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Monday, 15 August 2005

Frustrated by iTunes; podcasting

Let me vent a little here, some of this is a repeat of what I've said
before.

The podcasting revolution is leaving the low-bandwidth netizens among us
behind. Even iTunes 4.9 has serious flaws in its handling of podcasts in
low-bandwidth situations.

Some of the problems specific to iTunes include:
* Not being able to resume interrupted downloads. If my modem disconnects or
the connection times out, iTunes just assumes what its got is the lot
(obviously it's not and it has the contents of the RSS feed to verify this).
* Not being able to start playing a streamable format currently being
downloaded (I'd like to be able to preview podcasts but it's just not
possible on dial-up).
* Not indicating file size and estimated completion times when downloading.

What happened to the multi-bandwidth streams we used to get? (Apple for one
still provides them for movie trailers, etc) Can we do this for podcasting?
The answer is yes, but most podcasters don't have the time or want to do
this. Some providers do it -- This Week in TECH for example has a 32kbps
feed, but unfortunately it's not exposed to the iTunes Music Store and
requires BitTorrent (in my experience on dialup, downloading the low
bandwidth stream via BitTorrent feels like it takes just as long as
downloading the normal AOL Radio feed, probably because peers give up on me
and there were less seeds). RocketBoom also provides a mobile-phone
compatible service.

So do we need a third-party like the pod2mob beta to help us out -- they
stream podcasts to mobile phones that have an unlimited data plan. They do
give a nice idea -- how about using mobile phone codecs which are highly
efficient at low bitrates to provide a low bandwidth version?

This would have the added benefit of being promoted as a 'sync with your
cellphone' version of the podcasts, and reduces everyone's bandwidth
requirements. Contrary to some people's belief I don't need ultra-audio
quality on my podcasts (hey I listen to very poor reception AM radio the
rest of the week!)

Systm is another one of my favourites, *but* I'm downloading (small, h264)
at a rate of about 5 minutes of real content for every 3 hours of
downloading which is too slow.

Content providers please take heed! The best solution would be an
enhancement to iTunes RSS which added a low-bandwidth tag to the feed and a
check box in iTunes for 'Prefer low-bandwidth content'.

FYI as an example Systm Episode 1 using QuickTime I can compress down to
about 6MB (MPEG4/AMR/streamable) and likewise Diggnation Episode 1 also 6MB
(it's a longer clip, AAC/streamable). And they're still tolerable.