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Miro is Your TiVo for Internet Video


In the mid-year slump when there’s absolutely nothing new on television (except the Olympics), it’s time to start watching the web—and you need the right tool to do just that. The free, cross-platform internet video player Miro can automatically download online video series via RSS feed or BitTorrent, play almost any format you throw at it, and keep track of what you’ve watched and what’s new and queued up for you. More and more independent producers are putting out fabulous video content on the web, but keeping up with it by visiting your favourite video hosting web site or in your regular feed reader can be almost impossible—but setting up Miro is like getting TiVo for web video. Let’s take a look at how to subscribe to free internet television with Miro.



Miro’s TiVo-Like Features

In short, Miro is a video “podcatcher”—software that uses video feeds to automatically download new episodes for you and keep track of what you’ve watched and not watched. Kind of like an inbox for your video subscriptions, here’s what Miro looks like with a few subscriptions set up.

(Note: This screenshot is from a Mac, but Miro works on Windows and Linux as well.) There you can see my subscription to the great Google Talks YouTube feed, and Miro separates what’s available on the feed, what clips it’s already downloaded to my hard drive, what’s unwatched, and what it’s in the process of downloading in an easy to use interface. On the left hand column, you can see my current subscriptions, and how many unwatched items each has in the green circle.

Since I often can’t take time out of a workday to watch longer video clips, I like to run Miro on a computer connected to my actual television, so I can relax on the couch and watch my subscriptions full-screen during TV time. Here’s a rundown of the killer features that make Miro ideal for keeping up with online video:

  • Automatic downloads and unwatched counts keep you on top of your subscriptions. Like TiVo’s Season Pass, Miro works in the background, silently queuing up video you’ve subscribed and storing it for as long as you specify. Like your email inbox or RSS reader, it displays how many unwatched items you have next to each subscription in the left column.
  • Auto-expire times delete the old stuff you’re never going to see. Like TiVo, you can tell Miro to automatically expire and delete video that’s older than a certain number days, or to stop downloading after it’s queued up a certain number of unwatched episodes.
  • Video search, folders, and playlists let you find and organize as you see fit. Create playlists of clips, and drag and drop subscriptions and playlists into folders and subfolders in the left column to keep your video organised and easy to access. Here you can see that I put all the parts of The Machine that Changed The World (a documentary on the history of computing Miro downloaded via BitTorrent from here), in its own playlist. (Click to enlarge.)
  • Resume where you stopped playing. Like TiVo, Miro remembers where in your clip you hit the “Stop” button, and can resume playing an item right where you left off.

Most important of all, Miro seems to be able to play any video file format you throw at it. You can also go full-screen on playback by hitting the Ctrl+F key combination (or choosing Full Screen from the Playback menu).

Adding Channels to Miro

If you’re new to watching online video series, some of Miro’s terminology can be confusing at first. Inside Miro, a “channel” is actually a feed of clips. So if you’re at a YouTube page like the Talks@Google page, to subscribe to that channel in Miro you need to copy the video RSS feed to your clipboard. In Firefox you can use the blue RSS icon on the far right of the address bar; in this case that URL is http://www.youtube.com/ut_rss?type=username&arg=AtGoogleTalks. Once you’ve copied that link to your clipboard, in Miro from the Channels menu, choose Add Channel. Miro will automatically enter what’s on your clipboard into the URL entry box, so you can hit Enter or OK to subscribe.

By default, YouTube user subscriptions appear in your subscription list named “YouTube :: Videos by So-and-So.” To give it a more recognisable name, right click on the sub in the left column and choose Rename Channel, and enter a better name (for easier spotting and sorting).

You can also create a dynamic, keyword-based search channel with Miro. Say you want to see all the videos on YouTube that involve the word Lifehacker. From the Channels menu, choose “New Search Channel” and enter your keyword and source (either an engine, playlist, or URL.)

Use the Playlist menu to create manual playlists that you can drag and drop individual video clips into. Then you can also use the Channels and Playlist menus to create folders in your subscription list; then, drag and drop videos and subscriptions into those folders to organize them further.

Watch a Web Series Continuously

One of Miro’s handier features is its ability to do continuous, consecutive playback on a group of videos. For example, when you want to watch a web series like The Guild—each episode of which is just a few minutes—you can sort the subscription from episode 1 through 10, then start playing the first one, and sit back and relax. Once Miro’s finished playing back one episode, it can automatically move onto the next till you’ve watched the entire playlist or subscription.

Recommended Channels

While Miro comes with a nice selection of starter channels, here are a few tangentially related to nerds and lifehackers around the internet I really like:

Of course, subscribing to video podcasts is just one way Miro can download content from the web. Back when Miro was named Democracy Player, Adam detailed how to use its built-in BitTorrent client to download your favourite TV episode torrents from the web.

Two last items of note before getting started with Miro: First, while Miro is relatively stable, on a slower machine it can hog up resources when it’s catching up on your subscriptions. On my old PowerBook media centre Mac, once in awhile I have to restart Miro to get other things done on the machine. Second, while iTunes does have the ability to subscribe to video podcasts, Miro is a much better tool for the job. Check out this Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, likes watching the web on her television with Miro. Her feature Geek to Live appears every weel on Lifehacker.