Systm Review

Over the last few days I’ve been downloading and watching episodes of Systm, a US-based amateur IT video show. Although not specifically an Open Source or Free Software show, it’s certainly not adverse to talking about FLOSS, with Asterisk, Audacity and MythTV getting coverage. It’s impressive the results an amateur effort can produce with enough time and energy pored in, although I suspect UK viewers will take the presenting style with a large pinch of salt.

There are occasional captions, screen images and animated graphics but they avoid the trap of most amateur video editors and don’t over use them. Those that are used are mostly clear and genuinely illustrative. Highlighting of parts of a text file is an excellent idea that really helps. Other sequences use animations to demonstrate cabling or circuitry. The set is simple but well lit. They also have an impressive amount of demonstration hardware to discuss; various VoIP phones, cables, TV capture cards etc. etc. Overall the show perhaps strives to be more polished than it needs to be, with a fair bit of evidence of prepared questions and rehearsal. Obviously they want the show to be as entertaining and informative as possible, but I suspect that the program is partially a platform for the presenters to show their skills in the hope that they will be noticed by bigger shows or networks. As such, it would be nice to see the personalities of the presenters occasionally, unless their ultimate career aim really is presenting “infommercials”.

The show produces each episode in four formats and two sizes. With eight files being released for each episode they understandably prefer bittorrent for distribution. Given that the small files are about 50MB to 200MB and the large ones varying between 200MB and 500MB+ then this is sensible. However direct HTTP downloads are available. I initially downloaded the large Theora version of one of the episodes but my Meeja Box wasn’t man enough for this job. It played back fine on my laptop but the playback stuttered and eventually sound just packed in on the media box. I downloaded the small Theora version and this played back fine though. Checking the files, the large video versions have 640×480 frame size so it wasn’t necessary to have the higher quality version to view on a standard TV anyway. The small version, at 320×240, is more than adequate.

The episode on Asterisk started with a fairly clear break down of the technology, following a standard two-headed format. A lead presenter, Kevin Rose, asks most of the questions whilst the resident expert answers them. The presenting style is a cross between QVC, Ready Steady Cook and Tomorrow’s World. I keep expecting Judith Hann to walk in. Other episodes, such as the ones on the iPod Nano and Warspying, reminded me of Blue Peter with their demonstrations of construction (and dismantling) devices. The stress in the presenter’s voice as he tried not to snap the PCB inside his iPod nano is something that you don’t hear on Blue Peter when they’re building Tracy Island though.

The first part of the podcasting episode was mostly a tutorial on Audacity, although it was good to see them recommending the Shure SM58 as a microphone (I’ve got one somewhere….) and a proper hardware mixer. The focus on Audactiy is no bad thing as it is a great tool and has loads of features that I haven’t learnt about yet. The rest of the episode was a look behind the scenes at a larger podcast and some of the more serious podcasting kit.

They don’t seem to have an RSS feed to announce new episodes though, which is a shame, because I’d like to watch more episodes in the future.

Update: Yes, they have RSS feeds for the torrents, if that floats your boat. They are hidden in plain site on the right hand side of the main page of the site. Thanks to Popey for the tip.

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