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Passive entertainment with Democracy TV

By   |  January 26, 2007

When it comes to bandwidth eaters, there’s one kid on the block that will have you biting off more than you can chew – especially in South Africa. It’s fun. Its addictive. It’s open source. It’s Democracy TV.

At its heart, Democracy TV is a video player and web browser rolled into one. You can use it to organise and watch your existing videos on your computer, or you can browse hundreds of independent internet “channels” that broadcast video over the web. While that seems like a simple concept, in reality it gives voice to independent movie makers who want to be heard, without access to traditional broadcast mediums.

It also gives the user more control over what he or she watches, and when. In the same way that portable MP3 players, such as the iPod, untethered us from radio, projects like Democracy TV break our bond with traditional television, controlled by a few networks.

One of the coolest features is the “channel guide”, which showcases some of the best channels on the web. It conveniently categorises the content, with “News”, “Politics” and “Music” as some of the possibilities.

The slick interface has lots of other little gems, including the ability to rate films and an indication of how many people have watched a specific film. This gives you a better indication of what’s good and what isn’t. Being a completely open broadcast medium, there’s plenty of excellent content, and also more than a fair share of dire programmes. Democracy TV helps you navigate successfully to the best.

You can subscribe to certain channels and new shows in that channel will be automatically downloaded when new content is posted – similar to some podcast software. So if you find a channel you love, you don’t need to do anything to get the latest shows. Democracy TV will tell you when you’ve got a new show downloaded and ready to watch.

You can also search sites like YouTube, Yahoo! Video and Google Video, and download the resulting clips through Democracy TV. You can even add a search as a channel, and get videos tagged with specific content downloaded automatically.

If Democracy TV has one draw-back, it’s its addictiveness. With our typical 3GB caps in South Africa, you’ll burn through your bandwidth faster than you can blink. Videos are often a couple of hundred megabytes big, which adds up pretty fast if you’re automatically downloading from a channel. It also takes a couple of hours to download some shows locally, making Democracy TV lose out somewhat to the immediate gratification of turning on the TV.

Democracy TV is available for Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. It’s developed by a non-profit organisation called the Participatory Culture Foundation, and boasts Cory Doctorow on its board. According to the site “there’s an opportunity to build a new, open mass medium of online television. We’re developing the Democracy internet TV platform so that watching internet video channels will be as easy as watching TV and broadcasting a channel will be open to everyone. Unlike traditional TV, everyone will have a voice.”

And if you’re looking for cool techie channels on Democracy TV, check out Systm, a very slick computer show. For open source, there’s The_Source, which produces its show entirely on open source software.

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