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Eye on Demand | December 16, 2017

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BBC Sport Review

BBC Sport Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
8
User Interface
8
Content on Offer
5
Device Availability
6
Value for Money
10
7.4

Well worth installing

Two years ago during the 2012 Olympics, the BBC provided clearly the best coverage anywhere in the world with up to 24 live HD channels covering every Olympic discipline live as it played out. Even though the Olympics are long over, the dedicated BBC sport app still churns out live events, including this year’s Fifa World Cup, so let’s give it a whirl…

We all have to admit that outside of special events such as the Olympics, the BBC is not that well known these days as a major television sporting hub, although the reasons for this are fair enough. Since the advent of commercial satellite and cable television in the UK, much of the major sporting codes have shifted behind a pay-wall such as that with Sky, but every now and again the BBC still pulls the rights to other major sporting events like the Rugby Union & League World Cups, the 2014 Football World Cup (with ITV), Wimbledon Tennis Championships, Formula 1 and other lesser watched sports such as the Snooker Championships.

Many events are broadcasted through the BBC’s standard free-to-air channels aired over terrestrial, cable or satellite means within the UK, but also on their official Internet feeds, or other bundled services such as those found with TVCatchup, FilmOn, Zattoo or others, allowing, sometimes with the need of a VPN or Smart DNS service, access from around the world. But the BBC have also begun rolling out a really interesting collection of apps or widgets for various platforms, some of which also provide a fantastic live video stream.

 

  • The UK is well blessed with catch-up and on-demand widgets through the Samsung Smart TV platform, with all the main UK FTA broadcasters offering their catch-up services, as well as a plethora of pay services such as Nelflix, Amazon Prime and plenty more making the UK app store one of, if not the most complete anywhere in the world. If the BBC’s own iPlayer presence wasn’t enough, the giant broadcaster also offer a second, dedicated sporting widget called appropriately, BBC Sport.

    Back when I first tested this, I had the great luck and pleasure to do so during the 2012 Olympic games, and it was one of the most amazing televised sporting events I had ever seen. Germany’s own Olympic offerings were passable, but lame in comparison, and switching back to the BBC feeds were a breath of fresh air. Likewise, horror stories coming out of Australia and America were making me glad I had successfully been able to access this great little app, with a lot of thanks to the good folk at OverPlay who rushed out their Smart DNS support for the app in time for the big event.

    In any case, the Olympics are now long over and I have been returning to this great little widget time and time again – or at least when there is live coverage of sport which I have to admit, there can be some rather sizable gabs in between.

    On firing up the app you are greeted to a split screen, favouring the left side which contains previously broadcasted clips, with the small right hand side offering any live services, or information on upcoming events. I guess the clips are there to keep people interested in the app between sporting events, though I personally don’t see any point of short clips in catch-up or on-demand services, and especially live ones. Maybe it is just me, but if I want clips I go to YouTube.

    Still, if you arrive in time for a live event, you can choose in most cases to watch in either SD or HD resolution. Which brings us to video quality and the issue of pixelation and artifacts during sports or other fast action sequences. I have tried to watch BBC sport on TVCatchup and FilmOn and nearly lost the remainder of my ever receding hairline. Until recently, none of those services offered anything close to what I would deem acceptable for sport (although Zattoo under a sub is also pretty impressive). Sure, they look fine for normal live television programming, but sport requires both a higher bitrate as well as quality encapsulation.

    This is where the BBC Sport app excels. Using a variable bitrate, the BBC deliver excellent, high quality streams either in SD or HD, which when watched at their highest level in either format, you will find very little pixelation or artifacts worth mentioning. But it is worth saying here that if your bandwidth is not quite up to delivering the highest HD quality stream, then it may be worth dropping down to the otherwise excellent SD simulcast. My tests have shown that when your network speeds are good enough, HD will deliver absolutely beautiful and stunning live feeds, but if it begins to drop automatically to a lower quality, it is often better to set the stream to SD rather than HD. SD at its automatically chosen highest quality setting is often better than HD streams which are forced to a lower setting, and still good enough you will likely forget you are watching an SD sporting stream from the internet.

    For the record, my own tests average approx. 3400kbps* for the HD streams on the ES-series and 3320kbps* on the F-series and a much lower 1480kbps* for their SD offering on the ES-series and 1570kbps* on the F-series TVs. This may not be the highest bitrate around, but the encapsulation and algorithms used by the BBC suppress most of pixelation seen on the live stream, even during the fast action sequences sporting events incur.

    Platform Pros:

    • Ability to choose SD or HD streams.
    • 720p HD possible. Great video quality in either SD or HD.
    • Clean and easy to navigate layout.

    Platform Cons:

    • No ability to set HD as default.
    • No countdown to live streams.
    • Sometimes I had to try a couple of times before the stream will begin playing.

    (Outside of the UK you may require a Smart DNS or VPN service to access the live streams, and you may need to set your TV clock to UK time)

    Sport BUTTON HD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

    BBC Sport

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”20145″]

  • It hasn’t gone unnoticed that every time I make an update to the BBC sport service, the only sport I have on hand to test is the Snooker. It sort of hints at the limited range of sporting events the BBC covers these days, what with pay TV taking most of the big events, but in all fairness there has been plenty of other sporting codes aired in-between.

    While the BBC Sport app has been rather quiet in its expansion, there was somewhat of a surprise at Eye on-Demand when it turned up on the PlayStation 4 launch day. This is most likely due to the PS4 following the industry standards for IPTV streaming that the BBC has been promoting of late, but it should also be pointed out that like the BBC iPlayer on the same platform, the BBC development team have really just rushed this out in a direct port conversion without taking heed of the PlayStation’s unique controller.

    Basically, unlike most television remotes, the PlayStation’s DualShock 4 controller uses different key symbols which are not represented on-screen. It is not as serious an oversight as on the iPlayer, but it is still something that we hope is looked into in the near future.

    All that said, the UI is pretty much identical to the Samsung Smart TV widget, with all the same short clips to the left-hand side of the screen, and live streams, if available, on the right.

    You can select between SD and HD streams, but only during playback which is a pity as I would like to have the ability to set my preferred default.

    Video quality is very good as should be expected, with very little pixelation and visual artifacts during fast moving action sequences – vital for a live streaming sport app. Their HD streams measured in on average at 3330kbps* whilst their SD streams were around 1470kbps*.

    I would like to see a countdown to live events, as the date displayed just doesn’t cut it these days. But otherwise a solid performer from the BBC.

    Platform Pros:

    • Ability to choose SD or HD streams.
    • 720p HD possible. Great video quality in either SD or HD.
    • Clean and easy to navigate layout.

    Platform Cons:

    • No ability to set HD as default.
    • No countdown to live streams.
    • Doesn’t take the PS4 controller into account regarding on-screen symbols.

    (Outside of the UK you may require a Smart DNS or VPN service to access the live streams and you may need to set your console clock to UK time)

    Sport BUTTON HD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”20145″]

  • It shouldn’t come as a surprise that BBC Sport also provide a dedicated iOS app, although to be honest, with such a good website that works perfectly well in Safari, was it really needed?

    Before I go any further, I’ll point out that there are a couple of differences between the iPhone/iPod Touch app and the iPad version which we will get to later, but the bulk of this review is based on the iPad app.

    iPhone 1

    The BBC Sport app isn’t your usual television streaming app, but more of a portal into the vast world of BBC Sport’s news, and it all seems quite logical when you think about it. Whereas the BBC Sport app on Smart TV’s and the PS4 is perfect for just streaming live or catch-up video, the tablet or smart phone also has the advantage of browsing and reading. This makes the iOS app so much more than just a video streaming device. Live text updates, fixture information and match results are all available on a wide range of sports throughout the app.

    In fact, there is even live BBC radio streams direct from the app for BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio 5 live sports extra.

    News for any sort of sporting code that is played or viewed in the UK can be found here, with the big sports directly accessible from the drop down menu, and everything else, including international events listed under More Sports. You can even filter by UK country, and of course, if a major event is under way such as the Olympics or various World Cups, there will be a dedicated section easily found under the main menu.

    But, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the live streams. The BBC doesn’t always have live sport on offer as naturally other FTA networks or especially pay-TV services cover many sporting events, but the BBC often broadcast some of the really important ones such as the Olympics, World Cups and thankfully the Rugby 6 Nations. In any event, if the BBC cover it, there should be live streams available via iOS.

    In fact, for the big sporting events, the BBC will offer as many live channels as required. For the Summer Olympics, this included up to 24 live channels and for the Winter Olympics there was up to 6, ensuring all events were covered.

    Now here is where it gets interesting. The iPad app plays the video streams in a custom window that quite frankly is unwelcomed. Only two options exist – a pause button and a false full-screen button. False, because it doesn’t really make the screen entirely full as there is still the annoying hazard yellow BBC sport banner causing eye irritations at the top of the screen. There doesn’t appear to be any way around this, as the Safari version is no better, and if anything, worse as all your tabs and URL bar still blots the screen.

    In fact, there is not even an AirPlay button, but thankfully using the iPad’s global AirPlay toggle, you can watch the live stream on your main TV in full-screen, without the need to mirror and that horrible yellow banner.

    This problem is not seen on the iPhone app, which thankfully utilizes the standard Apple video player at full-screen, banner-free and with a proper AirPlay button.

    Don’t expect glorious HD here, the BBC don’t do HD on iOS yet, which is a real shame. But the standard definition streams tested in at approx. 1540kbps* on the iPad when at their best, and were good enough for fast action sequences with the minimum of artifacts. It may not be as perfect as the HD streams BBC Sport offers on other platforms, but it is far from poor – at least when the dynamic bitrate cranks to its highest level.

    That said, the iPhone received a much lower quality stream measuring at 815kbps*, which was fine for the smaller screen, but atrocious when airplayed to a big TV.iPhone 2

    Platform Pros:

    • Complete Sport News service.
    • Excellent mobile quality.
    • Multiple live streams when available.
    • BBC Sport Radio stations.
    • iPhone version has AirPlay button on video window.
    • Alerts.

    Platform Cons:

    • No HD streams.
    • iPad version doesn’t offer true full-screen on iPad (only via AirPlay)
    • iPad version doesn’t have the AirPlay button on playback window (only global Apple AirPlay)
    • iPhone has much lower quality stream.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • Live events can be hidden and difficult to find.

    (Accessing the BBC Sport app outside of the UK may required a good VPN or Smart DNS service, and you may need to set your iOS device to UK time)

    Sport BUTTON SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Alerts BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”20145″]

  • Keep Calm Samsung TV

  • Best Choice StampThe brand new Now TV and UK Roku channel for BBC Sport looks and works almost identically to the PS4 and Samsung TV versions, with the only exception being the Now TV platform costs only £10. That reason alone was almost enough for me to award this the best platform stamp, but when the high quality streams added to the fluid user interface come into account, it became a no-brainer.

    Firing up the app (sorry, Roku and Now TV like to call these “channels“) brings the standard split home-screen, with the live streams (or upcoming details) taking center-stage, and related clips hiding off to the left. It only takes a couple of clicks of the remote to start a live stream, and as of yet, I have not experienced any of the odd failed starts that the Samsung TV version often demonstrated.

    My only gripe is that once again, there is no way to automatically default streams to HD. Each time I start the app, the first stream will flow through in standard definition, and one will have to manually change this to HD.

    To be honest, this is a small price to pay as once the broadcast begins, the video quality is stunning. Even the SD picture impresses with minimal pixelation and artifacts and a tested bitrate of 1400kbps*. Manually switching to HD will jump this to 3320kbps* and this really is noticeable.

    As with the Samsung TV and PS4 platforms, there is also a Guide which adds ever-so-slightly more information to each current or upcoming live event. I can’t really understand why this is separate to the home-screen though, as there is no reason why it shouldn’t just be directly available anyway.

    There really isn’t a lot more to say about this channel. It works, and it works well. Yet another reason to grab either the UK Roku box, or even more so, the £10 Now TV.

    Platform Pros:

    • Fast and fluid UI, even on the low-end Now TV box.
    • Beautiful SD and HD streams.
    • Quick access to live events.

    Platform Cons:

    • No ability to set HD as default.
    • No countdown to live events.

    (Accessing the BBC Sport app on the NowTV or UK Roku box outside of the UK may required a Smart DNS service configured in your router)

    Sport BUTTON HD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”20145″]

  • Within the UK (or elsewhere in Europe if the satellite or terrestrial feed can be accessed), the BBC’s dedicated sporting streams can generally be viewed through most television’s Red button feature. But outside the UK, this is not quite so easy. Thanks to fantastic widgets like the Samsung Smart TV and PS4 apps, and in particular, the Now TV channel, the BBC really are pulling out all the stops to make watching sport an activity possible almost anywhere.

    The BBC doesn’t offer as many live sporting events as dedicated pay-wall services such as Sky, but when they do, they do it with class.

    Pros:

    • Fantastic high quality streams in either SD or HD.
    • No commercials to interrupt sporting events.
    • Easy to use and navigate UI.

    Cons:

    • No ability to set HD streams as default.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • Mobile apps need a bit more work and can be confusing.

    Sport BUTTON HD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Alerts BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    Log:

    25.04.2013: Review published. Score 7.2 – Well Worth Installing.

    17.09.2013: Review updated with bitrate test results, and altered references to Zattoo due to their own improvements.

    13.01.2014: Review updated with PS4 app.

    06.02.2014: Added iOS app review in time for Winter Olympics.

    24.02.2014: Updated with bitrate test results on all platforms.

    18.06.2014: Updated with Android & Now TV/UK Roku Reviews: New Score: 7.4

     

    * tested bitrates published were the results averaged over multiple tests, and may be affected by bandwidth and geographic location.

    Note: The BBC is a publicly funded organization paid for through a license fee by all British households, and it is these good folk that finance this amazing service.

     

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