Updated BBC Live Radio

A simple update to BBC Live Radio today, to version 3.2.0, so three radio stations that haven’t worked for a while now work again:

  • BBC World Service
  • Classic FM
  • National Public Radio (NPR)

Of course, two of these aren’t BBC stations, but never mind! What NPR and Classic FM have in common is that the URLs change relatively frequently, which breaks my code – I’m not using a documented, supported API, I’m just finding the URL by investigating the website and coding it in. It’s a pain to maintain, since I don’t know they are broken until someone tells me, then I have to go and fix them. Still, because people tell me, I know people use it, so there we are.

The BBC World Service one is more interesting. It also exists in the official BBC API, but doesn’t seem to work correctly. So I’ve found the URL by searching and put in that working one. I know the World Service is a bit of a separate part of the BBC, and I know the Internet services provided by the BBC have been stitched together gradually over many years from my conversations with BBC engineers going back fifteen years. So I suppose this simply represents this internal division.

PDF Reader 3.2.0

Update to the PDF Reader 3 application. This is a nice simple program that lets you open PDF files and displays them as plain text to make them super-simple to read with your screenreader. It’s essentially a nice GUI front-end on the XPDF pdftotext.exe program from Foo Labs.

Anyway, PDF Reader only supported PDFs coded in Western European languages (e.g. English), but now supports any language (e.g. Polish, Japanese). Good for non-English users. Other minor bugfixes include not hanging while it opens the PDF file, which is nicer, especially for large PDFs.

Both BBC Radio programs now updated, including Windows XP support

Tonight I’ve updated BBC Live Radio to version 3.0, and I believe that it now works with the new BBC Radio live streams for Windows XP and later. Last week I updated BBC iPlayer Radio to version 9.1, and I believe that this now works for playing 7-day catch-up radio programmes using the new HLS format, again on Windows XP and later. Thanks for bearing with me, and let me know of any problems you find.

Here’s some notes about the new versions:

  • The BBC Live Radio programme is now using the new HLS streams for Windows 8 and later. Windows 7 and earlier won’t play these streams, so it falls back to the ShoutCast MP3 streams. These will be turned off by the BBC in 2016, on current plans, so Windows 7 and earlier will break again.
  • In BBC Live Radio at present I simply pick the first HLS stream available, which is probably not the best choice (non-optimum bitrate, or wrong international/not international version, or whatever).
  • The BBC iPlayer Radio programme simply converts the downloaded AAC file to MP3 to play it, using FFMPEG, which can take a little time, and there is no progress indicator yet. Users will probably think it has hung, but give it a little time.

BBC iPlayer Radio 9 released: still to fix AAC support

Both WebbIE BBC programs have now been updated to the new system, but they may not work yet if you have Windows 7 or earlier

Summary: both WebbIE BBC programs have now been updated to the new system, but they may not work yet if you have on Windows 7 or earlier.

Yesterday I released BBC iPlayer Radio 9. This new version works again with the BBC on-demand seven-day radio catch-up service, after the BBC shut off the old Windows Media service. It works the same except that instead of playing a programme immediately, it has to download it to your computer first. This can take a while, but downloaded programmes are saved for the next seven days so you only have to do it once.

However, there is another problem. The new AAC format used by the BBC works just great on my Windows 8 machine. But lots of users have contacted me to say that they get only a couple of seconds of audio on their machines before it stops, and they report it for both BBC iPlayer Radio and BBC Live Radio 2. It looks like on older versions of Windows, or Windows Media Player, or the K and KM versions of Windows, the BBC programmes won’t play.

Normally this is fixed by installing another piece of software called a codec or filter or plug-in and one user has reported exactly that. But until I get onto a Windows 7 machine next week in the test rig at work, I can’t confirm what versions of Windows are affected and I can’t identify the best plug-in to recommend.

Until then you have two options, both of which are quite technical, I’m afraid:

  1. Install another media player that does support AAC files, like VLC. Use BBC iPlayer Radio 9, and wait for the programme to download, then stop playing. Then open the File menu (Alt and F) and select the new menu entry, “Open in external media player”. This will launch whatever program Windows thinks handles AAC files – hopefully VLC.
  2. Try installing the codec that my user kindly suggested. I’m not naming him in case it goes wrong: remember, this is at your own risk! Orban AAC Plug-in – zip of Windows installer exe, unzip and run.

BBC Live Radio: local stations updated

I’ve now switched the all the BBC stations, national and local, to their new Audio Factory streams. Everything is working fine on my Windows 8.1 machine, but some points:

  • There are lots of different streams to choose from. UK or non-UK, and different bitrates (48,000 to 339,200), and different encodings (HE-AAC and AAC-LC).
  • I’ve chosen the non-UK streams because I have overseas users, although I understand that these streams will go quiet if the station is broadcasting something for which the BBC does not have international rights (e.g. sporting events). So I should probably do some detection, or provide an option, in the future.
  • This also means that I’m using the HE-AAC streams, for good or for ill, at a bitrate of 101,760. This might annoy some audiophiles, but I’m not one, so I’ll wait until someone complains.
  • Everything might be fine on my Windows 8.1 machine, but older Windows might not support the HE-AAC stream without installing a codec or other component. If you find nothing will play, do get in touch at support@webbie.org.uk.

Meanwhile, the BBC iPlayer Radio 8 is completely broken. Over the last week all the Windows Media streams that it used have been shut off. The good news is that lots of people complained to the BBC, so they’ve got in touch with me and promised to help. So far I’ve got the program to display the new catalogue, which means that you can still see programmes, but none of them play yet – and I don’t know why. I hope to get a fix sometime next week if they get back to me! (I can get the URL of the stream to play, but it doesn’t play in VLC or Windows Media Player).

Update to BBC iPlayer TV 7.3.5

Details of the 10 Jan 2015 7.3.5 update to BBC iPlayer TV

The BBC iPlayer TV application broke in December: programmes would no longer start playing. I’ve now fixed this. The problem is that a Microsoft security update for Internet Explorer 11 stops my program talking to the web page to start the programme. People with Internet Explorer 10 were unaffected. People with Internet Explorer 11 would have to start programmes themselves. This is now fixed, and programmes should always start themselves correctly.

However, the security update prevents the skip and pause functions working: if you have Internet Explorer 11, you’ll find that these controls all disable after the programme loads and starts, and do not work with key presses. Sorry about that!

Technical notes on the problem.

Update to BBC iPlayer TV 7.3 restores Audio Described category

New BBC iPlayer TV version 7.3. At the beginning of November 2014 the BBC removed various data feeds from their website, including the one that gave the list of TV programmes available through BBC iPlayer with Audio Description. This meant that all the categories in the WebbIE BBC iPlayer TV programme broke overnight.

There’s no sign of the BBC restoring them, so I’ve removed all the categories in BBC iPlayer TV except for Audio Described. For Audio Described, since it’s so popular, I’ve hacked some code to pull the available programmes: it takes a little while to load, and you don’t get as much detail, but it works.

Other minor changes: I’ve added a Flash item to the Help menu that links straight to the Adobe site so it’s easier test/install Flash: Flash is the number 1 problem for users in using iPlayer TV. I’ve also added a TeamViewer menu item for easy technical support, simplified the UI for screenreader users tabbing around, and fixed turning off the voice that announces what is going on.

WebbIE 4.3 – some HTML5 fun

New WebbIE 4 – more support for HTML5 and WAI-ARIA

WebbIE 4.3 has some cool new features based on the latest HTML5 and WAI-ARIA technology.

HTML5 is the latest update to how web pages work. It has a number of things that are helpful for screenreader users:

  • A web page can have a MAIN element. This is good for the Crop function in WebbIE, which will use this to help decide what to crop and what not.
  • Forms have a bit more definition, so email input boxes, sliders and progress bars have appeared. This is good for WebbIE because when you try to set one of these inputs you can get a special custom experience that works with your screenreader. For email address inputs, WebbIE will check that you have typed a correct email address and explain what is wrong. This is useful since it can be hard to correctly type and then fix email addresses with a screenreader, letter by letter. For sliders, WebbIE puts up a pop-up window containing a standard slider with the values all correctly set so your screenreader should recognise and operate it perfectly. WebbIE also presents progress bars sensibly in the text view.
  • WebbIE 4 has always supported the AUDIO and VIDEO elements, so you can play and control music and video in web pages easily.

WAI-ARIA is a mechanism to help screenreader users use complex web pages like Facebook. Facebook uses special WAI-ARIA code to label parts of its page with information – the small flags and images that mouse users can click on.

  • WebbIE supports the aria-label and aria-labelledby attributes, so more elements on a web page will have correct names and text – fewer “link: config.php” type entries.

Of course, this all pre-supposes that web pages use these elements correctly – which as we know is often not the case. Still, where a website has taken the effort, WebbIE will support these features and produce a better experience.

There are other HTML5 elements, but I’ve decided to add support to WebbIE as and when these elements are supported in Internet Explorer. That way WebbIE will be more reliable and perform better. This will be a problem for Windows XP users, who can’t update Internet Explorer past version 8, but I’m afraid that I have to advance WebbIE to keep it relevant so they will have to stay on WebbIE 3 or find that some features do not work as advertised. I’ll always keep WebbIE 3 around, just like I still do WebbIE for Windows ’98 – I just won’t support it any more.

Finally, there are many performance improvements.

  • WebbIE loads much, much faster.
  • Lots of bugfixes: also, WebbIE will no longer report any problems but will soldier on as best it can.
  • Improved support for the HTML “LABEL” element, so more form elements (e.g. input boxes) will have meaningful labels in the text and useful prompts when you try to use them.
  • WebbIE now supports “localhost” as a URL.
  • WebbIE once again defaults to showing the Internet Explorer homepage. People generally expect web browsers to go to a home page on the Internet: loading your Favourites might well be a better mechanism – and it is still there – but it took people by surprise and caused confusion. This only applies to new WebbIE installations: people running WebbIE 4 already will have to change their settings to suit.

Do try out the latest WebbIE and let me know what you think.

Switch to WebbIE 4

I’ve had various reports of problems with users of Windows XP with ASDL modems that WebbIE 3 doesn’t start up. Also, Google search is broken. I’ve seized the opportunity to tell people who’ve mailed me to use the new WebbIE 4 instead, and that’s confirmed to me (after a bit of bugfixing) that it’s working and pretty much there.

I’ve therefore decided to push ahead with the official release of WebbIE 4, and with it the other new .Net-version programs – PDF Reader, BBC iPlayer Radio, and BBC Live Radio. I’ve removed all of these from the WebbIE MSI installer file that used to contain every program. I’ll continue to distribute this so the people can get the remaining programs, until I either convert then to .Net or build separate installers.

The front page of WebbIE therefore lists separate installers for the new .Net programs – WebbIE, PDF Reader, BBC iPlayer Radio and BBC Live Radio – and links to the updated MSI that still contains Podcatcher, Clock, Calendar, and RSS News Reader. I’ve also left the old WebbIE 3 installer still on the page.

A reminder of the advantages of the new .Net programs:

  • Per-user installation (ClickOnce or MSI) with automatic updates. Not having the latest version is the Number 1 reason for mailing me with a support query.
  • Working modern code that will keep working for another eleven years.
  • Better support for screenreaders through MSAA/UIA support.

It’s a bit of a journey, but I think it’s the right direction! Thank to everyone for feedback.

Guidelines for building accessible video games

Gamers with a disability often lack support in popular video games. If you’re a gamer designer you may not be able to address every potential user, but if you know how to make things easier or more playable then you may be able to implement features in a way that expands the number of people who can use your game.

A great set of guidelines has now been brought together here: Game Accessibility Guidelines. For reference, here are the basic guidelines – they are covered in detail on the site.

Provide details of accessibility features on packaging and/or website
Offer a choice of difficulty level
Ensure that all settings are saved/remembered
Motor (Control / mobility)
Allow controls to be remapped / reconfigured
Ensure that all areas of the user interface can be accessed using the same input method as the gameplay
Include an option to adjust the sensitivity of controls
Ensure controls are as simple as possible, or provide a simpler alternative
Cognitive (Thought / memory / processing information)
Allow the game to be started without the need to navigate through multiple levels of menus
Use an easily readable default font size
Use simple clear language
Use simple clear text formatting
Include tutorials
Ensure no essential information is conveyed by a colour alone, reinforce with a symbol or offer a choice of alternative colours
If the game uses field of view (3D engine only), set an appropriate default for expected viewing environment (eg. 60 degrees for TV, 90 degrees for monitor)
Use an easily readable default font size
Use simple clear text formatting
Provide high contrast between text and background
Provide separate volume controls or mutes for effects, speech and background / music
Ensure no essential information is conveyed by audio alone, reinforce with text / visuals
If any subtitles / captions are used, use an easily readable default font size, simple clear text formatting and provide high contrast between text and background
Ensure that speech input is not required, and included only as a supplementary / alternative input method