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Eye on Demand | May 24, 2017

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BBC iPlayer Review

BBC iPlayer Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
8.5
User Interface
8.5
Content on Offer
7.5
Device Availability
9.5
Airplay and iOS
9
8.6

Excellent

Writing a review about the BBC’s on-demand service is no easy task. After all, this is the world’s largest and oldest television broadcasting company and one of the great media innovators. The BBC’s iPlayer is quite simply the on-demand benchmark for traditional broadcasting networks, both public and private. Even if you have never used it before, once you start, it will be very difficult to part with it. Give it a whirl as it could change the way you watch television forever.

If content is king, the BBC holds the reign with its fair share of exceptional productions. Abroad, it is more than likely more famous for its documentaries and news, but this is only a tiny portion of the vast range of productions covering every possible genre you could expect from a public broadcaster and most commercial ones as well. The BBC operates ten television channels and fifty radio stations and almost all of its own content is available via the iPlayer portal.

The BBC will stream your shows in a variety of bitrates with standard definition averaging 1800kbps, and peaking at a 720p 50fps high definition feed that exceeds 5400kbps.

Offering both live and catch-up content, the live streams even have basic time-shifting options on selected devices, allowing the viewer to start a show from the beginning, and even pause, FFW or REW.

The BBC also support offline downloads on selected platforms, a feature very rare in the on-demand world. This does present several advantages and possibilities, none the least the ability to watch content on-the-go, even when out of 4G or Wi-Fi range; obvious situations that come to mind are when traveling by train or flying. Finally, this is also a great feature for those with slower broadband speeds. Videos can be downloaded right up to HD quality to play back later without buffering interruptions.

All this and it is completely ad-free. The BBC iPlayer really is the global benchmark for FTA (free to air) catch-up services.

There are just too many devices to review for which the iPlayer is compatible with or has dedicated apps. This is one of the strengths of the iPlayer and almost any Internet enabled media device worth its name in the UK has some way to play iPlayer content. In fact, according to the BBC there are more than a thousand different platforms and devices that currently work with the iPlayer, allowing viewers even more chance to catch their favourite programme whenever and wherever they want to – at home, at work, or on the go.

 

  • Content

    At the end of the day, content is king, and this is where the BBC shines. For the most part, the service offers an enormous range of television shows, but there are always a small handful of films available as well. Check below for a list of content currently available on the BBC, and don’t hesitate to click on the + symbol to add a show to your Tank Top TV watchlist!

     

  • iPlayer via Browser

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/

    As of May 2014, the iPlayer’s website was the first to switch over fully to the new design layout, and with it there have been a few improvements over the previous incarnation. Most notably enhanced searching, which encourages content discovery, and an over-all improved layout of controls during playback, including direct access to additional episodes, favourites and other related programmes.

    You can easily add a series to your favourites list, and shows already watched will automatically be added to the Recently Watched page, but although this listing is cross-platform supported when the viewer signs in on multiple browsers, oddly enough the Resume spot is not carried across. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a proper Resume function, but it only appears to be on the device you began watching on – something definitely worth improving.

    As well as catch-up, the iPlayer also provides live streams of all the BBC channels, complete with a PVR style, “Live Replay” option, allowing you to either begin the live show from the start even if this has passed, or go back in time up to 2 hours. Video quality from the life streams would be best described as SD, and tested at approx. 1640kbps*, with the streams being accessible either through the direct channel links, or the TV guide.

    BBC iPlayer Web live 1640kbps

    Catch-up content can play back on the browser at considerably better quality than the live streams, where we tested an average bitrate of 2680kbps*. Like all other platforms, this is shy of the BBC’s 3200kbps HD claim, but one could hardly complain. Outside of typical judder that browser playback often demonstrates, video quality looks great.

    BBC iPlayer Web 2680kbps

    The BBC iPlayer now has native Chromecast support. What this means is that the stream can be sent directly from the Chrome browser’s playback window, and the quality is far higher than any tab mirroring which many other services require. The computer itself, which operates as the controller can then be switched off or used for any other purpose. Unfortunately, there is no way yet to directly chromecast live streams via the laptop or PC’s Chrome browser.

    Finally, the web interface includes the option (for Windows or Mac) to download content for offline availability, or for those with really slow and unreliable Internet speeds. You will need to install a separate, small application which handles the downloads, but once this is done, selecting content for offline viewing is extremely easy.

    Platform Pros:

    • Easy to use.
    • Live TV streams.
    • Live Replay (allowing access to the last two hours and pause)
    • Excellent 720p HD quality video.
    • Offline downloads possible.
    • Direct Chromecast support

    Platform Cons:

    • Not the most sofa-friendly environment.
    • Does not Resume when carried across from another browser.
    • No live Chromecast support.

    CC BUTTONMovies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON HD BUTTON Resume BUTTON Recently Watched BUTTON PVR BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Download BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via iOS

    The BBC packs quite a punch with both its iOS apps, whether on the smaller iPhone, iPod Touch or larger iPad. There are already enough features to keep most people happy and at the same time most competitor apps uncomfortable, but if the BBC’s track record is anything to go by, their feature-set will only improve.

    Since May 2014, the BBC iPlayer app has been updated to their new UI and this review reflects that.

    The new UI improves browsing, making it easier to flick between Featured, Most Popular, Categories and Channel listings to look for content to watch, or directly search by name or category. Whichever way, there is a pile of content hiding in the BBC cloud just waiting to begin streaming.

    iPlayer iPhone 5And this streaming can be done using either Wi-Fi or 4G, though the latter would require consideration for any bandwidth caps you may have. High costs may incur, especially if you travel abroad.

    But with a bit of planning, no such issues need arise with this BBC app as it includes the much sought-after ability to download for offline viewing. Unfortunately, you cannot transfer downloaded shows from your desktop player to your iOS device but you can easily download them directly from the app. As of late August 2013, it is also possible to airplay downloaded content to your Apple TV, maybe a reason to chuck it in the suitcase when going abroad?

    Like on the web platform downloads will last for 30 days. Which another reason to consider downloading if time is an issue, and the show is about to fall off the normal 30 day window. You have the choice of low or high quality, which outside of storage space may not make a major difference on the smaller iPhone screen, but would be noticeable if you view on the larger iPad or airplay to a television. That said, high definition streams are not yet possible on iOS devices, with the highest bitrate averaging around 1650kbps* via the iPad for catch-up material.

    BBC iPlayer iPad 1650kbps

    iPhones fare even worse, with an average bitrate tested at 920kbps*. This probably seemed a natural decision based on the iOS screen sizes, but does not take AirPlay potential into account.

    BBC iPlayer iPhone 920kbps

    Live streams can be found on the Channel tab, where you will also find the very basic EPG showing what is playing now, next and after that – but little else. Gone is the nifty true EPG of yore, which showed past and future programmes on a timeline. Still, anything highlighted on the right is available for catch-up streaming, otherwise selecting the current show will take you to the live simulcast. As yet, the iOS app does not support Live Restart but this has been suggested in an upcoming update. Live streaming quality however appears lower than the standard definition bitrate experienced with their catch-up content, despite a similar average bitrate tested at 1630kbps* (with similar results for both the iPad and iPhone).

    BBC iPlayer iPhone live 1630kbps

    AirPlay is supported on all recent iOS devices and is now accessible directly from the video screen. This means even the lower end models such as an iPhone 3GS can airplay to your television. In fact, since the last update the BBC iPlayer makes full use of AirPlay with both ease of access and full multitasking. This means you can airplay your BBC content, both catch-up or live to your television whilst using your iOS device for other tasks or switching the mobile screen off entirely.

    Cross-platform support and Episode Management are provided by the My Programmes section, which can keep track of partially watched shows, and line up the next episode in a series to watch. If you sign in on multiple devices, this, along with any Resume point, will carry across to other platforms which also has this feature.

    What’s holding this platform from being the best? Mostly the lack of HD streams. Video quality is very good at SD, but considering the app has some of the best AirPlay support around, the lack of HD is really quite noticeable.

    Platform Pros:

    • Live TV option.
    • Good Quality streams.
    • Full AirPlay from video window with multitasking.
    • Excellent UI.
    • Offline Downloads.
    • Excellent search facility.
    • Includes Radio Station catch-up.
    • Supports Chromecast.
    • Favourites can be shared with the website.
    • Cross-platform support.
    • Episode Management.

    Platform Cons:

    • No HD streams (outside of chromecasting)
    • No live-restart feature (as available on the web portal)
    • Great old EPG now gone.

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON SD BUTTON Resume BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Download BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via Smart TV

    As the BBC moves further away from their browser & mobile catch-up services, their feature-set becomes noticeably thinner.

    The Samsung Smart TV iPlayer app lacks the log-in capabilities found on the website or mobile devices, but with that disadvantage aside, it still provides a very functional and stable user interface. In fact, I always find it quite pleasant to access television features without the need of additional hardware by simply using an old fashioned remote control. As for the iPlayer app, the remote works perfectly well to navigate the interface and browse through the available content.

    Streaming quality is excellent, with both standard and high definition options at hand depending on availability, with the possibility to set a default preference. In fact, the BBC kindly include a low bitrate setting as well for those with a less than perfect Internet connection, but this should really only be used when serious bandwidth buffering issues are experienced. Aside of the default preference, it is possible to switch HD on or off during playback if the higher quality stream is available.

    My own tests at HD averaged 2570kbps*, which is still lower than the claimed 3200kbps the BBC boasts, but looks stunning all the same.

    BBC iPlayer TV 2570kbps

    The BBC iPlayer app on the Samsung Smart TV also provides a live streaming option. Simply hit the Channels button at the top of the screen and navigate your way to the far left. Once live playback begins, there is no way to time-shift or pause live TV, nor easily switch channels (at least as far as I could tell), but playback streamed in rather good quality with a tested bitrate averaging 3210kbps*.

    The usual categories are present to aid finding content, as is the ability to set favourites. What some people have not discovered is the additional menu options if you press the arrow buttons on your remote during playback. Doing so will reveal various options, with the left button highlighting any additional episodes, the far right of the screen providing suggestions on similar shows, and a few standard playback options in between, along with programme information.

    Finding alternative episodes is not easy from any of the browsing screens (Home, Channels, Categories etc), as selecting a show starts it immediately. The only way to really do this is via the Search button or from your Favourites. In most cases this is perfectly good as the search works quite well.

    Tip: The back button doesn’t actually stop playback, but takes you back to the previous screen (Home, Channels etc) while the show continues to play in the background. If you find this irritating, use the Stop button instead.

    Additional to the standard BBC iPlayer app, many Samsung TV models will also offer the separate BBC sport app. Although for the most part this is merely a platform for short clips, when the BBC does offer sporting events they are often simulcasted live here in HD. In any event, these broadcasts are often the highest quality streams the BBC offers through the Internet.

    Platform Pros:

    • Excellent quality video at 720p
    • Can set default video quality.
    • Live TV option!
    • Resume feature.
    • Favourites and Recently Watched feature.
    • Great sofa-friendly environment.

    Platform Cons:

    • Radio is no longer available.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • No FFW/REW thumbnails.
    • No episode management features.

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Resume BUTTON HD BUTTONRecently Watched BUTTONLive TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via Now TV or UK Roku

    One of the first things most people ask about the Now TV box from Sky is “can I access the BBC iPlayer for free?”, and the answer is absolutely yes. Even if you are not interested in Sky’s own subscription packages, this amazing little Roku clone can essentially be thought of as a £10 iPlayer set-top box.

    The user interface is almost identical to the one found on the Samsung Smart hub or Roku box, so no surprises there for people who are familiar with that one, and despite the age of the Now TV box, there is no serious sluggishness evident with this app.

    Video quality is excellent and this tiny device will make use of any 720p HD content that the BBC will throw at it – which is a good thing since the BBC peaks at 720p. This is the highest the Now TV puck will stream at since it is effectively a Roku LT clone. But as long as your bandwidth and WiFi are up to scratch, you should be extremely pleased with the HD content that the BBC provides. There are three alternative options as well, an SD mode that peaks at 1500kbps and an 800kbps low bandwidth option.

    Our own tests showed an average bitrate of 2700kbps* for their HD streams, which is on par with most other set-top-boxes we tested.

    BBC iPlayer NowTV 2700kbps

    I did notice something odd however. Often the audio will begin before the video begins to play, meaning the first couple of seconds of a programme start blind. This is not a major issue as once the video does kick in, there are no syncing issues as everything works fine, but it does come as a slight surprise.

    The BBC iPlayer app on the Roku or Now TV box also provides a live streaming option. Simply hit the Channels button at the top of the screen and navigate your way to the far left. Once live playback begins, there is no way to time-shift or pause live TV, nor easily switch channels (at least as far as I could tell), but playback streamed in rather good quality with a tested bitrate averaging 3230kbps*.

    But it gets even better. Live Restart is also available on the Now TV and Roku platform, which means if you fire up the live TV streams from any channel only to find yourself part-way through a started show that you really want to watch, just hit the Live Restart button to start right at the beginning of the show. It is just a pity that despite the time-shifting, there is no way to actually pause, FFW or RW the live stream yet.

    Categories are much the same as with other STBs, and there is also the very useful favourites option, which allows you to set programmes aside to find easier in the future. Resuming an unfinished programme that was previously started is also possible since the app will remember your last spot.

    Unfortunately though, there are no live streams as can be found on the web or iOS apps – I guess we can’t have everything.

    Platform Pros:

    • Fantastic value for money.
    • Excellent quality video at 720p
    • Can set default video quality.
    • Live streams possible.
    • Live Restart (Time-shift to beginning of live show).
    • Responsive user interface.
    • Resume feature.
    • Favourites and recently watched option.
    • Includes Radio Station catch-up.
    • Great sofa-friendly environment.

    Platform Cons:

    • No way to select another episode before beginning one when starting a show directly from one of the Featured lists.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • Poor implementation of FFW/REW

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Resume BUTTON HD BUTTONRecently Watched BUTTONLive TV BUTTONPVR BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via PS4

    Although the BBC iPlayer is not renowned for a sluggish response, probably the fasted version on any platform would be found on the PlayStation 4 – mostly due of course to the horsepower churning away inside the new game console from Sony.

    This power reveals itself in the swift way selected programmes can be found and started up, but there are a few surprising glitches in the initial release.

    As far as the user interface goes, it all pretty much looks identical to the standard new UI found on other platforms, such as the reviewed Samsung Smart Hub – in fact, a little too identical.

    The BBC seem to have ported the iPlayer across to the PS4 without taking into account any differences the game console may possess compared to standard set-top-boxes. Essentially they are still using the same remote-control buttons on-screen to identify how to go back or select a show, which is completely wrong for the PS4.

    As shown below, the Back and Close buttons are identified in the traditional set-top-box method of a back-arrow and X. However, on a PlayStation, the X is used to select a show or item, and the O is the back button.

    PS4 iPlayer

    Outside of that, on-screen navigation is made via the expected Dualshock controller. Despite so many options on the controller available for FFW & REW, let alone other actions, no dedicated buttons or joysticks have been implemented for this task.

    Don’t think holding the analogue stick or pressing the d-pad left or right will automatically move throughout the video, it is a little more awkward than that. First you have to use the down button to pass the other controls (pause, info etc), and then left or right to speed up FFW & REW, with the upwards action to resume playback – all without any thumbnail guide as to where you are scrubbing to.

    Secondly, if you find the stop button, please let us know where it is. Until then, I have absolutely no idea how to actually stop a show. Pause yes, but stop, no.

    PS4 Controller

    To be honest, despite the fact that once playback begins, I think the BBC could have spent a little more effort customizing the controls for this platform.

    As for video quality, the iPlayer here offers the standard three default maximum settings, low, SD and 720p HD. However, and this simply has to be a bug, no matter what we tried to do, all playback defaulted to the lowest possible video quality. It didn’t matter if we set the default to HD, and the on-screen information suggested we were in fact playing back in HD, our tests (and eyes) showed very clearly a subSD stream averaging 880kbps*. BBC iPlayer PS4 880kbpsPlatform Pros:

    • Fast and responsive.
    • Supports Resume feature.
    • Favourites and Recently Watched options.
    • Can set default video quality.

    Platform Cons:

    • Incorrect on-screen instruction for controls.
    • Sub SD stream seems to be a bug.
    • FFW & REW is difficult to accurately control.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • No Live streams.
    • No way to select another episode before beginning one when starting a show directly from one of the Featured lists.
    • Controller requires both hands.
    • Radio no longer available.

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Resume BUTTON HD BUTTONRecently Watched BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via Xbox One

    It took the BBC more than a year to finally release their Xbox One app, which is quite remarkable since the BBC are almost always amongst the first to arrive on any new platform.

    Why did it take so long? The BBC cited issues adapting the app for the Xbox One, which on the surface sounds plausible. But then why didn’t the BBC even bother to change the on-screen symbols to match the console’s controller? For this reason, the on-screen X doesn’t match the game pad X, so things can get a little confusing at times.PS4 iPlayer

    Which means that including the incorrectly placed X in the app’s settings panel, the BBC iPlayer’s UI is almost identical to most other platforms. For that reason, we won’t bore you with repetitive details. Just check the other STB or console platforms where we dig deeper into the iPlayer’s UI.

    Suffice to say, the Xbox One’s version of the iPlayer app works fluidly, as it should with as much grunt as the Xbox has under the hood.

    As for playback, video quality is as good as should be expected. My own tests averaged 2715kbps* when playing back HD streams, which is the same 720p expectations as seen on other devices.

    BBC iPlayer Xbox One 2715kbps

    The BBC iPlayer app on the Xbox One also provides a live streaming option. Simply hit the Channels button at the top of the screen and navigate your way to the far left. Once live playback begins, there is no way to time-shift or pause live TV, nor easily switch channels (at least as far as I could tell), but playback streamed in rather good quality with a tested bitrate averaging 3205kbps*.

    So what sets the Xbox One apart from the rest? The choice of controlling options, and to be honest, that’s about it.

    Xbox Controller: This is probably what most people will end up using, and outside of a standard remote it is probably the best method. Control is pretty straight forward, but I personally found FFW and REW to be a little awkward, especially as the Select button wouldn’t resume playback (I had to slow down again to resume, which can be a little inaccurate when zipping around at 128x speed), but overall the buttons perform the required jobs sufficiently. As in all Xbox One apps when using the controller, unlike a normal remote, two hands are required and it has a tendency to fall asleep after a while.

    Xbox One iPlayer Controller

    Voice: So much potential, and yet so far to go. The Xbox tends to understand me in most cases these days, even without my having to shout. So voice control works surprisingly well in order to pause and resume playback – in fact, I tend to use this method most of the time. But that’s about it. Although it can do plenty more, I am always left disappointed and confused. For instance, it is possible to sometimes begin a show by mentioning it, but the viewer must be in exactly the right place in the UI for that to actually work. You can’t just say from anywhere “Xbox, play Doctor Who” and expect it to actually play Doctor Who, which sort of defeats the whole point.

    Motion Control: It is possible to also control everything by waving your hands around, but you won’t. About the only useful thing I have found here, is that it is an easy way to zoom into a picture, if for some reason you found yourself needing to do so. Just hold your palm out, squeeze and move towards or away from your body.

    SmartGlass: The Xbox’s SmartGlass is about as useful as a mint-flavored suppository. This is all supposed to be about second-screen technology, but it does absolutely nothing worthwhile. At least if it would bring up a virtual keyboard when using the search function…

    Xbox Remote or Programmable Remote: Finally, if you have a suitable programmable remote (and the Harmony Ultimate is a perfect example of this), or the official Xbox One remote, you can do everything required exactly as it should be done. This is without doubt the best method, as although the standard controller works really well, a normal remote won’t fall asleep or require two hands.

    Platform Pros:

    • Fast and responsive.
    • Supports Resume feature.
    • HD streams.
    • Favourites and Recently Watched options.
    • Can set default video quality.
    • Live streams.
    • Voice control can be great for pausing.
    • Motion control can be useful for zooming.
    • Can use (some) universal remotes such as Harmony Hub models.

    Platform Cons:

    • Incorrect on-screen instruction for controls.
    • FFW & REW is difficult to accurately control.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • No way to select another episode before beginning one when starting a show directly from one of the Featured lists.
    • Controller requires both hands.
    • Controller will fall asleep after a while.
    • Voice control is confusing at times.
    • SmartGlass is useless, without even a virtual keyboard.
    • Motion control is awkward.
    • Radio no longer available.

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Resume BUTTON HD BUTTONRecently Watched BUTTONLive TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via Amazon Fire TV

    Best 2There’s no question that we’re rather fond of the Amazon Fire TV here at Eye on-Demand. Not only does it pack some quite formidable horsepower under the tiny hood (at least for the main boxed version rather than the HDMI stick), and sports an excellent user interface, but with a little bit of tweaking, it’s possible to mix apps from different countries. So as long as the user has a good Smart DNS service, Hulu Plus and Zattoo can comfortable sit next to the BBC iPlayer.

    The AFTV Box’s iPlayer app is also possibly the fastest and most responsive I have yet seen. It starts up incredibly quickly, and navigating is a dream. Amazon have really got the hardware right here!

    As far as the BBC’s user interface goes, it is pretty much the same as most of the other platforms here, so I won’t bore you with repetitive details. That said, there is a rather nice additional of a region selector in the apps settings. You can select directly from the app, any of the following UK regions: Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cambridge, Channel Islands, East, East Midlands, East Yorks & Lincs, London, North East & Cumbria, North West, Oxfordshire, South, South East, South West, West, West Midlands and Yorkshire.

    However, a feature that should be there but isn’t, is voice search. This is standard for the AFTV box and works surprisingly well. Many third party apps also take advantage of this great searching method, but sadly enough the BBC iPlayer doesn’t. If you try voice search for BBC content, it will automatically default to Amazon Prime, even if you are looking directly at the programme while in the iPlayer itself.

    Video quality looked great, with an average bitrate tested at 2670kbps* when set to HD. We experienced similar streams over both the Box and Stick versions of the Amazon Fire TV.

    BBC iPlayer AFTV Box 2670kbps

    The BBC iPlayer app on the Amazon Fire TV also provides a live streaming option. Simply hit the Channels button at the top of the screen and navigate your way to the far left. Once live playback begins, there is no way to time-shift or pause live TV, nor easily switch channels (at least as far as I could tell), but playback streamed in rather good quality with a tested bitrate averaging 3230kbps*.

    But it gets even better. Live Restart is also available on the AFTV platform, which means if you fire up the live TV streams from any channel only to find yourself part-way through a started show that you really want to watch, just hit the Live Restart button to start right at the beginning of the show. It is just a pity that despite the time-shifting, there is no way to actually pause, FFW or RW the live stream yet.

    Personally, I find the iPlayer on the AFTV to be one of my favourites. Perhaps this is due to the addition of the in-built region selector, but on the other hand it could just be because I love the AFTV box so much.

    It’s worth pointing out that this app has been tested on the Amazon Fire TV Box. The AFTV Stick also now sports a BBC iPlayer app, but it is not quite as responsive as the Box version, although I wouldn’t call it slow either.

    Platform Pros:

    • Fluid and responsive.
    • Same great UI as other platforms.
    • Live streams possible.
    • Live Restart (Time-shift to beginning of live show).
    • Region selector.
    • Excellent 720p HD.
    • Default video quality setting.
    • Resume option, Recently Watched & Favourites.
    • Works with Logitech Harmony Hub devices.
    • Possibly the fastest and most responsive iPlayer apps tested (AFTV Box).

    Platform Cons:

    • Voice control won’t work with iPlayer.
    • Only a few high-end universal remotes work with AFTV.
    • No radio anymore.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • No way to select another episode before beginning one when starting a show directly from one of the Featured lists.

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Resume BUTTONHD BUTTON Recently Watched BUTTONLive TV BUTTONPVR BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via Android

    The following app has been tested on a Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 running KitKat 4.4. Due to the enormous fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, features, availability and UI may vary dramatically between devices.

    The BBC iPlayer also has an Android app which can be accessed from the UK Google Play Store. The app itself works on a reasonably wide range of Android devices, but after installation, unlike the iOS version, an additional app – the BBC Media Player, is also required to be downloaded.

    The iPlayer app itself doesn’t look entirely different to the iOS version, but due to the aspect ratio difference of the display, there is less direct control to many features which otherwise has to be accessed via a menu. On the positive side, the 16:10 aspect ratio does a better job than iOS in filling the screen during playback, being far closer to the 16:9 standard used these days – that said, there are still slight black borders due to not following the exact wide-screen standard.

    Cross-platform support and Episode Management are provided by the My Programmes section, which can keep track of partially watched shows, and line up the next episode in a series to watch. If you sign in on multiple devices, this, along with any Resume point, will carry across to other platforms which also has this feature.

    All the usual features are there, including offline downloads, live television streams, excellent browsing and searching features, as well as favourites, but there is no radio option. Users are directed to the BBC’s dedicated radio app, which generally speaking is better for the task anyway. Sadly, due to Android’s fragmentation, many will be in the same situation as me and not be able to install on their particular device anyway, rendering radio access impossible.

    Video quality is unfortunately a tad disappointing on the 8.4″ screen tested. It may appear slightly better on smaller screens, but averaging 1490kbps* in our tests, we found the SD quality image to be a little under our expectations.

    BBC iPlayer Android 1490kbps

    Live streams were very similar in average 1580kbps* bitrate measured, but like the iPad app, visually inferior to the catch-up material.

    BBC iPlayer Android Live 1580kbps

    Thankfully, things improved dramatically when using Chromecast to stream onto the big-screen TV. Catch-up television would either automatically select the HD stream when available that averaged 2760kbps*, or otherwise SD at a respectable 1650kbps*. Even the live streams came through much clearer at 1625kbps, although they demonstrated more pixelation than the equivalent SD catch-up tests.

    Platform Pros:

    • Excellent UI.
    • Supports Resume and Favourites (Watchlist).
    • Offline downloads.
    • Live TV streams of all BBC channels.
    • TV Guide.
    • Excellent Chromecast support.
    • Cross-platform support.
    • Episode Management.

    Platform Cons:

    • Nothing above SD
    • No radio.
    • Requires two separate apps to be installed.
    • No Live-Restart feature.

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON Resume BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Download BUTTON Chromecast BUTTONCross Platform BUTTON Episode log BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • iPlayer via Chromecast

    This review was tested on a Chromecast using an iPad as the controlling device.

    For the most part, Chromecast utilizes the user interface from the platform controlling it, in which case this is currently either an iOS or Android app. The only difference now is that a small Chromecast button also appears if a device is within the network.

    Which means at least for this review, refer to the iOS tab for an overview regarding the general user interface.

    That aside, there are two methods to implement chromecasting, the first is a global setting, activated by pressing the Chromecast button almost always found at the top of the iPad or iPhone screen, with the second option selecting directly from the playback window.

    Chromecast Selection

    There is not a lot of difference between either method, with the only main point being that if you select the global button, a basic flash-screen indicating the iPlayer is ready to chromecast appears on the TV screen, and any time you begin a programme, it will automatically play on the television by default.

    This differs from the playback button where only that specific show will chromecast to the main TV.

    Chromecast BBC iPlayer

    Video quality differs between live and catch-up, with catch-up offering the best quality stream. The BBC claim their service should deliver a respectable 2800kbps for catch-up content, which is pretty accurate when you consider my own tests that averaged 2760kbps* when testing via the iPad and not terribly different using Android as the controller. This provides an excellent quality picture which sort of sits between their normal SD stream of 1600kbps and their HD one at 3200kbps.

    BBC iPlayer Chromecast 2760kbps

    Live streaming is not quite as good as catch-up, and was tested around 1625kbps*. Although the picture quality was good, it wasn’t great or even as pleasant as the BBC’s 1600kbps catch-up SD stream.

    BBC iPlayer Chromecast Live 1625kbps

    So what happens to the mobile device after the live stream begins? Well, for a start you are left with a rather ugly blank screen during live playback, and an only slightly improved darkened screen for catch-up. Catch-up offers the most control over the stream, which includes a volume slider, scrubbing slider (to select a spot in the timeline), a subtitles button and a pause button, along with limited programme information.

    Being a Chromecast stream, you can also move away from the playback screen by pressing the Hide button, and either browse the iPlayer for alternative shows, use the iPad for something else, switch off, or even remove entirely from the network. You don’t actually need the iOS device at all anymore, well, except to stop the stream itself. Not so important during catch-up as that will stop at the end anyway, but live streams may be different.

    Platform Pros:

    • Fantastic and easy way to stream BBC iPlayer content to a TV from Android or Apple without the need of AirPlay.
    • Full multitasking on the mobile device used for controlling.
    • Very good video quality.
    • Easy to use.
    • Includes live streams.
    • Includes all of the great features of iPlayer’s mobile platforms.
    • Affordable way to get iPlayer onto your main TV.

    Platform Cons:

    • No way to easily stop the show without finding your way back to the exact spot in the iPlayer.
    • Not as high quality as the BBC’s best streams from other platforms.
    • BBC could add direct buttons to other live channels from the live playback screen.
    • Live streams sometimes takes a couple of attempts to successfully begin chromecasting.

     

  • iPlayer via Apple TV 4

    For many years, the BBC iPlayer was probably the most glaring omission on the Apple TV. Why the world’s largest broadcaster, and without doubt the most innovative catch-up service anywhere, was never available on the Apple TV is still anyone’s guess, but thankfully this has changed for Cupertino’s latest streaming box.

    Note: The BBC iPlayer’s Apple TV app is only available on the Apple TV 4 and not any of the earlier versions. It can be downloaded for free from the ATV4’s tvOS UK app store.

    When asked whether the BBC had any plans for an Apple TV 4 app shortly before the platform’s launch, their answer was a clear and concise “No”. However, this quickly changed shortly after the Apple TV’s launch when the BBC announced that they would also supply a native app in the following months. One of the reasons for the BBC’s u-turn was related to Apple’s plans for global search, a feature that would not work for the iPlayer if content is simply airplayed onto the TV.

    To our surprise, the BBC have not opted for their usual user interface, and instead chose to simply slap together one based on tvOS’s developer templates. Our best guess here is that this was needed to get the iPlayer onto Apple’s new platform as soon as possible and we won’t be surprised to find it replaced some time next year for their usual UI.

    Until then, things are laid out quite differently on the Apple TV’s iPlayer, although not always for the worse.

    Along the top of the screen are the expected tabs for Home, Channels, Categories and Search. The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice a lack of Settings and any form of Favourites or Recently Watched. I would imagine that these will come later, but until then there is no way to log into the app, adjust video quality settings or keep track of your favourite shows or what’s been watched. To be honest, these are serious omissions and one reason why I’m opting to access the iPlayer on alternative devices for now.

    But there is nothing stopping access to all of the BBC’s catch-up content, and when playing back, they do so in stunning 720p 50fps streams averaging 5480kbps*. Watching videos at this quality level, I struggled to find any visual faults, even during fast moving action or complicated scenery like water or leaves.

    BBC iPlayer ATV4 5480kbps

    The iPlayer also provide live streams for all their channels, but as there is no way to set the region yet, you’ll be stuck with London for local content until that changes. Also missing for the moment are time shifting features found on other platforms, but the live streams do work even if only at standard definition. Our 30minute live test averaged 1820kbps, which while still good, there is a clear drop in quality when compared to catch-up content.

    BBC iPlayer ATV4 live 1820kbps

    Overall the UI is not as polished as the BBC’s normal one, but despite the above-mentioned missing features, it is still a great way to watch the BBC. On the positive side, it doesn’t have that horrible design feature of the usual iPlayer where the back button returns users to the main menu, but with the video still playing in the background.

    Platform Pros:

    • Live TV Streams.
    • Includes Resume feature.
    • High quality video for catch-up.
    • Can return to menu without the video still playing in the background.

    Platform Cons:

    • No cross-platform support or log-in options.
    • Missing Settings, Live Restart & live timeshifting, Recently Watched and Favourites!
    • No Episode Management.
    • Live streams only in SD.
    • Not the usual iPlayer UI.
    • No subtitles (yet).
    • 3rd party global search not yet implemented by Apple.
    • No way to set regions.

    Catch-up BUTTON HD BUTTON Resume BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

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  • Conclusion

    There is very little to complain about with the BBC’s iPlayer service. It has more features than almost any other FTA catch-up service, wherever you are in the world. It is ad-free and offers offline downloads, boasts high definition quality when available, is accessible on a vast variety of devices, includes live streams and is packed full of high quality BBC content – enough said.

    The BBC spends a significant amount of effort on developing this service, which suggests a bright future with a constantly updating feature-set. If I do have a wish list for improvements, it would include of course seeing many of the browser based features shifted to other devices.

    The BBC also have plans to eventually offer their back catalogue. How exactly this will be implemented is yet unknown. But with so much potential archival content currently hidden behind lock and key, when this does begin to see the light of day, the iPlayer could also become one of the world’s great media libraries.

    The BBC iPlayer is financed via a television license scheme in the United Kingdom, where all UK residents watching live television must contribute. In my opinion, the BBC could not advertise itself any better for the success of such a system and although no license fee is required by British residents for purely catch-up viewing, I believe using this as a reason to avoid payments is simply unfair – it will not take you long to explore similar schemes, or the lack of them in other countries to see how well these funds in the UK are actually spent.

    The challenge now is to find another on-demand service that could topple the high score given to the iPlayer – this will not be an easy task, especially for FTA services.

    Pros:

    • High Quality video streams in either standard or high definition.
    • Offline downloads for browser or iOS devices.
    • Available on a wide range of devices.
    • Live Restart feature on the web browser & selected devices.
    • Amazing content on offer.
    • Some of the best on-demand iOS apps available.
    • BBC Sport app on the Samsung TV offers great quality live sport simulcasts.
    • Good options for managing favourites.
    • Live Simulcasts of all channels on browser, iOS and many connected TV devices.
    • 3G streaming available on selected mobile devices.
    • Resume feature on most platforms.
    • Commercial free.
    • Multitasking, direct-access AirPlay with full-screen streaming to your Apple TV.
    • Includes Radio Station catch-up.
    • Cross-platform support.
    • Episode Management.
    • Offline downloads on selected devices.

    Cons:

    • Android support is limited, with lower bandwidth options.
    • Many great browser features need to roll out to other devices (e.g. Live Restart).
    • Live simulcast quality could be improved.
    • Limited Archives and back catalogues (see All4’s amazing options here).
    • No way to select another episode before beginning one when starting a show directly from one of the Featured lists.

     

    CC BUTTON Movies BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON HD BUTTON Resume BUTTON PVR BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Download BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON AirPlay BUTTONRecently Watched BUTTONCross Platform BUTTON Episode log BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Log:

    19.02.2013: Review published. Score: 7.4 – Excellent.

    21.02.2013: iPlayer iOS app updated with AirPlay now supporting multitasking. Minor video quality improvements. Score updated: 7.6 – Excellent.

    03.05.2013: iPlayer iOS app updated with AirPlay now accessible from video screen and easier access to live streams. Score updated: 7.8 – Excellent.

    01.08.2013: Small update regarding various platforms available.

    07.08.2013: Update including new Now TV platform.

    28.08.2013: Updated iOS platform due to app updates.

    13.01.2014: Added PlayStation 4 review tab.

    30.03.2014: Added Chromecast review tab.

    16.05.2014: Updated web review with new UI, plus overhaul on all reviews.

    04.06.2014: Major update adding Android review, plus iOS and Samsung TV’s new UI reviews. Score increased to 8.

    04.07.2014: Updated Samsung Smart TV & PS4 reviews to reflect new UI.

    19.08.2014: Added Tank Top listings for current content.

    23.10.2014: Added Unblock-US tests.

    11.02.2015: Added AFTV & Xbox One review. Score increased to 8.1.

    10.03.2015: Complete update with new tests.

    17.03.2015: Added missing Xbox One test graph.

    24.03.2015: Added iOS update (Shared Favourites).

    05.08.2015: Updated due to live streams on STBs: Score updated to 8.3

    19.08.2015: Updated iOS, Android, NowTV/Roku, AFTV tabs with additional features. Score updated to 8.4.

    16.12.2015: Added ATV4 review, plus additional updates. Score updated to 8.6

     

    * Bitrate tests were based on multiple averages and are subject to both the geographical location and ISP bandwidth at the time.

     

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Comments

  1. tom

    Since the iplayer update, I get lines across the top 20% of my screen. I used to see this on the BBC News app but not on the iplayer, but since the update was pushed, it is everywhere. No such problem on 4oD or ITV player so has to be iplayer related
    I am running a Samsung F series in Boston via overplay.

    Have you encountered this before, or have any tips on how to fix?

    Great website by the way.

    • Hi Tom, I just checked the BBC iPlayer on an F-series here, and I don’t see this problem. Try uninstalling the app and reinstalling, and if that doesn’t work, perhaps switch the country smart Hub back to the US, then return to the UK to reinstall all the apps from scratch, then let me know if this solved the problem. Hopefully this can be resolved!

  2. Tom

    Updated TV software to current version (1200). No luck. Then reset app store to USA, allowed all apps to swap out before changing back to UK. Again no luck, still have the lines across the top 20% of the screen.
    Samsung UNF506350, kinda stumped now

  3. Tom

    update – Buddy has a F8000 series and he has lost iplayer totally – frozen screen. Also just read a few reports of other people with iplayer issues at Unblockus so seems to be more widespread than just me (a good sign in my book).
    I can still watch iplayer via the browser but that is a lot more hassle compared to the app.

    • If it is happening to others, then it could be that the US firmware has issues with the new iPlayer. This had happened once before about a year and a half ago with the ES-series. You could try a full factory reset (see this link) but it could do one of three things 1) nothing, 2) fix it, 3) like your friend, lose it completely.

  4. Tom

    As a follow-up, the tech guys at unblockus have established that the error is due to new coding at the BBC end. So looks like there could be issues with several of the US model F Series.

    • This was my conclusion as well. I imagine the BBC have made changes which have been tested in the UK Firmware, but the US firmware may not have these yet. Since I have not heard of problems in any other part of the world, I suspect this is not deliberate by the BBC to foil non-UK residents, but just a new feature they are using in the UK firmware. I wouldn’t be surprised the US firmware will be upgraded as some time in the future, but of course, it could be a long wait. Do you have any alternatives in pace for the iPlayer Tom?

  5. Tom

    Was using the browser but very buggy and bad user experience so bought a refurb BD-F5900 on ebay for $60 and now using that to access the iplayer. The 5900 still has the previous version of the app, so hopefully they will not push the new app out to it or else I will be back to square 1. The other workaround is PS3, which my mate is using.

    • Hi Tom,
      Glad you have it working again, but I just hope that the Blu-Ray player doesn’t get updated soon. If there is a setting in the menu to switch off auto-update, I’d encourage using it.
      The PS4 certainly is another option, and so is the PS4 as well. I quite like the ability to mix and match apps from different parts of the world, so you have Hulu sitting next to the BBC iPlayer and unlike the Samsung TV, no hack is needed.
      Another option is a Roku box. I have a US bought Roku 3 which I successfully converted to a UK model. Don’t know if this works with older Roku’s yet, but the Roku 3 does have all the main UK catch-up services (unlike the others which are missing 4oD).

  6. Mike Davies

    You can access BBC iplayer if it is restricted in your area with the help of Pure VPN.

  7. Hideo

    Hi , thanks for this amazing review , bbc experience is simply the best