Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BBC iPlayer Desktop - for Mac - UK readers only

So here's how to install it, and a quick rundown on the BBC's 2008 Christmas present, the iPlayer Desktop now available for Mac. What this will do is firstly install the Adobe AIR package, which manages the DRM (Digital Rights Management) for the downloaded media. Currently it seems to be set on 1 month 'idle' (so if you don't view the programme, it'll not be available after the month) and 7 days 'active' - triggered by playing the programme. I'm not sure if deactivated programmes stick around or delete themselves from your hard drive. Also the DRM means playback only happens on the authorised computer - no file swapping in other words.

Usual warnings: this is beta software, it may not work on your machine, and neither I (nor the BBC) are to be held liable for lost stuff, including your valuable time :-)
Read to the end before starting off !

1. You have to agree to be a BBC iPlayer labs tester (ie run the beta software). Do this by navigating to the iPlayer site and you should see the link in the box at the bottom rhs. Looks like this:

If you don't see that link, the direct link is

Once on that page, you have to agree to be a labs tester. Click on the tasteful pink bar - and not a lot happens, it just changes to be the 'don't want to test any more' bar.

2. BUT - When you now visit a programme viewing page in the iPlayer, you -should- now see a 'Download' option as well as the usual streaming 'run' button.

Looks like this:

Now it gets exciting: the FIRST time you click on a download, this will trigger the installation of the Adobe AIR package(s). The time will depend on your broadband speed, and processor speed, but it'll be half a cup of coffee at least.

When finally you've got the 'Desktop' installed, the TV programme you asked to download will start to download too. You might as well pause this for a moment, to put sensible numbers into the 'Settings' tab in the Desktop.

Settings tab:

On my systems, the default cache size was 0GB which didn't seem that sensible. Obviously you can also change where you want the movies to be stored.

3. And - that's it! The quality is said to be better than the streamed version, though it's fairly obviously a highly compressed video format that's being used. The BBC blog promises a higher quality early in the New Year. I've managed to get this all working on both a G5 (PPC) and an Intel MBPro - the BBC pages talk of Intel spec only, but it works fine on my G5. The install of AIR didn't quite go right, and I went to the Adobe site instead at

I've seen posts that advise against using Safari: the download tabs don't appear. I use Firefox by default anyway, but Safari seemed OK to me. But you MUST enable the labs feature first (I guess this sets a cookie which is specific to the browser). And not all programmes are available for downloads.

Good luck with this - let me know how you get on!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas comes early

Latest edition of the podcast has just gone up - interviews from the last wefcpug (Donald from Matrox and Richard from Onisght) plus a down the line from Indiana, talking to Dan Montgomery (software developer) about Shotput. There's also a world exclusive from Dan, revealing a new product to hit the shelves (or the download buttons) in Jan 2009.

Plus a nano review of the year, which is already out of date, following today's launch by the Beeb of the Mac-friendly iPlayer (download version). Looks OK, still in beta, they're promising better quality next year. Look here for a fuller report soon.



Friday, December 12, 2008

Ghosts of Analogue Past - 2

Impossible not to add a tribute to the great Oliver Postgate, creator of Noggin the Nog, Pogles' Wood, Bagpuss, but especially Clangers. VT engineers, and especially transmission suite engineers, owe their sanity to those 10 minute episodes of inspired lunacy which would punctuate the working day. However cranky the edit suite was behaving, no matter how impossible the schedule/deadline/director/shift management - a quick burst of swannee whistle would restore a sense of perspective.

Great tribute YouTube page assembled by the Guardian here.

And in the main tribute here a moving piece from our friends at Aardman. And something to look forward to:
In his latest Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, to be screened by the BBC on Christmas Day, Nick Park - who cited Postgate's less famous Pogle's Wood as his greatest influence - has included his own small tribute, with the blessing of Peter Firmin, Postgate's creative partner: Gromit's old Bagpuss doll gets thrown in the bin, but mercifully is later retrieved.

Ghosts of Analogue Past - 1

Fascinating to read of the colour restoration of a Dad's Army episode that only survived as a monochrome film recording - and also amusing to read some of the half-arsed technical 'explanations' given of how the restoration has been done. Hats off to James Insell and the team - and boos to anyone who confuses this with 'colourisation'.

I'm kicking myself for not thinking this was possible, actually: in a previous existence I worked alongside the old FR (film recording) machines, which were antiques even back then (early 70's). They were indeed nothing more than film cameras, slaved to 25fps, pointed at bright TV monitors. But pretty good, sharp TV monitors, and all nicely contained in a light-proof box. By all accounts, pretty good stock was used too.

In the PAL system, need I remind anyone, the colour information is transmitted (or 'coded' as was the phrase) in the analogue signal around 4.43** MHz - it's analogue, and the frequencies correspond to horizontal detail. The full luminance bandwidth was 5.5 MHz, so the colour signals sit amongst the fine detail - or to be blunt, above the detail that the TV broadcast chain, including the TV, of the time could actually display. But the film recording equipment was fed by closed circuit PAL baseband signals within TVC, hence no transmission errors, and it would appear, the colour signal wasn't filtered out of the feed to the monitor. This latter detail surprises me - it was usual to feed through a notch filter to avoid the 'colour dots'. Maybe there weren't enough notch filters to go round.

So, the colour signals are there on the film, to some extent - and with the wonders of HD telecine and a great deal of digital processing, we get to see the original again.

More technical detail at James Insell's (or his group's) wiki pages

Less technical detail, but you get to see the footage, at last night's Newsnight

Programme itself airs on Saturday next.

**Precisely the colour sub carrier is 4.43361875 +/-1 MHz. Some numbers just lodge in the brain.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Dec 2008 meeting - links and photos

Quite a night, we'd all agree. Thanks to our contributors, Donald Sievewright of Matrox, and Richard Mills from Onsight.

Congratulations to Hugo, the lucky winner of the Matrox MXO2, seen here grasping Donald's hand firmly (but not as firmly as he's grasping the Matrox box!)

As the other photos show, the bit after the presentations was worth staying for, when we got the chance to lay hands on the kit that Onsight assembled.

There'll be another chance to live the evening again in the next podcast: both Donald and Richard gave interviews and reprised their presentations.

Richard also gave me permission to pass on that very useful slide showing HD cameras, their specs, and how acceptable the various commissioners and broadcasters find them. The doc, which is a pdf, is downloadable here (link to file on the podcast site).