Xcast is one of a new generation of podcast downloaders and aggregators for Mac. Although still in beta, and not yet ready for prime time according to the author (with a few functions and features still labeled as “under development”), my impressions of Xcast have overall been positive. While my first exposure to podcasts on the Mac was via iTunes, and iTunes remains a marvelous client, including built-in downloading and viewing of enclosures a la Miro (formerly Democracy Player), iTunes is still a bit “heavy” for my needs. When I am interested in checking my podcasts, I don’t really want to be in the same program that I listen to music in, or have the iTunes Store available. I want something lean, mean, fast and easy-to-use.
Although Xcast is not currently that client, it may soon become what I’m looking for. And it’s highly integrated with iTunes to boot! Not only can Xcast act as your podcast viewer, it is highly capable of handling all your RSS feed needs, and has a nice interface for reading blogs that works amazingly well in my opinion. In addition, Xcast can be set up so that it automatically downloads any new enclosures it finds, or simply downloads every enclosure available. Xcast can be set so that it only downloads a certain number of items at any one time, or that it downloads as many as is possible. Obviously, the slower the computer and the more downloads going at any single time will tend to take a bite out of performance, so select carefully!
Compared to iTunes and Miro, Xcast lacks a bit when it comes to actually discovering interesting podcasts. While both iTunes and Miro have built-in podcast lists (Miro currently boasts more than 1800 video podcasts available, and iTunes has more, when the audio podcasts are included), Xcast is without a built-in means of finding interesting content.
This, however, is where Xcast’s integration with iTunes comes into play. While Xcast is not able to simply read the iTunes subscription list, that list can be exported from iTunes and imported into Xcast (just as any OPML file can be imported), so if you’ve been using iTunes for your podcasting needs, or simply want to use iTunes to find the content, your subscription list is not lost.
And amazingly, neither are all your downloaded podcasts. Once you have subscribed to a podcast in Xcast, you can use the “Detect Downloaded iTunes Podcasts” option under the Enclosures menu, and – while the podcasts are not moved into Xcast’s download folder, Xcast finds the content, and makes it available from within Xcast. Additionally, if you like Xcast’s way of browsing and downloading, but want to use iTunes to synchronize your unviewed content with an iPod (something Xcast is unable to do), then Xcast can help out there as well.
Xcast can, upon downloading an enclosure, move that enclosure into the iTunes podcast area, as if it had been downloaded by iTunes itself! The podcasts you move into the iTunes library via this method look and act like any other podcast, with the exception that they have the added “Downloaded With Xcast” tag for easier organizing.
Xcast also has – for both space saving and to make a faster, leaner library – what it calls the iTunes Podcasts Cleaner. This is handy for those times when you’ve used Xcast to download a podcast and insert it into iTunes, which has then synchronized the podcast with an iPod, which was where the podcast was actually viewed. Since Xcast has no idea the play status of the podcast, and many people will delete podcasts which have been viewed or listened to, there would otherwise be no easy way to remove the file from both iTunes and Xcast. With the iTunes Podcasts Cleaner, on the other hand, performing such a task is a snap. The iTunes Podcasts Cleaner automatically deletes any podcast that has a play count greater than zero AND a rating of less than 5 stars (or without a rating), or any podcast that has a rating of 1 star, even if it has not been played. This way, content you don’t like or that has been previously listened to is deleted automatically.
Finally, like so many Mac applications, Xcast takes advantage of Smart Folders, which it calls Smart Groups. A Smart Group (or Folder) is simply a persistent search, the results of which are currently changing as the content on your hard drive (or in this case, the podcasts in your library), change. For instance, if you want to create a group of podcast feeds that deal with the Mac, you simply create a new Smart Group, and populate it with all the podcasts in your feed list that have Mac in the title. You can also create smart groups of podcasts which contain enclosure, or those without. The author displayed his use of this feature in a screen cast, by creating a group which only contains articles with enclosures that are currently downloading.
Overall, I find Xcast to be a nice client. It’s certainly well laid-out, simple to use, and quite quick. The integration with iTunes is marvelous, and is a good acknowledgment of the fact that so many people have iPods and use iTunes to integrate with them. I like the fact that Xcast can be used both for traditional, text-only feeds as well as audio/video podcasts. I’m not sure, however, that there is enough there (currently), to get me to switch to Xcast from iTunes. At the moment, iTunes just has too much going for it, and it seems almost as if Xcast is in a small way simply looking to offer users a second option, which I always appreciate, but attempts to be so tied into iTunes that Xcast in many ways becomes redundant. Still, it’s a good client, and definitely one I’ll keep an eye on. The development shows promise, and in the future it could, with the addition of a few features that give it a bit of freedom from iTunes (such as the ability to synchronize with iPods all by itself), it could be a heavy contender in the Mac podcast world.