Friday, March 7th, 2008
If you live in the UK (or really anywhere outside of the USA), as I do, then you’re maybe aware that we’re often left behind when it comes to developments in being able to watch TV and film over the web on our computers, with big announcements from Apple and Microsoft often applying only to the USA in the first year, possibly the second, culminating in a watered down, not quite so good version for the UK.
But lately that’s changed, thanks to the BBC. When the BBC iPlayer hit beta late July 2007, I quickly signed up to see what it could offer over similar software that had already been provided by Channel 4 for about a year. Initially, it was a little disappointing. Limited programming available, extremely basic navigation, sometimes flakey searching, and the need to use Internet Explorer to select programmes for download. Ugh. But it’s primary function, to download TV programmes that you may have missed for up to a week after it was shown, worked well enough.
But gradually it got better, and when it launched on Christmas Day 2007, the guide was better designed, and most programmes shown on any of the BBC channels were now available. Also, whereas before you’re only option to watch a programme was to download it on a Windows XP PC, you could now stream anything on Windows, Linux or Mac, and Vista had joined the ranks of officially supported download operating systems (you had to go a little out of your way to get hold of the software under Vista before this).
Since then, things have got even more interesting. The guide continues to get better at highlighting shows for you, and that’s good, as is support for the Firefox internet browser for downloading programmes, but today saw a particularly interesting development that I want to point out.
If you go to the BBC iPlayer site from an iPhone (which I don’t have), or the iPod Touch (which I do have), there’s now a pink “Beta BBC iPlayer for iPhone” tag. The BBC has blogged about it on their BBC Internet Blog, which contains comprehensive information about how they’re doing it. That’s about all the help you’ll get at the moment from the BBC though, as there’s only a small selection of programmes that can actually be played on the device today, and all programmes on iPlayer are listed regardless of their compatibility with the iPhone/iPod Touch. There’s no indicator as to what will or won’t work, and most at the moment don’t, as you can see here.
That’s no doubt going to change in the coming days as more programmes get encoded in the Quicktime format that’s required for you to stream a programme, but now it’s a bit like walking around in the dark where there are lots of light switches, but very few that work.
Still, when you finally hit upon a compatible programme, it works superbly over a WiFi connection. At the time of writing this post, only one of the six ‘Featured’ programmes do work, and there’s no real pattern that I can see in the full list, between those that do and those that don’t.
Above you can see the initial page when you strike it lucky and find a working programme. There’s a snapshot from the show, and a big blue and white play arrow can be seen in the bottom right. Clicking on it, quickly whizzes you off to the iPhone or iPod Touch’s movie player, and the programme almost instantly starts to stream to you.
The quality is suprisingly good, both video and audio come through nice and clearly, it’s definitely very watchable. And when you get bored of the programme, or it finishes, you just tap ‘Done’ and you’re straight back in iPlayer ready to watch more, or to write a blog post about it.
If you’ve got either an iPod Touch or iPhone, it’s well worth having a play. Programmes I found that worked were at least one episode of Eastenders (I only watched the first couple of seconds, but it seemed to be about one of the characters trying to make ironing look cool), last week’s “Friday Night with Jonathan Ross” (probably funny at times, I didn’t watch much of it), and a BBC Politics documentary in the “Storyville” series that looked so dull I didn’t bother taking a shot of it. Well not of it playing anyway.
I’m interested to see where this all goes, obviously streaming is nice when you have WiFi available, (and if you’re near one of “The Cloud“‘s hotspots, it’s free for BBC content) but downloading to the iPod Touch or iPhone is preferable in all other cases. You can do that now through the iTunes store with some BBC programmes, but it costs money and there aren’t many programmes available. Making the BBC programmes available to rent for free would seem the logical thing to do if the BBC can do a deal with Apple. Even the Apple TV could actually maybe become useful if it was supported too. At a push.
It’s such a good idea in fact, that the BBC already thought of it almost immediately after Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, announced movie rentals on iTunes. In fact, the BBC’s openness and honesty about their plans for BBC iPlayer and other areas of development on the web, often through their BBC Internet Blog, is what makes them such an interesting company to watch.
Thursday, May 31st, 2007
Today Apple finally updated iTunes, adding the recently announced addition of higher quality music minus the usual Digital Rights Management all bought music from there had. Sure only EMI are onboard so far, but it’s a start.
Last night though I was at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen seeing Ben Taylor play (son of the rather better known James Taylor). Aside from it being a great gig (he’s touring just now, so keep an eye out), and also a funny one (as in ‘ha ha’), Ben was also the first musician that I’d come across that didn’t just sell CDs of his music after the show. Yeah, you could buy either of his two albums on CD, but he also had nicely boxed USB sticks ready to roll as well, where he’d stick on his albums, his live work, anything he’d ever recorded released or unreleased, and all at cheaper prices (on the whole) than on iTunes. It didn’t exactly move the queues along quickly, but there he was diligently copying over whatever anybody wanted to a USB stick from his Apple MacBook Pro (which he also used in his gig for some of the backing music), free of any copy protection. More money in his pocket, and more opportunity for fans of his music to get something they can’t get anywhere else, right from the source.
In fact, here’s someone who’s so in touch with how music distribution has changed, that when deciding he wanted to play one of his father James Taylor’s songs ‘Belfast to Boston’, on the Ireland part of his tour, he realised he had no idea how it actually went, and downloaded it from iTunes to work it out for himself.
I thought it was a nice touch, and a sign of the times in the music industry – yes Apple has helped get a lot of music out there legitimately, but the artists are all capable of doing it themselves too already, and without the copy protection and fees.
I just bought one of his albums on CD though
Tuesday, October 31st, 2006
If there’s one thing Scotland has lacked for some time, it’s an Apple Store. Nothing wastes time more effectively than hanging out in one, but thus far I’ve had to go all the way to Regent Street in London for my fix (I know there are others in England, but I choose to ignore that fact for the purposes of this post).
From Julyish next year though, there’s going to be an Apple Store opening up in Glasgow right slap bang on Buchanan Street. Quite what Glasgow’s Ned contingent will make of it all remains to be seen. Some details of their plans (Apple’s, not the neds) are on survivingcinemas.org.uk (no I hadn’t heard of that site either).
Tuesday, September 12th, 2006
Steve Jobs at Apple
does like is little press gathering shindigs where he can make announcements from time to time. This evening (or this morning in his case) was one of those times, and unlike the last few occasions he’s stepped on stage there was something of interest to me. Something better than all the rumours that always precede these press gatherings (anything that’s announced is almost always not as cool as what people predict will be released).
You see, the biggest shocker about this ‘Showtime’ Apple gathering was not that Steve wore something slightly different (unbutton that top button Steve!), not the different coloured Nanos (come on in girls, there’s a Pink Nano!), not the even more stupidly small shuffle, nor the games-friendly iPods, or even the Movie announcements that are US-only. No, I’m talking about the new version of iTunes – version 7.0 and get this, it’s actually quite good.
Show someone iTunes 4, iTunes 5 (if you blinked during its release, you probably missed it), or iTunes 6 and they would have struggled to see the difference, or even feel the difference when using it. Show them iTunes 7 though, and not only does it look a bit more polished and modern, but it has the one feature I’ve been wanting ever since I got my first iPod (I have two, a 4G white 40Gb iPod that I never use, and a 4Gb Black Nano) – the ability to browse by album cover art!
Finally I can find music the way I used to when going to grab a CD off the rack – by the cover of the album. I forget all about albums I own, or particularly good songs – but when I see the cover, it all comes flooding back.
I guess I should point out that in actual fact, this new spinny CD artwork thingy has been around for a little while for Mac users who downloaded the seperate free application CoverFlow, and my first thought was – damn they must be annoyed that Apple ripped off all their work. Luckily for them, Apple paid for the privilege though, and now Windows users get to use it too.
Okay, so YOU might not be that bothered about iTunes 7, but I use iTunes every day, and this new release actually runs very smoothly and quickly on my PC. The best improvement in this area is that I can now download all my many subscribed podcasts without iTunes dragging my PC down for a minute or two whilst it checks each feed (don’t know who originally wrote that feature, but they clearly knew how to NOT write code on quite a spectacular level).
So there you go, iTunes 7 – never mind that shiny box that’s ‘coming soon’ for your TV, I’m just fine.