BBC iPlayer: BBC Broadcasting in Your Hands

From the early 1960s, mobile TV viewing was a dream, soon to be fuelled by the Space race, and by the early 1970s, investors such as Panasonic and Sinclair Research began to make it a reality. Fast forward to today and we have a myriad of channels and seemingly unlimited content.

One provider stands out over all the rest, especially in the UK — that of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Its content provision has consistently given us quality material, and expert presenting. What, then, of it’s flagship iPhone product (currently only available in the UK), BBC iPlayer? In an era where mobile video content is the norm and easily accessible, lets take a look to see how BBC iPlayer allows the wonderful transition from corner-of-the-room viewing to quality media content anywhere.

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A Lively Start

The iPhone is a great device to watch portable video content on. The opening screen of the player is lively, with a pleasant black-and-pink themed layout, and a sliding view of recently broadcast content.

A lively opening screen greets you.

A lively opening screen greets you.

Please bear in mind that this player is not receiving any over-the-air signal, such as happened in the early days of mobile TV, where patchy analogue reception would hamper efforts to see much at all. BBC iPlayer relies on having a mobile (3G) or Wi-Fi network signal to begin with. Patchy 3G reception will drive you crazy if you attempt to stream on the move as I did on a recent commute. No problem, I thought, I’ll simply download the show and watch it in a few minutes when it finishes. Well, where a patchy analogue signal has ceased, there comes in its wake the inability to download content over 3G . Only a Wi-Fi connection is supported for downloading (perhaps to prevent excessive data fees), but if you are fortunate to find yourself in a good 3G signal area, the latest BBC iPlayer update allows live streaming of TV and Radio content.

Load-and-go

You must, therefore, see this application as a load-and-go solution where a Wi-Fi connection is used to stock up on programs for later viewing. This will, of course, take some planning, but items can be queued when out on the road and downloaded when a Wi-Fi spot becomes available.

Select download to begin saving content locally on your iPhone.

Select download to begin saving content locally on your iPhone.

Standard and high-definition quality downloads are available, and the ability to connect your iPhone direct to your TV for viewing on the big screen is a recently added feature, plus gives great quality viewing.

What’s New?

The application has featured content with brief program descriptions to entice you to download or watch them. The Most Popular selection shows content that others have recently enjoyed, and often reflects the topics of conversation in my workplace the next day.

Most popular content is highlighted so you can keep up to date.

Most popular content is highlighted so you can keep up to date.

I particularly like the well-laid-out electronic program guide (EPG) to view content that is available. It is noticeable that not every program on the BBC’s schedule is available to watch via BBC iPlayer. Notable exceptions are, for example, news bulletins throughout the day, although the News-at-Ten is always available. As with catch-up-TV services such as FreeTime, the EPG displays content from the last seven days. It is a great way to stay in touch with popular programming, and to fill those times where you have your iPhone handy and nothing to do, hopefully with some headphones, too. It is also worth mentioning that recorded programs are only available to watch for a limited time on your device and each recorded program has an expires field to remind you when to watch it by.

Hear Today, and Tomorrow

Radio shows are also available if you have missed an important program or caught the end of something on your car radio and want to hear it in full. Unfortunately, downloading is not possible for radio content. There is always the podcast application for that need. There is a Stations tab which is excellent for finding your normal or regular radio station(s). I frequently visit BBC Radio 2,  and I’m never far from The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4, either.

Keep all your favourites handy for quick consumption.

Keep all your favourites handy for quick consumption.

You’re My Favourite

One of the features I use the most is Favourites. It remembers those programs you watch most and I’ve found I use this tab often to quickly get the latest content before setting off on a journey. Be warned, however, that downloading does take some time and so it’s best to plan ahead so you’re not rushing out of the door mid-download, as has happened to me on more than one occasion.

General search criteria can be a bit hit-and-miss.

General search criteria can be a bit hit-and-miss.

There is a search function within the application that has handy categories to quickly locate content that may be of interest to you, although the search can sometimes bring back surprising suggestions — for instance, searching for Sci-Fi brings back “Don’t tell the bride” as well as a documentary on the human body, but generally the search works well, especially if you know the name of the show you need. There is also a category within the search option called Signed For — this brings back programs that have signing available. This is such a superb addition for the hard of hearing, and an excellent use of the mobile platform.

Quickly get to programs that have signed content.

Quickly get to programs that have signed content.

Just Browsing …

I’ve found browsing through the iPlayer app very quick and an interesting thing to do in itself, as it shows me content I overlooked in our regular TV guide and I recommend having a good dig around in here yourself. There are many hidden gems of interesting educational and entertaining programs. The content is of a consistently high standard, as you’d expect from the BBC, and the development team have made recent upgrades to hone the application into the success it is today — especially with the handling of downloaded programs.

If you have the time and space, you can select higher definition — ideal for TV output.

If you have the time and space, you can select higher definition — ideal for TV output.

It is a joy to watch recorded content full screen and with the option of subtitles if that is appropriate or needed. I always leave the option to download higher definition recordings on, but if your space or time is limited, you can toggle this setting off in the settings menu.

In closing

An application of this popularity is bound to have its problems and the BBC iPlayer is no exception. One frustrating issue is the intermittent inability to play downloaded content. Most of the time this issue simply just does not occur, but it does happen — I had it occur once in my 20+ hours of testing. There are workarounds, thankfully, and simply switching my Wi-Fi and data connection off enabled content to play. One hopes that these issues will be resolved quickly.

On the whole, BBC iPlayer is an excellent application with good searching ability and a comprehensive TV Guide. Excellent streaming (in a good signal area) and support for subtitles and easy-to-find content with signing adds to the already wide ranging good quality content.

Once the technological gremlins are fixed, I would happily rate this 10 out of 10. But for now, there’s still some way to go .


Summary

BBC iPlayer is a portable media player that allows access to the last seven days of content from the BBC.

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  • nienque

    “… lets take a look to see how BBC iPlayer allows the wonderful transition from corner-of-the-room viewing to quality media content anywhere.”

    Anywhere, except the 99% of the world that isn’t the UK 😉 Unfortunately they do not allow non-UK dwellers to watch their broadcasts via iPlayer.

    • Mark Simpson

      Fair point, nienque, and perhaps I should have stated that at the outset.

      And of course, if you have loaded up your BBC iPlayer content through a UK Wifi source, you can then take *that* anywhere…