BBC iPlayer: beta or no beta, it has to be better

I’m back at my desk after last week’s flood-inspired shenanigans, and hence at my WinXP desktop machine. So it’s time to have a play with the BBC’s iPlayer. And on first impressions, it has a l-o-n-g way to go.

First off, of course, I had to abandon the browser I personally prefer (Firefox) to use the browser the BBC’s DRM software forces me to use (IE). I had to enter my beta invite credentials three or four times; I then had to register another new username and password; I then had to download the 4MB client application. The black-n-pink ‘library’ application is on my screen, and it’s time to start downloading some stuff. Er, sort of – have to go back into (standalone) IE again first. Pretty quickly, my head is spinning.

The timing of all this couldn’t be better, since my TV currently prefers to make fizzing noises, rather than pictures and audio. So let’s download the Top Gear special I missed last week. I click ‘download’, and – finally! – we’re making progress. Or are we? The show appears in the library application’s download queue… but there’s no obvious sign of activity. We’re sitting at 0% and 0MB for a very long time, despite the fact I can see my PC is downloading plenty of data. Just as I’m about to give up, the application starts to tell me I’m getting data in. Very, very slowly. This is agonising.

Despite lengthy testing last year, this still feels like a product in its very early stages. I’d almost certainly have given up if I didn’t feel professionally compelled to give it a go.

The Beeb has made a serious marketing mistake by calling this the ‘iPlayer’ – as it forces you to make comparisons with iTunes. And so far, even though I don’t really even like iTunes, there’s only one winner. Crucially, iTunes has an integrated browser, so everything happens in one place. And when you go to download something, you can see things progressing. At the moment, my iPlayer library may or may not have crashed – it’s hard to tell, looking at it. Not even an animated ‘eggtimer’ to show it’s still alive. iTunes has the same DRM issues; the same downloading of large files; and let’s not even mention podcasts/subscription, which iPlayer should surely include, but doesn’t. Yet iTunes does it all (and more!) with ease.

This matters. The BBC is spending licence fee money, and the stakes are higher. Never mind the whole XP-plus-Windows-Media thing. This service has to be so good and so easy that my mother (or indeed anyone aged up to 75) should be able to use it. At the moment, it just isn’t. Not by a long way.

5 thoughts on “BBC iPlayer: beta or no beta, it has to be better”

  1. I’m in complete agreement, as I said much the same on by blog a few days ago. This isn’t ready for the wider deployment the BBC just gave it. I think their are also issues about finding content and the window of opportunity to watch it.

  2. Think I’m right in saying that the iplayer is some kind of torrent client, hence the delay in downloading anything. Guess Top Gear isn’t as popular online as off?

  3. I’m not sure the peer-to-peer thing would explain it Jeremy, to be honest. I could see hundreds of megabits per second being downloaded, but the counter steadfastly stuck at zero. At least with most BitTorrent clients, you can see your PC trying to make its connection, and a kilobyte-by-kilobyte count, just to show it’s all ticking over OK.

Comments are closed.