The BBC has confirmed its reputation as the world’s most tech-savvy auntie by announcing an autumn launch for its new internet TV and on-demand service.
Provisionally called MyBBCPlayer, it will see the Beeb simulcast its terrestrial channels live on TV and the internet for the first time. The move follows a ‘wake-up call’ last year when new Doctor Who series was leaked on the net, and the emergence this year of broadband services from Sky and BT.
As momentous as the live streaming is, the most interesting feature of the new service is the Integrated Media Player, or iMP. The on-demand service’s second trial is due to finish at the end of February, and we were recently treated to a live demo.
The interface (above) is granny-friendly and has some nice touches – you can search and download content from the past week by title, calendar or channel, book to download series seven days in advance, and access radio. The current real-time download speeds are said to be improving as more people use the P2P network, and the compressed fulll-screen MP4 is watchable if not DVD quality.
It’s not all plain surfing, though. The iMP throws up some complex licensing issues, which mean the BBC can’t offer its whole schedule – music, sport and imported shows are likely to be thin on the ground. It also only works in the UK – forget taking your lappie to France – and all downloads understandably disappear from your hard-drive after seven days.
Considering you can already record whatever you want and keep it indefinitely with a laptop, TV card and mini PVR, or services like HomeChoice, these limitations make iMP a little less enticing. Still, it’s a symbolic attempt at modernisation by the Beeb, and it did point out that connecting iMP to your telly – via a S-Video cable – still gives you a subscription-free PVR.
Besides, this year isn’t all about broadband TV – there’s the small matter of high-def too. The BBC’s mood here is one of qualified excitement – while we were shown an astonishing taster of an HD wildlife series called Galapagos, it did then point out that free-to-air HD broadcasts for all won’t be available until the digital changeover in 2012 as there's no room left on the Freeview spectrum.
Don’t throw your World Cup planners away just yet, though – the BBC’s 9-12 month long HD trial will be going ahead this summer, and it ‘very much hopes’ that this will include coverage on the tournament in Germany. Even if this doesn’t happen, BBC Big Screens, fresh from their success at Live 8, are looking at ways of bringing HD Rooney to city crowds. Well, it’s cheaper than a plane ticket to Munich.