Computing Video

Try Miro today

Other internet video products have frustrating limitations which mean I don’t use them very much: Perhaps the files can only be watched for a few hours; I’m limited to watching programming that can sustain a large technology infrastructure or I have to put up with muddy, low quality, pictures. Often they are just incredibly complex combinations of technologies and applications.

Miro eliminates all these gripes, and I’ve been impressed by the experience of using Miro on my TV over the last six months or so. I’ve tried to write up some of the reasons from a professional perspective over the last few blog entries: Miro respects my own honesty; respects the authoring effort of the people who create video; allows people to publish at low cost and is easy to understand and use.

There’s another reason I like it though – it has become easy for me to download and watch some really high quality video on my TV I wouldn’t see elsewhere. Right now, Miro claims to have more HD content than similar competitors, and it looks great!

I’ve not seen a better way to watch video on the internet.

Miro video player

Computing Video

Blogs make great TV channels.

Miro makes Channels a central part of its user experience, using the same technology as a blog. Having chosen not to offer instant playback video (unlike, say, YouTube) I think that the metaphor of a channel to helps me to understand what I will see after waiting for a download to occur. The TV channel metaphor was easy to grasp, since I’m often asked to subscribe in some way to a channel on my TV. Using the technology behind a blog (syndication feeds like RSS), it makes me consider a flow of new videos in the future, again like a TV channel. By using bandwidth friendly downloading, it can allow a channel to make the promise that the download will be better quality than a live feed.

While it is running, Miro is capable of downloading in the background without impacting the playing video. Therefore it’s often my experience that once I’ve watched one video in a channel, the next has downloaded. By leaving Miro running on the computer attached to my TV, there are also always downlaods that have completed while I’m away. As such, whenever I want to watch channels in Miro, there is something to view. In practice, this means that when I encounter a new channel, I hit the subscribe button, anticipating I will be able to watch it next time I sit in front of the TV.

As an aside, downloading before viewing has another advantage – playback is far more reliable. Most of the internet live feeds I’ve used experience breakup and dropout, making them unpleasant to watch. Miro never suffers from this, which is great.

Whilst I’m generally sceptical about copying the user experience from traditional TV’s and HiFi’s, the channel as blog metaphor seems to work well for Miro.

Computing Video

Broadcasting without a broadcast network

Hosting video (or any large file) on a webserver has a problem – when a moderately large number of clients want to download it simultaneously the overhead of each individual connection can overwhelm the server. The number of people that can be serviced is quite likely to be lower than the audience for any popular file, and waiting an unpredictable time for the server to become free is a frustrating experience for the viewer.

There are several possible solutions to this:

  • Multicast IP
  • Hosting on multiple servers via Mirroring or a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
  • Collaborative (peer-to-peer) downloading

Multicast IP allows the server to share a connection among many clients, but for various reasons is not available on the public internet so needs to be discounted. Hosting on multiple servers is straightforward, but is costly and out of reach of individual authors.

Collaborative downloading allows the author to require each viewer to also act as a server for that file. In this way an ad-hoc multiple server system can be created, with costs split between the author and each viewer. Whether your viewers will be happy with this probably depends on what you charge them, and what they get in return. Most pay-per-month internet connections allow them to make a useful server contribution at no direct financial cost to them.

A popular collaborative download protocol is BitTorrent, which is included in Miro. An author distributing video to Miro (or similar) viewers can therefore choose whether to deploy multiple servers, or rely on viewers to collaborate as downloads occur. The ability to broadcast without investing in a network of servers should make it materially easier to distribute video from small providers on the internet, in a similar way that blogging has brought publishing words within an individuals reach.