Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Watching a bike race on TV

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Well, in this modern world we can make it as complicated as we want!

Step 1: give up cable, since we really don't watch hardly anything that we can't (hypothetically) get over the Internet.

Step 2: since we still want to watch that Internet content on the TV, get an Apple TV device.

Step 3: it's Tour de France time! NBC licensed the race for the US, and thankfully are making it available over the Internet, both live and afterwards, for a reasonable price ($30). Yay, let's order it up!

Step 4: Well, NBC's solution on the computer is implemented in Microsoft Silverlight, which isn't supported by the Apple TV. Apple provides a way to stream content from the computer to the Apple TV -- but only on recent (mid-2011 or newer) machines, running the latest OS -- Apple's solution uses the newer computers' hardware capabilities to do this efficiently. Ours is about a year too old, drat. What to do? Search the Internet for a solution.

Step 5: AirParrot ($10) takes care of it, sort of. It actually works better than I expected. AirParrot uses the computer's CPU to compress and stream anything on the screen, over to the Apple TV; the quality's pretty good, but the CPU is working hard to do the job, and the computer gets pretty hot (about 150 F). But: there's no way to *control* the playback remotely.

Step 6: Remote control hack achieved by using screen sharing from the computer (built in) to the iPad (VNC Lite, free). This is a crude way to do it, and doesn't work very well, mainly because it's not intended for video. If there was any way to script or control Silverlight remotely, that would be better, but I haven't come up with anything.

To sum it all up, here's a sketch of the process. All this, just to watch a stupid bike race, what the heck was I thinking?!

While I really, truly, appreciate NBC Sports' effort to make the race available to those without cable TV subscriptions, their coverage (well, commentary and production, really, as the video footage is provided to them directly by the race organization itself) is dreadful. The audio is often bad, and even when there's "live" reporting in English coming through from the race, Phil & Paul (the NBC commentators) talk right over it, or it is eventually muted out. There's zero local color, and no one on the ground talking to riders, teams, fans, or anything else. It could be so much better.

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