There are now a growing number of Internet video players and aggregators promising to bring the latest TV, movies and podcasts to your desktop. Most, however, rely on closed, proprietary technologies and place their viewers in a passive role. Not so with Miro, the newly re-branded Democracy Player.
With a new look, a more cohesive website, some added features and a growing social community, Miro shows all of the signs of a good product that is going mainstream.
This is the reason behind the name change, for instance, which was decided on to remove the political connotations many had associated with the Democracy Player brand.
Miro still packs the same great features that made Democracy such a great tool - you can watch and store just about any video format in the player, subscribe to over 1800 online video channels, search and download movies from most of the major video publishing destinations and even download torrent files to watch them in the full-screen player.
Furthermore, Miro is cross-platform, working on all major computer operating systems, and therefore it allows all kinds of users to take advantage of its cool full feature-set.
Throw in some of the best looking high-definition video available online and code that is 100% open-source, and you have a truly impressive all-in-one video playback and aggregation tool for your desktop.
What was Democracy is now Miro, then, but the interface and feature-set will not hold any great surprises for those already familiar with the Democracy player, reviewed upon launch and in a recent update on these pages.
So what's changed?
A new name, logo and website design aside, Miro has added more video sharing services to its search functionality, created an all new channel guide featuring over 1800 RSS-enabled web TV channels to choose from, and the useful addition of keyboard shortcuts for the Miro application.
The relaunch as Miro has also brought with it a greater commitment to building a community around the platform, also, and the Miro website benefits from being both more jam-packed with instructional materials along with active user forums and irc chat capabilities besides.
For those unfamiliar with what Miro is capable of, you may want to check out my review of the most recent Democracy player release which is all but identical in its features. In brief, though, here are some of the key selling points of this flexible, cross-platform desktop application:
Aggregate all of your video in one place
Whether you have DivX movies and DVD-rips on your hard-drive, home movies in your iMovie collection or videos posted to YouTube Miro makes it easy to organize them all into your own video library and play them back using a full-screen player.
In addition to your own videos you can import movie files from most major video sharing services, subscribe to the RSS feed of any podcast in existence, download torrent files straight to Miro and easiest of all subscribe to any one of over 1800 video channels in the built-in Miro guide.
High quality, Multiple-Codec Playback
Go looking for the kind of high-definition video that still looks great on your 23" monitor, and you are likely to fast run into roadblocks. Certainly the video streamed by Joost and Babelgum manages to look a lot better than that served by YouTube, but you are still talking a far cry from high-definition footage.
Miro, on the other hand, claims to be the biggest source of HD video on the Internet. The reason behind this is simple - Miro is a download, video-on-demand tool rather than a streaming video service, and makes use of the BitTorrent technology to distribute large files quickly and effectively over a peer-to-peer network.
Furthermore, because Miro, like its predecessor, was built on top of the awesome open-source video player VLC, it has more built-in codecs than you could ever hope to make use of. What that means for the non-video-geeks is that you will be able to play and import video in just about any format under the sun using Miro.
While Windows Media Player and iTunes are very exacting about which type of media files they are willing to play back for you, there are very few videos out there that Miro will have any trouble playing back.
And like VLC, Miro is truly cross-platform, allowing you to run the client application on your Mac, Windows PC or a great number of GNU / Linux builds which is great news for those looking to enjoy video from a Free Software environment.
One major difference old-time Democracy users are likely to notice is that Miro has a lot better support behind it than its predecessor. While Democracy was never difficult to get to grips with, with the same going for Miro, a range of instructional and community features make sure that Miro is easy to use and well-supported.
In the collection of preset channels available when you first boot Miro, for instance, there is a great series of screencast tutorial videos from the PCF team. This series of well-made videos talks you through everything from the very basics to more advanced user-options, like organizing and creating folders for your video library. Of course this makes for a welcome addition, and as always a couple of minutes of well-made video is worth pages of written documentation.
Adding to this instructional material Miro now has an already quite active forum where users can discuss bugs, seek advice from the Miro community, discuss the platform or share ideas about video production and publishing.
For a platform that has always been dedicated to openness and user-feedback, the addition of a forum is a step in the right direction. In addition there is also a (somewhat bare-bones, buggy) IRC chat room on-site, which users can enter at any time or visit for scheduled meetings with the people behind Miro for hands-on feedback and discussion.
Video publishers are also well-catered for, as anyone is free to use Miro as a platform for distributing their vodcast or video shows. While the free Broadcast Machine tool is still available, however, for creating your own channel, it is no longer supported and is due a major overhaul in the near future.
Nevertheless, to create a channel all you need is a series of videos and an RSS feed, and to make things easier, Participatory Culture Foundation has created a complementary website full of tutorials called Make Internet TV, which was reviewed upon launch here at Master New Media.
For publishers using the service to distribute your video show, Miro also makes it super-easy for viewers to subscribe to your channel using these buttons that can be placed on your blog, website or next to wherever else your video might appear. For those that still struggle with the concept of RSS syndication, these buttons provide a one-click way for potential followers to get the latest episode of your show right to their Miro player, every time you publish.
Miro is founded on strong principles of open, participatory media and open-source distribution. What this means is that instead of simply providing a free video player client like those available from Joost or Babelgum, Miro offers a platform that can contributed to by its users.
Closed, proprietary systems are focused on doing deals with existing mass-media content providers and piping them to your computer just as they are piped to your television. The room for feedback, and certainly for creating your content and seeing it published, is very limited indeed.
Miro, on the other hand is not only Free / Open-Source software in the coding sense - i.e. the source code is available to all to improve or build on under the GPL - but also in its commitment to providing an open opportunity for anyone to publish their own video channel, download or import video in a rich variety of formats and make use of whichever operating system they feel most comfortable with.
In the age of proprietary broadcasting systems, DRM, and one-way, top-down mass media making its presence felt online, Miro comes as a refreshing breath of relief to those who believe in the power of disruptive (media) technologies.
Whether you care or not about this emerging landscape, where we make and participate in rather than passively consume the media, Miro still has a great set of features worth checking out. Its focus on openness is the icing on the cake.
Miro is an effective repackaging of the previously reviewed Democracy platform, and has managed to add some great social and community-based features to its host website, which has also had a significant design makeover.
If you have been following Democracy / Miro closely this past year, you won't find a great many changes to the last incarnation of the Democracy player - what you have here is a re-branded platform that continues its dedication to open-source culture and participatory media.
For those less familiar, or others who may not have checked out Democracy since its launch last year, there is a lot to see. Here is a cross-platform, open-source video player, library, search tool and broadcast technology rolled into one.
With the ability to play video in just about any format you can throw at it, the capability to search and download videos from the major video sharing platforms, and a foundation in RSS and P2P BitTorrent technologies, this is one tool well worth adding to your kit.
I for one am looking forward to the soon-to-be-released 1.0 version, but let it be said that a few rough edges aside Miro is the closest you are likely to get to a unified, all-in-one video aggregation, HD-video playback and channel recommendation tool.
And the best thing about it is that as an open-source project with growing community elements, you can play an active role in the future development of Miro, and help to shape it into an even better tool as time goes by.
If you would like to learn more about the Miro platform, you might want to take a look at the following links:
Originally written by Michael Pick for MasterNewMedia and titled: "Open-Source Video Player And Aggregator Democracy Player Launches New Mainstream Version: Miro Is Here"