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 email@example.com.
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!
Technical notes on the problem.
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.
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.
Over the last two years I have been working to move the WebbIE programs from the old programming language they have been written in (Visual Basic 6) to the newer .Net. Users of NVDA and Thunder will find that the programs are easier to use and controls are better-labelled. The software will run more smoothly and reliably on modern machines, and be easier for me to manage.
This means that there are now new Beta versions of the new WebbIE 4 Web Browser and the BBC Live Radio program, which you download from here:
This is a significant change: for geeks think “Netscape to Firefox”. I’ve recoded pretty much all of it, which means many features have disappeared – unused ones, I hope – and some new ones have appeared, such as the start of support for accessibility features in HTML5. I’ll keep the old WebbIE installers and code around for anyone who wants them, but new .Net versions of everything will eventually be created.
I have also chosen to change how WebbIE is distributed. Instead of one single installer file, from which you can install whichever program you want, I am moving to different installers for each program. The main benefit of this is that this allows me to use a different installation system that will automatically update everyone when there is a new version: this will be a great help (especially for the BBC iPlayer programs.)
I will also be dropping some of the WebbIE programs, those which I think are least used. My plan is to drop:
- Disk Explorer
- Google Podcast and RSS Search
- I.E. Appearance Editor
- Web Directory
This will eventually leave us with:
- WebbIE web browser
- The BBC programs
- R.S.S. News Reader
- PDF Reader
- Radio Tuner
However, this depends on my doing a lot of work, so it might end up that more of the programs disappear, or are never updated. Which is fine if the old versions keep work: I’ll just split them out as separate installers for anyone who needs them.
So, please do try out the new Beta of WebbIE 4 and let me know of any problems or comments. Next time, details of what’s new in WebbIE 4.