Saturday, June 23, 2007

Watching BBC Videos on Windows Mobile

Futurologists often mention that videos are coming to the phone. Actually, the technology is already in place and I've already tuned in a few times to DMC TV (Dhamma Media Channel), as reported for the Earth Day 2007.

The BBC and other broadcast media are thinking hard about how to embrace Internet-based video and maintain themselves as a going concern. At the moment, they make available to the general public selected archives. I found that if I access the BBC site with my mobile phone running Windows Mobile 5, then it redirects me to pages specifically designed for mobile devices (addresses like and makes available a few videos, including a news summary. However, the choice is limited and the bandwidth quite low.

Actually, many PDAs nowadays are powerful enough to cope with the same levels of streaming as those aimed at desktop machines. Versions of Windows Mobile and Real Player are available for the mobile platform, so are they able to handle the streams? Could I find the streams in the first place? In true journalistic style... "I decided to investigate!"

[I used my HTC P3600 PDA Phone, with ROM upgrade, running Windows Mobile 5 AKU3.3.1. All screenshots were captured using SuperSnap 1.5 Auto mode, apart from the Windows Media sceenshot, for which I happened to use Pocket Screen Capture from CEToolbox.]

The first aim was to work out how to locate the Beeb videos from the mobile device. There are probably many ways of going about this, but I was just looking for a simple way to navigate: after manually setting URLs it became evident that only on a few pages are you automatically redirected to mobile equivalents. To avoid having to type URLs, you can start by using a search engine like Google:

Searching for the BBC News World edition in Google Mobile

And that's accurate enough to bring up the desired match without having to scroll :-)

Searching for the BBC News World edition in Google Mobile

The BBC News World page duly loads in full (note that I had opted to select 'desktop view') but renders differently from desktop machines because there is still some browser detection that decides that Pocket IE needs a bit of extra assistance!

BBC News web site loaded under Pocket IE

Scrolling down the page, you come across the selection of videos available:

Browsing videos from the BBC News Web site Selecting a video from the BBC News Web site

Click on the video of your choosing...

BBC Video: page as viewed in Pocket Internet Explorer

On desktops, you get a picture frame with a video loading in the middle of it, but here on scrolling down the page I got:

BBC Web site: inline video (empty)

Not so interesting! However, we haven't yet defined our video preferences...

Selecting preferences for viewing BBC News videos

Clicking on the preferences link enables you to select the quality (connection speed) and which player:

BBC Website: select high quality video stream BBC Website: select video player

So which player to choose? As the BBC states that Realplayer is the preferred player (more cross-platform, I presume), I initially tried RealPlayer for Pocket PC 1.1 Preview Release available from RealPlayer's Mobile area. However, it didn't work.

So I opted for Windows Media Player, clicked the [OK] button and was returned to the video page via a confirmation screen.

BBC Website: video preferences saved Launching video in external player from BBC News site

[Incidental techie point: the use of Perl reminded me of a presentation at the 2002 Oxford IT Support Staff conference on the subject of Content production at the BBC - the presenter related how there was not one supersystem, but rather a lot of little custom Perl scripts, with a lot of home crafting. Evidently, they're still using these "down to earth tools" for the video configurations and they work well) :-) ].

Now was the time to test - I clicked on the link to launch the player...

Windows Media Player and BBC News video (screenshot)

It worked fine, streaming at around 230kb/s and I was also able to click on the 'full screen' button. The picture quality was quite good, though sound was a little bit out of sync with lip movement and the audio controls seemed to have limited control over volume.

I've managed to watch a number of videos this way and generally it works well. However, if my PDA is doing something else at the same time, then the streaming reverts to a very low rate and I might not even get any pictures. So performance is an issue. Nevertheless, I'm happy to report it works well on a variety of videos, meaning you can keep informed and be entertained wherever there is WiFi or high-speed phone network connection.

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