First Impressions: The iPlayer Beta

Written by Paul Goodhead

June 7, 2010 // 10:14 a.m.

Tags: #bbc #blog #first-thoughts #iplayer

I’m a massive fan of the BBC iPlayer. I’d actually go as far as saying I consider it one of the most important technical innovations of the last five years. So there.

Seriously though, I find the flexibility of the iPlayer liberating, I no longer have to be in a certain place at a certain time to catch my favourite shows and it also allows me to experiment with programs I may not have otherwise tried. I wouldn’t be such an ardent fan of The Thick of It if I hadn’t have chanced upon it when looking for something short to watch with dinner many moons ago.

The fact that the service is ad free is also a boon. OK, so watching one or two unskippable ads at the start of a 4OD program isn’t exactly all that bad, but the lack of ads does make iPlayer feel more immediately fun and responsive.[break]

As a result of all this I greeted the news of the new iPlayer open beta with more than just a degree of trepidation. I know it’s an age-old cliché but if it aint broke; don’t add social networking features to it - right?

To find out if my worst fears were to materialize I’ve been spending the last few nights playing with the shiny, swooshy beta interface and I can happily say that the sky is not falling, though it may be sagging a little under the weight of unnecessary features.

First Impressions: The iPlayer Beta My Impressions of the iPlayer beta"If you don't go get me some cheese, I'll rip your head off, and give you a spinedectomy"

One new feature which definitely isn’t superfluous though is the Favourites section, which lets you mark specific series as your favourites and then updates you when new episodes are available. This is a killer feature for me, as I tend to have so many series on the go that I struggle to keep up with what I have and haven’t watched. A single section that tells me what is new and what is about to expire is an absolute godsend.

On the other hand I could happily leave the social features that seem to have weedled their way in to every facet of modern life. I’m not sure I need my Facebook page clogged up with people desperate to tell the world they are watching last week’s episode of Total Wipeout. Thanks, but no thanks.

At least the social features can be bypassed by opting not to sign up for what they are calling the BBC iD - a unique login for the iPlayer and other BBC sites. I can see why the BBC has pursued such a scheme as there are obvious benefits, such as allowing favourites and recently watched lists to follow users across multiple platforms (home PC to Smartphone to work PC). I am however sceptical about how many people will want to create a login for something that has until now not required one.

Still, my overall impression has been positive and some of my early pessimism has been assuaged. Conclusion - At least they’ve not borked it.

By the way, now seems like a good time to introduce myself - I’m Paul Goodhead, the new staff writer for Custom PC and bit-tech. I’ve been a PC enthusiast for a number of years now and, as I’m sure you can imagine, am pretty excited about writing for the site and mag. I plan to be contributing to both for many years to come and can be found on the forums under the name 'Material'.
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