The Participatory Culture Foundation (PCF) unveiled version 2.0 of its open-source video player, Miro, yesterday. The new version features a revamped UI, a smaller memory footprint and the ability to access streaming video sites like Hulu.com from right within the client. We covered those changes in greater detail a few weeks back, and others have added their own take. However, one important new feature so far hasn’t gotten much coverage at all: Miro’s new channel guide.
Miro uses the guide to offer easy access to more than 4,000 web video shows and podcasts. Users can also access the guide on the web and use it to stream or download shows from right within their browser. The folks from the PCF have been comparing the site to other web video program guides like Odeo, but it’s fairly obvious that they’re really trying to replace the one content catalog that rules them all: the podcast directory of Apple’s iTunes Store. And they might just do it, too.
Miro’s channel guide currently features around 4,200 shows in total, nearly 500 of which are on HD. And it actually offers up quite a few shows that iTunes doesn’t. Take Fred for example. Search for him with Apple’s client, and all you’ll get are 2-year-old ramblings of a failed Republican presidential candidate.
The Miro Guide, on the other hand, lists our favorite hyperactive online video star as well as many other YouTube-only shows. These shows are streamed in Flash if you access the site with your browser, but users of the Miro client can also download MP4 files of these videos straight to their hard drives, courtesy of YouTube’s video offering for iPhones and other non-Flash devices.
The site itself features a pretty clean and clutter-free interface that suggests a number of popular shows and offers various genres for more in-depth discovery. The only thing that’s confusing is the lingo that was adopted from Miro, the client: Downloadable shows are called feeds, and web-only shows like the ones from Hulu are called sites, even thought technically most of them are from the same web site. The distinction between those two formats is also blurry. The site will tell you that feeds “are downloaded first,” but many shows can also be watched within the browser.
That being said, the combination of online and network content actually works pretty well. Search for Arrested Development for example, and you’ll find the show itself courtesy of Hulu, but also a number of web comedies influenced by it, like Duder or Break a Leg. Repeat the same search in iTunes, and you’ll get a clutter-fest of soundtracks, unrelated movies and podcasts that haven’t been updated for years.
Another nice touch is that Miro’s channel guide is international. Granted, most content is in English, but it also lists more than 230 French and a few dozen Spanish shows. There are even shows in Indonesian, Turkish and Thai. With iTunes, you have to select a different location for the Store every time you want to find foreign content, and if there’s no music download store set up in your country, you’re out of luck.
There are also a number of social features incorporated into the Miro guide to find new content. Registered users get content suggestions based on their ratings, and shows can be “shared” via Facebook, Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon.
One reason for web video producers to love the Content Guide is that it also lists BitTorrent feeds from sites like Legaltorrents. Miro users will hardly notice any difference when subscribing to these feeds, but BitTorrent can save producers some serious dough on bandwidth.
However, the Miro Guide could do a better job at listing the different subscription options for its shows. Currently different formats are listed as separate feeds, but it would be great if the site recognized feeds with the same titles and episodes and merged them to one show page, perhaps offering users BitTorrent as the default option to download content.
While there is definitely still room for improvement, the new Miro guide is already a great platform with which to discover and watch web video content. It makes sites like Odeo.com look outdated and overloaded, and it does stack up quite nicely against the iTunes podcast directory. Sure, Apple’s directory has a built-in audience of millions of iTunes users, but the new Miro guide could help to level the playing field.