remaining 25 skydives as solo dives.

During this stage of training, students continue practicing the basic flying skills they have learned, this time without the assistance of instructors. Students will plan and execute their dives, demonstrating confidence and competence with skills, equipment, and landing. Once they have completed at least 25 skydives, students must demonstrate various freefall skills and maneuvers on a final “check dive” and pass a final written exam.

An ”A” license with the USPA qualifies skydivers to skydive at any USPA affiliate dropzone around the world. Additionally, they can begin skydiving with friends and even practice building mid-air formations. To enroll in an AFF skydiving certification course, individuals must be at least 18 years old and weigh less than 225 pounds.

The Value of Digital Signal Processing

Not to be confused with actual digital systems, which involve hardware or binary code, Digital Signal Processing (DSP) refers to the more abstract concept of processing a digital signal using mathematical calculations. A DSP system may perform mathematical functions by dividing, multiplying, adding, or subtracting. Users can leverage this information to measure, analyze, or convert the signal to a different type, depending on the specific application for the information.

Analog products detect voice, light, audio, temperature, or pressure signals. Then, analog-to-digital converters transform this real-life signal into a digital format of 1s and 0s. The DSP then captures this digitized information and processes it before returning it for use in the real world, either in a digital or analog format. This all happens very quickly.

Any digital platform can perform DSP, though some systems exist just for this purpose. A successful DSP system includes an input and output interface that can connect to other devices. The DSP performs all mathematical calculations and algorithms stored in the system’s memory. The system also contains a computer engine and data memory.

DSP plays a key role in multiple industries, as signals transmit information in nearly every professional field. Healthcare personnel utilizes DSP to operate x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, allowing medical personnel to view and analyze medical images. In the entertainment industry, DSP facilitates the use of cutting-edge still and video cameras. Additionally, financial managers utilize DSP to interpret complex financial data, informing their decisions about trades and stock portfolio management.

The ever-evolving field of consumer electronics relies heavily on DSP, employing teams of engineers to process data required for wearable devices and digital appliances. Processing also enables speech compression and transmission for mobile phones. DSP also has applications in computer graphics, mp3 file manipulation, and electric musical instrument amplifiers.

The value of DSP might be most apparent in audio enhancement and hearing protection. Particularly, high-quality headset producers utilize DSP to create a safe communication experience. DSP suppresses outside noise without blocking the user’s speech signal to protect users from hearing damage. This is particularly important in noisy work environments, where users require protection from dangerous noise exposure while maintaining their ability to communicate.

DSP processes convert real-world signals into a form that allows for the application of mathematical and scientific models. Because it processes information adaptively, DSP proves useful in dynamic applications like speech and sound. DSP systems offer maximum flexibility, as they allow users to customize according to their needs and implement changes and updates.

Further, DSP can ensure that researchers and policymakers access key data in making environmental or economic decisions. Because it is capable of extreme computations and data storage, DSP expands the potential for world-improving insights.

Due to its critical role in emerging technology, DSP will be a valuable tool for future generations of workers. While young people may be concerned that technology reduces job prospects, signal processing requires skilled individuals to operate and manage systems. The field will likely continue expanding as it underpins much of the innovations occurring in entertainment, healthcare, product development, and more.

An Overview of AI Influence on Customer Experience and Engagement

The ongoing development of artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies has impacted virtually every aspect of business, including customer experience and customer support. There are several ways in which AI has influenced customer engagement in recent years.

First of all, AI, particularly when partnered with machine learning, has allowed for a more nuanced, insightful understanding of customer needs and behaviors. Machine learning is a subset of AI that focuses on the analysis of data and development of algorithms as a means of replicating the way that humans learn. By designing machine learning systems to evaluate social, historical, and behavioral customer data, brands can gain a much clearer picture of the ways in which customers engage with their products.

However, while standard data analytics software can provide useful overviews of existing customers, AI can actually anticipate customer needs and behaviors. By staying ahead of these trends, brands can promote more relevant content and better target sales efforts. This not only benefits the brand, but also streamlines and personalizes the customer experience.

AI allows for predictive behavior analysis in other areas, expanding a brand’s ability to successfully execute real-time decision-making processes. Real-time decision-making has always been an important part of business, with leaders needing to make snap decisions to take advantage of emerging trends. With AI, “real-time” becomes much more literal, with software providing insight into ongoing customer interactions with near-zero delay. Decision-AI, for example, is a precognitive system that uses AI and machine learning to respond to real-time customer events in less than 200 milliseconds.

Decision-AI is just one example of predictive analytics software, a combination of AI and machine learning powered by various statistics, modeling, and data mining reports. When it comes to the customer experience, predictive analytics can be used to produce actionable insights in live customer scenarios, a process known as predictive engagement.

Chatbots are one of the most notable forward-facing examples of how AI has transformed customer experience and engagement. In fact, a recent study conducted by MIT Technology Review found that customer service chatbots rank as the top AI application for brands today. Nearly three quarters of respondents said that AI chatbots would continue to be the main AI-driven technology utilized at their companies through 2022. AI sales and marketing applications ranked second, at 59 percent.

A separate study conducted by Capgemini found that 54 percent of customers interact with chatbots, digital assistants, and similar technologies on a daily basis. Nearly half of these customers said they believed these AI-driven interactions to be trustworthy, up from 30 percent in 2018.

Finally, AI is being used to greatly enhance personalization applications and capabilities on behalf of customers, a trend known as hyper-personalization. As mentioned, AI has allowed brands to engage in targeted, customized interactions with customers. Hyper-personalization furthers these trends through tactics such as conversational chatbots. Some business leaders may not see the value in such details, but consumers are more likely to maintain a positive brand outlook following a conversational chatbot interaction compared to spending an extended period of time holding on a customer service line.

These are only a few of the ways AI, along with related movements such as machine learning, have significantly altered the business landscape in regards to customer experience and engagement.

State Park Hiking Trails Near Aurora, Colorado

Hiking enthusiasts living in or visiting the Aurora, Colorado, area have a plethora of trails to choose from, including those in nearby national and state parks.

Cherry Creek State Park is a park in Aurora built around an 880-acre reservoir. The park consists of 12 miles of multi-use trails, most of which encompass easy, rolling terrain for hikers at any skill level. The Cherry Creek Trail is one of the park’s most popular, and is a paved, pet-friendly, 4.75-mile path with American with Disabilities Act-compliant access. With entry points at Cherry Creek Crossing and the Cottonwood Creek trail head, Cherry Creek Trail is part of an extensive regional trail system extending from Denver to Castlewood Canyon.

Additional trails at Cherry Creek State Park include the Butterfly Hill Trail and the Prairie Loop Nature Trail. Other notable activities at the park, meanwhile, include horseback riding, camping, and ice skating.

Plains Conservation Center is also located within Aurora city limits. The outdoor education facility and nature area has dedicated itself to educating children about the importance of Colorado’s prairies and ongoing conservation efforts. The location includes more than 1,100 acres of short-grass prairie land that offer memorable views of the Rocky Mountains.

The Plains Conservation Center nature center provides visitors with trail maps and the area’s gentle terrain allows hikers to take in all of the natural wonders, with animal sightings ranging from coyotes to pronghorn antelope. Bird watchers, meanwhile, can enjoy species such as bald eagles and red-tailed hawks. Of course, the prairie is also home to numerous prairie dogs. With this in mind, hikers should be aware that neither pets nor horseback riding are permitted at the Plains Conservation Center.

Douglas County’s Castlewood Canyon State Park offers an array of trails between half a mile and four miles in length, many of which can be connected for hikers interested in a longer day on the trails. Like Cherry Creek State Park, many of the park’s trails follow along Cherry Creek as it flows through the floor of Castlewood Canyon.

While Castlewood Canyon State Park offers a number of year-round, pet friendly trails, the East Canyon Trail is an exception. Closed from November through May, the trail is environmentally sensitive. Visitors must stay on the trail at all times and are not allowed to climb or rappel any of the rock formations.

The Royal Arch Trail is located just outside of Boulder. While the short, 3.1-mile trail is typically heavily trafficked, individuals should be aware that it is rated as a rather difficult hike. Hikers interested in the beautiful wildflowers and snowshoeing opportunities provided by the trail should be prepared for nearly 1,400 feet of elevation gain. The trail also provides stunning views of the Boulder area, though hikers will first need to complete the climb up Sentinel Pass, which accounts for much of the elevation gain.

Of course, the primary attraction of the Royal Arch Trail is the arch itself. Located at the end of the trail, Royal Arch is a large, unique rock formation surrounded by flowers and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

Additional hiking locations throughout the Aurora, Colorado, region include Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Bluffs Regional Park, Piney Creek Trail, and High Line Canal Trail.

The Surprising Speed of Badminton Shuttles

While it may come as a surprise to some, the fastest racket sport in the world is not tennis or racquet ball, but badminton. In fact, the numbers are not even close. The top speed for a badminton shot belongs to Malaysian doubles specialist Tan Boon Heong, who hit a smash with his Yonex Nanoray Z-Speed that clocked in at 306.34 miles per hour.

By comparison, the fastest tennis serve ever recorded belongs to Australian Samuel Groth, who managed a 163-mile-per hour service delivery. However, Groth’s world record is somewhat dubious, as it was hit at a challenger event, where speed gun technology is not always reliable. The fastest serve recognized by the Association of Tennis Professionals belongs to American John Isner at 157.21 miles per hour. Sabine Lisicki, meanwhile, holds the record for fastest tennis shot in the women’s game, with a near 131-mile-per hour serve.

It should be noted that Heong’s smash was part of an experiment designed specifically to see how fast a shuttlecock could travel. That said, the top speed of a birdie in match play is still impressive. Denmark’s Mads Pieler Kolding, another doubles specialist, once connected on a 264.7-mile-per-hour smash. In women’s singles competition, the record for fastest smash belongs to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon at 231.15 miles per hour.

Other racket sports, and sports in general, simply do not compare when it comes to ball speed. The fastest recorded shot in a ping pong match belongs to Lukasz Budner of Poland, at just over 72 miles per hour, while the fastest pitch by a professional baseball player was delivered by Aroldis Chapman at 105.07 miles per hour. The fastest hit in baseball is slightly higher, with New York Yankees designated hitter Giancarlo Staton once driving a ball at 122.2 miles per hour.

To get a sense of how fast a 264- or 306-mile-per-hour smash is traveling, individuals should remember that the average car on an American freeway is traveling at between 65 and 75 miles per hour. Even professional race cars moving at speeds of more than 220 miles per hour lag behind the fastest badminton smashes.

The speeds of modern-day shuttlecocks can be attributed, in part, to the development of synthetic string materials like high-intensity nylon used in racquets. These strings have been designed to minimize stress and injury to player’s arms while providing a powerful, reliable hitting service. In the early days of the sport, strings were made from the stomach linings of animals such as cats and crows.

Surprisingly, shuttlecock innovations have not been as dramatic. All birdies used in official badminton tournaments are made from goose feathers. In fact, feathers are specifically sourced from a goose’s left wing. Taking feathers from the same wing allows manufacturers to better ensure consistent flight patterns, especially while traveling at speeds of several hundred miles per hour. Each birdie features 16 feathers fixed to a cork tip.

Some birdies are made of duck feathers, while others consist of synthetic materials. The Yonex Mavis 350 birdie, for example, is a popular model that utilizes nylon in place of real feathers.

All about Digital Signal Processing

Digital signal processing involves the creation of algorithms designed to mathematically manipulate and enhance real-world signals such as audio, video, pressure, and temperature. Digital signal processors (DSPs), then, are a form of technology that adds, subtracts, divides, and multiplies in rapid fashion to eliminate high-frequency noise from specific parts of the signal. Manufacturers of modern audio products, such as the Apple AirPods Pro and Amazon Echo speakers, utilize DSPs in their hardware.

DSPs are more effective than analog signal processors, in large part due to the differences in value in the latter’s electrical components. Analog circuits require precision for passive and active elements such as resistors, inductors, amplifiers, and capacitors, but this is impossible to achieve for electrical components, meaning analog circuits have limited accuracy. They also aren’t flexible, so hardware needs to be adjusted in order to make changes to a component’s value. DSPs, meanwhile, even allow the transformation of low-pass filters into high-pass filters via the alteration of programmable coefficients.

For audio playback devices, DSPs perform encoding and decoding functions as well as handling user interface, equalization, and volume control. They can also perform tasks associated with active noise cancellation, voice recognition, and bass adjustment.

To illustrate the concept, consider the process of recording and playing files on an MP3 audio player. Analog audio is input through a source during the recording phase and subsequently converted into a digital signal via an analog-to-digital converter. The DSP then encodes the MP3 and saves the file on the device. During playback, the DSP decodes the file, which is then transformed back into an analog signal and outputted through speakers or headphones.

For audio equipment, DSPs are usually small chips that expedite the aforementioned process. However, they can also take the form of larger multi-channel processors used in professional studio equipment and vehicles. A typical DSP contains program memory and data memory in addition to a compute engine and input/output. The compute engine accesses information from the data and program memory and conducts appropriate math processing to perform the desired function.

Although DSPs are core components of modern audio and video technology, manufacturers do not often list DSP capabilities on the spec sheets of their products. For headphones, DSPs are usually paired with the Bluetooth chip. Other devices typically provide speaker driving, digital-to-analog conversion, analog-to-digital conversion, and DSP capabilities on a single chip.

Professional and amateur programmers alike utilize DSPs to develop their own software or perform tasks such as enhancing performance for headphones and bookshelf speakers. After-market DSP boxes can even be used to calibrate virtual surround-sound systems.

There are two distinct categories of digital signal processing. Fixed-point DSPs manipulate integers of at least 16 bits, meaning they can process as many as 65,536 bit patterns. Floating-point DSPs, meanwhile, manipulate rational numbers of at least 32 bits and function similarly to scientific notation. They can yield more than 4.29 million different bit patterns and are therefore more capable of processing data for computationally intensive applications.

Fixed-point DSPs are usually less expensive to produce than floating-point DSPs and are thus used more frequently. However, floating-point DSPs are preferred among designers developing complex algorithms, as they require less manipulation to make up for quantization noise.

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