Within a few minutes I was greeted with the working iPlayer Desktop and it was already downloading the program I’d selected Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, which I heartily recommend to you though perhaps it’s not for the easily offended. The program downloaded pretty quickly and I was able to watch it fine within the iPlayer itself but not in any external programs. On my system it created a folder inside my main /home/dan/Videos directory called “BBC iPlayer”, you can see from the screen shot that this contains another folder called “repository” and if you fish around in there you can find the raw video files. They appear to be standard Mpeg4 files but you can’t play them in Totem, VLC or anything else. This must be the DRM earning it’s money I guess. Interestingly the little intro clips for each channel contained in the “cache” folder are clearly not protected as they play fine in Totem. I played the Charlie Brooker video in the iPlayer and it works well enough, you can switch to full screen and the controls are pretty simple but the video quality isn’t stunning. Of course there are bandwidth concerns and file size issues for the BBC to wrestle with I suppose but I had hoped the picture would be better than the Flash version on the website, to my eyes it wasn’t but that’s just an observation.
FULL INSTALLATION SLIDE SHOW –>
Having used the program for a couple of weeks now and downloaded a fair few items, I have to say it’s pretty well written. I’d heard all kinds of horror stories about how unstable Adobe AIR was on Linux but so far they’ve proven unfounded. The iPlayer has never crashed, frozen or gotten up to any other shenanigans on me yet, touch wood. There are a couple of things however that I don’t like. For instance the program will launch itself every time you log into your machine and pop up in the middle of your desktop in a “look mum no hands” kind of fashion. Clicking the X in the top corner to close it simply minimises the program to the system tray and it’s still running, you have to right-click on the tray icon and choose “exit” to actually banish it. I suspect the reason for this is quite cunning as the iPlayer relies on P2P file sharing technology to distribute it’s large video files. This is the same supposedly evil technology the likes of the MPAA would have you believe should be eradicated before it destroys all that is good and holy. That’s a rant for another day but I believe the reason the iPlayer always wants to be running is to seed and upload any videos you have on your system to other active users. If it’s Peer-To-Peer then it must do right? The iPlayer uses Kontiki as the file sharing back end and this has proved controversial in some quarters, not least with Internet Service Providers who complain it will use too much of their bandwidth. None of this really bothers me and I have no proof the iPlayer opens by default for this reason but I think it’s pretty likely. I also think users should be told this more clearly up front. I don’t have any problem at all with the principle, I understand how P2P works but it could adversely affect users on slow connections who don’t have the same understanding.
EDIT: Since posting this I’ve had a reply off one of the iPlayer developers saying this version doesn’t use Kontiki, apparently only the Windows one does so my instincts were way off. Can you pass me that towel? I need to clean this egg of my face 🙂
If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting the iPlayer application to work very well on Linux but I was totally wrong, it really does it’s job well from a technical perspective. It’s good to see Linux is now supported as fully as any other platform but I think we have Adobe to thank for that more than anyone else, had they not released AIR for Linux then I suspect the only penguins we’d see anywhere near the iPlayer would be accompanied by a David Attenborough voice-over. I’m impressed with the technology even if I’m not overly keen on the DRM aspects, the lack of any kind of subscription option at the least for overseas users and of course the closed-source nature of it all. I think the software has been very well developed and the BBC technical team deserve credit for this, hopefully it will continue to evolve and improve. I’d like to see the option to subscribe to shows and be notified of new episodes almost like a video podcast. Technically it shouldn’t be that hard to do with RSS feeds and it would be a great addition. So if you’re on Linux and you live in the UK I suggest you try out the iPlayer and see what you think, you can let me know your thoughts in the comments. It’s certainly worth a look whatever your feelings on DRM and the other issues, having the option to use this software on Linux and being considered equally has to be a good sign in the long run.