Sunday, March 26, 2006

RSS, BitTorrent & more media goodness

I am currently downloading an episode from season 2 of Star Trek:Hidden Frontier. Hidden Frontier is a fan effort of love, so it is not necessarily Oscar level performances, but it is entertaining. Each episode, so far, has been around 50-60 meg. Not huge, but still pretty good sized. Unfortunately so far most episodes require two downloads, plus an optional blooper file. This is an application screaming for BitTorrent. One file to get a whole season.

This is also something screaming for an RSS feed instead of constantly checking the site for a new episode. They do not seem to have an easily identified RSS feed just for the episodes.

Last weekend I spent some time downloading both music & film previews from SXSW. I did this last year as well, and the overall size is up: Just over 3 gig of music and another gig or so of film previews. At the same time I was downloading season 1 of Hidden Frontier and a few other things.

Now I know setting up an RSS feed is pretty much a no brainer anymore. In fact all blogging software has it built in. If the episodes were put on the net in blog form the RSS feed would become a given and there would be media goodness for all the Hidden Frontier fans.

However I am not sure how tough it is to setup a BitTorrent download. I am not a server guy, but I imagine there should be some way to easily get BitTorrent up and running for a site. Zipping the files together may not save space, but would make the season available as 1 file for download. That is what the SXSW people did - zipping MP3 usually results in a LARGER file, but it does make for 1 file for download.

The problem I have is Azureus always seems to bring my machine to a grinding halt. Azureus is, arguable, the most popular BitTorrent client around, but on my machine once I start it up the whole machine slows to a crawl. It also seems to introduce a fair amount in instability into my system, almost always requiring a reboot after extensive use. I noticed a similar problem with the Juice Receiver. Both are great programs, but to leave up for constant use you need to up your system resources a bit.

The true benefit of BitTorrent comes when you can leave your client up for long periods of time. However if your BitTorrent client kills the performance of your 512 meg laptop, you only leave it up as long as you are downloading something. I would love to leave my BitTorrent client up all the time. It helps everyone out, plus I could take advantage of BitTorrent podcast feeds.

I have been use Doppler as my primary podcast receiver. It has a few problems of its own, but it has a much smaller footprint than Juice, which allows me to leave it up all day. Doppler was written specifically for Windows, does a specific job, and does it well. My only real complaint has been it does not acknowledge a system shutdown request. That is small potatoes given all I get in return.

What would be great is a BitTorrent client that worked just like Doppler - small, efficient, and stable. If a BitTorrent client would play well in the background I would leave my running whenever my machine was on. If it played well with a podcast reciever even better. I would gladly switch many of my podcast feeds over to BitTorrent if I could consistently get feeds from small, stable programs that would allow me to use my machine while they worked in the background.

There has been talk about tighter integration between podcast recievers & BitTorrent for as long as podcasting has been around. Maybe both are too new to really make any headway on it. However with video podcasts this integration is becoming critical.

However an even bigger problem is mixed media fees. One of the first mixed media feeds I noticed was The Dawn and Drew Show. Every now and then they would release a video clip on their regular podcast feed. Adam Curry has been doing this a lot of late as well. When I was using iTunes as my player, this was not a problem. I would see the movies come up and I could take the time to watch them. However I now use either Windows Media Player (WMP) or my MP3 player for podcasts. I do this for many of the same reasons I switched from Juice - smaller footprint and it plays better with Windows. WMP handles some, but not all, video formats and my MP3 player handles no video at all (big shock there).

The problem is one player cannot handle all possible video formats, and there are plenty of popular ones out there. And what happens when someone wants to shoot a PDF through their podcast feed?

One of the advantages of a podcast receiver over a full RSS reader such as FeedDemon is that you can pretty much set up a feed and ignore it. You do not have to check show notes, you do not have to click on anything to fetch the enclosure. Of course going that route will let you know when you are getting the odd video. (FeedDemon does do auto downloading of enclosures, but runs into many of the same problems unless you consistently check the feed for what enclosures are being sent.)

So what is the answer? I'm not sure. To keep the asychronous of RSS, I would need some way of being notified when I am getting something "unexpected" in a feed. So, for example, when a video gets sent down a feed something happens to let me know I have something to attend to. Maybe the system tray icon could change, maybe an instant message, or an email. I would not want a message box to pop up every time something weird came through (although that might be an option for some people). It would also be cool if I could get a list of these files through the podcast receiver so I could play them at my leisure. That would be a lot simplier than playing Where's Waldo with these rouge files.

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