NBC Olympics Streaming Problem On Linux Solved!

For most of my usual blog readers this will be obscure gobbledygook. Feel free to move on.

If you’re trying to stream the Olympics and find yourself stuck at the authentication page it’s because your system doesn’t have the software necessary to protect NBC’s video. Easily cured! Though the streaming is done via conventional Flash technology,

A missing Ubuntu HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) module, which is not installed by default, causes this behavior. – Source Adobe

For Ubuntu open a terminal and

sudo apt-get install hal

After the “libhal” (HAL) library install completes, close the browser and clear the Adobe Access directories by executing the following shell commands:

cd ~/.adobe/Flash_Player
rm -rf NativeCache AssetCache APSPrivateData2

For Suse and other Linux distros head here.

This took about two minutes on my Ubuntu laptop and now works perfectly.

You’re welcome.

New Ways To Pass The Time

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

After years of discussion and delay, U.S. airlines will start offering in-flight Internet connections, instant messaging and wireless email within 12 months, turning the cabin into a WiFi “hotspot.” Carriers are expected to start making announcements around the end of the summer, with service beginning early next year.

Will I be called upon to go row-to-row to help people who can’t connect?

Actually, I think this is a great idea. It will be interesting to see how much bandwidth each plane will have and how quickly someone’s streaming video will bring that to a halt.

Rumored price is under $10 per flight.

Can’t Sleep

The alarm clock is set to go off in an hour. I can’t sleep. I’ve gotten a few hours of rest, no more.

Hurricane Katrina continues to be my concern. While I tossed and turned, Katrina was turning it up a notch.


Only a tiny portion of Hurricane Katrina is visible on radar. It’s too far from shore – over 300 miles from New Orleans. The satellite image is very impressive with a clearly visible eye. That’s a change from earlier.

While I type this, I am watching WWL-TV New Orleans with streaming video. I think they’re doing an excellent job. I know WDSU is also feeding video, but I haven’t checked them yet.

The most surprising part of the coverage is the lack of traffic showing up on the live cameras. It’s late at night. At this point people are probably waiting until daylight.

WWL is going to learn this kind of coverage is a marathon, not a sprint. They’ll need to keep enough strength and staff to go another few days wall-to-wall.

Another Try For Slashdot

It’s addictive – like eating peanuts. I enjoy reading, and posting on, Slashdot.org.

Since the vast majority of what I submit is shot down, I thought I’d post it here as well.

As a diehard Phillies fan (my wife is watching them play Baltimore right now, via streaming video on her laptop) and a dedicated Yankee hater, I look for any possible edge to confirm my faith is not misplaced. Now, there’s an objective mathematical method to show you who is the best at mid-season, regardless of won/loss records. Some teams are playing over their heads while others have suffered from bad breaks. The theory says those anomalies will probably even out over time. From the NY Times: “Known as the Pythagorean standings – more on the name later – they rank teams not by the more traditional measure of victories and losses, but by their building blocks: runs scored and runs allowed, which cumulatively prove to be a better indicator of future team performance than just about anything else. The full story (free registration required) is enough to make a Phillie Phanatic smile, or give some glimmer of hope to downtrodden Red Sox fans. Unfortunately, the online version doesn’t have the chart, showing where everyone stands at the moment, which is included in the actual print version of the newspaper. Nice as I am, my site doesn’t have the bandwidth to host it. Maybe one of the posters here will.

Have I Just Seen the Future of TV?

Helaine and I watched the Philadelphia Eagles game this afternoon. It’s a game that wasn’t on local TV. We don’t have a satellite receiver, nor does my cable company have an out-of-town game package. We watched because a friend, near Philadelphia, fed it to me.

The concept is the important thing here, but first, I have to explain the technical specs. His PC has an ATI All In Wonder 8500DV video card, with a tuner. He downloaded Microsoft’s free Windows Media Encoder, which will serve streaming video. We also temporarily ‘punched a hole’ in his firewall/router, so an arbitrary port we chose would be available to me in Connecticut. I connected with Windows Media Player, directly, without first using my browser.

The video he sent was encoded at a fixed bitrate of 148 Kbps, 15 fps, with 320×240 resolution. We tried a higher bitrate first, but his connection wouldn’t keep up and the video was unacceptably choppy. Next time we’ll play around with the compression parameters to find something custom which works better.

What I saw was sharp when the camera wasn’t moving, pixelated with minimal change or motion, and choppy with heavy motion. I was easily able to read the on screen graphics for time, down, etc. The audio was perfect. Other than the initial point of connection, we never hit a point where I had to wait while the stream was buffered.

This is video on demand in the simplest and most pure sense. It was what I wanted when I wanted it.

Because my friend has limited upstream capacity on his cable modem, what I watched was compromised. But, it was so close to being very good, that I can assume it wouldn’t take much more bandwidth – maybe 250 Kbps – to hit a sweet spot. You’ve got to figure variably compressed video, streamed using Windows Media server or another server allowing a variable bit rate, would give even better video for the same bandwidth.

The fact that the video wasn’t too large on my 1400×1050 laptop screen was fine. Unlike ‘television’, I was watching this up close. In fact, while the game was on, my wife and I were doing other things on the computer, though the game was our primary focus.

It isn’t necessary to have full screen video to have a meaningful streaming experience!

Whenever I read about the promises of VOD or using the Internet for television type programming, I hear about the huge bandwidth necessary for full screen, VHS quality. It’s just not necessary. In fact, full screen might be a detriment.

Computers are viewed differently that TV’s. It’s an immense difference. We’re closer and we’re not adverse to doing multiple tasks on the screen at once. Someone is going to have to step up to the plate with that realization and then VOD over an IP network will be reality.

After the game, I asked my wife if she’d be willing to pay for a live concert, by an artist she really likes (Rick Springfield), at this smallish screen size, but with sharp video and good stereo audio? She said, “yes.”

To me, this makes some events economically feasible that wouldn’t make sense as free TV, basic cable or even pay-per-view. There are undoubtedly other applications, with similar niche audiences.

The current streaming technologies from Microsoft and Real make it easy to integrate advertisements in many different ways, often without stopping or disturbing the actual desired content.

This is the 500 channel universe we’ve heard about. Except, it’s really an infinite channel universe.

Of course, there’s a question of whether there’s enough bandwidth right now to handle it. The answer’s probably no – but – there is a plethora of ‘dark’ fiber, waiting to be powered up. If video is the next killer app for computers, there will be plenty of incentive to unleash enough bandwidth to enable it.

I work for a local TV station, but I don’t consider this our ruin. If we’re smart and aggressive, we’ll be able to sell the content we already produce, and specialized content that demands our localized expertise, in this new venue.