A Beta From The Beeb

Posted on Sunday 29th June 2008 at 00:00
F5. *Click* ....F5...*Click*......F5.......... *Click*......F5....F5............CTRL+F5........*Thump*


Oh Fuck Off!

Anyone who has so far had a play with the Reworked BBC iPlayer, which is currently in beta testing, will be only too familiar with that sequence of events, as it's just a small snippet of what you must go through if you wish to actually use the iPlayer for, oh I don't know, watching stuff.

I am rather hoping that this technical flaw is a symptom of beta testing, coz if you think normal iPlayer drops its connection to the BBC servers rather too often, you ain't seen nothing yet! I have sat for nearly 90 minutes attempting to watch all 22 minutes of the latest edition of the BBC's wonderful Click programme, and I'm still 4 minutes from the end.

This is a terrible shame really, because in most other aspects, the new iPlayer is a huge leap forward from the current one, which itself was pretty good. This beta features a reworked user interface, integrating both TV and Radio into a single player, as well as lots of small improvements, such as a list of recently watched programmes for you to go back to and an enhanced 'More Like This? system.

The programme information below the enlarged viewing window is now collapsible and contains both programme and series information that compares in length with that made available on the Radio Times website and, best of all, they've finally included a link to the programme's website!

Unfortunately it doesn't actually go there yet. Instead it links you to the beta of a new programme guide section of the BBC website, which also fails to provide any links to the actual website for the programme you actually want. I'm assuming they'll fix this eventually.

Another rather snazzy enhancement, which I suspect is a response to user feedback, is the ability to resume your watching from where you left off last time. Whilst I imagine they've put this in with the intention of allowing viewers to pause programmes and come back to them on different days, it has the added benefit of speeding up the recovery every time the player crashes and you have to refresh the page.

Aside from the crashing, the one thing that really does irritate me about the design for the new player is the information displayed when you hover your mouse over a programme link. Whereas before you could find out at a glance how much time you had left to watch the programme, now you have to click on through to the programme itself to get the same info. On the other hand, at least once you get there, you are told not only how much time is left, but also the exact time (to the nearest minute) that the programme will be removed and also (for some programmes) the date on which it was originally broadcast.

Although I've not been able to find out anything official about this yet, it would appear that the Beeb have decided to extend the time for which programmes are available on the site from 7 days to 14, which , if nothing else, earns this beta a big thumbs up from me.

To round off this mini review: the iPlayer Beta is pretty good. In fact, I'd go so far as to say very good. The technical problems will sort themselves out before it goes live, because they did with the previous version, and once they do, I'll be first in line to absorb all my BBC content from this one, superbly well thought out website.

Nice one Beeb!

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