Coming features on Category5.TV

Category5.TV:

  1. Next/Previous episode buttons when viewing the show notes page for any episode. – Done
  2. Photo gallery re-write with grid-style gallery layouts.
  3. RSS feeds to begin stating the age of an episode (eg., ’1 Week Ago’ or ’3 Years Ago’). – Done
  4. Add Google-indexable breadcrumbs to Episode pages. – Done
  5. Season 2 Episodes made available on-demand and in RSS feeds.
  6. Season 1 Episodes made available on-demand and in RSS feeds.
  7. Replace the main menu script with something more robust, to accommodate the growing list of menu items and introduce third-level navigation. – Done, sortof. Rather than replacing the menu, I recoded bits of the existing one to add new functionality. I think it works quite nicely.
  8. Replace the jQuery scroller at the top of the home page with something a little more current. – Done, sortof. I decided that for the moment, I still like the scroller we have, and it’s lightweight, which is a plus. So instead I just improved it slightly. Buttons have been changed to our orange color to make them stand out more, too. I have begun coding a new “animated” version to replace this one eventually, but for now I’ve bought some time.
  9. Make the giant header slideshow on season pages select a handful of random images from the season rather than the most recent ones.
  10. Related Episodes feature on show notes pages.

Now you can see what was said in the chat room in realtime while watching on-demand video from Category5 TV.

Beginning with Episode 231 (February 21, 2012) we have been keeping a log of the Category5 TV chat room during the live broadcast, complete with timestamps.

These logs have been available to view for a while now via the show notes page for each episode since that time, but I’ve always wanted to take it a step further.

Effective immediately, logged-in registered viewers may enable the chat logs as their source for closed captioning.

Video Captions from Chat Logs

This is a two-fold success.  First, it adds a pretty neat feature to the on-demand video since logged-in viewers can now see what was said at the time during the live show, overlayed on the video, but secondly, it allowed me to generate an effective closed captioning system on our web site. I hope to eventually offer English (and electronic translations to other languages) captions, and this provides the back-end technology to do this.

Enable CaptionsTo enable this feature on your account, login to Category5.TV and visit your profile page. Once their select “Chat Logs” as your source for closed captioning.

Make sure you’re logged in, as this is an exclusive feature to registered viewers.

Please offer your feedback below. What do you think of this feature?

-Robbie

RSS distribution changes and keeping costs manageable

Hi all!

Hope you’ve been enjoying the benefits of the new transcoders the past couple months, along with the absurdly fast distribution backend we added to the RSS feeds!

I’ve been feeling the waters now for a little over 2 months and am implementing some changes, effective immediately.

Our Goal: Every Episode for Free
One of the goals at Category5 TV is to always offer all our episodes free of charge to the viewers, and in a very accessible way (or many ways to accommodate many different types of users).

The Problem With Our Goal
Our new distribution mechanism is pricey. Category5 TV stores over a terabyte of video “in the cloud”, and we have a very active community of happy downloaders. A lot of those downloaders like to grab every episode, especially people who have just found the show and want to see all the oldies. For every person who downloads the whole series, we pay for that download, and it has become substantial. Too substantial to maintain.

So, I’ve been contemplating… how do we do it?  Do we start charging for downloads?  Obviously not!  That’s not in line with our goal to offer the video to you free of charge.  Do we restrict viewers to only being able to download say, the last 5 episodes?  Also a resounding “no!” as that would not be in line with our goal to give you the wealth of information that is available through Category5 TV.

And then it hit me.

It’s not the week-to-week downloads that cost us too much money in bandwidth fees… it’s the big downloads. The people who subscribe to the RSS feed (especially HD) and download all the available episodes. That’s about 90GB per user. And there are a lot of them.

So, my solution: effective immediately, the most recent 5 episodes of Category5 TV will be distributed through our fast, expensive CDN.  This ensures the viewers who are watching week after week get the fastest, most reliable delivery service, even if they miss a few weeks and need to catch up.

All episodes from more than 5 weeks ago will still be available, but will be hosted on our slower network (which costs us substantially less, but is quite slow for distribution, and a little less reliable). This means those wanting to download all episodes will get them much more slowly, but they’ll get them none the less. This will save us several thousand dollars per year in bandwidth fees, which I think you can appreciate.

Potential Issue & Solution
Many users have their RSS aggregator setup to automatically download new files as they hit the RSS feed. Every week as a new episode is added, the 6th episode in the feed gets moved to the other distribution servers. This means that aggregator may download both the new episode (1st in the list) plus the newly moved episode (6th in the list), even though it has probably already been downloaded. The new URL makes the aggregator think it’s a new file.

The solution? Only subscribe to the most recent files. Update your feed URL, adding /fast to the end of the URL.  For example, if you’re using the SD feed (http://rss.cat5.tv/sd), change your feed to http://rss.cat5.tv/sd/fast.  This will make sure you only receive files off the fast CDN, and your aggregator will completely ignore anything moved onto the other distribution platform. You’ll receive the new episode every week, and the last of the most recent 5 episodes will simply fall off your list.

Premium Accounts
I am toying with the idea of offering optional premium accounts for a reasonable fee, which would allow a user to download the whole RSS feed directly from our super-fast CDN, and am even giving some thought to providing the series on Blu-Ray if there is a desire from the community to have such a thing. What are your thoughts on premium accounts, keeping in mind that we will always offer Category5 freely to the community? But those who offset the high expense of distribution get some added perks.

It costs us about $0.25 for each download of an HD episode of Category5. Would you pay $1 per month to offset that cost? $2 a month to more than pay for usage? What are your thoughts?

Slowing down the transcoders and Season 4 is online!

As you may have noticed, I had to slow down the transcoders.

Yes, they operate super fast and can transcode all our back episodes in a very short time as previously reported.

However… they cost a lot of money! Le gasp!

As you can imagine, Category5 TV back episodes take up a lot of space on the web. Over a terabyte as a matter of fact. So transcoding, uploading and distributing all 300+ episodes all in one fell swoop was a bad idea from a cost perspective.

So I slowed things down to a more manageable price point so I can space the cost out over multiple months.

Okay, all that said, exciting news this weekend: Category5 TV SEASON 4 is now entirely transcoded and available for on-demand viewing at http://www.category5.tv/episodes-season-4.php!

It is my dream that one day all 7 seasons (and beyond) of Category5 TV will be available for on-demand viewing, and this brings us just a little bit closer to this goal.

Many of the episode content will be dated (as we’re talking episodes which are 3 or 4 years old), but there is still some excellent information in there, such as understanding how to safely dispose of a computer to avoid your private data being compromized, enhancing photographs with the GIMP, how to create panoramic photographs using a standard digital camera, creating mosaic images from hundreds or thousands of photographs, and even our popular web development series in its entirety.

Enjoy these “new” old episodes! Now, to begin tackling Season 3!

-Robbie

Preventing rsync from doubling–or even tripling–your S3 fees.

Using rsync to upload files to Amazon S3 over s3fs?  You might be paying double–or even triple–the S3 fees.

I was observing the file upload progress on the transcoder server this morning, curious how it was moving along, and I noticed something: the currently uploading file had an odd name.

My file, CAT5TV-265-Writing-Without-Distractions-With-Free-Software-HD.m4v was being uploaded as .CAT5TV-265-Writing-Without-Distractions-With-Free-Software-HD.m4v.f100q3.

I use rsync to upload the files to the S3 folder over S3FS on Debian, because it offers good bandwidth control.  I can restrict how much of our upstream bandwidth is dedicated to the upload and prevent it from slowing down our other services.

Noticing the filename this morning, and understanding the way rsync works, I know the random filename gets renamed the instant the upload is complete.

In a normal disk-to-disk operation, or when rsync’ing over something such as SSH, that’s fine, because a mv this that doesn’t use any resources, and certainly doesn’t cost anything: it’s a simple rename operation. So why did my antennae go up this morning? Because I also know how S3FS works.

A rename operation over S3FS means the file is first downloaded to a file in /tmp, renamed, and then re-uploaded.  So what rsync is effectively doing is:

  1. Uploading the file to S3 with a random filename, with bandwidth restrictions.
  2. Downloading the file to /tmp with no bandwidth restrictions.
  3. Renaming the /tmp file.
  4. Re-uploading the file to S3 with no bandwidth restrictions.
  5. Deleting the temp files.

Fortunately, this is 2013 and not 2002.  The developers of rsync realized at some point that direct uploading may be desired in some cases.  I don’t think they had S3FS in mind, but it certainly fits the bill.

The option is –inplace.

Here is what the manpage says about –inplace:

This option changes how rsync transfers a file when its data needs to be updated: instead of the default method of creating a new copy of the file and moving it into place when it is complete, rsync instead writes the update data directly  to  the destination file.

It’s that simple!  Adding –inplace to your rsync command will cut your Amazon S3 transfer fees by as much as 2/3 for future rsync transactions!

I’m glad I caught this before the transcoders transferred all 314 episodes of Category5 Technology TV to S3.  I just saved us a boatload of cash.

Happy coding!

- Robbie

The new transcoder is proving itself.

Well, we’ve been on the new transcoders for one week now, and I’m excited to see the impact.

Last night was the first night where I was able to initiate an automated transcode of an episode shortly after we signed off the air.

There are still some things I need to work out.  For example, I could not initiate the conversion until I had imported the photos, because the transcoder uses the episode’s image for the ID3 cover art on MP3 transcodes.  So after I finished choosing and uploading the images for last night’s show, I fired the transcoder.

Here’s the log output:

It was less than 8 minutes after I initiated the transcoder that the MP3 RSS feeds received the new episode.  Just a little more than 48 minutes after initiating the transcoder, the Low Definition (LD) file completed.  The show went up on the web site almost immediately after that (the files first get sync’d to our CDN and then added to the database, automatically).

All files (MP3, LD, SD, HD and WEBM) were complete in just 2 hours 31 minutes 4 seconds, including all distribution, even cross-uploading to Blip.TV (also automated now).

From 17 hours to only 2.5 hours.  This thing is incredible.

And that means, on average, we’ll be able to transcode nearly 10 episodes per day — almost double the turnaround of our first week.  That means the job which was estimated to take 72 days on our main server alone has been cut to only a day or two longer than one month.  In just one month from now, all back episodes – six years worth of Category5 TV – will be transcoded.

Why am I so excited about this “transcoder” thing?

There’s something I’ve been really excited about the past little while, and some may not understand why.

It’s the new Category5 Transcoders.

Transcoding is the direct analog-to-analog or digital-to-digital conversion of one encoding to another, such as for movie data files or audio files. This is usually done in cases where a target device (or workflow) does not support the format or has limited storage capacity that mandates a reduced file size,[1] or to convert incompatible or obsolete data to a better-supported or modern format. [Wikipedia]

Here is what I wanted to achieve in building a custom transcoding platform for Category5:

  1. Become HTML5 video compliant.
  2. Provide screaming fast file delivery via RSS or direct download.
  3. Provide instant video loading in browser embeds, with instant playback when seeking to specific points in the timeline.
  4. Provide Flash fallback for users with terrible, terrible systems.
  5. Ensure our show is accessible across all devices, all platforms, and in all nations.
  6. Make back-episodes available, even ones which are no longer available through any other means.
  7. Reduce the file size of each version of each episode in order to keep costs down for us as well as improve performance for our viewers.
  8. Ensure our video may be distributed by web site embeds, popup windows, RSS feed aggregators, iTunes, Miro Internet TV, Roku, and more.
  9. Ensure our videos are compatible with current monetization platforms such as Google AdSense for Video.

In the past, we’ve been limited to third-party services from Blip and YouTube.  Both of these services are huge parts of what we do, but relying on them exclusively has had some issues:

  1. Both Blip and YouTube services are blocked in Mainland China, meaning our viewers there have trouble tuning in.
  2. Both services, in their default state, require manually labour in order to place episodes online in a clean way (eg., including appropriate title, description and playlist integration).
  3. Blip does not monetize well.
  4. YouTube monetizes well on their site, but they restrict advertising on embeds (so if people watch the show through our site rather than directly on YouTube, we don’t get paid).

The process of transcoding the files and making them available to our viewers has been a onerous task since the get-go.  We grew so quickly during Season 1 that we didn’t really have the infrastructure to provide the massive amount of video that was to go out each month.  We had one month in 2012 for example, where we served nearly 125 Terribytes of video.

It takes me many hours each week just to make the files available to our viewers, and the new transcoder has been developed to cut that task down to only a few minutes, while simultaneously pumping out the video much, much faster.

I’ll try to explain how this happens in a mockup:

Old Vs. New Transcoding ProcessThe new transcoder not only does things faster: it does things simultaneously.

While transcoding the files for the RSS feeds, it has already placed a web-embedded copy of the show on our web site, in as little as 45 minutes.  Not only that, but once it’s all said and done, the transcoder server then automatically uploads the file to Blip.

The new transcoder consists of two servers at two different locations sharing the task itself, and then the files are distributed through two of our CDNs (one which is powered by Amazon, the other is our own affordable solution based on the old “alt” feed model).

We have been working with the team at Flowplayer, who are soon to introduce a public transcoding and hosting / distribution service for content providers.  With this new relationship, we will be able to serve up ads in a friendly way to help offset distribution costs.  This also means we now have our own embed player, no longer relying on YouTube or Blip’s embedded player.

This means, viewers in Mainland China can now watch Category5 directly through our main web site.  No more workarounds!

As long as we can offset the added expense of self-hosting video, this could lead to some great things.  I’ll be keeping an eye on it over the next while, and encourage you to submit your feedback.  I love the idea of Category5 finally being accessible to everyone, everywhere, and very quickly following each show.  I also love that my Tuesday nights will no longer be so arduously long.

Transcoders are a very difficult thing to explain, and the way we’re doing it is hard to explain, but to me, it’s exciting.  Just know that it means “everything is better than ever”, with fast video load time through our site, RSS feeds that are more than 10x faster than before, global access (even in Mainland China), and room to grow.

I’m currently running the system through countless tests, but the transcoders are live.  It will be working its way (automatically) through back-episodes, so you’ll start to see the YouTube player disappearing from the site, replaced with our own player.  Eventually, all 312+ episodes will be available.

Thanks for growing with us!

- Robbie

 

RSS feeds have been migrated!

As per my last post, our video and audio RSS feeds have been migrated to our [formerly known as] alternate servers.

The alternate servers were originally built to allow viewers in Mainland China to view Category5 Technology TV.  They were the “alternate” servers because Blip.TV and YouTube are blocked in Mainland China.

However, through my tests, I discovered that these servers were in fact substantially faster than pulling video from Blip.TV, so I wrote a migration script to automatically merge all files to the alternate servers upon their release, and deploy them via our RSS feeds.

This means you’ll now receive our files faster (even fast enough to stream to your browser directly).  It also means our files are now available everywhere, including Mainland China, directly from our main feeds.

But it means we generate $0 ad revenue from our feeds.  GASP!

The next step is to allow China viewers an opportunity to disable YouTube on our main web site, and embed a streaming player which utilizes our new servers’ files.  Again, the catch 22 in doing this is simple: YouTube helps pay the bills.

The changes mean we’re incurring more cost, but adding the possibility to generate less ad revenue.  It’s completely backwards to anyone trying to make money.  Fortunately for you, my goal is to make our service as good as possible, and I believe with all my heart that viewers and advertisers will choose to support us.  Watch for an announcement soon–you could be part of our ad sales team and even make yourself some extra cash monies while supporting the show you love!

Enjoy the new feeds!  If you have means to do so, please considering donating, or subscribing to a monthly donation amount.  You can do so at cat5.tv/c.

Thanks!

- Robbie

Category5 RSS feeds could be 5500% faster with more world accessibility by switching away from Blip.tv for RSS distribution.

I’ve been hearing for a while that Blip.tv is slow.

It’s never seemed bad to me, but I didn’t really have anything to compare it to.  I have to be honest, I really love the features Blip.tv gives to its producers.  Not so much to its viewers.  But to the producers.  The automated file conversions from FTP uploaded masters is an exceptional time saver in post, and the automated upload to YouTube, while not perfect, also saves some redundant work for me after the show each Tuesday night.

So, to hear that Blip.tv is slow seemed backward to me; it is a real time saver.  To me, a show producer.

Last July, we launched a syndicate in China, because Blip.tv is blocked in China and our viewers were crying out (in particular, Mainland China residents who had traveled to places like Germany for school and had fallen in love with the show, which is very popular there).

So for kicks, I thought I’d test the speed difference between Blip.tv and our China syndication system.

For this little experiment, I used the exact same file from 3 sources (Blip.tv, Amazon S3 and our China syndication system).

Here are the shocking results:

File:  Episode 295, H.264 SD Quality, 246378147 Bytes (235 MB).
Blip.TV:  34m 25s, 117 KB/s
Amazon S3:  52s, 4.48 MB/s
Our China Syndication System:  37s, 6.19M/s

I’m sorry, what?  Blip.tv took nearly 35 minutes to download the episode, whereas our syndication system into Mainland China, which is housed at our datacentre in California, took only 37 seconds!  That’s basically one second for every minute it took through Blip.tv.  I did not expect that!  I’m also impressed that the little syndicating system (which I designed) outperformed S3.

No, we are not going to drop Blip.tv.  It has its place, and that place is as I described.  They’re a big part of our distribution chain.  But perhaps it’s best to retire them as the source for our RSS feeds and let them stick to what they do best: from the encoding to the distribution to YouTube.

So I have a feeling our system which was built to help viewers in China watch the show may soon become our world-wide source for RSS files.  What do you think?  Want to receive Category5 episode 5500% faster?

Now, to git’r done!

Comment below.