Democracy Player, and IPTV
A week or two ago I posted a quick entry in the “Of the moment” section which briefly spoke about a little bit of software called Democracy Player. Since then I’ve been using it quite a bit, and I wanted to talk about it in a little more depth, because it is awesome.
A quick note - the version available through the Ubuntu repositories was out of date, fortunately I found out that you can add a repository specifically for Democracy Player, and so I’ve been using the latest version for a few days now. So, if you’re a Linux user, go add that repository to your package manager to get the newest version. Everyone else just ignore that repository nonsense and read on.
What is Democracy Player?
Think of it as iTunes, but for video and not music. The whole point of the software is to organize and manage the video on your machine, and it does this in a very similar way to how iTunes organizes and manages your audio. That sounds good but doesn’t sound too exciting. Hold on though - remember how iTunes opened up a new world of audio by way of podcasts? You’re about to see video in a whole new way…
What features does it have?
The entire project is Open Source and not-for-profit which means all the usual benefits, namely; it’s free, it’s very stable, it’s entirely focused on the end user rather than making money, and it’s cross platform (Mac, Windows, Linux).
The software itself is refreshingly simple in both use and appearance. Like Firefox, its actually had some designers guiding the structure and appearance of the User Interface which is a very good thing. It also plays pretty much every video file format under the sun, which is another huge bonus. Just like iTunes, it can catalog and manage all of your video’s, allowing you to sort and search them, and even create playlists.
For the nerdy people, I should mention that Democracy Player also features integrated BitTorrent, which is freakin’ awesome cool. But more of that later.
So what are the killer features?
Just like iTunes’ ‘podcasts’ (which are simply audio based RSS feeds) Democracy Player has what are essentially ‘vodcasts’ (video based RSS feeds). Unlike iTunes, this really is where all the action is at for Democracy Player. You can subscribe to any vodcast RSS feed you like, and the software will manage those feeds for you, checking for new content and downloading anything it finds, exactly like iTunes does for podcasts. Being video based, there’s the real possibility of eating up your hard disk with all those downloads, so video management policies are built-in. You can set how many days to keep a video before automatically deleting it - or just keep them forever if you have a big enough hard drive. You can also tell it to not download new video’s if there’s less than a certain amount of hard disk space left, which is good for those of us who don’t have terrabite hard disks.
In another similarity to iTunes, there’s a ‘channel’ browser, where you can easily discover new video ‘channels’. The whole thing is organized by category, and all content in this section is entirely free, so browse and download to your hearts content.
BitTorrent, and the ‘democracy’ part
Part of the genius of Democracy Player for the geeks in the audience is the aforementioned BitTorrent support. Video files are huge in comparison to audio files. While a one hour podcast might weigh in at 90Mb or less, a ten minute video in High Definition could swallow in excess of 200Mb. That means vodcasts are expensive services to provide, which is where the BitTorrent element steps in. The concept is simple - if you have a video downloaded on your machine you will automatically start sharing it with other people, and they can download parts of it directly from you - which means the main server isn’t getting stressed out. It’s a nice way to give back to the community. Now, I’m fairly sure that BitTorrent support doesn’t happen for all of your video files (I suspect only for files you download through feeds), but I can’t find documentation of quite how BitTorrent integrates with Democracy Player, so this is something that needs a little more investigation.
Of a more important matter in this ‘web2.0′ era, there’s the ability for you to create and maintain your own Channel, full of your own videos, which will show up right in everyone else’s Democracy Player. This is easily achieved through Broadcast Machine, but anyone wanting to know more ought to look at the Content Creator FAQ and the Make section of the Democracy Player website.
Why this is so damned exciting
It’s very exciting to realize that the internet is continuing to develop into a ‘read/write’ entity. Anyone can become a content provider on the modern web. The barrier to entry is falling all the time, and what we can accomplish is getting better and better too. We’ve got the ability to post our own written word on blogs, which can be set up in seconds by anyone. Whole communities can be created just like that. We’ve got podcasts people can listen to, so it’s easy to find new music, or hear talk on just about any topic you care to imagine. And now there’s the ability to have what amounts to your own TV shows. And all of that gets it’s own comprehensive distribution system that requires no intervention from end users. They can just switch on their computer and be told by their feed aggregators that a new podcast/vodcast/blog entry is waiting for their attention. Click and go. That is awesome.
OK, now give me some hard examples
There are two vodcasts that are available through Democracy Player that I really want you to see, so you can get more of an appreciation for why this is all so cool. First up is GeekBrief.tv, which is a generally a 5min show that rounds up new gadgety geekery for you. It’s kept short and sweet, and the ace in the hole is the presenter, Cali Lewis. First off, she’s a she - which is unusual for geek centered media, and she happens to be a very pretty she too Secondly, and much more importantly, she’s a brilliant presenter. The show will get you educated on recent geek news, and I can guarantee you’ll have a smile on your face before the end of each one. Cali lifts what might be a dry fact-fest into an entertaining and pleasurable five minutes of viewing while you take a break from your work. Those reasons alone are all that ought to be needed to get you to have a look, but there’s something else about GeekBrief.tv that’s an illustration of why the whole ‘anyone can generate content’ aspect of the modern internet is so cool. GeekBrief.tv is made by a husband and wife team who had never created video material before doing this show, which they filmed and created themselves in their own home. But, through these vodcasts, they’ve been able to throw away their old day jobs, and this is what they now do for a living. How brilliant an example of the power of web2.0 is that?
The other vodcast is an example of how these things can help you get learnin’. Pixel Perfect with Bert Monroy is essentially a TV Show consisting of nothing but Photoshop tutorials. The whole thing is in High Definition, and very well edited and presented, it’s very easy to follow along. I’ve learned a few tricks through this show, including some undocumented Photoshop features. It’s a quality effort, up there with ‘real’ TV, but this sort of thing just wouldn’t be possible on real TV - it’s too specialist. On the net though, specialism can be addressed. This is a perfect example of that.
So, I urge you to go download Democracy Player, have a poke around at some of the features, and get watching some videos. There are thousands of channels to choose from, and more being added all the time. You’ll love it, I promise.