Miro: An Interview with Nicholas Reville

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by | October 2007 | Open Source Web Graphics & Video

“There's an opportunity to build a new, open mass medium of online television. We're developing the Miro Internet TV platform so that watching Internet video channels will be as easy as watching TV and broadcasting a channel will be open to everyone. Unlike traditional TV, everyone will have a voice.”, says the co-founder and executive director Nicholas Reville of Participatory Culture Foundation about the future of Internet TV, online video, and their newest project named “Miro”.

Miro is an all-in-one Open Source desktop video application that plays almost any file format and makes it possible for you to search and download videos from multiple sources and channels.

In this interview with Nicholas, Packt's Kushal Sharma explores the vision, scope and the future of this project.

Kushal Sharma: What is the vision behind Miro?

Nicholas Reville: There's an opportunity to build a new, open mass medium of online television. We're developing the Miro Internet TV platform so that watching Internet video channels will be as easy as watching TV and broadcasting a channel will be open to everyone. Unlike traditional TV, everyone will have a voice.

KS: Does PCF finance the entire project or do you have any other contributors?

NR: We have tons of help from volunteers – translating the software, coding, testing, and providing user support. We would not be able to do nearly enough without our community.

KS: Are the developers full-time PCF employees or is it similar to other Open Source projects where people voluntarily contribute to the community in their spare-time?

NR: We have 6 full-time developers and also volunteers. We're a hybrid model, like Mozilla.

KS: Please highlight the most crucial features of Miro, and the idea behind having those features as part of this application.

NR: The most crucial feature of Miro is the ability to download and play video RSS feeds. It's a truly open way to distribute video online. Using RSS means that creators can publish with any company they want and users can bring together video from multiple sources into one application.

KS: How many languages is Miro translated into?

NR: Miro is at least partially translated into more than 40 languages, but we always need helping revising and improving the translations.

KS: How is Miro different from other players from the technological perspective?

NR: Above all, Miro is open-source. That means that anyone can work on the code, improve, and customize it. Beyond this, Miro is unique in a number of ways. It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. It can play almost any video format. And it has more HD content available than any other Internet TV application.

KS: Are the Torrent download capabilities as well developed as any other standalone Bit Torrent Client? Please tell us something more about it's download capabilities, the share ratio, configurable upload limits while downloading the torrents etc. compared to other software?

NR: Our current version of Miro keeps the BitTorrent capabilities very simple and doesn't provide many options. We think that most users don't even notice when they are downloading a torrent feed, however, we want to expand our options and features for power users in future versions – expect much more bit torrent control in 3 months or so.

KS: What type of support do you have for Miro?

NR: Most of our support is provided user-to-user in the discussion forums – they are very useful, actually. In addition, because we are an open project, anyone can file a bug or even fix a bug. In the long-term this means we will have a more stable user experience than closed competitors.

KS: With a host of TV channels and video content going online, viewers could really use a common solution for all their media needs rather than keeping tabs on multiple sources. How do you see Miro being instrumental in providing this?

NR: We think that an open platform for video is the only way to create a unified experience for video. Miro is the only really open Internet video solution right now and we think we have a crucial role to play in unifying Internet TV in an open way.

KS: Does Miro download Internet TV programs and store it on the hard disk or does it stream live media like any other online service?

NR: For now, Miro downloads everything that's watched. This is useful in two key ways: first, you can watch HD video with no skipping or buffering delays. Second, you can move those files onto any external device, with no DRM or other restrictions. In the future we may add a streaming option for some special cases, or the ability to start watching while the download is in progress.

KS: Subscription-free content is a great gift that viewers get with Internet TV, however, bandwidth issues could be a concern for some users. What minimum bandwidth requirements would you suggest for satisfactory Internet TV performance on Miro? Furthermore, does Miro have an alternate solution for users having low Internet bandwidth?

NR: Miro actually works better than most Internet video solutions for low bandwidth users. On a dial-up connection, streaming video solutions are unusable. Miro will download videos in those circumstances – it may happen slowly, but once you have the video you can watch it full speed with no skipping.

KS: I remember a statement on the PCF site saying “Miro is designed to eliminate gatekeepers”. Could you please elaborate on this?

NR: Miro works with open standards and is designed to be decentralized, like the web. That means that users can use Miro to connect directly to any video publisher – they don't need our permission and the files don't travel through our servers. Companies like Joost design their software to be highly centralized so that they can control both users and creators. It's time to leave that model behind.

KS: So far, what has the response been like?

NR: Response has been great. Last month alone, we had more than 200,000 downloads and we've been growing with each release. I expect that when we release version 1.0 in November we'll see even faster growth.

KS: What are your future plans for Miro in terms of releases, updates, functionality, etc.?

NR: After version 1.0 is released, we'll be making major changes to Miro to improve performance and add an extension system that will give people new ways of customizing the software to fit their needs.

KS: To me, Miro’s agenda is a lot more than simply creating a good player. You’re attempting to change the face of Internet Video and the way it’s being hosted right now. How would you describe the future of Miro and Internet Video to our readers?

NR: We want Miro to push online video in an open direction. We're hoping to build the best video experience possible, something that can be a true substitute for traditional television. But that doesn't mean we want to control the future of online video – we want other people to build open video distribution platforms as well. Openness is vital to the future of our mass media.

KS: What other projects is the PCF involved in?

NR: Right now, PCF is exclusively focused on making video more open and Miro is at the center of that.

KS: Thank you for your time Nicholas, and good luck developing Miro!

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