The Internet is becoming an increasingly important source for content of all media. There are legal and not-so-legal ways of listening to music, watching television and movies, playing games, and obtaining software. All via a simple broadband connection. You don’t even need a computer these days thanks to the range of devices which you can hook up to the Web in order to transform them from dumb to smart.
However, my laptop and humble browser still represent the main means by which I access this content. And the BBC iPlayer represents the very best of TV-on-demand services. The BBC has tried to make watching television (and some movies) through iPlayer as easy as possible, but there are some layers to the service some people won’t be aware of.
Watching directly in a Web browser is only officially allowed in the UK, and simple proxy servers don’t seem to help. However, using a VPN, for those inclined to do so, makes it possible to watch BBC iPlayer anywhere in the world.
There is also a global iPlayer app available for those outside of the UK who are willing to pay to use the service. Unfortunately it’s currently only available in selected countries (including Australia, Canada, and parts of Europe), only available on the Apple iPad, and offers mainly archived content.
As a UK resident I’m lucky enough to not to have to deal with that. So here is how to get the best out of iPlayer when watching through a Web browser.
If you’re not sure what you want to watch, simply use the following to help you make a choice.
The BBC thinks it knows what you want to watch, even without any knowledge of who you are or what your televisual interests may be. Consider the ‘Featured’ section the best of the BBC, at least the best broadcast over the last seven days.
If you don’t want to be told what to watch by the BBC you can instead just follow the herd by watching what is ‘Most Popular‘. Flagship shows such as Top Gear and Doctor Who dominate, alongside the big movies the BBC gets permission to air through iPlayer.
You can also start completely fresh and browse the content on offer in other ways.
You can view content by channel. All of the BBC channels are here, including the interminably dull BBC Parliament and the channel for Gaelic speakers, BBC Alba. Choose your channel and you can then view content by day. Or you can scroll to the bottom to view the full schedule for your chosen channel.
If you have narrow interests or simply know what kind of show you’re keen on watching at that given moment, you can browse by ‘Categories‘. From ‘Children’s’ to ‘Sport’ and everything in between, and there are also options to filter for ‘Audio Described’, ‘Signed’, and ‘Regional‘ content.
The final option is to view by ‘A-Z’. This is when you know what show you want to watch on catch-up, and simply need to find the link to it. Content is shown by title only, with no context or description provided.
Once you’ve selected content to watch, you can do so by clicking the ‘Play‘ button.
To Stream Or To Download
Most content has the option to both stream directly in the browser, or download to the iPlayer Desktop, Windows Media Player , or portable devices. When streaming with a robust broadband connection there should be little to no buffering needed. Unless you’ve chosen to watch in HD, in which case the glorious picture will be countered by endless pauses.
There are a couple of other options open to you in the simple and elegant iPlayer player. You can choose to watch the content as it is, in full-screen, or in a pop-out player recommended for those who will be carrying on with their usual Web browsing while the content is playing in the background.
Volume To 11
One strange but frankly genius quirk is the fact that the iPlayer volume goes up to 11. Which surely has to be a direct reference to This Is Spinal Tap. I certainly cannot see any other reason to make it 11 rather than 10. But I’m not complaining.
There is the added option of signing up for a BBC iD in order to gain extra features on iPlayer. But it isn’t worth it just for iPlayer, quite frankly. All you can really do is add programmes as ‘Favourites‘ in order to navigate to them quickly in the future. Options to share via Facebook and Twitter are open to everyone, BBC iD or no BBC iD.
I adore the BBC iPlayer and use it on a weekly basis. My Freeview Plus box consequently sits unused and unloved underneath my TV. The BBC has managed to create a catch-up, TV-on-demand service which looks good but which is simple enough for all the family to use. I just wish it was available globally. For all your sakes.
Do you use the BBC iPlayer? Is there anything you’d like to see changed or improved about the content and/or user interface? Are there tips or tricks for using iPlayer in the Web browser that I have overlooked? Let us know by leaving a comment below.