A small change the BBC iPlayer Radio program. It downloads BBC programmes and then converts them to MP3 to play them. Previously it’s used a moderate quality (bitrate) but some users got in touch and pointed out that many radio programmes would benefit from a better quality, especially Radio 3. So BBC iPlayer Radio now uses 192kbps MP3 files.
If you’ve tried to use the BBC iPlayer TV 7 program recently you’ll know that it is completely broken. A few months ago all the channels went except for Audio Described, and more recently that disappeared too.
Over the years (fifteen, I think, though that may be Radio) I’ve taken many approaches to delivering BBC TV programmes to blind users, from RealPlayer days to now. In version 7 I received some help from the BBC: a nice, fast way to get programme listings. So I put that into the software, and all was well.
You would think I would learn! This handy mechanism disappeared this year, I think without warning, and the channel listings with it. However, Audio Described lasted a bit longer because it didn’t use the approved BBC mechanism, and on examination it only took a tweak to make it work again. I’ve therefore done the work to make the other channels use the Audio Described mechanism, so we have a new BBC iPlayer TV 8, and you once again have Audio Described, channels including One, Two, Four and News, and a new Signed channel listing too. The listings will all take longer to load, but that’s just how it has to work now.
Generally every couple of years there is a burst of enthusiasm at the BBC and someone will reach out to me with great plans and proposals: a year or two later they disappear with their technical help. Individuals have been kind and supportive, but the BBC faces great commercial and political pressure, so I can’t blame them. Anyway, for the geeks: we’re back to screen-scraping, which is slow but I can patch it up when the website changes and doesn’t rely on flaky BBC cooperation.
Finally, I observe that we now have more hoops to jump through before programmes play – like a BBC logon. You should only have to get this set up and working once, and it will work smoothly after that. But you might well need sighted help to get you through these steps: I have fitfully automate these steps, but it was just too much for me to keep up with changes, so I’m afraid you’re on your own. More reliable, though, which is nice.
A new version of the BBC iPlayer Radio program. This should, I hope, solve any problems you have been experiencing with “skipping” during programmes.
A quick explanation: the BBC provides their radio programmes as AAC files. These play on Windows 8 and later, in theory. But I was having lots of reports of programmes skipping. I thought this might have been the code that downloads the AAC files, but I discovered that the AAC files skipped in Windows Media Player as well as in my program (which uses Windows Media Player internally), and my program successfully downloaded exactly the same file each time. Finally, converting the AAC file to another file type fixed the program just fine.
BBC iPlayer Radio therefore has a “conversion” step after downloading a programme where it is converted into a format that will play without skipping.
A small update to BBC iPlayer Radio. I’ve been having some reports that the program is having problems connecting to the Internet. I can’t replicate the problems here, sadly. But I’ve made the error message provide more information, so hopefully I’ll be able to get to the bottom of it!
A couple of other little bugfixes, including a fix for Windows 7 machines without .Net 4, and removing some Windows Firewall code that I now realise is redundant (and who knows, might be causing the connection problems!)
- BBC iPlayer Radio 9.3.2 Installer
I’ve therefore gone to using the venerable Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) interface to hunt down and press the correct buttons on the iPlayer page. This is a bit slow, and you’ve lost the mechanism for pause or skipping. I could put that in another time, but for now it works, and that’s the main thing. You’ve also sadly lost the switching interface, but I suspect no-one was using it!
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).
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!