Extracting a decent Olympics experience from TVTonic

On day 10 of the Olympics, I'm finally sitting down and enjoying some of it in an uninterrupted way. After seeing almost nothing of Track and Field on tonight's broadcast, I decided to try the Windows Media plugin again from TVTonic, it's not live but I thought I should have by now built up a few downloaded events to watch.

It's a truly horrible experience. The UI is sluggish and buggy - you can't believe it until you try it. Whoever wrote the software shouldn't just be fired, they should be maimed. Worse than that, they also have included insanely user-hostile commercials every few minutes into the playback, as well as permanent banner ads on the full screen video. The Lenovo ads shown are *horrible* and can't be skipped (obviously) or muted (because the GUI is so sluggish) and the other day the whole system locked while playing them back to back in a loop until I finally had to pull the fucking plug out of the wall to get it to stop. I'm not kidding.

I swear, NBC is trying to kill me by causing me to have a complete nervous breakdown trying to get this stuff to work.

Having calmed down now by tonight, however, I thought about what was happening a bit more rationally, and realized that the TVTonic task-tray app is really just a automatic media downloader, and that the video files have to be around somewhere on my PC to be played back outside the Media Center interface, and sure enough I was right. More than that, it turns out the TVTonic app is just a Podcast client - the RSS feeds with enclosures are cached so you can check them out. I'm surprised that the Linux folk or others haven't figured this out and published them online.

So if you happen to be using a Media Center on Vista, go here and search for .wmv files: c:\ProgramData\Wavexpress\TVTonic\Cache\Services\

In there you'll find all the videos in the sections you chose ready for playback in Windows Media Player. Full screen, and no need for a buggy, sluggish GUI OR incessant commercials. The video is clean and clear broadcast quality with commentary. Probably the same as if I had just set a TiVo up to record everything broadcast - but at least I figured it out by now and again, no commercials!

I just watched some Track and Field events: Some sprinting and hurdle heats, pole vaulting, the shot-put final (US got silver!) and the 10,000 women's final (US got bronze!). I also watched the men's and women's Archery finals which was actually really cool. I have a bunch of other stuff queued up such as tennis, soccer and diving as well as the opening ceremonies. It's all chopped up into commercial-friendly sections (1of3,2of3,etc.), but it's not a big deal.

The video quality is pretty great - which makes sense as it all comes from the Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB) feed. All these morons have to do is digitize it, chop it up and serve it to users. There's no actual "value add" going on from a technical standpoint. NBC does add some commentators - I actually liked Denise Parkers' take on Archery - but the technical stuff was figured out years ago. How hard is it to use ffmpeg nowadays to convert a video, and serve it with an RSS feed to be downloaded daily? Not hard at all, I could script something like that in minutes. But then again, my solution wouldn't be able to force feed users obnoxious commercials every x minutes.

Anyways, if you have a Vista box with Media Center, now you have a reason to try the "NBC To Go" stuff out.


Update: Ahh, it seemed too good to be true and it was. Like others, the TVTonic content isn't being downloaded automatically and when I go into the insanely bad Media Center interface to manually start the download, I get about 15kbps download speed... which for video will take about 9 weeks to finish. Ahh, it was good for a moment.

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