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Beeb pushes major new iPlayer release

Big on HD, if your computer is beefy enough

The BBC has made a host of major changes to the iPlayer today, by making some of its programmes available in High Definition (HD) and ending use of its clunky peer-to-peer technology.

The Corporation’s future media and technology controller Anthony Rose said the release was the most significant of its kind since iPlayer launched in July 2007.

He said the Beeb had improved video quality on the entire service to a new standard definition (SD) 1500Kbps stream.

“Finally, BBC programmes should look as good on your computer as they do on your TV, even if you don't choose the HD option,” said Rose, who added that selecting the new large video window size in iPlayer will make it automatically switch to the new video format.

Additionally, programmes downloaded using iPlayer Desktop will use the new format.

The Beeb has also slightly improved its default video quality so that its current High Quality (800Kbps H.264) format is now used in the smaller video playback window size.

“For programmes without fast movement played back on a small computer screen, the quality of that 800Kbps format is pretty good, which means that as of today our baseline video quality takes a big step up,” explained Rose.

However, to benefit from HD, which has a 1280x720 pixel resolution and encoding bitrate of 3.2Mbps, Rose admits that users will need speedy broadband connections and fast PCs with a beefy graphics card.

The iPlayer now also comes with adaptive bitrate technology, which tests connection speeds to allow users to work out what video quality they can watch over their broadband service.

“In this first phase of our adaptive bitrate system, once iPlayer has dropped down to a lower bandwidth stream it will stay with that lower bandwidth version for the rest of the programme you're watching,” said Rose.

“Over the coming months we'll enhance that behaviour to allow iPlayer to automatically ramp up and down between available versions every few seconds to match your available bandwidth.”

Users on bandwidth-capped web connections, or who simply want to override the adaptive bitrate system and use the Beeb’s lowest bandwidth (500Kbps) stream, can now do so by using a new option added to the service.

The Beeb officially unwrapped its cross platform desktop download manager today, which plays nicely with Windows, Linux and Mac. It was actually launched in December as part of the Corporation’s Labs testing programme, but it's now been taken out of beta.

"As of today, we're no longer using P2P to distribute our content, or use your upload bandwidth - all content is now either streaming or direct HTTP download from our servers," said Rose.

He advised that users on the BBC's existing iPlayer Download Manager should now switch to iPlayer Desktop and remove iPlayer Download Manager.

However, he warns that such a move won't entirely strip out all the components of its P2P technology because rival services such as Sky Player and 4OD share some Kontiki tech in their own download managers. ®

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