Replacing my television set

There is no doubt that the SABC is one of the worst television broadcasters I know, but DSTV isn’t all that far behind them.

The constant repetition of programming and a catalogue of movies which couldn’t even be classed as B-grade, has meant that I am often at a loose end in the evenings and looking for something to occupy my time.

One avenue which I have been exploring is programming delivered via the Internet. For a couple of years, I have been a regular listener to BBC radio, which is one of the many stations which one can listen to over the Internet.

Also, for the last year or two, I have been using a free Apple programme called iTunes to download a weekly video programme presented by Photoshop guru Scott Kelby with digital image manipulation tips and tricks. I hadn’t really paid much attention to iTunes otherwise, but one evening when I really couldn’t find anything on television to watch, I decided I would have a closer look at it.

You can download it from www.apple.com and there are versions for both PC and Macintosh computers. It can be used to keep track of your library of sound and video material and lets you play the items on your computer or copy them onto an Apple iPod so that you can enjoy them wherever you are.

There are a number of media player programs available but the trick that Apple came up with, and which makes iTines so compelling, is the Internet-based iTunes store. It’s a repository of material including music, audio books, movies, television shows and podcasts which can be downloaded either for a fee, songs are 99 US cents each for example, or for free.

The bad news is that, once again, South African customers are left sucking the hind tit because the pay content is not available to us and I don’t know if it ever will be; Apple’s PR in Europe has so far not responded to my request for clarification. And so, you might ask, why is he telling us this if we can’t download the latest Hannah Montana episode?

The answer is that there is a lot of excellent free stuff that you can get by firing up the iTunes program and clicking on the iTunes Store button. Most of the free stuff consists of podcasts, which are regular audio or video magazine programs, so you need to visit that section of the store and browse around till you find something of interest.

Each podcast will have a subscribe button next to it and you click that to tell iTunes you are interested in it and want to download it. The program will download the latest edition of the podcast for you automatically and give you the option of downloading previous editions, if you want them.

From then on, whenever iTunes starts, it will automatically go off to the store to check if there is a new edition of any of the podcasts you’ve subscribed to. There doesn’t seem to be any limit to the number of podcasts that you can subscribe to but I’m learning to be picky because it is easy to download more than you could possibly watch or listen to.

One of my current favourites is a podcast by American comedian Adam Carolla which he updates about four or five times a week and which I find hugely funny. I definitely recommend that you put this one on your list of things to listen to but please be warned that Carolla and his guests are sometimes pretty explicit in what they have to say.

Many podcasts are designed to entertain but there are a probably an equally large number which are meant to be informative and educational and these range from the informal, with people giving hints and tips on their specialities, to universities providing academic lectures to anyone who wants to listen.

The more academic stuff is grouped under the iTunes U banner and I have listened to a little of what’s on offer. They vary quite greatly in sound quality from the pretty bad to more professionally produced offerings. A very interesting series of lectures that I’m listening to is on the history of photography and, from my limited knowledge of the subject, they seem to be extremely good.

There are also a large variety of podcasts which are ongoing study courses on many different subjects. Some of these are entirely free and some offer free material but are designed to attract you into paying for the deluxe version of the course.

The type of material you download has a direct bearing on how much bandwidth you’ll use, with sound working out at about 40-50 Mb per hour, and video files being much larger. Our puny expensive bandwidth means that most people will have to limit their subscriptions but, at least, there is an alternative to the dreadful goggle box.

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