Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Record Any Audio From The Web And Listen To It Offline, From Your USB Drive, Wherever You Are: The CarCast System

CarCast is a new hybrid Internet audio capture, playlist library and automatic audio synchronization system which allows you to take just about any audio track you hear on the Web to your portable and car-friendly USB music player.

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If you are looking for an easy and straightforward way to convert into downloadable and portable audio content what you normally listen to on the Web, CarCast may likely be the only tool you need.

If you, like me, have been frustrated by the myriad of different formats audio formats out there and the ton of commercial recording utilities claiming to be able to capture your favorite audio streams, you will find the WebCarCastRecoder to be a marvellous new technology capable of recording automatically just about any audio stream you run into.

The CarCast audio system is a new service consisting of a web-based personal audio library, a unique Firefox-based on-the-fly audio-recorder (it can record anything you find on the web) and a small utility to download and synchronize your favorite audio to your USB memory stick.

"Thanks to CarCast with any USB memory stick, an Internet connection and a USB in our car, we can always keep us updated and listen to our favourite programmes: just select online the content that we are concerned and, each time inserting our memory stick in any computer connected to the Internet, it will update with new content always ready to be heard while on the car between a traffic light and a jam!"

 

CarCast Overview

audio-recorder-CarCast-labs-logo.jpg

Launched in Beta about two months ago, CarCast is a new hybrid (Web+software) system capable of ripping, recording, saving, organizing and converting most any audio you can run into on the Internet. CarCast is also a simple to use to audio, web-based audio library service which allows you to pick and add any podcast or on-the-fly recording you have made to it, much like you would do in iTunes.

Behind this very useful and innovative new service are the great guys of Inrete, who launched over a year ago the unique television-to-web personal recorder, Vcast / Faucet.

The cool innovative differentiating trait is that CarCast also allows you to record just about any audio you may run onto on the Web. Even the one from video clips out there. You just go to a web page where the audio is and CarCastWebRecorder (a Firefox plug-in) automatically records it for you.

Not only.

CarCast provides you also with a cross-platform utility which you can use to download all of your favourite audio recordings, podcasts and music to your favorite external device, be it a USB stick, portable media player or an external disk.

This unique recording software gets installed on your USB memory stick and it synchronizes the content that you collect inside your CarCast audio library to your external memory device any time you insert it in an Internet-connected PC or Mac. Your browser is only needed when you want to add new content or update the audio playlists you have created. All the rest is automatically done by the USB memory stick itself.

But there's more: now your audio-synchronization becomes truly "nomadic", meaning that you just need a computer (Mac and even Linux are all supported) connected to the Internet to update the music / audio recordings you have in your USB memory stick.

Last but not least, CarCastUSB, the synchronization software that you first install on your USB drive, does also work on ANY removable media, as much as it does on ANY fixed hard you have.

Still in full development and released as a Beta, CarCast keeps adding new features and capabilities on a weekly basis.




CarCast Components

CarCast is made of three parts:



1) The CarCast Website

audio-recorder-CarCast-menu.jpg

The purpose of the CarCast website is to help you manage your subscriptions and define what to put on the USB memory stick. By providing the proper information you can set which podcasts to receive and how many episodes to keep from each one.




2) USB software

audio-recorder-USB-sync-software-download-PC-Mac.gif
audio-recorder-USB-sync-software-download-Linux-Maemo.gif

The CarCastUSB software needs to be installed on your USB memory stick. What it does, is to synchronize the content you have selected from the Web and placed into your CarCast audio library with the contents of your USB memory stick. The beauty of this USB-based synchronization system, is that all of it happens automatically and with a single-click any time you insert your USB drive into an internet connected PC or Mac.

You can download and install CarCastUSB for your platform of choice.




3) CarCastWebRecorder

audio-recording-web-CarCastWebRecorder-logo.png

CarCastWebRecorder is a powerful audio ripper / recorder, dressed as a Firefox plugin capable of detecting and capturing just about any audio you happen to browse.

CarCastWebRecorder is "always on" and relentlessly checks the content of your web pages for multimedia content. When it finds it, it attempts to access it and cache it in the background, without ever interrupting your browsing activities. It records everything you listen to and more.

CarCastWebRecorder can be immediately downloaded and installed on Firefox.




The CarCast My Audio Library

The My Audio Library
The web-based, iTunes-like audio library for the CarCast system is called MyAudio.

Inside it you can see all of the audio tracks you have recorded and added to the library as well as any podcast you have subscribed to. From the library you can listen, rename or delete any of the audio tracks.

To add content to this MyAudio library you can either:

a) Subscribe to any audio podcast

b) Add it directly from your computer

c) Save it in the MyAudio library from your collection in the CarCastWebRecorder shelf.

For each audio item you add to the MyAudio library you can specify and edit the track title, author and description.

Then, when you insert your USB "CarCast-ready" USB-key, all of the audio contents of this library will be reflected on your USB stick.

But there are two more major options as well:

1) You can also SELECT which types of files to download in your external USB drive by choosing among MP3, MP4 (mp4, m4a, m4v, aac), DivX (avi, divx, xvid), Windows Media (wm, wma, wmv, wmf, asf).

2) You can choose which type of file organization you want to use among CarCast three possible alternatives:

  • FLAT
    Everything goes inside the MyAudio folder of the USB memory stick.
  • FOLDER
    You define the different folders inside MyAudio where you want to put the files, so that you can easily find the audio tracks you want to listen to.
  • PLAYLIST
    All audio files are in one folder but you can organize them into separate playlists.




Other Key Features

  • Capture any audio format
    One of the key goals of CarCast is to keep improving this system and to make it soon capable to record just about any audio stream type you can think of. For example, as of now, live streaming music stations like Somafm.com cannot be recorded by the CarCastWebRecorder though support for these will come in the near future.


  • Format conversion
    CarCast integrates an .MP3 automatic audio converter which makes it possible for you to get even the audio track from your favorite video lecture or video music clip into a standard audio music format.


  • Other output formats
    In the future CarCast will convert also to other formats as well. In particular, Giorgio Bernardi of Inrete reported to me that Divx support and ability to convert to what he calls the "portable media player format", which is a MP4 320x240 pixels multimedia file that can play over iPods, PSPs, Nokia cell phones, HTC and BlackBerry devices and more.

    The output to video format is meant to support playback on iPods (which do not play flv - Flash video files) and USB-stick playback from DVD players (under the TV) equipped with USB port but which support only Divx formatted video content.



  • Max Number of Recordings - Limitations
    CarCast has implemented a self-sustainable viral marketing strategy by limiting the number of "tracks" you can pile up inside your audio library. The limit, which is now set at 50 max recordings, can be easily overcome and pushed to the next level simply by inviting someone else you know to use the CarCast service. Just like Google did with GMail, everyone is encouraged to use the service and recommend it directly to his friends.

    To overcome the 50 items limit, inside the CarCast "MY AUDIO" page you can now click on "Get more Items" which allows you to send an invitation directly to a friend or colleague. Please note that the limit is not fully lifted but simply extended to allow you another 50 recordings to be added inside your audio library. In addition the bonus is granted only when anyone of your invited friends does effectively complete the CarCast registration.




How To Use CarCast

Here is the basic workflow you need to adopt to use CarCast correctly.

1) Log in to CarCast, install the Firefox plugin, and access your MyAudio Library.

2) Add relevant podcast and audio recordings you have been able to capture with CarCastWebRecorder to your library.

3) Organize your audio contents by creating folders and playlists as you need.

4) Download the CarCastUSB software and install it on your external USB key drive. (See detailed instructions here below)

5) Plug your USB key drive into any computer USB report and synchronize your USB key drive with all or some specific content from MyAudio library.

6) Take your USB key drive into your car and plug it in to listen to all of the audio selections you have saved.




How To Install CarCastUSB on An External Drive

CarCastUSB is the software that you need to install on your USB drive (or to any other mass storage device of your choice). The CarCast system has been designed to provide a useful service for car drivers who want an easy way to get audio and music they hear online into their portable music devices and so the USB type memory drive is used here as a most fitting example.

The first important thing to know is that the CarCastUSB software needs not to be installed on your computer.

You only need to save it on your USB key in an uncompressed format.

Here the specific steps to take to install CarCast USB from a Windows PC computer (Alternative instructions if you are on a Mac - Linux geeks need no help I suppose):

  1. Download the CarCastUSB software simply by clicking on the Windows icon that appears on the CarCastUSB page.
  2. Plug the USB key in your computer and take note of the drive letter that gets assigned to it.
  3. Right-click on the CarCast USB.zip file that you have just downloaded and select to extract the zip file contents to the drive letter you have identified in step 2.

  4. Disconnect the USB key once the process is finished.

From now on, no matter in which computer you will insert that USB key, you will see immediately
a control panel that will allow you to automatically start the synchronization of your CarCast MyAudio library with your USB key.




Examples of Web Audio Sources That You Can Record From

Here is a rather short initial list of online music sources that I have personally tested against WebCarCasrRecorder ability to record Internet audio from the most diverse places.

If you know of more relevant sources that should be listed here, please let me know via the comments section below.

In the future:
Streaming stations like Somafm.com and similar ones will be captured as well




How To Get CarCast On Your Computer

If you don't have already a friend using CarCast (who could invite you in) nor an Invitation Code, you may still be able to get access to CarCast.

In fact, if you are a blogger or someone interested in testing and trying out this new tool and willing to provide feedback to the team behind it on how to further improve it, you can ask for a Invitation Code directly to CarCast Labs. Send an e-mail that introduces you and your reasons for wanting to try CarCast out to carcast [at] staff.inrete.it




Summary Review

Pros - Key Strengths

  • Automatically detects and records many types of audio and video content
  • Cross-platform - Firefox plugin works on PC, Mac, Linux
  • Easy to use
  • Provides offline access to Internet audio content that would be otherwise difficult to listen to
  • Works not just on USB key drives but on just about any mass storage device that you want to use it with
  • Free - there is for now no cost involved in using CarCast or anyone of its components
  • MP3 automatic audio format converter
  • Automatically recorded audio clips can be added in one-click to the CarCast audio library
  • CarCastWebRecorder recognizes audio it has already recorded and it does not record it again if it is already available



Areas For Improvement

  • Official CarCast web site interface and its navigation
  • My Audio library - interface and usability - lots to do here - iTunes is a distant memory, but hey not use a true iTunes-like open-source product like Songbird or a similar solution?
  • CarCastWebRecorder support for automatic recording of more audio formats and types
  • Automatic recognition of music titles and artists name - Names of songs often go unidentified as the recorder can guess about information that is not reaily contained in the web page or feed where this is coming from. (see Gracenote capabilities)
  • Improved usability and functionalities inside CarCastWebRecorder - Navigation among recorded items is frustrating at best. You need to keep moving your mouse up and down to play different items. It takes time to go through the audio library to name properly items and to clean up junk or incomplete recordings that have ended up in there. A double click option that would playback any item so invoked would be much more usable. Furthermore a simple audio playback interface allowing easy access to stop / play / next / previous functions would also be very welcome.
  • Better detection of relevant audio content
  • Product presentation, marketing and video introduction




Editor's Comments

CarCast is an innovative solution to a growing pain: taking any audio or music you like on the Internet and bring it with you offline anywhere you want. The iPod is one step in that direction, but the iPod doesn't allow you to grab a song you hear on an Internet radio station or a cult groove you have just discovered on a digital mixtape that a friend has just sent you, or a great undeground tune you have just spotted on Somafm. Same if you are on Musicovery, Jango or Last.fm. You can listen but you can't record and take that stuff offline with you.

Or can you?

I am not talking from a legal viewpoint but from a technical one. How do you record that stuff?

If you start searching for tools that claim to record audio from the Internet you run into a barrage of utilities claiming to work only with certain formats or audio types. But which one is right for you? And what happens when you want to record something else? Most of these tools cost $20 to $30 so you easily risk to waste your time and money unless you know pretty well all of the tech issues involved in doing this.

CarCast, attempts to solve this very need by providing a free, universal web audio recorder that, when fully mature, is going to be able to capture most any audio format and delivery type you may run into.

This by itself is no small feat.

If two days ago you had asked me for a way to take with you offline any of my passionate digital mixtapes, as some of you have indeed, I wouldn't have had a solution to suggest. For example there was one of you in South Africa, who having a very slow connection wanted to get a specific mixtape down on her computer for listening to it properly and even when offline. CarCast may provide a solution for my sweet friend in CapeTown as well.

What I like the most about the CarCast system is its hybrid web-based / offline nature perfectly matching my need to find and capture online audio with my need to bring the same audio content offline, anywhere I am.

CarCast is also the first audio recording system for web-based audio content that does not require me to buy and install a dedicated and platform-specific audio conversion software. CarCast makes it completely effortless for me to record music tracks and audio clips from an infinite number of diverse Internet sources I run into during my online browsing.

But for as much I dig my newly earned ability to record a great deal of music, which before I could only access while connected to the net, I remain pretty disappointed by the very primitive interface of the CarCast web-based components, the MY Audio library and in general by the overall interface design and usability of some of its facilities. Given that the team behind CarCast is probably not made of any professional web designers or usability engineers this should not be much of a surprise.

What I care to highlight here is the how inseparable are the operatibility of a tool with its technical capabilities. In other words, I strongly believe that you cannot separate the quality of a technology from its interface and usability aspects. They are one thing.

I mean: you can have the greatest idea, technology or feature set but what is the benefit if only early adopters, geeks and power users can make sense of how to make it work for them?

Whether you build, create or code new technologies for experimentation, passion or big business, people have to interact with it and be able to make sense of it in the least possible time. Placing these needs in a lower, secondary priority level in favour of the more important engineering tasks, is just like developing a new car by looking only at the engineering aspects. People do not buy cars for how their engines are built. They buy them for their size, comfort, speed, looks.

My advice to the Inrete team is to consider looking at new technology development as an organic effort in which features, technology and UI (user inteface) must work together and not be separate components, created in separate departments and slapped onto each other before being shipped. That's the sensation I get when using CarCast: a great idea with a yet too primitive implementation.

At this stage CarCast remains a tool for geeks, power users and passionate early adopters who, much like me, care to install the latest and most interesting new tools out there. Especially for those who have a specific need to frequently capture or bring to the offline world audio content that is not normally downloadable, CarCast provides a truly "magic wand".

CarCast is also another sign of the increased and natural flow of music and audio toward ubiquity. Music wants to be everywhere and be as easy to access and listen to as water or electricity. The CarCast system does nothing but further help this natural flow and extending further music natural drive toward such ubiquity.

For music rights holders concerned or preoccupied by CarCast slick online recording abilities the cure is not to send another score of legal letters to the development team at Inrete, but to proactively work at realizing the idea of new music economic system that prizes in each and every way near-free ubiquitous music access.

For those looking at where technology is going, CarCast is a great lead to keep under your radar, and given their track record on other media-related technologies for recording and accessing audio and television content offline, one that would be worthwhile partnering with to develop commercially some of the very cool new media technologies they have launched in the last 18 months.

Just to hint at the potential these guys have already developed, think for a second about the power that the combined synergy of Inrete latest tools can have. If you mix together Vcast -Faucet and CarCast you have a complete system capable of doing scheduled and on-the-fly recording of any audio or video content being broadcast on the net or on the traditional airwaves. Matched to a system that synchronizes across your different media devices, and enhanced by a true iTunes-like management system CarCast would really be a breakthrough technology that would be adopted by thousands of users every day.

So this is the future, it works now and it can be very useful. It's not for everyone, but if you are geeky enough not to give up right away, you may love it.

But if you are looking for a what the future of personal online audio recording is going to be like, this is just a draft of what is yet to come. The idea is all there, but the delivery and "format" is all yet to come.

In all cases I eagerly recommend to those wanting to understand more, to give CarCast a good try now and to post here (in the comments section below) or to write to Inrete your sincere feedback and ideas.




Written by Robin Good for MasterNewMedia and first published as "Record Any Audio From The Web And Listen To It Offline, From Your USB Drive, Wherever You Are: The CarCast System" on September 10th 2008

 
 
 
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posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, September 10 2008, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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