Within a day it was streaming to VLC…

Iplayer content in Mpeg4 streams

To Clairfy, this is my view not those of my employer. I am not suggesting that breaking BBC DRM or systems is good. But in this endless war on DRM I have blogged whats going on.

I'm wondering how long it will take for BBC iplayer content destined for the iPhone, to appear on peoples desktops. And I'm now wondering about the Xbox Media Centre, The Wii, The PSP, etc? My guess, because of the weekend 2-4 days. All the details are here… This is another example of how hyper clever and passionate the backstage community really are. I just wish it didn't involve downloading the file (Seems there might have been a problem with the servers?). Lets get it streaming and make them into legal services (aka don't break, GeoIP or Streaming) which I can promote to the managers as positive examples of opening content.

The BBC have just launched a version of their iPlayer that works with the iPhone (and iPod Touch). Instead of streaming Flash, it streams an MP4… but they don't let non-iPhone users know it's an option. So, I used the User Agent Switcher to set Firefox to claim to be an iPhone, and in place of the normal Flash playback doofer, I got a Quicktime one instead… and nothing much happened. It turns out it's because it won't actually stream, it wants to download the whole thing. That's no problem though, I get 600kb/sec downloads at work =)

So, I got out Firebug and found the stream; then copied and pasted it into the address bar, and it started downloading to play in Firefox again. Not what I wanted – so I went to Save Page As… and saved the MP4 file. And then realised that I was actually, at this point, trying to download it three times (the original iPlayer window, the new QuickTime-only tab and the download) so I closed everything else, and watched it download the mp4 at the aforementioned 600kb/sec.

Once finished, I knew it had worked – hovering the pointer over the file in Windows Explorer showed its dimensions (480×272), and moments later an entirely randomly chosen programme was playing in VLC.

So, who fancies cobbling together some code to automate this, to do what the BBC has failed to do all along – make a reasonable quality iPlayer download service for platforms other than Windows, which lacks DRM? 

So its now Monday morning and the Backstage list has been on fire over the weekend. Not only is there a fully usable Xbox Media Centre script which allows you to watch iplayer content but Matthew's been busy and updated his iplayer related prototypes. Finally also there is a very clear guide to getting it working using any Gnu/linux system. Since the Mpeg4 streams/downloads went live, people on the list have been asking why it doesn't stream correctly? People like Andy Halsall
are asking how this all fits
in with the DRM versions which have launched on Windows and is coming to the Mac? Also can they really use these streams?

So if the BBC are entitled to distribute this material DRM free for the
iPhone, why are they not providing it for other platforms? I'm sure
Mac/Linux/Windows/$other users would quite like DRM free, non-expiring media.

In addition, I have to wonder about the legality of ripping the BBC's iPlayer
streams in the manner described in Matt's how-to, it works, and works well
(or at least it did at around 18:00 today), the end result would be ideal for
many people in a variety of circumstances.

Then the whole thing got boingboinged

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.