As promised, the BBC has launched a version of iPlayer for use on Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch mobile devices.
Currently in Beta, the specially designed version of the BBC’s UK-only TV catch-up service utilizes H.264 video streaming (optimized for use over WiFi not the iPhone’s slower EDGE connection) and, as we first speculated, doesn’t appear to employ DRM. The lack of copy-protection technology means that, in theory at least, video streams could be captured to a user’s hard drive and stored indefinitely, bypassing the iPlayer’s current 30 day-only limitation.
Given a choice between employing DRM or adding iPlayer support to the iPhone/iPod touch, and in future, as many different devices as possible, the BBC has made the right one. However, it does bring into question the public broadcaster’s defense of why it chose to use Microsoft’s Windows-only copy-protection technology for the original download version of the service. The Beeb has always maintained that it has no choice but to lock down iPlayer content in order to comply with the wishes of third-party rightsholders.
A first look: iPlayer on iPod touch
I took the iPlayer for a quick spin on my iPod touch and came away mostly impressed. Video and audio quality is excellent – the image looks very crisp on the device’s 3.5 inch “widescreen”, with very little compression artifacts visible.
Having only just launched, however, not all of the iPlayer content is yet available but I expect this to be rectified in the coming days or, at most, weeks. As the BBC’s Head of Digital Media Technologies, Anthony Rose, is at pains to explain, it’s quite a challenge transcoding the broadcaster’s content for various platforms on a daily basis.
One major disappointment (and surprise) is that the iPlayer website itself hasn’t been redesigned for the iPhone/iPod touch. Instead, you’re presented with the same UI as the desktop version, which, while manageable, makes for a lot of unnecessary panning and zooming. Moving forward, I’d like to see a more iPhone/iPod touch-friendly version of the site being offered, akin to the brilliantly optimized version of the BBC’s podcast site.
That being said, thanks BBC for giving me another reason to love my iPod touch.