Yesterday I installed the BBC’s iPlayer service on my Mac (via Parallels Desktop because it’s a Windows XP-only product). The BBC iPlayer installation was a bit of a nightmare due to obscure system requirements and it requires not one, but two different passwords.
By the time I’d got it all set up it I noticed the downloads were crawling so decided to call it a day.
Anyway, I’m back today and after 12 hours solid downloading one of the four programs I’d selected - Hyperdrive - is ready to view. The other three are still stuck between 0 and 24 per cent downloaded.
One video is good enough for a test though. Sadly the video quality of the BBC iPlayer turned out the be pretty shabby. Because of the DRM used by the iPlayer I haven’t been able to determine the exact resolution, but it appears to be 320 x 240 (the same as YouTube). Like YouTube and the Apple TV, it’s perfectly acceptable on a computer but not so good in full screen. Given the BitTorrent-style system capable of sharing large files used by the iPlayer, you expect it to be more in line with the 640 x 480 used by Apple on the iTunes Store.
A cynic could argue that the BBC could have saved a lot of time and money by just uploading its content to YouTube. At least we’d get instant access rather than having to wait all night for programs to download.
Still. I don’t want to be too down on the BBC and iPlayer. It’s a step in the right direction and a brave attempt to enter the digital age in a way that keeps copyright holders happy. The BBC iPlayer provides a free video download service to license payers, which is something most television companies aren't yet doing. There's more than a few kinks, but the BBC iPlayer is in beta and is a first-generation product - so you can forgive it for not being perfect.
Iron out a few installation kinks, improve the resolution, speed up the download rate (as I said before, this might happen by default as more people use the service) and - above all - make it Mac and Linux compatible and the BBC could well turn this into a success.
We will come back to the iPlayer when the Mac version is released. However, because no time scale has been announced this could be a way away (some reports suggest up to two years). By that time the digital television landscape may well have changed beyond all recognition. So stick with YouTube, BitTorrent (for legal downloads, mind) and invest in a TV recording device and an Apple TV is my advice.