Adobe Flash to add DRM in the player via Flash Access 2.0

I’ve blogged a few times about Flash and how it seemed like an obvious tool for the job of a cross-platform means to provide protected streaming video, in particular for the BBC’s iPlayer in the UK. Many of the things I’d thought in those old posts have actually happened now, streaming Flash video is now used to provide access to the BBC iPlayer content on many platforms such as Mac OSX, iPhone / iPod touch, Wii, PS3 and other devices. Streaming Flash video is also used for in the US.

In addition to the streaming option Flash is now used to provide a cross-platform downloadable iPlayer service via Adobe AIR’s protected runtime, so it’s all come a long way really. Of course no-one really likes DRM but at least it does provide a way to make all of this content available (geographic restrictions aside) without any major restrictions – apart from not being able to download directly onto the iPhone / iPod touch I suppose!

Adobe Flash Access 2.0

Adobe has just announced a new version of a software developer kit called Flash Access 2.0 (previously known by the snappily named ‘Adobe Flash Media Rights Management Server’). One of the main features is that it will enable protection of files that can be played directly within the Flash player instead of requiring it to be wrapped within the Adobe AIR runtime. This will offer a lot more flexibility in that files can be played directly within the browser. The technology supports MPEG4 H.264 content as well as FLV files so the quality of video provided via this technology has the potential to be very good.

Example of Flash Access 2.0 workflow.

I’m not sure if this has any real impact for services like BBC’s iPlayer as they already have a downloadable option via the AIR based iPlayer. It’s an interesting situation with distribution of digital video content really, DRM was a complete failure when it came to audio but there’s no sense that content creators are about to take the same approach as the music industry. Of course the big missing piece to the digital media distribution puzzle is that none of this Flash based content can be used or distributed to Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch platform.

Time for Fairplay DRM to be broadly licenced?

I’m not holding my breath waiting to see Apple add Flash support to their devices and I understand that in many ways. However, the main benefit I’d see personally for support for Flash video on the iPhone is to be able to access more of the streaming video content that is out there as most of it is Flash based, and only the likes of Youtube have the means to offer content in multiple formats. Asides from accessing Flash format streaming video I’m not bothered about accessing any other kind of Flash content on my iPhone (I think the Javascript / HTML / CSS3 / WebKit stack is much more suited, that’s maybe something for another blog post).

Although there’s some sense in supporting Flash video on the iPhone I think what could be a solution is for Apple to make their Fairplay DRM licencing available for others to use on their own websites, media stores etc. If we’re not likely to see media become completely DRM free then what is at least needed is any easy, cross-platform, cross-device method to distribute digital video content to whatever device is desired. At the moment the whole digital video distribution system is full of restrictions, dead-ends and political manoeuvrings by big media companies.

I wonder if it’s going to take greater consumer unrest to finally force the various companies to work together for the greater good, to simply be able to play video content that you’ve paid for on any device you want? Especially if that device is an iPhone or iPod touch? At the moment it’s just “a bag of hurt“.

P.S. Don’t anyone suggest Microsoft’s Silverlight as a solution, we don’t need yet another format for video distribution!


BBC launches multi-platform downloadable iPlayer using Adobe AIR runtime

Finally people can stop complaining that the BBC only support Windows XP for its downloadable iPlayer application. Using a cross-platform application developed using Adobe’s AIR the BBC have launched a downloadable iPlayer that can run on Windows, Mac and Linux.

I’ve written quite a few times about the iPlayer and it seemed to me that the only viable solution for a cross-platform iPlayer was to use Flash and/or Adobe AIR. The only element I wasn’t sure about was how DRM would be provided:

I think the only technical challenge left to fill in is the provision of a decent DRM scheme to use within Flash video, if Adobe can provide that piece of the puzzle then there’s absolutely no reason for the BBC to use Windows Media DRM and cause thousands of licence payers to be locked out of using a service they are entitled to use.
Quote from "Flash: Can it be a viable alternative to Windows Media DRM for the BBC?" blog post

Well, Adobe stepped up to that challenge, Flash Media Rights Management Server has been used for some time for Adobe Media Player and this same technology is being used for the new iPlayer application. So that’s good news for those of us who don’t use windows. With Adobe’s AIR runtime supporting Linux as well then it makes a pretty good platform.

How do you use the Adobe AIR iPlayer?

At the time of writing this there’s not a lot of content available and I could only find one episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks that showed a download link. However, that’s simply because content needs to be specifically encoded for this version of the iPlayer so it will take time for content to be encoded and made available.

There’s a few key things to keep in mind, it is currently a Beta program and is part of the iPlayer Labs program. You need to visit the Labs page and opt in to be a Labs tester, once you’ve done this you will then see the download links when they’re available. You will need to download the AIR based iPlayer desktop, although you’ll presumably be prompted to do this if you click on a download link.

The whole install process is pretty simple, the latest Adobe AIR runtime will be installed along with the iPlayer desktop so there’s no need to go and install that beforehand. All in all it’s a pretty simple process and it worked well so far.

Review: Apple Composite AV cable for iPod Touch, iPhone, Nano etc

Picture of Apple's Composite AV cable for iPod Touch / iPhoneI just bought myself the Apple composite AV cable for my iPod Touch so that I could hook it up to my TV to watch BBC iPlayer programmes. At first I thought the £35 price tag was pretty steep, but seeing as I was at the Apple Store in Glasgow I thought I’d treat myself to something!

On closer inspection though I saw that it isn’t just an AV cable but it also has a USB cable which plugs into a dinky little power supply which comes with both UK and North American power supply connectors, so basically it can be used to charge your iPod and also means that you don’t run out of power whilst watching programmes on it.

Basically the AV cable enables you to watch or listen to any video, audio or images that are on your iPod directly on your TV, this also includes the YouTube application too. Image slideshows can also be viewed via the AV cable.

Those standard features are pretty awesome in themselves but the killer app combo for me is this:

  1. The BBC offer a version of their iPlayer specifically for the iPod Touch and iPhone
  2. The AV cable for the iPod Touch / iPhone can play the iPlayer content on your TV

Screenshot of BBC iPlayer for iPod Touch / iPhoneIt’s a pretty simple combo but it’s awesome being able to play all the iPlayer content on your TV instead of on your computer. The great thing too is that the iPlayer content via the iPod is actually better quality than the streaming Flash version that you would view on your computer due to it being delivered as H.264 encoded video rather than the Flash ON2 codec that the regular iPlayer uses.

Well, I can’t recommend it enough, the price tag might seem a bit high at first but it’s a high quality cable that provides a power supply and AV connections as well as the ability to use it as a regular USB iPod cable too. If you happen to live in the Uk and have access to the BBC iPlayer then it makes that accessible right in your living room.

The AV Cable is also available for Component video connections too, you can pick one up from the Apple Store online:

Composite AV Cable

Component AV Cable


BBC iPlayer launches for Mac / Linux using streaming Flash format

This week the BBC launched a version of the iPlayer that is compatible with Mac and Linux by allowing viewing of streamed movies via the Flash player rather than the Windows-only DRM based download method.

Screen shot of BBC's Stremaing iPlayer interface

First impressions are pretty good although I would have liked the quality to be a little bit better, or at least the video to be a larger dimension. The player uses a 512 x 288 pixel video format and offer the fullscreen playback option, however, playing full screen on my 1680 x 1050 pixel monitor resulted in fairly pixellated video. That’s a pretty extreme example of zooming I’ll admit but if the video was larger to begin with it would make the zooming feature much better. The recent addition of support for H.264 video within Flash Player 9 would potentially offer an big improvement if the video could be offered using that format instead of FLV video files.

Share iPlayer videos with other people

Nope, it’s not what you might think by reading that heading, you can’t share the actual files but there’s a nice little feature available via the ‘SHARE’ link in the player menu.

Picture of sharing features of the streaming BBC iPlayer

This offers the ability to either send a link to a friend via email:

Link to iPlayer 'Send to a friend' page

You can also post a link to the Social Networking sites Stumbleupon,, Digg, Facebook and Reddit:

Link to sharing page of BBC iPlayer

It’s nice to see those links to these sites, it would be great to see a larger range though to include sites such as Ma.gnolia, MySpace etc but perhaps these can be added.

All in all it’s a good start towards better cross platform support by the BBC. My daughter was especially pleased to be able to watch kids shows whenever she wanted! Like many people though I would still like to be able to download shows and watch these on other devices such as iPods etc, I’m looking forward to finding out more about the BBC’s plans for providing cross-platform downloads.

BBC iPlayer comes to Mac and Linux via Flash streaming

There’s some interesting developments in the progress of making the BBC’s iPlayer available to more than just those people running Windows XP. The BBC announced that they are partnering with Adobe to make a streaming version of the iPlayer based on Adobe’s Flash player which will make the service available to people running Mac OSX, Linux and Windows.

This solution won’t bring exactly the same experience that current Windows XP based users of the iPlayer get, users will simply be able to play the files whilst they are connected to the internet whereas the full iPlayer allows people to download shows and keep them for up to 30 days. It is still definitely a step in the right direction though, the use of Flash for the video format was a no-brainer really as it is the most cross-platform solution out there.

Previously I’ve blogged about whether Flash was a viable alternative for the iPlayer so it’s good to see that my thoughts weren’t really off-track. It will be interesting to see how Adobe moves in future, will they try and enable some kind of DRM system in order to try and get the BBC to drop the Windows Media DRM system that the main iPlayer system uses? or will the BBC forego the use of DRM altogether and make the transition to a Flash based iPlayer even easier?

Head in The Clouds…

The BBC also announced a deal with WIFI network The Cloud to offer access to all of their online content without the user having to pay a subscription to The Cloud. This makes the Flash-based streaming iPlayer even better news in that you will be able to watch BBC video content without paying for WiFi access at your local coffee shop, oh, except if you’re on an iPhone as there’s no Flash player!

Joking aside though, I wonder if the BBC will choose to make content available using the H.264 video codec and make use of the latest Flash Player 9? If they did then this could allow the content to be published and made accessible on devices that can’t run Flash player. That’s just one more reason why the BBC needs to drop the Windows DRM based iPlayer as it’s just profoundly inaccessible.


Good News for BBC iPlayer progress

There was some good news from the BBC’s Backstage Blog today regarding the potential progress towards a future cross-platform compatible iPlayer solution (See these posts for a bit of background on the issues associated with the current BBC iPlayer "Dear BBC…" and "Flash: Can it be a viable alternative to Windows Media DRM for the BBC").

The BBC have announced that they have employed Anthony Rose, formerly of Kazaa and Sega, to be the new head of Digital Media at the BBC. With more than a hint of humour the Backstage post states:

In a move which promises to shock those who believe the BBC is in the pocket of Microsoft. It was announced Anthony Rose formally from Kazaa and Sega will be the new head of Digital Media at the BBC.

So, this looks like good news in regards to the BBC’s progression to a non-microsoft centered solution for delivering the DRM’ed iPlayer content. In case you don’t know much about Anthony Rose’s (I’d never really heard of him before) or Kazaa then it’s worth checking out Wikipedia’s entry for Kazaa. Hopefully some good things can come out of this, I’ll try not to let the fact that Kazaa themselves don’t offer a Mac or Linux version of their own client bother me!


Another way to let your voice be heard about the BBC iPlayer proposal

There’s another way to let your voice be heard about the BBC’s iPlayer plans, I’ve previously written a few posts about this whole issue and linked to the BBC Trust’s Open Consultation. If you’ve not looked at this already then have a look here:

Now tell Tony Blair!

The other way to let your voice be heard is to sign the online petition over on the 10 Downing Street website, the petition summary is:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the BBC from making its iPlayer on-demand television service available to Windows users only, and instruct the corporation to provide its service for other operating systems also.

Further details specfied by the creator of the petition are:

The BBC plans to launch an on-demand tv service which uses software that will only be available to Windows users. The BBC should not be allowed to show commercial bias in this way, or to exclude certain groups of the population from using its services. The BBC say that they provide ‘services for everyone, free of commercial interests and political bias’. Locking the new service’s users into Microsoft Windows whilst ignoring those members of society who use other operating systems should does not fit in with the BBC’s ethos and should not be allowed.

The petition is found here: