Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

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Death of the iPod?

April 17, 2009

A little while ago I received a request for the installtion of Spotify on a work computer. I’d not heard of it at this point so I did some research and discovered that it was a piece of software that linked you to a massive library of music on the Internet. After a bit of discussion in trying to ascertain what the business case was for installing this to a work computer it faded away.

With greater news in the media recently I decided that I’d give it a go myself and see what all the fuss was about. A free version is available that allows you to listen to any track in the library, and you just get a few adverts every now and then – though a regular payment can eliminate these for uninterrupted listening. The application itself is very simple and is suspsciously similar to iTunes in styling which I guess makes it more familiar to a lot of people.

The quality of the audio was quite reasonable on my computer and in all for a free system it really does seem too good to be true. So is this the beginning of the end for the iPod and the death of the personal storage based media player?

Many journalists seem to think so but I would suggest that it is not.

I don’t think it will be long before the centralised storage access will become more available. The connectivity of devices such as the iPod touch (Wifi) and the iPhone (3G) mean that always on connectivity will allow access to these sorts of systems. This will be another leap forward in personal mobility of media, but there are a number of points that I believe will continue to see personal storage in effect (though probably combined with an online central storage option).

Power

The power requirements for streaming audio to your pocket device is such that battery technology will still have a long way to go. Imagine trying to get several hours play out of an iPod shuffle that is connecting to 3G. How efficient is that battery going to be?

Signal

It is realtively difficult to maintain signal quality in small devices with internal aerials and whilst it is obviously more commonplace these days with mobile phones to have internal aerials than it was say four or five years ago what is the transmission quality actually like? how often have you had a signal that wasn’t quite clear enough? That’s just on audio too which has been around for quite some time. Imagine the difference in data streaming. I assume some sort of buffering will be employed to resolve this, but if it isn’t buffering an entire track you may find that it just pauses at times detroying the listener’s experience.

Taking this further what happens in areas of no signal such as if you’re out hiking or possibly even on a plane or passing through a long tunnel on a train? A total lack of signal availability would effectively destroy your chance of listening to anything.

Range

The range of available tracks is growing all of the time. One of the first things I did when I tried Spotify was to try and find some tracks that I really liked to see if it had them listed. I would say that it managed to list about 50% of them … I didn’t count the karaoke only versions or covers recorded by another artist. Whilst I admit that this is going to grow extensively with a greater take up of such a service I do think that there’s always going to be something that isn’t available on it that I will want and in all likelihood will be likely to have or be able to get hold of in another format.

Podcasts

I actually rarely listen to music on my iPod unless I’m in the car. I more regularly listen to the radio (through an add-on to my iPod… I miss the inbuilt one on my old iRiver) or podcasts. It is not uncommon for me to re-listen to old podcasts (particularly technology related ones like Gartner and ones by the BBC). Some podcasts are always available for download, but others are subject to licensing restrictions which means that they are available for a limited period of time (e.g. BBC). Being able to store these allows me to listen to them in the way that I want.

So whilst I’m sure I could create a system that would allow me to securely stream media from a personal store (on-line or from my home) across the Internet I think that the limitations on power and connectivity will ensure that on device storage will continue to exist. I do think however that we will see more connected devices that allow access to on-line services like Spotify.

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Casting for Apple Devices from Windows

January 1, 2009

When it comes to podcasting Apple is the king.  The iPod and its variations lead the market and  the software bundled with Mac OS X makes creating any sort of podcast a breeze.  Unfortunately not everyone has access to an Apple Mac be it for financial reasons or for internal IT related issues.  Creating podcasts from Windows is a little more laborious, but with the right tools it can be made much easier.

Many Academy staff have an interest in creating podcasts and they do find situations where they and/or the people they are working with may only have access to a PC running windows.  It is for this reason that I’ve decided my first post for the new year will focus on some tools for creating a range of podcasts.  Specifically I’ve also chosen to look at creating them in formats for the Apple suite of podcast players (iPod/iTunes/iPhone) as this is probably the most common format for playing them back – but keep in mind that it isn’t necessarily the most accessible format.

The software and information are not a de facto way of creating the podcasts, but they are all ways that I’ve used to create these podcasts on a PC running Windows and just by using free software.

Types of Podcast

Apple have specified a number of supported formats for podcasts and there are actually four types of podcast:

  • Audio – a podcast
  • Audio, still images and web links – an enhanced podcast
  • Audio and video – a video podcast  / vodcast
  • Text – a PDFcast (not a textcast) … for iTunes only

Podcast

Freeware:

File Format: MP3

Audacity has been the people’s choice for recording audio on many operating systems for some time now.  A simple  way to record and edit audio content.

Enhanced Podcast

Freeware:

File Format: M4A

Again Audacity is the choice for recording any audio which is the first step.  Then a note of the time stamp should be made for each point in the audio recording where the image to be displayed should be changed or where a URL should be overlaid on an image.

In order to build an enhanced podcast we also need to put the audio into AAC (MPEG4) format.  If the audio is not in this format (which Audacity as far as I’m aware doesn’t do natively), the you can use iTunes to convert it for you. You would probably want iTunes installed to test your podcasts in any case.  To convert the audio, drop the file into your iTunes library, and then right click on it and select Create AAC version.  Once created you can copy or drag and drop it from iTunes into an appropriate podcast building folder.

Images could simply be screen shots from the PC, photographs uploaded from a digital camera, scanned images, or simply an image copied from elsewhere (an e-mail, the web, etc.).  Often these will need to be cropped or edited in some way and whilst there are some really sophisticated image editing packages that are freely available (e.g. the GIMP), they are often complicated to use.  A relatively simple image but feature full image editor is paint.net and is a good tool for producing the images for an enhanced podcast.

Once the audio and video is prepared Slideshow Assembler can be used to put the audio and the images together.  Slideshow Assembler however is the least appealing tool in that it is a command line tool, but it is still possible to use it without typing in commands at the command prompt.

An instruction file (a POD file) has to be created to tell Slideshow Assembler how to put the enhanced podcast together (what audio file is being used, what images, when to insert them and what URLs to add in too).  This can be edited with any text editor including Windows’ Notepad application, however I favour NoteTab recommend the free light version for all your text editing needs.  Slideshow Assembler includes an example file and it is quite straight forward to put together as the example also contains some explanatory comments, but if you do get stuck try and get someone who has some technical know-how to walk you through it.  Once you get the idea of how to add each image change in it really is simple to build.

Finally find your Slideshow Assembler executable (take a look in the Slideshow Assembler folder that should be linked to in your start menu after you installed Slideshow Assembler).  By default it will be in C:\Program Files\Slideshow Assembler and be called SSA.EXE.  Next drag and drop your POD file onto this EXE file.  A window will appear telling you that the instructions are being processed and when  it closes the enhanced podcast file will be available in the same folder as the POD file.

Vodcast

Freeware:

File Format: MP4

With a vodcast you could produce the video in a number of ways such as through screen capture (e.g. using Auto Screen Recorder, CamStudio or Wink) or by recording from a camera – directly attached or by filming off-line and uploading a video file to the PC later on.

VirtualDub is a simple video editor in much the same way that Audacity is used for audio it provides a simple interface for editing video files.

MediaCoder is a branched selection of media encoders that will convert video to a range of formats, form factors and quality.  One particular version is available for Apple devices and would be the recommendation for vodcast production.  The video file is simply passed to MediaCoder, the output format selected and then a click of a button initiates the transcoding into MP4.

PDFCast

Freeware:

File Format: PDF

This final format is included here more for the sake of completeness but is probably a form of podcast that many don’t realise is an available option.

Many applications can save or export to the PDF format but for those that cannot there are a number of pieces of software that install as a virtual printer which you can then print to in order to generate a PDF file.  My favourite of these is CutePDF writer.

The last step is to publish the file you have produced.  Without this publishing step you don’t have a podcast as it is the XML file that links the media file to an RSS feed that makes it into a subscribable podcast.  There are many tools and services to do this depending upon your web site/podcast hosting provision.

My own preference is to take an existing XML file and edit it to match my own needs, but for those who don’t like getting their hands dirty there are other methods … unfortunately far too many for me to cover in a single blog post.

Hopefully you now have enough information to produce any podcast you need to on a Windows PC (should you not be able to lay your hands on a Mac).  So good luck with your podcasting and happy new year!