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BBC radio on Linux without iPlayer

Posted 04-03-2010 at 07:41 AM by richardash1981

Whilst there was a lot of self-congratulation that using Adobe Flash to deliver the BBC iplayer meant it was accessible to Linux users, the reality has been rather more troublesome. Adobe Flash is of course a closed-source binary application which is only available for x86 and x86_64 versions of Linux. There have been multiple security issues with Flash in the past and it does not work reliably for many users. It is not well optimised and does not take advantage of hardware acceleration for graphics.

It was recently announced that the previous Real Player streams of BBC Radio content were being depreciated and discontinued. This is supposedly because the real-based streaming has been replaced by the Flash-based iPlayer, despite the fact that the Flash-based iplayer doesn't work for a significant number of users for whom the real-player streams did work, either in Real Player or in one of the ffmpeg-based players.

What has not been publicised is that all the radio content that can (or is supposed to be) be accessed in Flash is also made available in WMA (Microsoft Windows Media Audio) format for the benefit of Internet Radio listeners. These streams are not linked to anywhere on the iPlayer flash site, but are in RSS feeds provided by the BBC Backstage project. These feeds contain the links to the .aspx xml playlist files which then contain the mms streaming URLs for the actual streams. Mostly these feeds are used by the manufacturers of hardware Internet Radios to create portals for their devices to access BBC content.

However, VLC can also play these URLs, offering the opportunity to listen to BBC radio content either live or over the following 7 days using a proper, open source media player. The missing link is knowing what URL to push into VLC in order to get your program. However someone else has had this problem, and provides a web page which converts the RSS feed into HTML pages of links for all the programs. This marvellous site is http://www.iplayerconverter.co.uk.

From within the UK, all you need to do is to right-click on the "WMA UK" link, copy the link and paste it into the "Open Network Stream" dialogue in VLC, and you can play the program. For non-live streams, seeking and pausing the stream work as well! If you mouse over the seek bar in VLC the tool-tip should give you the time where you are, then click to seek to that time in the program - one up on the RealPlayer service!

Given the recent debate and issues over third-party download clients and stream changes, I'm surprised I haven't seen many other references to listening to BBC radio this way - which because it's used to support hardware internet radios, is presumably unlikely to be changed radically. What I'd really like is to integrate the RSS parsing into Amarok like it does with the podcast directory - then you could just browse through the listings in your media player without a web browser.
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