Saturday, December 12, 2009

VLC media player

If you are like me, you are always on the lookout for ways to increase your book-reading and podcast-listening efficiency. I haven't found much to help me with the first, yet, beyond making sure I keep a good stock of coffee; but when I realized that I probably would be able to understand most podcasts at much higher playback speed, I immediately started to investigate how I might be able to accomplish such acceleration. Most of the options I tried proved unworkable:

  • iTunes: there is no native support for podcast acceleration (or any kind of playback acceleration, as far as I can see) in iTunes.

  • iPod: my iPod classic software does have some slight support for audio acceleration, but only for audiobooks. You can use iTunes to change podcasts into audiobooks, but the process is irritating and causes file sorting problems. More importantly, acceleration is limited to 1.4x (I usually want 1.8x-2.5x).

  • QuickTime: Apple's own suggestion for acceleration is that you open your podcasts in QuickTime, which gives you a playback speed slider. Unfortunately, QuickTime introduces an echo at around 1.6x, which gets progressively worse as you accelerate more, and makes speech incomprehensible. This appears to be something that users have been complaining about for a while, but Apple does not seem to be very responsive to user complaints.

  • Windows Media Player: Windows Media Player gives you an acceleration slider, and the acceleration is smooth and echo-free. However, it can't play .mp4 files, which makes it practically useless for me since I get my podcasts through iTunes.

  • File conversion to .wma, or manual compression and resaving: Way too inefficient.
I don't think there is anything I can do with my iPod: I'll have to listen to everything at normal speed on it. However, I did find a very good solution for when I'm able to use my desktop: VLC media player. It plays .mp4s (and just about everything else under the sun), it allows user-selected acceleration in increments of .1x, playback is echo-free, and it's free (it's open-source). I have been happily blazing through podcasts and videos at my desired 1.8x-2.5x, with no issues. In fact, I have found the VLC player to be an all-around better piece of software for all of my media; there seems to be no limit to what you can do with it.

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