Since launching Skifta into the Android market a little over 2 months ago, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the comments and feedback that you have all given us.
I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to do this: we really do appreciate it, and your comments genuinely inform what we do and how we do it.
Possibly the single largest number of comments are around video codec support within Skifta, so I though I’d take a few moments to give you a few technical details of what we do, our motivation for this and also what we’ll be bringing out in the next release of the app.
When we set out to build Skifta, we never intended it to be the world’s best media player. What we wanted to do was something different, something that made your mobile phone the conduit and remote control for all your media. We started out by wanting to allow you get your stuff from home or your phone and play it on a cool connected stereo or TV anywhere you went. Then we thought: wouldn’t it be great if it wasn’t just the media you had at home on your PC or NAS, but also the services we all use on the Internet, like Facebook & Picassa. I think we do a great job of this, and I use Skifta every day myself for just this.
So, that was the basic motivation for the choices we’ve made so far, and like I say, we never set out to make Skifta the best media player in the world. Technically, we hand off playing media to the Android subsystem to take care of. That means that the formats we support are actually the default formats that your phone supports. For those of you who’d like to know what every Android phone can handle, you can find a list here.
As many of you have observed, this is almost always fine for audio, but video is a different matter, which brings me to another point, this time about DLNA. DLNA is central to what Skifta is all about. It’s an industry standard that’s supported by a huge number of consumer electronics manufacturers and devices, from Windows 7 to PS3 with a swathe of TVs and Blu Ray players in there for good measure.
One of the problems faced by any manufacturer of this kind of device, is what codecs to support. This is particularly true for video because there are just so many out there, and quite a few of them have significant costs in terms of the resources needed to support them or the cost to license them. Hardware-wise, many of these products are nowhere near the PC class, and also because the development time for this type of embedded hardware is much longer than perhaps it would be to develop software, they often won’t support codecs that are perhaps common in the PC world, like DIVX or XVID.
In the DLNA world, for right or wrong, its typically the “big guns” of the codec world that find their way into TVs and stereos: MP3, MP4, LPCM and MPEG2. They’re maybe not the best quality/smallest size/fastest compression out there, but they are pretty well supported and so for my stuff, I always try to make sure I get it into MP4 for video, or MP3/4 for audio. Not the best in many ways perhaps, but the best for all round compatibility when I just want to watch or listen to something (particularly when I’m not at home and don’t know what equipment I’m going to be using).
Back then, to Skifta and what we’re going to do to answer all of you who have asked about better video codec support. Starting with the next release of the app in the market, we’re going to use a mechanism in Android that allows other apps that are installed on the handset to take over the rendering of video on our behalf. That means you’ll be able to use your favorite player app to extend the codec support depending on how you’ve encoded your stuff. When you click on a video to play it, you’ll get a dialog asking you to select the player you want to use, or just use the default built-in media player instead: its your choice.
I’ve been using vPlayer and Rock Player this week and it’s great. I’ve got a Panasonic DMR-XW380 which records DVB-T programs to the hard disk, and has a built-in DLNA media server. Great product, except the files are served as MPEG2 so I was never able to view them using Skifta on my Galaxy Tab. With this new feature I can use the DLNA capability of Skifta to browse the media server, but hand off to one of the other player apps to render those MPEG2s.
I think its really very cool, and I hope you do too. We’re in testing now, and hope to have this in the market in the next few days. Let me know what you think.