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View TV shows on the Net

Biswajit.HD

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The id*ot box is on its way out and the information box is taking its place. TV tuner cards have been in the market for more than a decade, and have been the first in a line of products that aim to convert the home PC into the home entertainment system. Lately, manufacturers have released media extenders to play and record TV via an external box, connected to the central computer over a home network. Of course, downloading TV shows, movies and various video files has always been in vogue, and we don’t anticipate it going out of style any time soon. But, there is a new player in the field of watching TV on your computer, and that is video streaming.

The main advantage that streaming video has over downloading video, is the time factor. When a user downloads a video file, he inevitably has to wait until a certain portion of the file has been downloaded before he can preview and check the quality of the file. With streaming online videos on the other hand, he knows instantly how good it is, and if it is in the language he understands. Additionally, downloading a typical movie will occupy at least 700 MB on his hard disk, whereas the memory occupied by streaming videos is cleared once he leaves that Web page.

According to Dan Morrell of Slate (www.slate.com/id/2178343), in the early stages YouTube and Google Video were chock-full of movies and episodes, which were later removed after some legal action was initiated by Hollywood studios against them. How is the Indian viewer affected by this? Not too much, since YouTube (in.youtube.com) still has users who upload episodes of popular Hindi TV shows, for instance, ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’, a few hours after it airs on Star Plus.

It is interesting to note that the industry has tackled TV show piracy using this method differently than they did for downloading. American audiences have Hulu (www.hulu.com), a website that was started by NBC and News Corp. It has a catalog of every TV show and movie produced under their banner which they can watch. The obvious upside to this is that it’s perfectly legal and the viewer doesn’t have to worry about breaking any laws, and the quality is superb. Note, only those users with an IP address originating in the United States can watch videos on Hulu.

So, does any Indian channel offer this kind of service? Well, sort of. If you browse to the home page of a channel, there are uploaded video clips of recent episodes of popular shows, mainly reality TV, but not whole episodes. Network18’s latest venture In.com (www.in.com) does offer Live TV for the news channels CNBC, CNN-IBN and IBN, and full episodes of ‘Bigg Boss2’ (biggboss2.in.com), but these are far and few between (CHIP is a member of the Network18 family).

The other options available to viewers of ‘desi’ TV lie on the other side of the fence. The most popular of these is powered by ApniCommunity (www.muft.tv), the reason for its popularity being that they are prompt, decent quality, and most importantly a free service. Some other services that provide Indian TV content are iDesiTV (www.idesitv.com) and YuppTV (www.yupptv.com), which both come at an affordable price. These two services lie in a murky grey area, with users not quite sure about the legality. Of course, those who don’t care about the law can frequent websites that provide unauthorized online streaming content, for instance, 66Stage (http://66stage.com) which has an awesome compilation of links for movies, TV shows, documentaries and cartoons. Most of the content on this website is linked from respectable online video services such as Veoh (www.veoh.com), and Google Video (video.google.com).

So, now you know where to go and watch TV streamed from the Web on your PC. Now, how about recording it? With the programs provided on this month’s CHIP DVD, you can convert your PC wholly into a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) with timer controls for starting and stopping recordings. The best part about all this is that you don’t need to shell out for a TV tuner card. Also included are some rad tools for editing and archiving your video files in a library.

DOWNLOADING CLIPS: YouTube is the biggest video portal, but it is not the best. Some quick and useful functions, for instance, a direct download link, are missing. But you can correct these oversights by switching to the Web browser Firefox and loading it with the Greasemonky plug-in. Greasemonkey is a powerful tool with which you can integrate more tools and optimize websites to suit your own needs. This is installed like any other add-on. Browse to the official Firefox add-ons Web page (addons.mozilla.org), input ‘Greasemonkey in the search field, and download and install the XPI file. Alternatively, you may open the ‘Add-ons’ window from ‘Tools | Add-ons’ and enter the phrase in the ‘Get Add-ons’ tab. Next, browse to the website www.userscripts.org to get scripts to incorporate into Greasemonkey. Pick and choose the snippets you need, we shall focus on those that aid in online video streaming. First up are the YouTube extensions, the most popular of which is ‘YouTube Blackout’. Just press the ‘Install this script’ button on the Web page, to enhance your YouTube watching experience, as this script blacks out the rest of the YouTube Web page when you are watching a video. So next time, instead of viewing clips on the website, click on the ‘Blackout’ link that appears with each video after the installation of the plug-in. The video opens in a pop-up window with a semi-transparent background, called ‘Lightbox’. Elements like ‘Related Videos’ appear darkened and do not distract the viewer anymore.

Another handy script is ‘YouTube Enhancer’. It adds a link below every video, from which you can directly download the clip to your computer in the form of a Flash video. It has its drawbacks though—you have to redefine the video and add the FLV extension, otherwise Windows does not correctly identify the video and fails to play it. Using this handy script, you can successfully downloaded the clips onto your PC.


RECORDING TV: Now that you have streaming television content playing on the computer, it is time to set up your video recorder to tape those shows you don’t want to miss. While it is impossible to connect your VCR to the PC without a card in between, here is a way to record TV shows.

CamStudio, a screen capturing tool, is great in this scenario, since it comes with a tool to record the monitor into a Flash (SWF) or AVI file. The XP codec packet should be installed for good results during the recording. Although CamStudio comes with its own codec, you will get much better results with the ffdshow video codec installed on your PC.

After the installation of the ffdshow codec, you need to set CamStudio to use it. In the main application window, go to ‘Options | Video Options | Compressor’. Set the quality of the compressor on ‘100’. Advanced users can further tweak the recording settings in ‘Configure’.

Now open up the Web page, for instance, ‘Bigg Boss2’ in your Web browser, select an episode and hit the play button to start the buffering process. Switch to the CamStudio application, and select ‘Region | Region’ and press ‘Record’—the cursor now appears as a cross-wire. Draw a rectangle around the video screen and the recording starts automatically. Do not forget—you should not scroll down the Web page since this will shift the video player and the recording will be faulty since CamStudio records only the predefined area. Once the transmission is done, save the AVI or SWF file to your computer.

VIEWING CLIPS: CamStudio automatically starts its built-in player at the end of each recording session. However this player does not support all formats. In such a case, the quintessential media player comes to the user’s rescue. We are, talking about the VLC media player.

Timer recording

In order to record, say ‘CNBC’, when you are not at home, use our recommended video recorder applications. Once installed, you can save yourself the complicated programming codes to start and stop recordings of the broadcast shows without any difficulty. For this purpose you require following tools from this month’s CHIP DVD—Z-Cron which will act as the timer control unit, the small tool Sendkey and CamStudio. You will also need to create a Batch file (BAT) to program CamStudio for recording purposes. We have step by step instructions on how to go about all this. We shall also demonstrate how to set up and configure separate programs.

RECORDER SETUP: The Sendkey tool is required so that the Batch file, which we attach later, also functions. The installation is supposedly easy: Copy the _sendkey.exe_ file from this issue’s CHIP DVD to the ‘C:WindowsSystem32’ folder.

Now, to move on to the next step, this involves starting the CamStudio program with a Batch file and automatically activating the recording function.

Open up Notepad from ‘Start | Run | notepad.exe’ and create a file called ‘AutoStart.bat’ and insert the following:
start Recorder.exe
Sendkey *5000
Sendkey 8

The file, when run, opens CamStudio (Recorder.exe) and simulates it 5 seconds later by pressing the ‘8’ key. We will configure CamStudio such that the recording starts with it. Copy the Batch file to CamStudio’s program installation folder, probably ‘C:program FilesCamStudio’. Create a new Batch file ‘AutoStop.bat’ and append the following code to the file in order to stop the recording if the film is over:
Sendkey 9
The Z-Cron tool is the timer control device for your video recorder. Click on ‘Task’, and ‘Label’ it as ‘CNBC’ for instance. Check the ‘Activate task’ option and load the ‘AutoStart.bat’ batch file by entering the folder path in the Batchfile field, for instance, ‘C:program FilesCamStudioAutoStart.bat’.

Now switch to the ‘Scheduler’ tab and specify the start time by pressing the ‘Scheduler’ button. Start the recording for the 20:15 show ahead by five minutes, say, 20:10. Under ‘Settings for period: Weekday’ select Sunday and press ‘Save’.

To configure CamStudio to stop the recording, if the show is over, create a new job and name it ‘Stop recording ‘. As described above, load the ‘AutoStop.bat’ batch file in Z-Cron, and to be on the safe side, set the end time an extra five minutes after the scheduled end time, so that you don’t miss any vital part of the show. Save the file again and perform a test run to confirm whether the task functions properly. To do this, right click on the task label ‘CNBC’ and select ‘Start’ from the context menu—this should open up CamStudio.

Now, open up the CNBC Web page on the In.com website. Define the area of the video player as the default recording area that CamStudio records. Be careful not to displace the Web browser since the recording area is predefined.

Finally, we'll make some minor setting changes to the CamStudio screen capturing tool. Go to ‘Options | Keyboard Shortcuts ‘and set the character ‘8’ as the ‘Record/Pause Key’ and ‘9’ as ‘Stop Key’. The best option would be to allocate the remaining shortcuts with [F1] to [F4] function keys. Now, define the area, which should be recorded by CamStudio, by going to ‘Region | Fixed Region’. Activate the ‘Fixed Top-Left Corner’ option and specify the screen area with ‘Select’ and the measuring tool that opens later. Check the option ‘Drag Corners to Pan’ and save your settings and exit the Region window by pressing ‘OK’.

TESTING RECORDER: To make sure that everything is functioning, close the CamStudio program, open up the video on your Web browser and start the task ‘CNBC’ in Z-Cron by right clicking and select ‘Start’. Now, the recording should start shortly. Stop the recording with ‘AutoStop.bat’ and save the recorded video file on the desktop.


Editing videos

Advertisements are annoying and even those few minutes when the recording started too early are unnecessary.

With the freeware application VirtualDub, you can simply cut out all the excess material that isn’t needed in the recorded file. This saves memory space and also a lot of bother. Drag and drop the video in to the VirtualDub window. Using ‘Edit | Set selection start’ define the starting point and the end point of the commercial break or the lead time with ‘Set selection end’. Then, press the [Delete] key so that the extracted portion ends up in the Recycle Bin. Now repeat the procedure to relieve the video of all unnecessary frames.

To tweak the video, go to ‘Video | Filters | Add’, for instance to increase or decrease the brightness and the contrast of the video, or to resharpen the frames or superimpose a custom logo.

In case you have not used any filters, activate ‘Video | Direct Stream Copy’, to export the film. In this way you spare yourself complex conversion. However if you have already edited the picture quality, ‘Video | Full processing mode’ must be set. At last export the file with ‘File | Save as AVI’. The film appears better than an AVI file on your computer and you can watch it again, anytime you want.

TIP: Find more useful filters on the website www.neuron2.net, which can be integrated into VirtualDub from ‘Video | Filters | Add | Load’. The changes in the clip are apparent after clicking ‘OK’ in the right preview video of the desktop. Then decide whether to apply them or not.

Archiving content

In this last section we show how you can at a later stage structurally archive the saved videos. Now that you have a bunch of videos, using the procedures outlined in this article, you will need to catalog them. The MyMDb (www.mymdb.de) archive tool helps you to avoid duplication and to always have your collection ready at hand. Simply enter the title, and the program starts searching in the online Film databank under www.imdb.com for information like cast, crew, studio and trivia information.

Source : Chip magazine.
 
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