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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Xbox media centre on a linux PC

Xbox media centre on linux

I've made up my mind. Forget the XboX 360 and PS3, they suck for a home entertainment centre. MythTV and Windows Media Centre are too heavy and too focused on replacing the DVR/PVR era of devices. To hell with the seriously underpowered AppleTV and Wii, I might as well stick to the Xbox if I was consider one of those. Nope its all about Xbox media centre on Linux, Mac and even Windows. Jon's experience of the next XBMC is certainly of interest to myself, however Jon doesn't go into details about how to install it.

It's been a long time. I haven't even been an XBMC user since May. In May I got a new HDTV so I needed to move to something that could render my HD content. That path brought me to MediaPortal. The old xbmp fork. And well… its garbage.

I don't mean to sound like an ass, but compared to the codebase of XBMC, MediaPortal is junk. Its full of bugs and just feels terrible. The devs at least know this, and are working on MediaPortal 2. So that should be interesting to watch. But all in all, running my mediacenter on Windows just blew.

So last Saturday I decided to check on XBMC for Linux's progress. And to my surprise it is practically feature complete! It all works! Now, for how long is another question. Lets just say that I wrote a trusty Ruby script to watch for XboxMediaCenter, and if it crashes, it gets relaunched. So yeah, its not really primetime, but it works great and is fast.

So I decided to go check it out myself. First port of call was the xbox media centre linux wiki. For Windows users the easist way to get XBMC is to run VMware's Player and grab the virtual environment images. Theres a few staticly hosted files or a torrent file. There's a whole thread here on setting it all up in VMware. I opted for the compile your own which is detailed in a readme file in the VM image.

The steps are pretty simple for Ubuntu 7.x

  1. # sudo apt-get install subversion
  2. # cd $HOME
  3. # svn checkout https://xbmc.svn.sourceforge.net/svnroot/xbmc/branches/linuxport/XBMC
    1. For Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn):
      # sudo apt-get install make g++-4.1 gcc-4.1 libsdl1.2-dev libsdl-image1.2-dev libsdl-gfx1.2-dev libsdl-mixer1.2-dev libsdl-sound1.2-dev libsdl-stretch-dev libcdio6 libcdio-dev libfribidi0 libfribidi-dev liblzo1 liblzo-dev libfreetype6 libfreetype6-dev libsqlite3-0 libsqlite3-dev libogg-dev libsmbclient-dev libsmbclient libasound2-dev python2.4-dev python2.4 python-sqlite libglew1 libglew-dev libcurl3-dev g++ gawk x11proto-xinerama-dev libxinerama-dev libxrandr-dev libxrender-dev libmms-dev pmount
    2. For Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon):
      # sudo apt-get install make g++-4.1 gcc-4.1 libsdl1.2-dev libsdl-image1.2-dev libsdl-gfx1.2-dev libsdl-mixer1.2-dev libsdl-sound1.2-dev libsdl-stretch-dev libcdio6 libcdio-dev libfribidi0 libfribidi-dev liblzo1 liblzo-dev libfreetype6 libfreetype6-dev libsqlite3-0 libsqlite3-dev libogg-dev libsmbclient-dev libsmbclient libasound2-dev python2.4-dev python2.4 python-sqlite libglew1.4 libglew1.4-dev libcurl3-dev g++ gawk x11proto-xinerama-dev libxinerama-dev libxrandr-dev libxrender-dev libmms-dev pmount
  4. # ./build.sh
  5. # ../BUILD/Xboxmediacenter

Its not working for me right now, because (I think) Compizfusion is screwing up the display. But I'll know for sure once I try it on another machine. Stay tuned…

IT WORKS! Ok its 4am and I've just got Xbox media centre working on my workstation which doesn't have compizfusion enabled or installed. Like Jon said its all there except 3d and special effects. I found it very slow at larger resolutions and unstable at anything over 800×600 but it could be my cheap onboard graphics or slow single 2.8ghz AMD processor. I've uploaded a load of screenshots on to Flickr before going to bed. More about this when I get home tomorrow.

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What just happened? Xbox 360 and PS3 did what?

Xbox 360 and Playstation side by side

So I heard rumours that the next Xbox 360 dsashboard upgrade would support Xvid and Divx but I didn't think it would be this soon? Everyone seems to say it works fine even with ac3 (dolby digital or dts audio), shame this is still not enough to make me switch. See xbox media centre is just too damm perfect and using the Xbox 360s blade system sucks in comparison. I mean I would need to unrar files before I could play them on the xbox 360, that just sucks. However the other interesting news is the break through on the PS3's graphics sub system (link is extremely hacking geeky, skip to bottom) (cheers JohnT) is something very special. Think about all the progress thats been done on xbmc already, add the fact the PS3 can already run linux without a problem, then throwing some real access to that cell processor and its heavy weight HD graphics subsystem and boy oh boy you have an amazing machine. Knowing Sony, I'm sure the next update of the virtualiser will lay another wall between Virtual machine and hardware.

If Sony knew what was good for them, they would let the hardware hackers do what there doing, even help them out! These guys are adding value you to your market failing console! Microsoft just released xvid/divx support and the wii is about to outstrip both ps3 and xbox 360 in the next 5 months in europe and japan. Sony needs something and let me tell you Home isn't it. Bear also in mind these hardware hackers are not bypassing the copy protection of the games or even hacking the sony master virtual image. So no intellectual property is being broken here. If running xbmc on it means another 10000+ people run out and buy a PS3. Thats a good thing…! Put another way, the xbox 1 still commands a reasonable price online because people are picking them up and running xbmc on them today. Go figure Sony., then send some hardware developers to help them.

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Removing iTunes and going back to Winamp

I'm so done with iTunes. The restrictions and lack of interoperability with anything else non Apple was simply driving me nuts. The last straw for me was when I upgraded to iTunes7, Xbox media centre and iTunes 6 wouldn't talk to it any longer. I'm sorry but this is so wrong. And lets be honest, the only major difference in iTunes7 (if your not buying into their drm) is the cover art view. I couldn't give a crap about the ability to play downloaded films from the iTunes store.

Anyway, the reasons I moved to iTunes boil down to 2 things.

  • Zeroconf (bonjour) sharing
  • Advanced playlist management

Well both SongBird and Winamp support advanced playlist management. Actually the Winamp's media library has a custom query language where you can write queries well beyond the iTunes smart playlist feature. We're not quite talking SQL or Xpath but good enough for any purpose you care to throw at it. On the sharing front, Winamp just got winamp remote which I've not played with yet, but looks like you can control and stream winamp to any other winamp or browser window. This seems to work anywhere in the world
and although it doesn't use Zeroconf, sounds like a replacement for iTunes sharing.

Some other thoughts behind switching. Although AOL now own Winamp, they haven't restricted the plugins, skins etc which have been built. There are thousands of plugins which control every aspect of Winamp. The same is certainly not true of iTunes. I found myself a very nice plugin to map my global laptop multimedia keys to winamp's controls (who ever thought z to b would be a good idea, needs serious help), a bluetooth plugin which allows me to control winamp from my phone and in the lastest version of winamp
the ability to manage portable devices.

This feature alone is amazing, for example try managing a Creative Zen with iTunes. It just doesn't work because Apple wants you to buy a iPod not a Zen. My reply is, fine, then i'll stop using your software, Apple. Winamp now supports out of the box (latest version 5.3.2) The iPod, Creative devices, Playsforsure devices, USB devices and Activesync. The last two are the most exciting for myself. Now I can copy the lastest downloaded podcasts straight on to my SD card using Autofill or/and sync media with my mobile
phone. This is what I've been dying to do for a long time. Can I also point out iTunes miniplayer uses almost the same on screen real-estate as Winamp. And has more ability to connect to online services like Shoutcast and Pandora.

The point of all this is, Apple's innovation for iTunes has been mainly good for those who use the iTunes music store and a iPod device. I don't fit and will be deinstalling iTunes from all my computers from now on. Now if I can just get Winamp talking to the Xbox directly, i'll be completely set.

Oh you might have seen I mentioned Songbird. I love songbird but its not mature enough for general use. At some points while using it last week, it was using over 300meg of physical memory plus the smart playlist feature is incomplete. On the plus side the miniplayer is super slick using only the space of a toolbar (I found a winamp skin which is the same). I'll certainly keep an eye on it in the future but for now Winamp beats iTunes, Songbird and Windows Media Player.

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Linux and homebrew on Xbox 360 and PS3?

So while I was looking around the 23C3 conference notes I found some links to videos about a possible Xbox 360 hacking. The video which can only be viewed on Youtube now seems odd and underwelming. But if its true means you can now using some exploit in the game King Kong run unsigned code on a Xbox
360. Engadget also had a piece about the whole thing.

One of the best things about the original Microsoft Xbox console wasn't the fact that it ran games. Oh no, for many, the best part was the ease at which that low-cost / high-powered device could be hacked to run all kinds of Homebrew applications including a damn fine media center. Now, in a tantalizing bit of showmanship put on by a cloaked hacker at the 23C3 Hacker Congress in Germany, a modified Xbox 360 (note attached circuit board) is shown loading Ubisoft's King Kong game just before displaying a trio of
dancing 360, Tux, and (old) MacOS logos with the words “coming soon.” Could this be a true exploit of King Kong's unchecked and unsigned vector shaders? We don't know, but the ability to execute any kind of code is certainly progress.

This is all fitting because Sony have just released a Yellow Dog linux build for PS3. Engadget once again has the right idea.

We're still holding out until Ubuntu gives us the love we crave. Well, that or until the OSS community get started on making an XBMC-like PS3 interface, since Sony believes all of your home's media should live on the PS3, and not on a media server.

Hey and no better time, XBMC is long from dead. Its been partly ported over to x86 for skinners and developers and this new skin from PDM called clearly shows the pure maturity of the XBMC platform.

And in related news I read Microsoft are releasing another version of the Xbox 360 code named Zephyr (1st one was called Xenon), this time with cooler processor, 120gig HD, HDMI and 1080p support out of the box. Sounds interesting but not as important as the previous news.

If the hack is true, it looks like I'll have to decide between the PS3 and Xbox 360 sometime this year. Maybe it will be a race to see who gets XBMC on it first.

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Whats up with the Xbox Mediacentre 2.1?

Robert Heron and Roger Chan are back with Team Blackbolt's 360 Blad Skin on top of XBMC on a modded Xbox.

They show off some of the new python scripts including the youtube one and revision3 one.

Since What's Up With Xbox Media Center has not had an update for quite some time, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the new developments. Some of Xbmc has been ported to the PC to make it easier to build skins and python scripts. People have been asking if a full port will be next but the creators have denied this for now.

  1. It's not a full port, nor is it planned to be a full port. We are not planning on abandoning the xbox anytime soon.
  2. With that said, most stuff works – at least stuff useful for the target audience.
  3. It's designed primarily for skinners and python developers who can test out their skins and scripts without having to transfer everything to the xbox.

Basically, it's a simple port of the majority of XBMC. This includes the entire gui system, file listing, some of the filesystem code (eg local, database files, zip + rar etc.), very simple audio playback, slideshows, python scripts and so on. Video playback is not supported, nor are screensavers or visualisations (basically anything that was relying on the xbox version of directx).

And last up there was a interesting interview with a series of xbox mediacentre coders.

I'm still of the mind that Xbmc should be ported to the PC and Apple operating systems. I'm hoping with the new XNA game studio express kit it might be possible to build XBMC for the Xbox 360. But actually with the PS3's somewhat openness for Linux it looks much more likely that Xbmc 3.0 will make a home there. Microsoft are not keen on Sony's new move.

When asked about Sony's efforts to create a homebrew culture by allowing Linux to be installed freely on the PlayStation 3 (albeit without access to the RSX graphics chipset, among other restrictions), Mitchell commented: “On the one hand I've got to commend them for moving up their platform there, but we really don't view what Sony and PlayStation 3 and particularly the Linux solution that they are making available – we don't really view that as a competitive offering or trying to do something in the same vein.”

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Is XNA, Microsoft learning from the community?

I saw this a while ago and started thinking that XNA could be the result of this.

A lot of interesting data came out of Ars Technica's interview with Matt Lee, a Microsoft software developer in the Xbox division. The nice thing about Matt Lee was that when the interview was over, he answered some questions in the discussion. A lot of it was clarifying points he made in the main article, but then he shared this story with us:

…allow me to share a related story. A little over a year ago, one of the people in my group modded an Xbox, installed Avalaunch, and put all sorts of Xbox mod scene apps on the box, like XboxMediaCenter, RSS readers, etc, along with some “backup” games. He brought this box along to a meeting with Bill Gates. Bill saw a demo of this, was quite impressed, and asked something along the lines of “How can we engage this community?” – instead of saying something like “How can we squash this?” It's long been on the back of everyone's minds in the Xbox group – how can we get students and hobbyists involved without disrupting the console business model? The good news is that it's still on the radar, we'll see what happens in the future.

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Xbox mediacenter hits 2.0

Almost excited about XBMC 2.0

I just upgraded my xboxes to the latest version. Xbmc keeps growing from strength to strength.

Team-XBMC and The XBMC Project is proud to announce the release of XboxMediaCenter 2.0.0. XBox Media Center (XBMC) is an award winning, free and open source media player for the Xbox™ game-console. The XboxMediaCenter 2.0.0 point-release source code has now been set in our CVS. We consider that the current code in the XBMC CVS is as stable as a point-release should be. All XBMC users are highly encouraged to upgrade to this stable Xbox Media Center 2.0.0 point-release. Remember, the XBMC source code needs to be compiled with the XDK, and requires a modded Xbox to run. Our thanks goes out to everyone who has tested, reported bugs, and helped fix them in order to make this release possible.

There are many new features and functions that have been introduced since the 1.1.0 point-release, that we cannot list them all here. A few that are especially worth mentioning are; the enhanced GUI/skin-engine, the Project Mayhem III skin, DVD-Video menu/navigation support (with ISO/IMG image parsing), RAR/ZIP archive parsing, a new audio/music-player (PAPlayer) with crossfade, gapless playback and ReplayGain support, Karaoke CDG-file display, Xored Trainer Engine (gaming-cheats), XLink Kai (online-gaming) front-end, iTunes 6.x DAAP and UPnP-clients, and two surprise features; read-only support for FAT12/16/32 formatted USB Mass Storage Devices up to 4GB in size, and a brand new “skinnable” 3D visualizer.

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When’s the xbox 360 going to be hacked?

Xbmc 1.1

Not the DVD firmware hack or even the HD/Memory card reading, I'm talling about the (proper) run unsigned code type of hack. I said it would be done within a year. Well theres about 2 months left now. The amount of HD content on my network is growing and I got nothing except my workstation to play it all back on. Plus the Xbox Media Centre has pushed the Pentium 3 733mhz chip to its absolute limit now and the Xbox 360 simply isn't up to scratch for media playback sorry.

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Recent xbox media centre changes

Firefox entension in use

Recently the Xbox media centre team have been working on a stable 2.0 version. This means there is a code freeze while they iron out any outstanding bugs. But this hasn't stopped the innovation around xbmc.

So first up, xbox media centre took both game and multimedia 2006 sourceforge awards. On the side, Azureus won overall winner which like Jon is a permanent fixture in my video viewing. Good to see xbmc winning awards like this. I really believe its one of the best open source projects out there at the moment.

Some innovation which I haven't quite worked out the possiblities of yet. In the recent update to xbox media centre (march betas), is the ability for xbox media centre to connect to FTP servers. This is pretty crazy, because the only limitation is now the pipe, as you will also see in the next innovation. I've connected to my personal cubicgarden FTP server and a couple of annoymous FTP servers. It works really well and you can browse around for any media which is on there. It would be good to connect to Webdav servers but I'm sure thats coming soon. Reminds me to suggest that in the forums.

The next thing is the send media URL to Xbox media centre. Its been in xbmc for quite sometime but the application to get it working has been a windows only application. And there was no way I was going to run some odd application just to quickly post a media url to the xbox. But now someone has wrote a Firefox application which does this. Its really cool too, because all you need to do is set the ip address of the xbox and then right click on the link you want to send. And within seconds the xbox will start streaming the media link. Oh and for you mac fans theres is also a Dashboard widget, i'm sure it won't take long for it to be a Yahoo/Konfabulator widget too. Obviously the pipe/bandwidth is still a issue. But damm its quick and easy. This fits perfectly with Keep Vid.com however you can't get stuff from You Tube because its in FLV format and the xbox won't play back flash video files. Ideally the xbox would play back flash formats or Keep Vid would transcode it to something more playable like avi or mov. Then people could also take it away and play the media on there psp or ipod.

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