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Windows Media - Listen Again - Update

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Alan Ogilvie Alan Ogilvie | 14:59 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

I wanted to give you some information on the status of our tests of the Listen Again service in Windows Media. This will be available for UK and International users, as a replacement to the RealMedia offering (which is being deprecated) - and will cover National, Nations and Local radio services.

We are currently in testing stages with the ASX metafiles required to allow the Windows Media Audio files to be linked to correctly. Secondly we need to expose the relationship between our schedule programmes and the ASX files. At the moment the latter is done using our AODFeed which we'll be overhauling in the new year given the feedback we've received, but in the meantime I want to use this in my examples below.

Many eagle-eyed developers spotted our testing in the feeds. However we never announced that this was just testing, we wanted to wait until we were 100% sure that it was all correct and working before we made a proper announcement. Some were eager to get this stuff working on their devices or services but we have found a couple of problems that we're busy trying to address.

Unfortunately the forthcoming holiday period limits our abilities to roll out fixes to the live servers as our annual 'lock down' (change freeze) happens and we really wanted to have this available for the holidays - bad news! However - if you wish to get your hands on the streams, we've worked out a couple of simple ways to reliably work-around the issues - good news!

Getting UK and International stream details

Firstly, as happened with our RealMedia RAM metafiles, the ability to easily get both the UK stream details and the International stream details from one IP address is broken at the moment (or rather - it works too well... we need to protect our rights holders content - this always comes first). If you use the example from the Radio 4 AODFeed. If you request the MediaSelector XML from within the UK you get different results from outside the UK. Try it (if you've got access to an IP address in the UK and outside).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/4/mtis/stream/b00p4jtn - "Today" 9th Dec 2009.

(Note: if you are trying this test after the 16th of December, you'll need to pick your own test MediaSelector request from the AODFeed - as the 7 day availability window will have shut on this example)

If you compare the results of your two requests, you'll see that the reference to the ASX files for this programme are slightly different. Further - requesting those ASX files is restricted in the same way. However - there is a work around until we can address this.

WORK AROUND: and once you get the ASX file contents you'll see that the only significant difference is the server farms and the paths from which you request the underlying streams. (I'm giving the exact details from the example 'Today' programme - note that I've dropped the streaming protocol from the front, I'll come to that in a moment)

For UK users:

  • wm-acl.bbc.co.uk/wms/radio4fmcoyopa/radio_4_fm_-_wednesday_0600.wma
  • wm-acl.bbc.co.uk/wms2/radio4fmcoyopa/radio_4_fm_-_wednesday_0600.wma

For International users:

  • wm.bbc.co.uk/wms/radio4fmcoyopa/radio_4_fm_-_wednesday_0600.wma
  • wm.bbc.co.uk/wms2/radio4fmcoyopa/radio_4_fm_-_wednesday_0600.wma

So, though we know it's not ideal, it is simply a case of requesting the ASX file and then parsing to get hold of the clip filename and then it's easy to tag on the appropriate 'wm' (International) or 'wm-acl' (UK) and then the redundant path ('wms' and 'wms2'). The reason why one farm is called 'wm-acl' is because 'acl' means access control list and, basically, these servers check the IP requesting the stream and only delivers it if the IP is within our database of UK providers. Which is why, if your device or app is distributed inside and outside the UK you either check your users IP address first and then only give them the correct stream, or you list both and highlight the appropriateness (perhaps by adding '[UK]' or '[Intl]' to the end of the stream description).

When is a streaming protocol a deprecated streaming protocol?

Answer - when it isn't a streaming protocol anymore and just a 'moniker', a nickname.

Windows Media Servers offered three flavours of delivering a stream - MMS, RTSP and HTTP. As of Windows Media Services 9 Series, for Windows Server 2003, Microsoft deprecated the MMS protocol in favour if RTSP and HTTP. Whilst that was quite some time ago, we've always found that it takes a while for this to filter through embedded devices or applications that have followed the Microsoft Windows Media SDK and licensing information. There is a particular good Microsoft Technote that covers reasoning why it was deprecated and proposes the best way to handle this. In summary it recommends that broadcasters of streams continue to use the 'mms://', because this will continue to work with client players who have followed the aforementioned SDKs - correctly rolling over to RTSP, then HTTP.

"To support the widest range of streaming Player versions, you should use the MMS URL moniker (mms://) in the connection URL to your streaming content. The MMS URL moniker allows all connecting Players to use protocol rollover to stream the content using the optimal streaming protocol. If you use an announcement to enable the Player to access your content, the MMS URL moniker is used automatically, ensuring that protocol rollover will occur if necessary. Be aware that users can disable protocols in the property settings of the Player. If the Player only supports a single protocol, rollover cannot occur." - Microsoft Technote - 'About protocol rollover'

So, this is the best option than specifying RTSP or HTTP uniquely in ASX files - if you specify RTSP it tells the client to only use RTSP, similar for HTTP.

PROBLEM: In our current ASX for Listen Again - the confusion crept in and the implementation currently has RTSP and HTTP links. We need to change this back to MMS.

WORK AROUND: if you are consuming our feeds, and access the ASX files and are parsing them - we recommend strongly you read the Microsoft Technote and understand the implications for your device, application or solution. At some point in early January we expect to change our ASX output to only list MMS 'moniker' links. [For those interested in what supports which protocols - take a look at another Microsoft Technote called 'Windows Media protocol reference']

Odds and ends

So the other issues are mainly around poor metadata within the ASX file - not a showstopper in terms of delivery, but not how we'd like it. This is a bit more complicated to fix as it's around where data is available and what produces the ASX file dynamically - unfortunately not in the same place. So we have that to fix but it doesn't stop you using things.

ASX dynamic URLs don't have a file extension (.asx), and we've had some test reports about the mime-type not being served correctly. Fairly minor things - hopefully - but we'd like to get it as good as we can.

Summary

I hope I've been able to give you an overview of how close we are to launching the Windows Media Listen Again services officially, and that the work arounds for those impatient to get their hands on them are acceptable in the interim (I am just as eager to get this up and running myself!)

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    All things considered I am glad that AM, FM and Long Wave still haven't been "modernised".

    Now where is that cat I need a whisker for my crystal set.

  • Comment number 3.

    How does all this affect users of Internet Radios, especially Reciva-enabled Internet Radios?

    With the Real Audio on-demand streams, we were able to pause, rewind and fast-forward the content. Will this still be possible with the new streams? If not, why is the BBC implementing another backwards step?

  • Comment number 4.

    Alan - thanks for the very helpful explanations.

    Can you clarify that the intention is to get the mediaselector XML working as it did with RealAudio - i.e showing both UK and International stream links to all users, and only geo-restricting the streams themselves? My server is in the UK, so I've been banging my head against a brick wall for some time now wondering why I can't show international WMA stream URLs (I just assumed you hadn't enabled them yet) - now it all makes sense!

    Also, I believe it was suggested some time ago that it might make sense to have an additional attribute within the mediaselector XML to clearly distinguish between UK and international feeds, as at the moment developers have to guess based on parsing the stream URL for known items such as differences between the server farms, or the presence of the phrase "uk" within the stream URL or suchlike, which is not ideal.

    Finally, I presume all the RealAudio streams are still on schedule to roll over and die before March 2010?

    Andrew
    www.iplayerconverter.co.uk

  • Comment number 5.

    @Dogmatix - the manufacturer/seller of the 'Internet Radio' is your first point of contact for specific support questions regarding your device. In general answer to your question the transport control functionality (i.e. play, pause, rewind, etc) provided by WindowsMedia is comparable to RealMedia but the implementation of these features within a device, an Internet Radio, is down to the manufacturer.

  • Comment number 6.

    Alan,
    Can you post more details of the planned "overhaul" ("At the moment the latter is done using our AODFeed which we'll be overhauling in the new year given the feedback we've received")?
    If not here now ... at least details of the proposed changes well before they are implemented.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks for the update, Alan.

    Regarding Andrew's comment (4), I reiterate the point I raised on the iPlayer board: with the WMA live streams, there is only one URL (say .../r4.asx) which delivers either the UK or the international ASX content depending on the connecting client's IP address. Can the same not be done with the listen-again ASX files? Then aggregators/portals can access and deliver just a single URL for the listen-again ASX, and the BBC's servers will provide the appropriate ASX content based on geo-location. Requiring a portal to perform geo-location should not be necessary, and having to offer a choice of UK or international URLs is crude.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thank you for finally enlightening internet radio listeners as to what you have been doing - it would have been nice to have had a warning that you would be testing in this way, as international listeners are in a spin. If you look at the BBC iPlayer board, you will see that not only have internet radio listeners been unable to receive on-demand programmes via WMA, but that there are a lot of people who are unable to access BBC radio at all on their computers from abroad any more and have no idea of what is going on.
    As to the Pause/FF/RW position, I am at a loss to understand how it should be up to the manufacturer of my internet radio to sort out the BBC's new streams, when the Pause/FF/RW buttons work perfectly well for Real Audio on-demand (and many internet radios were actually bought on this basis) and now do not work because of the BBC's decision to change from Real Audio to WMA? But I am a complete techno-numpty, so it's not unlikely that I am missing a technical point here.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Paul Webster - yes. Will do - in fact, if you look to the public documentation for the AODFeed, you'll see that I've updated it with a warning. Once I know more I will update this, and probably blog post.

    @Dark-Avised - horrible reply from me on this one - "it's just not that simple!". I set up the single request metafiles for live (eg. r1.ram, r1.asx) because of the problems people faced - and I put the same functionality request in for the listen again content, however the ability to deliver it is currently not there. In the new year we will be addressing this.

    @Gumrat - relating to your two points: 1/ it is up to device manufacturers to choose to pickup internet streams, and we hadn't given advice to them because we wouldn't do that until *we* were happy with the service, this was one of the reasons why I posted (to show that we aren't 100% happy with the offering and what some of the issues are - in case anyone wanted to pick them up) - the main issue seems to be that the split between uk and international streaming wasn't obvious to people picking it up - so an Austrialian listener, for example, would fail to get access to the stream but a UK-based service provider would only spot that if they tested this from a non-UK IP address. 2/ Transport control functionality is within the server doing the streaming, however it is possible on the client to do more functions than the server can offer, or less than the server can offer, on the basis of the decision of the manufacturing organisation. If you compare with broadcast Digital Radio (e.g. DAB) where devices are tied to a broadcast method (e.g. transmitters) the relationship between the broadcaster and the device is close. With Internet Radio which could be experienced on a computer or an Internet Radio devices the relationship is distant, with a third-party handling the experience that the listener has. For example - you wouldn't expect the BBC to support the low-level hardware of an HP Laptop with Windows XP, but you would expect us to support the iPlayer website experienced through a common web browser - I do realise that comparison is somewhat superficial though, but it gives a flavour if the issues around on these platforms.

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you for replying, Alan, unfortunately, I didn't understand a word. Well, yes, I understood all the words individually, I just couldn't get a coherent meaning from them the way they were put together.
    Why did you feel you had to change from Real Player, anyhow? I'm a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and Real Audio was much more user-friendly and useful than this exceptionally annoying WMA stuff.

  • Comment number 11.

    @Gumrat: See http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/2009/10/realmedia_an_update.shtml for why RealMedia is being depreciated.

  • Comment number 12.

    Any idea what blog deals with the fact that BBC podcasts have not updated today, or who we tell?

  • Comment number 13.

    I am a user of BBC radio 4 'Listen Again' Real streams who only listens that way and not via live radio. I use my mobile (a Nokia 5800 Symbian 5.0)instead of a portable radio and am horrified that you will replace the current Real streams with Microsoft streams that are NOT compatible with such mobiles. I stream via Wifi when in the house and when out and about via 3G and can't imagine why you would replace something that works so well on mobiles with something that will only work with Microsft PCs. The iPlayer interface is also not useful for use on a mobile being so busy and focussed on T.V.

    Please go back to the radio 'Listen Again'/REAL stream delivery that preceded the iPlayer that was BEST FOR PURPOSE !!!

  • Comment number 14.

    I'd like to add my voice opposing the reliance on corporate products over open source ones. I do not pay my licence fee so the BBC can shore up microsoft or adobe, having dumped real.

    And There need be no conflict between open source and DRM - just because the algorithm is known the key will remain secret, just like gpg encryption.

    I'm a linux user, and welcome the eventual availability of iplayer, but the principle of the furore over the windows-only solution is doomed tp be repeated without an open solution.

  • Comment number 15.

    How are you going to support Radio streaming on non-Windows PCs- on MAC OS/X and on Linux?

  • Comment number 16.

    Does testing of the new streaming formats explain why Radio 4 disappears ('is not available at this time') on IPlayer on both the UK and international streams at 12 midnight (UK time) since about Jan 5th?

  • Comment number 17.

    Has all this got anything to do with the huge problems overseas listeners via computer iPlayer have had with Radio 4 Listen LIVE since 24th December?
    (I am an overseas listener when I live in Greece, and a uk listener and all-year-round licence payer when in the uk.)
    Suddenly, from 24th December, iPlayer listeners all over Europe (Greece, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Austria...)couldn't access R4 Listen Live. Other BBC radio live, yes. Listen again - yes. But not R4 live. We always got a message saying insufficient band width. But we did the diagnostics and all did have sufficient download bandwidth.
    The BBC message site details all the frustrations: this is the link to the longest thread but there are others: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbiplayer/F13735684?thread=7186892
    We cleaned caches, rebooted, cleaned caches again etc etc.
    Yesterday it worked perfectly all day. This morning it worked briefly from 8.30 till 10.30 and then stopped again - yup, "insufficient bandwidth" again.
    Frustratingly, the FAQ site changed this afternoon to tell us the problem has been resolved. NO IT HASN'T! We keep on putting in the longwinded comment and complaints forms.
    We really don't think it's us at our end. And we're not all "expats" looking for freebies - as I said, many of us are uk domiciled but live abroad periodically for work and other good reasons.
    Any ideas?

  • Comment number 18.

    I too am a Nokia 5800 user and shoudl be relaxing this morning listening to Listen Again streams on it and not having to do Internet seaches to find out why I cannot. I am depressed to find BBC using my license money to only provide Microsoft compatible services. This just canot be right. I did use a Microsoft phione for the last 5 yeasr and was abel to listen using either Media PLayer OR REAL PLAYER. Sybmian only plays Real Player streams. My O2 5800 will not play BBC iPlayer on teh phone network (despite paying for unlimited data) so that si not an option. Sort it out Beeb. Yours, unrelaxed, annoyed and cross person not lsitening to radio but wasting time typing!

  • Comment number 19.

    Regarding compatibility of Windows Media and Mac OS X and Linux flavours: there are a multitude of players available for these platforms that will playback Windows Media. On Mac specifically - Silverlight will also playback Windows Media streams within the browser as a plugin, VLC also provides a plugin to browsers on the same platform.

    Regarding International streaming - we are aware of the issues raised here, and on the iPlayer message boards. I would remind you again that you should read the help pages and, if still not solved, contact us via the online form (or via the phone if more suitable).

    I have asked a colleague to review the comments regarding mobile.

  • Comment number 20.

    Alan,

    Thanks for your replies on this thread.

    Two questions:

    1. Up to 2 days ago, I could receive BBC radio on my iPhone using the FStream app. This no longer works. Can you recommend an iPhone app that will work with your new service?

    2. Also, I can no longer receive live streaming radio on my Naim Uniti - except for the World Service. Is this just a question of Naim issuing a firmware upgrade or do I need to buy a new wifi receiver?

    I live abroad.

    Many thanks.

    D.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    I'm a linux user, and welcome the eventual availability of iplayer, but the principle of the furore over the windows-only solution is doomed tp be repeated without an open solution.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'd like to be able to listen to streams via mplayer: see http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbiplayer/F13735684?thread=7464034&post=95377794

  • Comment number 24.


    I cant get any sound on BBC radio on my new laptop.I get a message to enable Java script- but it is already enabled. Help!
    Everything else works OK

  • Comment number 25.

    You mention that the streams from the wm-acl address are limited to UK listeners. I am in the UK, but I am unable to get a response of any kind from this address. The result is that I am not able to stream any listen again content for Radios 1 through 7 on my internet radio devices. I have noticed a few other internet radio owners complaining about this same issue since the Real streams were phased out. Most (although not all) seem to be with O2 as their ISP. Is there an anomaly with the IP address database that blocks non-UK listeners from wm-acl and if so how do we fix it ?

 

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