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Latest news from MillieSoft

TunerFreeMCE Bandwidth

I got a message today about a user who had hit their monthly download limit in no time at all using TunerFreeMCE. My first thought was that this must be a glitch or a bug. Then I looked at the size of the new Hulu content. With their new encoding, each Hulu page is about 150K, and there are nearly a thousand of them. That means that each time TunerFreeMCE does a scan of Hulu, it downloads about 120MB in total. That compares to about 5MB for all of the UK content. On it's own, that's not too bad, but by default it does that every hour. That's getting on for 3GB a day. And that's just for the background processes, not for watching any video, which is in fact small compared to that (less than 1GB an hour on high resolution).

If you are using TunerFreeMCE and are on a download limited broadband connection, you definitely want to take some action to avoid this. What you should do is;

1) Go to the preferences screen, and change the frequency of download from 1 hour to 12 hours. 1 hour is overkill and I will change the default in the next release, and add a 24 hour option too.
2) If you are in the UK, go to the preferences screen and turn off Hulu. That will dramatically reduce the data requirements.

That should bring the data usage way down to a far more acceptable level.

Channel 4 moves to flash

As predicted, another TV provider has moved from WMV to Flash. This time it's Channel 4 who switched over on the 1st April. When I read about it, I thought perhaps it was a poor April Fool's joke, but of course it wasn't.

Version 2.7.0 of TunerFreeMCE provides support for the new flash content for Channel 4, and the good news is that it is really fast to parse and provides reliable streams. It also allows me to split out in to Channel 4, E4 and More4 again, and to get better broadcast date information. The bad news is that it isn't too reliable at going full screen. I am hoping that C4 stabilize their screens a bit to allow me to make going full screen more reliable soon.

Hulu get defensive!

I have come across an interesting development with Hulu this morning. They have started encoding the html that they send to people's browsers, and then decoding it using javascript before rendering it. An example of what they send now is this link, which returns;


which is URL encoded characters (e.g. %F2 =242), which are in some way byte shifted from their original characters. They then run the character stream through a series of javascript functions to convert it back in to plain text before pushing it in to your browser using DHTML. That's quite a lot of effort just for fun, so I assume that is to stop screen scrapers from parsing content.

That means that no new programs will be added to Hulu in TunerFreeMCE at the moment, but your old list of programs should continue to work fine (I put in some defensive code recently to not wipe out the list if nothing was found Smile), and I am working on code to decode the new content.

Update– version 2.6.7 is now available to download to work round this new tactic.

BBC Downloads now supported

Someone gave me a hot tip today for a semi reliable way of finding the download URL for BBC high quality wmv programs (thanks Marcus). I say semi-reliable, because the BBC seem to sometimes change the file name from what I calculate it to be. When it does work though, it means you only have to download a program once rather than having to stream it every time you want to watch it. Those of you without kids will quite amazingly not understand why you may need to play the same program five times a day Smile.

If the download fails, at the moment it just hangs on zero percent, and blocks other downloads for five minutes while it waits to see if anything happens (I only allow one download at once). If that happens and it gets too annoying, exit out of media center and open it up again to download another program before the five minutes is up.

If you do have a downloaded program, I don't auto play the steamed version, so you can choose to watch the downloaded version instead. Either press Watch to watch the downloaded version or Play to play the steam. The downloaded programs are subject to the usual BBC DRM rules, and won't play after 30 days. I remove them from your downloaded list at that time. The programs are saved in to Public Videos with a fairly sensible name, so you can watch them from there too.

Download version 2.6.0 now to try this new feature out.

Changes to the BBC pages

The BBC have changed their page layout again, which unfortunately stops the programs from playing automatically. Fortunatly I anticipated this, and without doing anything, anyone with version 2.5.5 installed will be able to auto play again within 24 hours, because your system will auto update to account for it. Unfortunately I have realized that 24 hours is a real pain and it probably should be every hour that it checks. If you want to speed it up, delete C:/ProgramData/MillieSoft/TunerFreeMCE/resolution2.dat and then run C:/Program Files/MillieSoft/TunerFreeMCE/TunerFreeMCECacheBuilder.exe to get the update immediately.

Remote control of BBC is back

I have been working on a new way of remote controlling the BBC programs, and I now have the first version of that available in release 2.5.1. It basically means that when you go in to the page it will auto play. You can press Pause on the remote to pause playing, and then press play to play again, all without exiting full screen. If you press Stop, it will exit full screen and stop playing. If you press Play again, it will start playing. Don't press the Escape/Clear key though, or it will loose track of what state it is in. At the moment I have implemented this on BBC programs, but will extend to Hulu and Five in due course.

I have tested this with my 1920×1080 TV, and it should scale to other sizes. If you have a problem with it not picking up the controls, send me a full screen screenshot to allow me to work on that.

Do not post any requests for help about the remote not working unless you have already sent me a full screen screenshot at of the page where it fails to click properly.

Favourites and BBC changes

I have added a new Favourites feature in TunerFreeMCE (thanks to all of the people who have been suggesting it). The way it works is that it keeps track of what you watch and then calculates what you have been watching the most recently. It then shows the 20 most popular programs. You can also override that by pressing * on the remote when looking at the list of programs to add it to the favourites. If you press #, it will block a program from ever appearing in the favourites. Only programs which currently have episodes will be shown in the favourites list.

The BBC have also changed the way they stream programs yet again. I have updated the code to cope with the new streams, but given the short notice I had to point to the BBC web site, which means that although the programs go full screen within 10 seconds of opening, the remote won't pause or fast forward any more. Shame, but at least it still plays.  

BBC Radio and Hulu update

I have released a new version of TunerFreeMCE. This release contains support for BBC radio programs, both live and catch-up. You can choose from any of the 17 national or regional BBC Radio programs. When you go in to the program it will start playing, and you can pause and play using the stop button. You can also fast forward or rewind 30 seconds at a time using the remote.

I still have a bit of testing to do on the radio content. I released this version a little but earlier than I might otherwise have done because I wanted to release an update to the Hulu support too. Hulu updated their site and everything stopped working, so I needed to update my code. Version 2.4.0 therefore contains support for the latest Hulu content, and beta support for BBC Radio.

How much does VPN cost

A number of people have asked me how much it costs to get VPN to watch content abroad. It's not a simple question to answer, but here's an example;

Hulu low res streams use 480Kbps or 700Kbps depending on your bandwidth, or 1000Kbps if you choose the high-res button. That's between 216 MB an hour and 450MB an hour.

You can get a number of different VPN packages, some monthly and some Pay as you Go. It's impossible to calculate an hourly price for monthly packages – that simply a fixed fee and doesn't depend on how much TV you watch a month. With the pay as you go packages, if we take Always VPN as an example, in AlwaysVPN's current prices, that's between 9p an hour for the lowest resolution/cheapest bundle (480Kbps on the 80GB for $47 package), and 54p an hour on the highest resolution/most expensive bundle (1000Kbps on the $8.50 for 5GB bundle). In reality, it's going to use a bit more bandwidth than that, because there will also be the natural background level of network that your computer uses (e.g. checking for updates and so on), but as long as you aren't running P2P on the same machine at the same time or anything like that, that should be negligible.