The BBC announced a series of major changes for the iPlayer today, in what controller of future media and technology Anthony Rose calls the most significant release since the service went live last July. Here’s a run-down of the main changes (full details in the release.):
— Better video quality: Now improved to a new standard definition (SD), 1500Kbps stream that’s “pretty close to TV quality” according to Rose, “as good as most Freeview channels”. The default quality for small-screen viewing is raised from 500Kbps to 800Kbps, a speed previously reserved for the HQ (high quality) mode.
— HD: Rose points out you will need not only a fast connections but fast computers — you’ll need a modern computer and a decent graphics card. But if you can take the strain, he says this is genuine HD, not just very high quality SD streaming posing as HD which Rose claims some sites have. It has a 1280×720 pixel resolution and encoding bitrate 3.2Mbps.
— Adaptive Bitrate: While most people have forgotten about New Year’s resolutions by now, Rose has achieved his: he told us in December he wanted to introduce an adaptive bitrate to the iPlayer, and sure enough the service now tests connection speeds to deliver the highest each user can handle. You can see that process happening in a new diagnostics test that shows how fast your connection actually is and what video quality you can watch. Rose says the service will lower video quality in response to changes in network speed while streaming and eventually the iPlayer will then be able to increase or decrease quality during the same programme if bandwidth increases.
— iPlayer desktop downloads: Rose and his team officially released the cross-platform desktop download manager. The Beeb launched a desktop download client in December for Mac and Linux users signed up to the Labs testing programme who had previously complained the service excluded them. As with the test version, the desktop app uses Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) AIR download technology.
— iPlayer via TV: Users with Windows Media Extender-enabled TVs can download iPlayer programmes and watch them on TV way instead. That uses good ‘ol Windows Media DRM.
— Bigger window: Responding to user feedback, the iPlayer main screen now has a larger playback window that can be re-sized.
— The future: Expect a few more releases in the next two months, but Rose warns us his team is working on the “next generation” release for the summer.