Tag Archives: iTunes
August 24, 2013

Configuring Icecast Streaming Server On Debian

Conn and I did an experiment earlier this week with the technology.ie podcast. Instead of simply recording it and then publishing it we streamed the entire thing live using IceCast.We'd previously played around a bit with Google "hangouts', but running our own streaming server was fun and also gave us more autonomy.

Media streaming always struck me as being incredibly complicated and I thought it would be too complicated for someone to setup and run without a lot of work and knowledge.

However I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it's actually pretty easy if you have some basic knowledge of Linux and don't mind getting "down and dirty" in vim.

To setup a public streaming server you'll need to have a public server, which in my case wasn't a challenge, as I have a cloud VM from Blacknight (doh!).

I like Debian and the package management system it uses (Apt) makes installation of a lot of commonly used software tools incredibly easy.

In the case of icecast2 there is a readily available package so you can install it quickly and easily by simply running:

apt-get install icecast2

You'll be prompted to install Icecast and probably several other bits of software.

Configuring it isn't that hard and Falko Timme has written a very nice and simple tutorial. The main thing to remember is to switch the server "on" by editing the file in /etc/default/icecast2 - the last line needs to be set to "true".

Debian also comes with a functional init script so you can start the server off using (as root or sudo):

/etc/init.d/icecast2 start

It'll automatically switch to running as the icecast2 user and group.

So with a running instance of IceCast the next obvious step was finding some way of broadcasting.

Conn uses Butt, but it's a bit limited unless you have extra equipment.

I like simple. So I opted for Nicecast for my experiments. It's a very simple, yet powerful, bit of software for OSX. A license costs $59, but you can use and abuse it for up to 60 minutes of audio streaming before you need to purchase a key.

What I really like about Nicecast is that you can use it to broadcast any audio source you like, so if you want to broadcast from iTunes, Spotify, Last.fm or even your browser, you can do so. (Bearing in mind that you will need a license to broadcast copyright works)

You simply choose the source you want from a dropdown menu:

Choosing an audio source with nicecast on the Mac

Choosing an audio source with nicecast on the Mac

Obviously not all of the apps it identifies would have audio, but it doesn't try to second guess you. So if you had embedded audio into a Word document it'd let you set that as the source, which is very handy. I really hate it when software limits me!

Connecting to your remote server is pretty easy. You simply add the new server to the application:

Configuring a server in Nicecast on the Mac

Configuring a server in Nicecast on the Mac

 

When you're happy that the settings are correct you can then start your broadcast:

nicecast-before-broadcast

And now it's up and running:

nicecast-broadcasting-audio-via-itunesYour IceCast server's status will show you what it can "see":

icecast-broadcast-status

In my case I'm playing with the soundtrack from Elysium :)

So you should now be all set.

The total time to get it all up and running should be under an hour - the only gotchas I ran into was that the Debian setup was easier than I thought, so I ran into a couple of silly problems while looking for more complicated ways of starting the server. Also, if you use Nicecast don't put a trailing slash either before or after the mount point. The software will automatically add its own, but if you try to set one it'll break. So you'd end up with the odd scenario of having a stream that nobody can access, as the URL would be "empty" and the mount point wouldn't be visible.

I've no idea what, if anything, I'll do with the icecast server now that I've got it setup. Conn and I have been toying with doing a few other experiments, but we want to be sure that if we do anything beyond "talk radio" that the licensing is in order. The last thing I want to end up with is problems from IMRO / IRMA over copyright and licensing!

 

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August 20, 2013

Digital Music via iTunes vs. Physical CDs

Agricantus_CD_kuntarimariWhile I'm a big fan of digital music services like Last.fm and Spotify I've always had a very "mixed" relationship with digital purchases of music.

I guess this stems from some bad experiences outside Apple's iTunes store. Having paid for an album I want to be able to "consume" it however I choose on whatever device I want.

Unfortunately if the company you bought music from goes belly up and you don't have "sane" backups of your music purchases you can be simply out of luck ..

This has happened to me a couple of times.

My other big "fear" was hard drive failure.

However with the advent of iCloud I don't really have to worry about this any longer. And Amazon (and others) are now offering similar services.

But I still like having a physical CD.

I like to physically handle the disc and to read the sleeve notes, which sometimes comes with added extras. (Remember the holograms on Enigma's first album?)

While I can download my iTunes purchases onto up to 5 devices that's only 5 devices. What if I want more? DRM is still around, even though it's not nearly as restrictive as it was a few years ago (thankfully!)

With a CD I can lend the music to a friend.

That's not so easy with iTunes purchases, unless you lend your iPod to them ..

However the real "thing" is one of price.

It cuts both ways.

Mainstream artists are readily available both via Amazon (et al) and via iTunes. You'd think that the iTunes version would be cheaper, as there's no packaging or shipping costs, but often it isn't, so I've still had an incentive to keep buying CDs.

But when it comes to artists that are a little less mainstream, such as Sicilian group Agricantus, iTunes wins hands down (assuming they have the artist in their catalogue).

Today I found out that Agricantus had released a new album, Kuntarimari, a few months ago.

So I went to a number of online stores to see about getting a copy. Unfortunately the price before shipping was around 20 Euro in most reputable places. However iTunes had it for under 9 Euro: Kuntarimari - Agricantus

Not only is that more than 50% cheaper than the physical CD, I also got practically instant gratification and was listening to the album within a few seconds of purchasing it.

I'm still going to buy physical CDs and I'll mix and match pure digital with physical, but I'm no longer as "wed" to a particular medium as I used to be. With Spotify I can access a lot of the music I like across multiple devices without ever having to purchase a specific CD. If I want to explore a particular artist I can do so without any "pain". With Last.fm I have lots of fun exploring "tags" and "stations" and again I can do so without actually buying. But if I do find an artist I really like I might go out and buy their album, though as mentioned above, which medium or format I use for the purchase is quite fluid.

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June 18, 2012

CD Ripping To Ogg Vorbis And Other Formats On OSX

If you use a Mac you get used to using its tools. Why wouldn't you? They're easy to use and pretty intuitive.

Unfortunately my iRiver H340 can't read audio files in the standard OSX / iTunes format. It'll happily take the files in, but then you can't play the audio, which defeats the purpose of the exercise.

There are quite a few software tools, both commercial and open source, for ripping CDs to mp3 on OSX, but I wanted to use Ogg Vorbis, as they tend to take up less space without a massive loss in audio quality.

Unfortunately a lot of the open source tools for Ogg on the Mac are pretty awful and I couldn't get any of them to work sanely.

Phile Audio, however, works really well.

Here's the official blurb:

Simultaneous encoding to 7 formats:
Phile Audio will encode to all of the most popular audio file formats: MP3, MP4-AAC, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV and AIFF. You can specify one or more encoding formats before ripping, so you only have to rip once. Archive a copy of your CD collection in a lossless format, such as FLAC or Apple Lossless, and encode a smaller, compressed copy for your portable media player. Phile Audio will import iTunes-supported file formats automatically, saving you a manual step if you want to import to iTunes.
Simultaneous ripping from multiple CD/DVD/BD-ROM drives:
Phile Audio will rip from as many drives as you can hook up to your computer, simultaneously. While one disc is ripping, you can be entering the information for another one. This is a huge advantage for your CD archiving workflow, as you don't have to wait as long for discs to finish ripping to move on to the next one.
Retrieve CD information from the FreeDB online database:
Phile Audio automatically identifies and retrieves your discs information from the online FreeDB database. This huge resource is sure to find disc information for most of your CDs
Multiple options for cover art retrieval:
Phile Audio includes an online image search, pre-populated to the title of your CD to make finding cover art as easy as possible. In the unlikely event that you don't find something acceptable, you can drag and drop cover art files from a web browser or your computer directly into the application, or, import your images from a digital camera or memory card with the built-in camera device browser. There's even an interface to use your scanner to scan your cover art directly into your disc information! No other software offers this degree of integration for your cover art!
More information can be input up-front:
In addition to the extensive options for cover art, Phile Audio allows you to enter individual years per track, composers, groupings, gapless tags, compilation tags, disc numbering (if part of a multiple-disc set), comments and lyrics for supported encoding formats. You don't have to revisit your encoded files from other software to add these tags. You can do it all right before ripping, a huge time-saver!
Customizable file naming:
For those that are not importing into iTunes or to a non-taggable format, keeping file names in a usable format can be a real pain. Phile Audio allows you to customize the exact file name convention based on disc and track information to fit your needs.
Efficient encoding:
Phile Audio detects how many processors are in your computer and runs encoding jobs simultaneously on all multi-core processors. Encoding happens in the background, so your discs can rip as fast as possible without being encumbered by potentially slow encoding times. You can pause encoding if you need the extra processor power for another application. You can even close the application in the middle of encoding a batch of discs, and Phile Audio will remember where you left off. Very handy for users on-the-go!
Real-time status:
When ripping discs, Phile Audio gives you an indication of your drive's DAE (Digital Audio Extraction) or "ripping" speed. This serves as a benchmark for your drive. While encoding, the status of all of your encoding jobs are easily seen and understood.

What's really cool about it is that if one of the free music DBs can't find the album you can use iTunes to populate the track data.

Being able to rip albums to Ogg (and other formats) easily and quickly means that I'll be able to fill up my iRiver with albums I want to listen to for my next trip :)

 

 

 

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June 15, 2012

Rediscovering My IRiver

I've had an iRiver H340 for a few years. I think I picked mine up a few months before iRiver stopped making them. I used it on and off for a couple of years, but for the last year or more it's been gathering dust. I used to watch films when travelling so I didn't really listen to music, but between Netflix, iTunes and the cinema there's less and less that I want to watch on flights and I'm probably a lot happier listening to a bit of music.

So I decided to "dust off" the iRiver..

It turns out that if you leave an iRiver for too long the battery gets completely drained (no surprise). What was a surprise was that it got so drained that it simply would not charge over USB. And of course I'd misplaced the mains charger a long time ago. So I had to go off and buy a replacement on eBay.

Once the iRiver was charged up I was able to rediscover its contents - a mixed bunch of movie soundtracks and a quite random selection of other albums.

Of course it's been so long since I actively used the iRiver that I now face an interesting problem. Since I now uses Macs everywhere I'll have to rip any music I want to listen to on the iRiver all over again, as it doesn't support the iTunes / Mac format - it simply can't see it.

So now I have to find a sane tool for ripping audio onto the Mac ... now if I could rip to ogg format I'd be delighted!

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May 19, 2012

iTunes Weirdness

One of the reasons I love using Apple products is because they're incredibly simple and easy to use. I don't need to worry about what's going on under the hood - I just click and it works.

Of course the downside to Apple products is that when they don't work you're left scratching your head.

My latest issue is with albums bought via iTunes.

For some really odd reason the audio files download, but are not playable!

And to make it all the more "fun" iTunes doesn't throw any errors

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April 30, 2012

Netflix Ireland Revisited

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I posted about my initial impressions of Netflix back in January.

It's now nearly May and I'm still happily paying a monthly subscription.

Why?

Well it comes down to economics and a couple of other things.

Even if you don't circumvent the content limits on an Irish Netflix account there is quite a bit of content available to watch. As I already noted, the "new releases" are a bit of a misnomer, but there's still quite a lot to watch. I've found some real gems by exploring the TV series and films, as Netflix carries quite a few of the titles that iTunes doesn't - and even when there is crossover it's cheaper to use Netflix.

The idea of "all you can eat" TV and films is pretty appealing and the "social" element is pretty interesting.

I was paying Sky quite a bit per month for a number of movie channels which I haven't really been using. There's nothing wrong with them, but I simply wasn't watching enough to justify paying for them. Cancelling my Sky Movies subscription won't save me much money per month, as I'll end up using whatever I "save" on my iTunes accounts.

But what about the content restrictions on Netflix Ireland?

It's all down to licensing obviously, but there are ways to circumvent the restrictions. It doesn't take much effort to find any number of services that let you "appear" as if you're logged in from the US and then you get access to a much wider range of films and other content.

Even with access to the US content, however, you still won't find everything you might want. You can find Iron Man 2, but not the original, for some odd reason. None of the James Bond movies appear to be available and you won't get access to mainstream Hollywood hits much faster than you would on any iTunes account (either side of the Atlantic)

Overall, however, I'm happier to stick with Netflix and watch a few TV shows and movies and not have to worry about how much I'm paying. At €6.99 a month it's so cheap it's barely worth talking about (it works out at less than 24 cents a day!)

So what do you think of Netflix? I know what Conn and Conor think :)

 

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April 16, 2012

Home Network Storage Problem Solved (Hopefully!)

Over the weekend I discovered what was eating up most of my hard drive space and a few people made some suggestions via the comments here and also on Facebook.

I didn't realise that a lot of network storage devices supported iTunes (and similar), so I hadn't done much research into my options.

Based on what people were saying I went off and found that Iomega had several devices that could probably do what I wanted. Some people have had issues with Iomega hardware, but I've never had any. In fact I have very fond memories of Iomega's customer service years ago when I had issues with a Zip drive (remember them?).

Iomega have a very broad range of storage solutions, but they've got some devices that are aimed at the "home network" and among them is the "Iomega® Home Media Network Hard Drive, Cloud Edition". Bit of a mouthful, but the feature list is damn impressive, with support for pretty much everything I could imagine - and more. It comes in three different capacities 1, 2 and 3 TB, so I naturally went for the biggest one.

Checking the pricing online I originally thought that buying direct from Iomega was going to be the cheapest option, as their direct pricing is significantly cheaper than most of their resellers. However, for some odd reason, Amazon UK worked out quite a bit cheaper - even when I opted for express delivery. Hopefully I'll be taking delivery of my new "toy" in the next day or so! (Amazon expect to deliver it tomorrow)

What's it got?

Pretty much everything you could think of and then some.

You can get a full list of the features here, but basically it'll do all the storage for all the Mac computers in the house (desktops and laptops) while also supporting media streaming, remote backups and a lot more.  It's got a builtin media server and also supports automatic uploading of photos to various social media sites including Facebook and Flickr. The web interface to control the entire thing looks pretty slick and I'm looking forward to exploring its features, though I know I'll only use a small fraction of them.

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April 15, 2012

I Might Have Too Much Music!

My disk usage on my home desktop

I listen to music on my desktop machines pretty much all the time. While I have bought a few tracks via iTunes I'm still buying physical CDs. Recently I've been using Spotify quite a bit, but I still like being able to listen to the music that I have in my own collection.

My desktop machine in the office has a pretty large hard drive, so this isn't an issue. Unfortunately my machine at home isn't as well endowed!

Here's what DaisyDisk tells me about my own usage:

My disk usage on my home desktop

My disk usage on my home desktop

Unfortunately that's pretty much the entire hard drive!

overall hard drive usage

overall hard drive usage

So would playing music from an external hard drive work?

I've got an external iomega drive that's got plenty of capacity, though it also holds backups from my other machine (the one that was stolen) and I'd rather not lose those backups since I haven't got anywhere to put them ..

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January 10, 2012

Netflix Ireland Might Be A Bit Overhyped

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Netflix went live in Ireland on Sunday night and, naturally enough, I signed up for the free month trial. After playing around with the service for a couple of hours I've got very mixed feelings about it. The technology is fantastic, though not perfect, but the range of content available isn't exactly stellar.

Signing up only took a couple of minutes, though quite a few people seemed to have issues, as Netflix were offering two signup options; a normal one and "signup via Facebook".

Once I'd signed up I answered a few questions about my personal taste in movies and tv shows and then linked it to my Apple TV (2nd generation). You can also link your Netflix account to Facebook and share your activity. If you're watching something on a computer you can easily choose not to share what you're viewing with Facebook, but on the Apple TV sharing is on by default. Of course you can disable the social sharing completely, but I haven't so far.

So now that I was all "setup" it was simply a question of choosing something to watch. This, unfortunately, is where the service left me a little disappointed.

Netflix Ireland's range of "new releases" is anything but "new". You might find a film that was released on iTunes a few months ago, but you're more likely to stumble across some "straight to DVD" or weird Asian title. The back catalogue of movies is pretty good, but a little patchy. Interestingly enough there are titles and categories of titles on Netflix that the more conservative iTunes would never carry. While iTunes has plenty of "over 18" / "R rated" films, they're usually of the more violent type, while Netflix has a "Lesbian and Gay" category, as well as some more "risque" titles in the foreign films category.

Getting access to TV shows is something new in Ireland. At the moment iTunes Ireland does not offer access to TV shows, so the only way to get them is to get a US iTunes account, which is a "grey area". Netflix does offer a reasonable selection of TV shows, but the choice of episodes isn't comprehensive. Checking a couple of series last night I found that Dexter had only the first two seasons and while watching Scrubs season 1 episode 1 it cut me off before the end of the episode!

I've been using iTunes on my Apple TV for the last few months and I also subscribe to Sky Movies, as well as buying quite a few blu-ray and DVD as they are released (on either side of the Atlantic). So it's only natural that I'd compare Netflix with iTunes and Sky Movies. However, having said that, if you take the cost element into consideration Netflix is incredibly cheap at a mere €6.99 a month. The problem for somebody like me, however, is that the cost is only one factor. I'd happily pay more if I thought the content was worth getting, but it's probably not, so I doubt if I'll renew my subscription after the first month's free trial.

Of course the entry into the Irish (and UK) market of Netflix could have a much bigger impact on the market as a whole. Ryanair's rockbottom pricing shook up the airline industry and Netflix has done pretty much the same in the US. Will it have the same kind of impact on Sky in Ireland?

What about the ISPs? Will the increase in people streaming TV shows and films mean that ISPs in Ireland will tighten up on bandwidth caps? It will be interesting to see how many people signup for the service and how many dump Sky as a result.

 

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September 28, 2011

Technology.ie Podcast Is Go

Conn and I have been trying to get a podcast series off the ground for the last while, but between one thing and another there's been loads of delays.. However we finally did manage to get something up and running earlier today - warts and all

All feedback welcome (over there!)

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