Radio or TV on demand…aka “Podcasts” FAQ and tutorials
Recently, I have really been getting into podcasts. Many non-techies don't know what they are, so here are some basics:
- Podcasts are just audio or video files (e.g., MP3, AVI, etc.)
- They aren't just for iPods. Listen/watch on your computer or any mp3 device
- You don't need any special applications to play
- They are great for playing in your car driving to work
OK, you got it? The main point: They are just plain old audio or video files. The difference is how you access them and that is probably where the confusion begins. The simpliest way to play a podcast is to visit a website with podcast links, download the file, and play it on your computer.
What's Cool About Podcasts?
You can listen to some of your favorite tech personalities talk about the latest tech gadgets, issues, etc. Some are video files so you can see them as well. There are hundreds if not thousands of choices and topics go way past just tech. Podcast.net will give you an idea of the variety available.
- Browse to the This Week in Tech (TWiT) website at http://www.twit.tv/
- Click on the “Download MP3 file” link. Depending on how your PC is configured, the MP3 will either play or prompt you to download the file. You can play the downloaded file in your player of choice
- Congrats. You just played a podcast…
That's it??? It's just like playing an MP3 or AVI file! There must be more! But of course there is. Instead of making you visit the TWiT site each week and manually download the MP3, wouldn't it be nice if you could “subscribe” to it and be notified when new episodes are posted and maybe even automatically download the file? Well that's the idea behind the whole podcast movement. It isn't the podcast file so much as the way it is delivered.
Podcasts basically piggyback onto information “feeds” called RSS (or XML) feeds. Each story or episode is a separate entry in the “feed” and the podcast file is linked in the entry. If you are familiar with blogs, a feed is essentially the same thing, in fact, blogs generally can be read as an RSS feeds. Feeds have URLs which are almost always a webpage like “http://leoville.tv/podcasts/sn.xml”. These pages store all of the data describing the available podcasts in a standardized format. Since they generally use the HTTP protocal, you can browse to them in Internet Explorer just like any other page, but you'll just see data.
On that same TWiT page (http://www.twit.tv/), above, just below the download link, there is a
Subscribe pop-up menu. In the menu are listed various “feed readers”
like iTunes, Google, etc. What these do is allow you to “subscribe” to
the feed using a reader of your choice. Don't be scared about the term “subscribe.” It's more like saving a
favorite. Nearly all podcasts are free so you don't pay or have to
provide any personal information. The plain vanilla URL is usually labeled RSS or sometimes XML.
To use the feed page data in a meaningful way, you need a RSS feed reader or better yet, a podcast receiver client application. General RSS feed readers can read any RSS feed, not just podcasts. Remember, podcasts are really just special RSS feeds. Just subscribe to the feed and the podcast will have links in the entry that allow you to download the audio/video file. Google has a free reader at http://google.com/reader (you'll need to sign up for a free account).
Now, the better way to get podcasts, however, is to use a podcast receiver client, sometimes called a podcatcher. My favorite is Ziepod, but Juice is good too. Both have free versions. You can subscribe to the podcasts and manage how they are downloaded. Then you just copy the files to your MP3 player.