Computing Video

Miro – Internet TV as it was meant to be

As a matter of professional interest, I pay attention to media playback applications. This isn’t generally hard – most of them are very ‘me too’, and I’ve grown used to spotting the common patterns they tend to follow. There are only so many ways to plug together the various playback technologies needed, and the likes of VLC, Quicktime, Windows Media Player and Flash all share common design decisions. I’ve personally never understood why so many try to ape the complexity of my hi-fi in their UI, but there you go.

Some time ago I stumbled across ‘Democracy Player’, which stood out interestingly. It’s now called Miro, and if you have any desire to watch video on an internet connected computer, I recommend you try it out. Four things caught my eye:

  • The video stands on its own and I can view it where and when I like.
  • The player respects the format the video was made in, without tinkering with it.
  • It can download in a way that allows me to help small producers publish video cheaply.
  • It includes a useful nod to traditional TV to make it easy to use. Simply subscribe to a channel from the on-screen guide!

Having lived without a TV since my move to London in 2000, I decided the time was right last year to buy one – thanks to the Nintendo Wii. A high priority was to get Miro set up to try it out from a technology perspective, so I added a Mac Mini to the rack of equipment under the TV. I didn’t have high hopes for the videos I’d actually find on it, after all they are mostly amateur freebies. It’s clear the technology works, but the big surprise was the actual videos. I should probably make some formal notes about how often I use it, but I’d guess that fifty percent of the time I sit down in front of the TV, I flip over to Miro, and spend some time watching stuff there. Programming on traditional TV is so often filler designed with little more in mind than selling advertising, that in my opinion, the bar for free content to go over in order to be as interesting is actually quite low. It’s not just amateur freebies on Miro though, there’s also a fair few professional videos, and they seem to be paid for in the traditional way – by inserting advertising clips or product placement. Whether they work depends on the quality of combined package, and many work very well.

There’s another key point about Miro – all of the non-video technology it uses appears to be entirely public, so developing players that share the features I’ve outlined as unusual, but perhaps better suit certain usage patterns (full screen from the sofa, perhaps), will be very easy.

I’d like to thank Holmes Wilson for his recent talk here in London at GLLUG. I probably need to apologise for introducing myself in the bar afterward via some crass American stereotypes, but it was great to see such enthusiasm for high quality digital video, and the opportunities the internet offers to both video makers and viewers.

I’d like follow up on the points above, and how they make Miro particularly good at internet TV, over the next few days. Stay tuned!