Putting the ‘i’ back in iPlayer

iplayer logoOne of the most interesting technology developments of the last couple of weeks has, it seems to me, attracted very little attention. The BBC’s iPlayer, which lets you watch most of the last week of  BBC TV if you’re in the UK, and a subset of it if you’re elsewhere, received early criticism because it didn’t work on anything but Windows. 

Now at least some of it works on other platforms, but the latest one is the most interesting. It now works on the iPod Touch and iPhone. I now carry around in my shirt pocket something which gives me an eminently watchable archive of the last week’s TV, as long as I’m in range of a wifi network.  The iPod Touch is a great video player and now, for free, there’s a huge amount of stuff available in a rather high-quality format.

Only a very few years ago, the idea of having any access to an archive like this would have seemed amazing.  But having it on a beautiful slab a few millimetres thick is almost sci-fi.  I just wish I had the time to watch any of it!  But we do live in most interesting times…

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“…and a subset of it if you’re elsewhere.”

Quentin, this is the first I’ve heard of any iPlayer content being currently available outside the UK . I’ve not found any content I can access (Full disclosure – I’m in Germany). Not even Newsnight (what can the rights issues possibly be on news content?). iPlayer apology links simply repeat the mantra “BBC Worldwide is working on an international version, which we will make available as soon as possible.” Are you ahead of the curve on this?

Mmm. James – you may be right; sorry – I thought that some, at least, was available. A little hard for me to check from here 🙂

I don’t normally subscribe to conspiracy theories, but I may have to make an exception in this case. Linux users complained that they couldn’t access the iPlayer content because it used proprietary formats, and the Beeb said “up yours!”. Apple launched the iPhone without support for the proprietary codes, and the Beeb said “OK, if UserAgent==iPhone, send unencumbered MPEG4”. What have Apple users done to deserve this treatment?

Of course they will be able to look at their logs and claim iPlayer-on-iPhone as a great success. Yet very many of those “iPlayer” downloads will actually be Linux users, like me, with fake UserAgent strings.

I note, however, that Adobe have made some noise about Flash soon being supported on the iPhone. This will presumably allow the Beeb to send the same proprietary format the iPhones that they currently send to other systems, and the MPEG4s may vanish. So I’m not going to make my Linux-powered fake-iPhone PVR just yet.

Changing the subject… apparently you don’t need a TV license to watch downloaded content. In the same way that there are now people who have no landline phone and only a mobile, will we soon have households that have no broadcast TV receiver and only a “media centre” PC to play downloads?

I live in a suburban Washington DC valley and get poor over-the-air reception; so until now I’ve subscribed to minimal cable. But I didn’t want to pay the extra for HDTV cable, so I put a Yagi in the attic and it’s great! You get anything and it’s perfect. Discussing this with my lawyer-type neighbors, I’m stunned that many of them don’t seem to realize that they could get TV over the air! I point out to them that it’s just like AM and FM radio, and they seem to get the point. With most of them it’s seems to be similar to the shock that folks back in Marconi’s day must have felt when the first signals came through the ether.

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© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser