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Tuesday, 31 July 2007


iPlayer Service Review

It took just under 12 hours to assign me a beta test account, but just before 7.30pm on Friday night last week, my iPlayer login details arrived. Being Friday night, I cracked open a beer and then sat down to watch Top Gear - on my computer.

The Experience - would I do it again?
It was not very sociable... there was nowhere for my wife to sit because I was using the desktop. Perhaps if I'd been on the laptop in the lounge, it might have been different, but I can't see that sitting at the computer watching telly is going to be a regular Friday night thing in this house.

Maybe this is a feature of my demographics? If my children were older and wanted to watch their own thing, the iPlayer might offer an alternative to them having a TV in their room. Even that though doesn't feel right, because the service resolutely avoids any signs of the social networking that would attract the youth away from existing TV, SMS, MySpace & MMORPG activities.

Anyway Saturday morning, pressing on with my sample of 1 household, I asked my three year old son to be a crash test dummy while I took another look at the wireshark outputs. He thought it was an excellent idea because he got to watch "Beebies". He didn't care that it was on the computer - he didn't know any different - although he did at one stage ask me why my desk was messy. Perhaps he couldn't see over the piles of wireshark data printouts?

He was very patient for 5 minutes while the first programme loaded and then he sat there quite happily for 15 minutes watching Clifford, The Big Red Dog. Cuairt le Calum was next up which he knew meant Bob the Builder, but not because my three year old English boy reads Welsh, but because the EPG had a picture of Scoop on it. Finally I let him watch The Night Garden, a 40 minute show which downloaded in about 7 minutes in the background while he watched the other stuff.

I got some great Long Tail data samples while he got to watch Saturday morning TV and my wife had a lie in. We were all happy... Perhaps we will use the iPlayer when we go on holiday and can take the laptop, although I can't help thinking that with a few DVDs competing for his attention, the BBCs content is not going to be top of the list.

Using the iPlayer
It's not as easy to use as television and it doesn't use the features that the PC brings and the iPlayer does not offer video on demand either. Well, not what I would call on demand, anyway.

I'll come onto the technical bit in my next article, but you have to download a programme fully before you can start watching it because the application does not (yet) have a progressive streaming capability. This means you have a wait between choosing to view something and actually watching it - the zap time - anything from a few minutes to half an hour depending on the length of programme and your line speed.

This is where the iPlayer is clearly inferior to Joost, Babelgum and Veoh as video delivery platforms. With each of those, after a short period of buffering lasting perhaps a few seconds, you get the video you demand. With the iPlayer, the wait is a serious issue as you get no instant gratification.

Once the file was received, it's a simple click in the library to start watching the programme. I found the picture quality to be ok and comparable with Joost and Veoh. In my unscientific rankings that would make it better than Babelgum, but not as clear as Channel4 On Demand.

There are plenty of other blogs describing the service, so rather than repeat all that, here are a few links. Tech reckon it fills the need it is intended for, BBC News said that the iPlayer had received a cautious welcome and then went on to list some on the complaints from the user forums. I suppose you can't expect them to say that a lot of people found it somewhat lacking, although The Beta Test Blog said they were impressed.

My verdict on the service? Yes, I would use it again, it's just that I'm not sure when.

The next piece will look at the bandwidth usage of the application, files sizes, encoding rates and peer to peer analysis results.

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Thanks for the review, I had been looking forward to it. It seems that the BBC has upstaged in the Netherlands by allowing you to take the programs with you. That's really nice. So a combination of streaming and storing seems to be what people might really want.
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