Sunday, February 14, 2010

Using Silverlight or Moonlight to Watch the Olympics on CTV's Website

To watch the Olympics online through the CTV website, you must have Microsoft's Silverlight installed. This Flash alternative bills itself as cross-platform, cross-browser, cross-device web experience enhancer. On the surface, it seems easy to install and use. But man, what a pain it's been trying to actually see the live, streaming video of any event on the CTV website.

First off, Silverlight is not entirely cross-platform. I use mainly Ubuntu 9.10, the most recent version of Ubuntu, and I discovered that you cannot use Silverlight on it. You have to install an open-source version called "Moonlight." But Moonlight is a few versions behind Silverlight. Plus the one available through Synaptic Package Manager is an old version of Moonlight, so don't even bother installing it through Synaptic. The one available on the main Moonlight page is the newest, stable version, but as I discovered it crashes Firefox whenever you try to run a video on CTV's Olympics site. To have any chance of seeing the Olympics online, you have to install the alpha preview release of version 3, which comes with lots of warnings about stability and security. Basically, if you install this version, only use it on a trusted site like CTVOlympics.ca. No forgetting you got the alpha release installed and using it elsewhere!

After I installed the preview release, I finally got a video to load on the second try. The quality didn't look all that good, and the HD button didn't seem to be available, but it worked. You'll see a warning about the fact it may not be compatible, but if it doesn't load, try again, perhaps clear your cache first and try it without any other applications running because as some have complained in the Twitterverse, it's a resource hog.

To see the Olympics through Silverlight in all its beauty, you should use Windows. Luckily, I have a Vista machine. So I went to the CTV Olympics site, installed Silverlight to run the schedule, but nothing happened when I tried to watch an actual streaming video. All I saw were icons representing the competitors with the competitor on deck at the top, showing the current time. Is that supposed to be the vaulted online coverage, I wondered. After complaining to @CTVOlympics, I discovered I didn't have the most recent, recent version of Silverlight. Sheesh. Basically, you gotta install it directly from the Microsoft site. This site will read your browser, determine what version of Silverlight you have, and tell you whether you need to upgrade (or go to Moonlight if you're accessing the site within Ubuntu). Click the Install button, and it's pretty seamless from there. The online video feed is about 3.5 minutes behind the over-the-air television feed. (To compare: cable is usually a few seconds behind over-the-air.)

So all this took me two days to figure out in between watching events on television. Technology always manages to screw up. I would much prefer watching online through Ubuntu, but when all I want to do on my computer is watch the Olympics, I'll switch to my Vista machine. Meanwhile, what drove me to try and see it online in the first place -- CTV's abysmal main-network event coverage -- has resolved itself. Brian Williams, the consummate Olympics pro from previous CBC broadcasts of the Olympics, has brought sanity and enjoyment to the coverage.

17 comments:

Jason said...

Thank you for the post. I don't know you, but you just saved my me from trying to troubleshoot this myself. :-D

dmyurych said...

Once again corporate shills this time at CTV, sell out by using the latest crap from Microsoft that barely works on their on Windows platform let alone Mac or Ubuntu or other alternatives like the iPhone. Didn't CTV learn from their past failures with Silverlight (http://malocite.wordpress.com/category/silverlight/) or other site's problems with Silverlight like mlb.com (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10212843-93.html).

They could have implemented a number of other tried and tested ways of streaming video using industry standards like h.264 that reach a wide audience instead of relying on unproven and proprietary solutions.

I predict people will get frustrated and hardly anyone will watch the online video from the Winter Olympics at CTV. And some executive will get a fat bonus for a job well done and probably some kick back from Microsoft.

--
dmyurych

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Jason, Glad to have helped! That's why I wrote it -- I figured I couldn't be the only one this frustrated in trying to get it to work. :)

dmyurych, I'd never heard of Silverlight before this, and I must say Microsoft overpromises and underdelivers when they say it's cross-platform, cross-browser. One tweep was unable to use it in Firefox (unlike me) but got it to work in Safari, so it seems to be capricious too. I'm not even going to attempt to watch it on my mobile. It would be a shame if frustration with this technology led to fewer viewers. The Olympics are worth watching!

I think Microsoft and Bell -- the parent company of CTV -- have a corporate relationship.

Jason said...

I have given in trying to get Moonlight working with CTV in LinuxMint. My wife is currently running XP. Funny enough, the best viewing experience for her has been in Google Chrome.

It is unfortunate that things such as the Olympics don't get streamed in a more open format; however, CTV is still my savior. I currently reside across the border and NBC's streams are basically non-existent. Eventually, I hope that the US media companies realize that less than 10% of my 20-30 age group of friends don't own a television, but have an Internet connection. Here is hoping for a more open solution the next time around.

Thanks again for the post!

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Jason: I tried Google Chrome in Ubuntu, but I couldn't figure it out for the life of me. But maybe in XP it will be easier. I should try that on my XP machine (in case work interrupts my Olympics viewing and I have to get on it).

This just proves that this technology is really capricious. One moment, it works, the next not. And only works if I don't start any other program beforehand. Maybe it has to do with the load? Perhaps Sportsnet or TSN is easier to get going too as not so many running it? I've also noticed it sucks battery life on my laptop like nothing I've seen.

I agree with you. I'd love to be able to watch TV on my computer. And I have to admit that this is better than the Beijing feeds, which had no sound and weren't in HD.

You're welcome! :)

Anonymous said...

Current users of Silverlight

CTV did not think about checking whether current Silverlight users have the latest version.

Without the latest version you end up with slow video connection.

So uninstall Silverlight and then try watch a live video and you will be prompted to install the latest version...it made a huge difference.

Dummies at CTV.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips. Just finished installing Moonlight from Synaptic and still nothing (Ubuntu 9.10). I had read about Moonlight, but had not tried it until now--and like you I ended up watching choppy video on a vista laptop instead.
All this proprietary garbage just makes me more committed to Linux and open source solutions.
Jonathan

Micah said...

The new moonlight alpha updated on February 16th works better for me. Video is still _really_ choppy though.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Anon, you don't have to uninstall, just go to the Microsoft site (link in my post) and MS will tell you whether you need an upgrade and will do it seamlessly.

Ubuntu Anon, Glad I could help! I find Synaptic always has versions one or two behind, so if you need a program to be up to the minute, you have to go to the website, find the repository, and install. Luckily, with Moonlight, you can skip the adding repository to Software Sources step, and it'll install directly.

Micah, thanks for the tip. I'll go and update now.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Micah, I installed newest Moonlight once I was able to get it installed (lots of demand on the server), and you're right, it works better. It's too bad you still can't see the HD button or the volume button, so the video quality is the lower one, but at least you can see and hear it. :)

damon said...

Hi,

Just to let other people know that I was suffering from a problem caused by a bug in Firefox, see:

https://bugzilla.novell.com/show_bug.cgi?id=544214

The moonlight plugin affected the other video players and vice versa. All I got when I went to the ctvolympics.ca site was "Waiting for Video". The solution is to close firefox, delete
~/.mozilla/firefox/./pluginreg.dat

and restart firefox. Firefox rebuilds the pluginreg.dat file. Now, it takes a LONG time for the stream to load, but I'm watching Olympics online!

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

damon, Thanks for the tip!

Jason said...

After removing ./pluginreg.dat it is streaming for me, Thanks!

Choppy video, better experience after disabling flash; however, it is playing and I will take it! :-)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how to watch them on a mac?? I've been trying firefox, safari, explorer and downloading silver light directly from the CTV website and from the microsoft website and nothing seems to work. I can install the software but when I go back to watch the video I'm prompted to download the software again even though it's already downloaded and installed!

Very confused!!

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Anon, I'm not familiar with Macs. All I can suggest is try Firefox 3.6 if you haven't already, clear the cache or even browsing history, start clean -- meaning clear your cache, restart the computer, start the browser, and go straight to the video. Wait to see if it starts before going to another website or starting any other programs.

towjamb said...

Yeah, Moonlight alpha works for this site on Ubuntu 9.10 with Firefox plugin. But the video is choppy and near sets my core2 duo on fire. What a piece of crap software. Worse than Flash. Basically useless. Give it up and go open standards.

Anonymous said...

Linux user here as well. THUMBS DOWN TO CTV!!! I am really disappointed with them.