The Problem with Transcontinental Podcasting

RSS HeadphonesI am not sure if anyone else has to manage audio files that have been .mp3 encoded prior to editing but for the podcast it has been causing some issues. This week however, I made a few changes to the encoding and it appears to have made a significant difference. Here is what I have done and if anyone has any further suggestions I would appreciate it.

The background of this whole saga is that I used to record the podcast using Hot Recorder. Since the release of Skype 3.0+ this has failed to record anything but silence. Although he website claims it does work with 3.0. So we had to look to an alternative. Knightwise has a Mac so that made it a lot easier for us to decide what to do but our decision then presented a few things we had to work around.

For some reason recording Skype on a Mac is relatively easy compared to a Windows based machine. Not sure why. It might be the way that Mac handles audio or that there has been more development on the Mac in this regard. So we decided to record the show on Knightwise’s Mac. He uses Call Recorder to record Skype, which by the way has excellent results. Far superior to what I was getting with Hot Recorder. But now we had a great recording of the show in .wav which is generally about 1GB in size… +2.4GB but it was on the other side of the world! We needed to get it to Oz in one piece and in good enough quality to work with.

A great supporter of the podcast donated a server which has excellent speed and storage in addition to as many FTP accounts as we needed. However sending a 1GB file across the world is out of the question, even zipped up it would be huge! The only answer that we could see was to encode the .wav as an .mp3 in as high a quality as possible. So Knightwise encodes the file raw as a 192 kbps, CD quality. The result is about 100MB, which is very manageable. He then sends the file to me via FTP.

I download the file and convert it to a .wav and edit the show as per usual. When finished the file would be encoded as an .mp3 at 64 kbps at 44100 khz. We dropped the bps a while back to give us a smaller file size, which we thought would be appreciated. However since we swapped to Knightwise recording the show the 64 bit quality has been giving us poor results. I have tried to optimize for quality in the encode but it has made no difference.

The problem is that .wav files loose certain frequencies when they are encoded to .mp3. You can’t get them back they are gone forever. Sure I do everything that I can to get the best results. But the 64 bit rate was stripping more of those frequencies out of the final file than I would like. This resulted in some rather strange sounding ambient sounds and hissing when there was talking in addition to making the music tracks terrible. There was only one thing for it.

This week I increased the bit rate. Although in the beginning the show was encoded at 96 kpbs; I thought I would take the intermediate step of 80 kpbs. The result was a file that was only about 4-5 MB larger but the pay off in quality I think was worth it.

The conclusion is that when we changed the way the show is recorded and then encoded before transfer, we should have decided to increase the bit rate. The 16 bit increase in quality has compensated for the lost frequencies the first time it was encoded as an .mp3 making the file resilient to being decoded to .wav and then back to a .mp3. A few further tweaks at the recording end will give us some further head room as far as quality.

I would remind all podcasters out there of one of the golden rules of editing, never edit a .mp3, always convert it to a .wav. I hope this hack helps anyone else faced with the same problem of transcontinental podcasting and file transfer. Check out this weeks show and compare the difference.

UPDATE: Hot Recorder has been updated to version 2.14, which I am told does work with Skype 3.0+. I am yet to test it but I will let you know the results. Thanks to mswiczar for the tip in the comments.

Want to Know How to Podcast?

GGP Album Art SmallThe latest Global Geek went up today. Knightwise and myself put a lot of hard work into this one. It is the first special edition for the show. We were asked to do a show about how we put the show together. So we did.

This episode is a real behind the scenes look at the podcast. We cover all the on-line and off line applications that we use. The technology behind podcasting. Audio editing and hardware also get a look in. For a budding podcaster it is a valuable insight into podcasting and what it takes. Although I will bracket that with the fact that our show has been going a while now and we have upgraded most software and hardware from the “basics” to more advanced and powerful. So this is not a basic show in terms of what would be the minimum requirements.

Technically the show is a valuable resource for anyone including us. But it was created for many other reasons. We want to connect with our listeners. We genuinely appreciate them and the effort they make to listen to the show. We love hearing from them. Hopefully they will connect with us and feel that they are as much a part of the show and the community as we are.

Added to the complexities of the podcast is the fact that my co-host is literally a world away in Belgium. So we cover just what we do and how to overcome difficulties that arise due to the distance. Not to mention the time space continuum. But as you will hear it feels like Knightwise is next door.

There are some great sound clips included in the podcast. There is a snippet from the very first Global Geek. Wow what a difference in sound quality! It felt great to know that the show had developed and matured as much as it has. You also get a ear in on our pre-production meeting for the show and our sound check. Plus we have pictures on Flickr that we are going to add to through the week and we also made available our unedited show notes for the episode.

One of the coolest things we did for the show was to include a special surprise for the end. I am not going to give it away, just to say that it is a real laugh. I did not even tell Knightwise the secret, he found out just like you can. He had this to say about the show:

“I have tears streaming down my  face as a drive to work!!!!!! Tears with laughter!
You F*%kwitt must have spent all day editing that last bit together!!! It is bloody brilliant!!!!
The rest of the show is awesome! Fantastic job Dave, I absolutely love this podcast!!!
I can see our listeners bubbling with laughter at the end!”

We are our harshest critics. Seriously.

Most of all I think that Knightwise and I have realized that through this journey of podcasting together that we are more friends than co-hosts. I value his friendship over the podcast. I am truly grateful of his friendship and that he joined the show.

Knightwise is a true friend, you don’t get many of them in life. Life is fickle, fleeting and crap at playing fair. Friends tip the balance.

So waste no time have a listen. Head over to the Global Geek Podcast Blog for the Show Notes and subscription details. The music that was used on the show is also available for free download from the Show Notes on the blog. DRM free and legal.

But you can also listen here, please vist the blog and be a part of the show with us!

WordPress.com Adds Audio: Not a Podcasting Platform… Yet

I learned today that WordPress.com has added the feature of both uploading audio files and a player. This potentially means that WordPress could be used as a podcasting platform. The only stumbling block at this point is the RSS feed.

You can now upload a file of up to 25MB onto WordPress. Not bad, but for our show it is short of the file size that we need. But for a lot of podcasts it might be enough, or you could decrease your bit rate to get the file size down. The other thing that has been added is the Audio Player WordPress Plugin. It is a common player that you would have seen before that works very well.

Consider also that unless you purchase more space then you only have 50MB allocated to you as a WordPress.com Blog owner. It won’t take long to use that up as a podcaster (our shows average 32MB each). So there is added cost there as well. But don’t make the assumption that you are restricted to the 25MB limit on file size, or that you have to buy more space here on WordPress.

There is nothing stopping you having the files hosted elsewhere and playing them from your blog here. You might have a server to host files. To demonstrate this I have embedded last weeks Global Geek Podcast that is hosted on The Podcast Network. You could have a file anywhere on the Internet. But just make sure that you host the content and are not leeching it from some poor blokes server! Some consider this theft, as well as bad form. The same as you should not embed photos on your blog unless you host them. But remember files don’t have to be hosted here to be played in the on-line player.

Okay so what is stopping WordPress.com from being able to be the “home” of your podcast? Probably the most important thing of all. You can either host the audio file here or somewhere else right. So that is the restriction on file size out of the way but once you place that file in a player on your blog you need it recognized as an enclosure. If it is not then a podcast it isn’t. The enclosure is what is needed for things like iTunes and feedreaders, “pod-catchers” in general to be able to download your podcast for the user. If it is not an enclosure then it won’t be “seen” by the RSS reader or aggrigator. By definition the audio file not being an enclosure is not a podcast, but an embedded audio file in a web page. Or “streaming audio” in other words.

I have had one file that I linked to here on the blog; recognized as an enclosure. Once, then it has never happened again and I don’t know why not. I sent a support request to WordPress.com and got nothing back. I did nothing different to what I would normally do. Go figure.

Not only that there is no micro-management of RSS on WordPress.com. You can’t tell it what to do, we are at the mercy of the guys at WordPress. They do a good job though, I have never had a problem. But you need this to be able to manage the podcast. The feed is crucial to the success of any podcast.

So while we are able to have fun with a player and be able to upload files now, which is great; we can not look at WordPress.com as a viable cost effective means to host a podcast. It may be something they are aiming for, right now though we have a cool player and that is all. As cool as that might be the file needs to be recognised as an enclosure, once that happens we are nearly there. Next is the RSS… then we might be podcasting here on WordPress.com.

As promised here is The Global Geek Podcast #034 :: Looks are Everything. Check out the Show Notes, links to everything we talk about can be found there. Plus I blog there as well as here through the week.

Nice player eh? Apparently a movie player is coming. Now, I have to figure out how to use the operators to get the colours to match the blog theme…

Great Show This Week

The Global Geek PodcastI do not usually pimp the podcast here. But this week I have to. Plus I usually say stuff here that doesn’t get said anywhere else! Knightwise and myself had such a great time recording the show this week, although not without the problems.

The show just flowed this week, we worked well together and complimented each others style and pace. I followed him when he lead and vice versa. One point in particular I sensed that he wanted to pick up the pace a bit. I think he lead a story with: “Quick overview here…” or something like that. We just did the next 3 or 4 stories concise, quick and too the point. Like it was planned. Was really very, very good synergy. I loved it.

One funny point is that it is summer here and the whole podcast is serenaded by crickets calling in the backyard, which is about 12 feet away. We have no screens and the doors are French styled and always open. So we podcasted with crickets. It was cool and I don’t think it took away from the show. They will no doubt be with us each week until the summer draws to a close. Oh well, I think that is part of the appeal of podcasting.

We tried a new system this week of recording. Knightwise recorded the show this week. I usually do it but the recording software let us down last week so we had to get something more reliable. So Knightwise recorded it and we planned to upload the whole lot as a high quality .mp3. It did not work. We blamed the FTP server because it could not possible be Knightwise.  We also rang them and gave them a hard time! It was Knightwise! He was using Cyberduck for Mac. We are not sure what the go is but it has something to do with how the client is talking to the host. The file is bloody big at 101MB. Anyone have any ideas on that? One friend of the podcast managed to upload the file with Cyberduck without issues. In addition Knightwise was able to upload the file to another FTP server without issues. It has to be some setting on Knightwise’s client. We do not yet know what one.

I eventually got the file and all is good. If you are interested in the podcast then take a listen. Feel free to drop a comment on the blog or send us an email.

You can go to The Global Geek Podcast Blog or

DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST HERE

Zune and Podcasting

Zune LogoIt appears that the new portable player Zune™, will support podcasting. However, podcasting functionality will not be ready at launch. In other words it will not ship supporting podcasting. I am not sure what not ready means but iTunes and iPods have been doing it for a while and Microsoft seem to be a bit slow on the uptake.

I see the Zune and it’s failure to support podcasting as a real drawback to the purchase of one on release. Sure I host and produce a podcast so I might be a tad peeved that the medium has been neglected and not made a priority. But that said the Zune has been on the drawing board for quite some time. In addition the fact that iTunes supports subscribing to podcasts, I thought would be a motivator for the Zune developers to ship with podcasting support. That addition would certainly make the Zune more attractive to the early adopter who already subscribes to podcasts.

Within the current technological and web climate I think that podcasting should have been a consideration. I do not buy the;

“it’s that podcasting wasn’t done in time.”

line that was given by David Caulton on his blog Zunester.

They have indeed had time to make ready podcasting support, had they made it something to ensure was ready. So that leaves a couple of conclusions that can be made. Did they purposely neglect podcasting support in order to promote the “Zune Marketplace“? Most podcasts are free. Sure that is speculation as well. But what better way to promote your new player than having the feature of being able to play free, quality content.

Perhaps Microsoft thought that there was not the interest in podcasts for it to be included. However, I am somewhat of a geek and I have next to no music on my mp3 player. What do I have? 99% podcasts. Who is it then that might consider purchasing a Zune? I would argure that the demographic will be early adopters, traditionally geeks (most of my work-mates have never heard of a Zune). What does the average geek listen to as well as music? Podcasts. I want a bloody mp3 player that supports podcasting, otherwise as far as I am concerned what is going to be the point? It seems very straightforward to me that they needed to support podcasting on release. Otherwise the Zune offers nothing to me that I don’t already have.

Or is it just the fact that Microsoft just don’t get podcasting as Scoble states in his summary of the Zune Vs the iPod:

“Podcasting. Apple gets this trend, Microsoft doesn’t.”

Microsoft are demonstrating by their actions that they don’t get it in my opinion. You only have to go as far as the newly released Windows Media Player 11 to see that; no it does not support podcasting. If Microsoft “gets” podcasting it would have been an included feature in their new player. A very short look at iTunes and Winamp tells you what the trends are, both support podcasting. I do not understand why Microsoft are saying they get it when by their exclusion they are doing something totally different to the most of the major offerings out there and therefore essentially creating an “un-feature”. I am no businessman but I know what I would have been doing.

It has been voiced that aversion to podcasting is the fact that podcasting has “pod” in the name. While I too had the brief thought that podcasts required an iPod in order to listen to them, it did not last long. In addition I think that this type of thinking has somewhat turned around recently. I did get into podcasting early, when it was new to most people. This line of thinking has been debunked by a comment made on Zunester by the author David Caulton who states:

“We’ll ship podcasting, and we’ll call it “Podcasting” when we do.”

Authors Comment on the Post: “Scoble’s Post

What I find the most remarkable is the response to the response that the developers of the Zune have made in response to not having podcasting support:

“… it’s important to separate things we don’t have at launch from comments about Zune’s long term prospects.”

So, what, we don’t have podcast support at the moment but don’t worry it will be in the future? That is like selling a house and saying, “Oh, yeah… no walls… don’t worry they will be there after you buy the house.”. In my opinion that then means that they are shipping an unfinished product. Why do I want an unfinished product? I don’t, that means that I will wait to purchase. If ever. With rock solid and massive support for iTunes and the iPod would you not want a finished product that was able to compete on equal footing with the competition? At present how is that possible when the two products do not compare?

This does damage the long term prospects of the Zune. When launching a new product you want a mass uptake of that product that creates a loyal user base for the long term. You want people to choose your product over the competition. I am standing in the shop confronted with a Zune and an iPod, one supports podcasts and one does not. No brainer, I am going to choose the one that has the best features, regardless of cost. I am also going to think that the salesman saying, “don’t worry it will have “X” feature later” is full of shit. That may not be true for all users but it most certainly is for me.

This is not about playing .mp3 files. An mp3 player should be .mp3 compatible and the Zune is. Sure you can download and transfer your podcasts to a Zune or an iPod.

This is about making technology and media more accessible to the user. As I have said many times before podcasting is not an easy concept for new users to grasp. They do not understand RSS feeds or what an enclosure is. How then are they to make sense of podcasting unless software and hardware developers make it easier for them to access and enjoy? I will continue to struggle to market our podcast. Right after that I will attempt to explain to people how to get it.

Not everybody has or wants iTunes. Sure it is a “one click” process given you have iTunes and the right link. But that is not choice. I do not have iTunes or an iPod, It should be a one click process with Windows Media Player (or other software) and a Zune to synchronise with. Mind you I don’t use Windows Media Player either. Microsoft really need to take a look at what they doing and how they are doing it in order to be a competitive market leader in portable media solutions, that is not to say their new offering won’t be successful, it probably will be but the uptake would be quicker had they looked at the big picture.