The Raspberry Pi may be designed as a cheap educational computer, but hardware-wise it has a lot in common with set top boxes. However, set top boxes are traditionally locked down and not easily modifiable by the user, the Pi is the opposite and is open to user experimentation. People have been building their own media centres for years and now the Pi offers a very cheap route into learning about this area. XBMC defines itself as a "software media player and entertainment hub" that is packed with features and offers a fairly friendly user experience which follows the ideas in the ten foot user interface. It has also been ported to work on the Pi. I've been experimenting with OpenELEC - a minimalistic Linux distribution that hosts XBMC and makes setting up this sort of environment on your Pi not as difficult as you might think.
Internet video is largely dominated by short clips. YouTube, probably the most popular video upload service limits the length of individual videos to ten minutes for most accounts. So what happens if you just feel like relaxing in front on the TV, kicking off your shoes and just want to be entertained without having to make lots of decisions on what to watch? Fear not, solutions are emerging to meet this requirement and out of curiosity I sat on my sofa and tried two out: the new YouTube Leanback and Redux.com's “Watch in TV mode”.
Video is a fantastic medium, and the means to make video have never been more accessible. Many people have video cameras, not just dedicated units, but other devices capable of taking video such as digital photo cameras and mobile phones. The software to edit video is available for free with the availability of open source packages such as Kino, and you can make your video available to the world with services such as YouTube. But what about accessibility? It's a question I've heard raised about the use of video, often because people don't realise that you can add Subtitles (also known as Closed Captioning) to the videos that you upload. If you go to the YouTube page for a video you have uploaded you will see an option on the right hand side for "Captions and Subtitles". Here you will see a screen to upload your subtitles file, you'll notice too that you can upload different sets of subtitles for different languages, very handy if you want to provide translations in foreign languages for the dialogue in your video. People might use subtitles for all sorts of reasons, the most obvious might be because they hearing difficulties, but also for many other reasons, for example, they might be learning English, and having a subtitles file might be useful to help them follow the dialogue, or they might be in a quiet environment where listening to audio is not convenient.
Thanks to a fellow user of Twitter I was alerted to this great video on YouTube which is a presentation by Michael Wesch who is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, given at the Library of Congress back in June 2008 which is all about YouTube and the community that uses it. Admittedly, when I first saw the title I wasn't encouraged really, I thought it might be a rather dry, navel-gazing study of the community surrounding YouTube, reading too much meaning into what is happening there, maybe with slow death by Powerpoint. I was very wrong, this video is well worth watching, and all 55 minutes of it too. It is thought provoking and even moving in places, with plenty of facts and figures that make fascinating viewing.
It's been a long journey to get full Adobe Flash player functionality on Linux machines, but now it looks like that journey is drawing to a close. I've just been playing with a release candidate of Flash Player 10 on my Asus EEE PC and am very happy with the results.
If you've been trying to watch YouTube videos or use the BBC's iPlayer site on your Asus EEE PC you might have noticed that it it is not possible to use these services in full screen mode. YouTube videos just play in a bigger window when you try to activate full screen. Trying to watch the videos when embedded on their webpages can be a little frustrating as it wastes available screen space (on what is quite a small screen anyway). Fortunately, this is quite easy to fix.