BBC launches ridiculous iPlayer

Sunday, 29 July 2007

I have just learned on BBC NEWS that the BBC have launched a new service: online TV. Yay! By using the so-called “iPlayer”, it is possible to download and watch BBC programmes up to a week after the broadcast. Once downloaded they can be stored and viewed on the computer for thirty days, after which time the files will be deleted automatically.

Sound good, right? Nooooooo, of course it doesn’t. It would be wonderful to be able to watch missed shows immediately, without having to wait for re-runs. But there are some very significant problems with this service.

To begin with, users interested in using the iPlayer are required to have Windows XP on their computers, and anyone else can just sod off. Yuck. So the BBC, a publicly funded institution, is essentially favoring a monopolistic software giant. Even I can tell you that this is not a good way to start.

Of course the BBC have promised to make this service available to Apple OS X users, and I’m sure that will happen eventually, but even so, there is still no mention of GNU/Linux users. That does not bode well.

And then there is this whole DRM thing. Such a pointless waste of recources, I think. What with YouTube, usenet, p2p-downloading and bittorrents all over the internet, why should I switch to the iPlayer? I can download many, no make that *any* TV series, and watch them today, tomorrow or next year, all completely gratis and unencumbered by any of the unreasonable restrictions the iPlayer imposes. So what’s the point of using DRM then?

You know, it’s a nice gesture, but it is nothing more than that. Even if they make iPlayer available to Linux users, they will not use it. I won’t use it. After all, why should I, when I can just as easily download everything for free? There’s no DRM restrictions on the complete season 4 of Star Trek Voyager that I’m downloading right now, is there? Let’s see … nope, plays just fine.

And it’s not just me, mind. Everyone I know, all my friends, and some of them really are computer illiterate imbeciles, have learned to download movies and TV series. It’s on of those basic skills everybody acquires, even if they don’t know anything else about computers.

The BBC, it would seem, are just as much behind the times and clinging to straws as the big shot movie/music producers in Hollywood. We should pity them really, poor saps. I only hope they will come to their senses soon, because it really is *only* a matter of convenience.

Everything’s available, that’s not the point, whether there is an iPlayer or not. It’s just that downloading it through official channels is more *convenient*, that’s all.

MPlayer: the best lightweight mediaplayer for Windows!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

I’ve recently been able to upgrade the RAM on my laptop to an amazing 256MB, which is the absolute maximum it can take. Yes, this is an old laptop. So, first thing I did after that was install Windows 2000, to see if that would actually run fast enough, and I must say the speed surprised me. As a matter of fact, it almost feels fast enough for everyday use. And bearing in mind that this is only a 400Mhz Pentium II laptop, that’s saying something.

But one thing I’ve never been able to do very well with this laptop, is play movies. Even the lightweight VLC player, which was my first choice, delivered choppy playback during scenes with a lot of action. Then I downloaded MPlayer, which is pretty much the most efficient mediaplayer on earth. Still no good. Not even after tweaking the playback options a bit, such as increasing cache to 8192 kilobytes. Of course, I could install Arch Linux again, which is optimised for i686 CPU’s, such as this pentium II specimen I’m using. But really, it all seems a lot of work just to play a movie.

Thus began my quest in search of the most lightweight mediaplayer I could find for Windows. I ditched MPlayer and openend up the Gooooogle page in my browser. And after much searching and gnashing of teeth, I simply ended up installing MPlayer again. That’s because some individual who calls himself “MuldeR” has been kind enough to put together an optimised version of MPlayer, and create an installer for it as well. It’s aptly called MPlayer for Windows, and all I can say is that it’s absolutely brilliant! After installing this player using the “full package” version, which includes the binary codecs, I opened up a movie and it played back perfectly.

In other words: “MPlayer for Windows” is faster than the ‘official’ MPlayer (which doesn’t even include an installer). So if you’re on a slow system that’s running Windows, and you enjoy watching movies, then I highly recommend trying MPlayer for Windows.

Screenshot to illustrate fonts

Friday, 6 July 2007

In order to illustrate how good you can make Microsoft fonts look on a GNU/Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu in this case, I have uploaded a screenshot of my desktop. See also my recent post on configuring Ubuntu to use Microsoft fonts, for an example of how you can achieve similar results. I should have uploaded it when I submitted that previous blog entry, but I forgot. So here you have it.

A screenshot

How to get Microsoft Truetype fonts in Ubuntu 7.04 and make them look good

Sunday, 1 July 2007

When installing GNU/Linux, the first thing I need to do is install the Microsoft fonts. And things are no different with Ubuntu 7.04, so here I will explain the steps I take to achieve this.

Someone with username calande has posted a short and simple procedure on the Ubuntu forums to start with. Follow calande’s instructions exactly, and you will be well on your way to having those nice Microsoft fonts.

I personally prefer 8 point Tahoma fonts, and have accordingly adjusted the “Application font”, “Document font” and “Desktop font” settings in the GNOME font preferences application (System ==> Preferences ==> Font).

If at some time you’ve tried making the fonts look more like on Windows by opening the GNOME font preferences configuration tool and setting “Font Rendering” to “monochrome”, you should open it again now and quickly change it into something else, like “Best shapes” or “Subpixel smoothing”. Do not worry, the xml files you installed in the previous step override the settings here, for just the right font sizes. So only the large and bold fonts will get antialiased (fuzzy), whilst the small fonts remain nice and sharp and non-antialiased. Just like in Windows, or at least as near as possible.

While we have now come quite a long way, we are not yet quite finished. Because one thing I noticed with the way things are at this stage: the Microsoft Tahoma fonts have some seriously annoying artifacts. For example, the number “8” looks wrong, as it has an extra set of pixels activated in the top right side of the lower circle. Fortunately, there is a way to fix this.

To solve aforementioned problem, we turn once more to the wonderful Ubuntu forum, and in particular read the thread titled “Improved subpixel font rendering for Feisty”. I did things a little differently though, although the result is completely identical. Just follow the following instructions:

  1. First startup the software sources application (System ==> Aministration ==> Software Sources), you will be prompted for your password.
  2. Then select the “Third party software” tab, click on “Add …” and then add the following line

    deb feisty fonts

  3. Repeat step 2 if you wish to have access to the sources, only this time replace the “dep” part in the repository line with “deb-src”. However, I believe this is entirely optional for our needs.
  4. Next, start the update manager (System ==> Administration ==> Update Manager) and install the updates.
  5. Finally, restart X (or reboot if you wish). The fonts that looked bad earlier should look alright now.

And that’s it. Apart from small details, such as changing the fonts Firefox uses, the fonts should look much better.