SciCast – Background

About the new film archive

Noticed things looking a little different around here? Yup, we’ve rebuilt the film archive. We’re still tinkering with bits and pieces, but we think it’s just about ready to share with you.

Hosting old and new

We’re delighted to have been hosted by EngineeringUK for the last four years, however the focus of their work has shifted, and they were no longer in a position to commit to supporting SciCast. In particular, this meant that films kept disappearing from the archive, and it was proving difficult for them to find time to trouble-shoot for us.

Thanks to some quirks of their system it was also an astonishingly complex operation for us to publish films. At best I managed to put 20 films live in a day; with the new system we’ve hit 80. It really is that much simpler behind-the-scenes.

The films… they’re… bigger

You noticed that, did you? The original SciCast site was designed for 800x600 screens and featured movies that were dramatically better-quality than anything you could find on YouTube at the time. My, how times have changed — but we didn’t keep pace. Better, now?

HTML5 video

Depending on the browser you’re using you might see the films via processor-friendly HTML5 video rather than battery-sapping Flash. The films should work either way. They also play on an iPhone 4.


Oh heck, yes. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve promised downloadable films, and the number of years for which I’ve been promising them. Finally, they’re here. Woohoo!

You’ll notice that the files are .mov format, and hence you might need to install Quicktime to play them. VLC also works (and can be carried around on a memory stick), and it’s quite likely that Windows7 will play the files back all on its own. We’d rather have used .mp4 files, but (contrary to Adobe’s documentation) we found that .mov worked in both HTML5 and Flash, while .mp4 didn’t.

We might, at some point, be able to offer Windows Media downloads… but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Browser compatibility

We’ve tested the site in Safari, Opera, Chrome and Firefox, on Windows and Mac OS X, and it seems to work as expected in all of them. Internet Explorer is a bit more tricky: IE8 looks good. IE7 is a little bit wonky, but works well enough. IE6 works, but lots of things are in slightly unexpected places.

It’s very likely that future changes to the site will break IE6 compatibility, possibly IE7 too. If your school is still using Internet Explorer 6, add ‘viewing the SciCast site’ to the list of reasons to upgrade.

The site works reasonably well on an iPhone, and I expect it looks pretty good on an iPad, though I won’t be able to test that until I next visit my mum. Yes, you read that right.

Film download speed

This is the achilles heel. SciCast is running without core funding, and we can’t afford a proper content delivery network to serve the films to you. You really don’t want to know what we’re doing instead (it’s embarrassingly precarious), but it’s likely you’ll see slow downloads. Two things to do:

  1. Wait for the film to finish loading before starting to play it.
  2. Download it rather than play it in the browser.

We’re sorry about this, but it’s the only way we can keep the film archive going without paying thousands of pounds in bandwidth charges. If you think you could help with that, please get in touch:

Still no embedding of SciCast films on other sites

Without proper file servers, we just can’t afford to allow embedding. It’s one line of code in our page template that we’d need to comment out, but we’d be leaving ourselves open to huge hosting bills. Much as we’d love to, we can’t. Not right now.

Old comments and ratings

Once we’ve cleared the backlog of films and this year’s competition, we’ll see if we can pull all the comments across from the old archive. Ratings are going to be trickier. Frankly, the way the old system did those was plain weird, and we think it’s probably better to start again. Mouse-over the stars and vote away.

Better organisation

We’re no longer limited to sorting films only by subject and some weird ‘Suitable for’ list that never made any sense; there’s a lot more detail now. Let us know if there’s another type of category you think we should add.

Sensible URLs rather than arcane heiroglyphs

Oh, happy day.

When we finally turn the old archive off we’ll do our best to make sure all the old URLs point to the new film locations. We’re so good to you.

We hope you enjoy the new archive. Let us know what you think of it, if it works for you, and what you think we could improve.


Viv Taylor wrote, on 8 August, 2011:

We can't seem to play any of your videos! Either through Internet Explorer 9, FireFox or Safari.
Nothing happens, they just sit there loading and loading but nothing ever plays.
Is there anything you can suggest we try ?


Hmm. That's very strange - usually when this happens there's been some huge problem with the (extremely cheap!) server that's hosting all the videos. In which case the films are out for everyone. However, yours is the only report I've had recently, and the films are playing here.

When you click through to a specific film you should find a 'Download film' link. Try that.

If that doesn't work, it could be that something at your local network is blocking access to the video server. That would be pretty unusual, but maybe your network is blocking anything large enough to be a video file?

Any more details you can send us would be welcome. I don't like the idea of you not being able to watch the films!