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BBC iPlayer & Radio

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Mark Friend Mark Friend | 11:00 UK time, Friday, 27 June 2008

bbc_radio.pngOn Wednesday, Anthony Rose posted a sneak preview of the new BBC iPlayer - the one with radio built in. This is a beta product at the moment - but, if it's successful, we're hoping it will go fully live in July.

In his post, Anthony hinted at much increased quality of radio streams within iPlayer; today, I'd like to flesh out the detail of what we're doing this summer to improve the whole experience of listening to BBC Radio online.

radio1_6music.pngIn this post, by "BBC Radio" I mean the national BBC networks like BBC Radio 1, or BBC Radio 6music - as this is the part of the BBC I work in.

BBC local radio services in England, BBC Radio Cymru and Radio nan Gaidheal, and the World Service) are not included in the new Player now, but will be over the coming months and will be making similar changes in due course. BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle are included in the new iPlayer. More information can be found in the [Update 2008-10-20: link changed help and FAQs section] help and FAQs section of the iPlayer beta.

For the launch of this new version of BBC iPlayer, we're concentrating on improving the "listen again" service.

  • First, we're removing the need to install RealPlayer if you're listening in the UK. We're not dropping RealPlayer entirely (if you've a wifi radio that uses it, don't worry) - but, if you use the BBC iPlayer to listen again in the UK, you'll now be given an embedded Flash player instead, just like for the television programmes. As a result, it will "just work" for nearly everyone. You also won't need RealPlayer to listen live in the UK - the new iPlayer will use Windows Media Player which should be installed as a default on your PC (a version is also available for Macs!)
  • When you use the current iPlayer for Radio, you can't rewind and can only fast-forward in five minute chunks. As we are integrating radio into the full iPlayer, we will be using the same transport controls as we do for television programmes. If you want to forward through Chris Moyles's show to around 8.00am, you can just click and drag. Easy.
  • Another new feature is that iPlayer will remember what you last played so if you didn't have time to finish it, it's ready to resume when you are.
  • bbcradio3.pngAnd we're dramatically improving the audio quality for UK listeners. For most stations, we'll be using MP3-streaming at 128k stereo. If you're a fan of serious classical music on BBC Radio 3, we're improving it still further, recognising that classical music requires higher bitrates to do the job well - so Radio 3's listen-again will be at 192k stereo. Mono speech also increases in quality, up to 80k mono. All that means that BBC Radio through the iPlayer will be much better quality.
  • There'll be further changes to our streaming infrastructure later in July: on-demand and live streaming. We'll fill you in with those details nearer the time. In the meantime, I really hope you'll enjoy the start of the tremendous difference in sound quality from iPlayer's listen-again service. For further information about the radio aspects of the new iPlayer, take a look at these frequently asked questions.

Finally, and for the techies: you might be wondering why we're using streaming MP3, and not AAC or its cousin AAC+. The very latest version of Flash is capable of using it, but given that much radio listening happens in the workplace, we wanted to ensure that BBC Radio was available to as many people as possible - even those who don't run the latest version of Flash. Watch the changes in July, though.

Transmitting the first radio picture of the King, October 1928
Transmitting the first radio picture of the King, October 1928

Mark Friend is Controller, Multiplatform & Interactive, Audio & Music Interactive

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Will the higher quality MP3 streams be available as a direct (and predictable or XML listed) link so that users of devices with any Flash or Javascript will also be able to access them?

    While it is great for Real-enabled internet radios that the Real streams remain available - I don't think that there are many internet radio devices that support only Real (I remember one from years ago).
    I expect that all support HTTP/SHOUTcast-style streaming of MP3.
    If that was readily available then there would be little if any need for Real for live audio.

    I can understand that the back catalogue of "Listen Again" material that is already stored as Real might as well remain in that format (although I'm sure a background process could transcode it - it would probably end up worse quality).

  • Comment number 2.

    @paulwebster - the MP3 streams aren't HTTP nor Shoutcast compatible, so we won't be doing that. More formats will come, outside our iPlayer work.

    You'll see more technical detail around the BBC iPlayer for radio here:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/2008/06/under_the_iplayer_hood_for_rad.shtml
    ...and I'd welcome technical enquiries there.

  • Comment number 3.

    James Cridland has blogged about bitrates and codecs for the beta here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/2008/06/under_the_iplayer_hood_for_rad.shtml

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 4.

    "the new iPlayer will use Windows Media Player"(a version is also available for Macs!)"

    Which is all well and good for the Mac folk, but what about us Linux users?

    I'm kind of surprised that screams of "look the BBC are even more in MIcrosoft's pocket" haven't been heard yet.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi
    Is legacy content going to be made available via the new player? Eg the archived content at
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4//science/clickon/clickon_20071008.shtml is still real audio.

    Or can I guess an MP3 equivalent URl?!

  • Comment number 6.

    Increased audio quality aside (which is great news), the picture quality of video content in iPlayer is absolutely unbearable fullscreen on a MacBook (1440x900 fullscreen, Intel 2.0GHz, latest flash.). This goes for both the encoding artifacts and the jerky framerate.

    Euro 2008's Spain vs Russia is painful to watch. Compare the video quality to something like the movie trailers on the Apple website (http://www.apple.com/trailers/%29 and you get the idea of what is possible.

    Are there any changes planned with regards to video codecs/bitrates?

    Kind regards

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks for the post Mark. "We're not dropping RealPlayer entirely (if you've a wifi radio that uses it, don't worry)" - how long for? Will my internet radio I just bought be able to listen to the BBC in 2 years time? Or might these formats be termed legacy in the next round of budget cuts and be dropped?

  • Comment number 9.

    Whatever happened to creating an n95 version of the iplayer? I thought this was coming at the same time as psp and wii versions?

  • Comment number 10.

    psychemedia - I am told that Archive content will not be available in BBC iPlayer for now. The iPlayer will only offer the last 7 days of broadcast material.

    Where is exists, archive content will still be available via the radio station websites.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 11.

    "If you're a fan of serious classical music on BBC Radio 3, we're improving it still further, recognising that classical music requires higher bitrates to do the job well - so Radio 3's listen-again will be at 192k stereo."

    By all means argue that Radio 3 will use a higher bitrate because you believe classical music is more artistically deserving, but I'm highly sceptical that there are any objective technical reasons for this. Difficult to encode sounds occur in all genres of music and are certainly not limited to classical music.

    I suspect the clue are in the words "serious classical music" with the implication being that other genres of music are not serious enough to warrant high quality.

    Apologies if my comments come across negative as overall this is a welcome improvement to the iPlayer.

  • Comment number 12.

    Very small request, can BBC World Service be added to the iplayer radio console?

    bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/nameofradiostation

    Thanks ever so much for the improvements to the UI, integrating TV and Radio in this way is a bold but in my view extremely welcome step.

  • Comment number 13.

    “Which is all well and good for the Mac folk, but what about us Linux users?” --maethorechannen

    http://www.publicradiofan.com/

    ;-)

  • Comment number 14.

    This is very long overdue - poor sound quality has meant listen again on Radio 3 has been worthless up until now.

    However, a couple of questions for you. First, Second, will it actually be 192 (128 for non-Radio 3)? After all, the current rates are advertised as 64 but regularly drop a good way below that. Second, for those who have wi-fi radios, will they get an increased bit-rate? If not, seems a little unfair on them.

    Lastly, seems a bit silly not to use a more advanced codec such as AAC and get even more bang for your bit. I wouldn't think there are all that many computers these days that can't play them.

    _bc_ - I don't think the post suggested that Radio 3 should have 192 because it was more artistically deserving. Rather it needs it because of the complexities of the music (capturing a full orchestra as opposed to a small band). There was much outcry recently when the DAB rates for R3 were dropped from 192 for just that reason. That said, I don't think 192 is really adequate for classical and would like much higher. However, I would like higher for other stations too.

  • Comment number 15.

    Please don't force on us any more microsoft only solutions.

    First it was windows only with Iplayer then you realized that most web sites have been using flash for several years to show video, so you "allowed" us to watch streaming only mode with flash.

    You still don't allow iplayer downloads using linux.

    you still force us to use microsoft activex technology (even with firefox!) to download - most websites have given up on ms only solutions.

    And now you force us to use microsofts media player. Didn't you understand the eu competition commission fining of microsoft and forcing the company to produce versions of windows without media player installed?

    Where's the bbcs community spirit and openness.

    You are funded by the public - don't produce single vendor solutions to promote microsoft's monopoly.

  • Comment number 16.

    N.B. James Cridland has now posted an update of how BBC Radio is moving to BBC iPlayer at the BBC Radio Labs blog here.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 17.

    Listening to BBC Classical Music has stopped since I got a 64 bit machine.

  • Comment number 18.

    Wednesday, Anna, the host of Radio 4's 'Choice Is Yours' Message Board, recommended to posters on the 'Are You Happy With The New iPlayer?' thread that they cross-post to the iPlayer blog and other related blogs.

    On Tuesday, I posted this to the Radio 4 'Choice Is Yours' Message Board.

    It's Tuesday and here in Canada most Radio 4 programming from last Friday onwards is still unavailable. The same is true of many Radio 3 and BBC 7 programs on the flashy iPlayer. Although, to be fair, BBC 7's Listen Again links which use Real Player are working fine.

    Like the majority of other posters on various Radio 4 messageboards, I'm not happy with the new iPlayer. It represents a triumph of empty style and glitter over workmanlike functionality. The old RadioPlayer is not glitzy, but it works easily and smoothly and is accessible from the International Version of the BBC Radio home page - to access iPlayer, however, you have to switch to the UK Version. You can compare the two since Radio Player is still attached to the International Version home page offering World Service and a few other international stations.

    The iPlayer was apparently designed for UK users who like to stream TV via the internet with internet radio users thrown in as an afterthought. It does demonstrate that there was a sound reason for having separate players for Radio and TV - even if you want to use iPhone like graphics and Flash coding. I'm a subscriber to BBC World (BBC Canada's schedule is too packed with 'lowest common denominator' programing to be worth the fee) But BBC Radio has content worth listening to - except that the new iPlayer is making it as difficult as possible.

    In BBC surveys I've answered over the years, I've always said I'm willing to pay a reasonable monthly fee for BBC Radio, but I think I'd need to rethink that sentiment if it meant being stuck with iPlayer, which is slow to load, cumbersome, unstable when it does decide to play a program, unreliable when it comes to having audio streams available, cluttered with visual junk (see Book At Bedtime - a photo of a young woman in bed is a total waste) that adds nothing to the functionality of the iPlayer, and a bandwidth hog that prevents you from doing any other work on your computer.

    A notice - even if pure spin - on the station home pages to the effect that you're experiencing difficulties with iPlayer and some programs are not available as a result would be much more courteous than having to hunt through various messageboards in hopes of finding an explanation.

  • Comment number 19.

    wtempest - just to let you know that we are aware of the problems being experienced by some overseas users on some programmes on Listen Again and we are trying to fix them at the moment.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 20.

    I have been quite frustrated with the often poor sound quality and delay on bbc live content. Match of the Day, Euro 2008, WImbeldon and the Olympics have been terrible at times with the sound barely audible behind the crackling.

  • Comment number 21.

    Hello - my query is about listening via wifi enabled devices.

    I have two internet radios - a BlueTinum and a Sagem MyDualRadio700. I also have a couple of computers.

    I can listen to all the BBC's wifi transmissions without fail on the BlueTinum, and on my computers. However, when trying to listen to ALL BBC STATIONS EXCEPT BBC World Service(!) on the Sagem MyDualRadio700, invariably the buffer loads, then loads again (cycles) and doesn't play. Sometimes it does "catch", but that's the exception.

    Significantly, the Sagem is the only unit that "listens" using your WMA stream. It doesn't accept RealAudio.

    As BBC are the only stations I've discovered across the globe that have this difficulty playing on the Sagem MyDualRadio700, I have to ask, is there something inherently different or problematic with your signal? And what's the difference between BBC World Service and the rest?

    One small point: Sagem themselves have noticed this problem. I've discussed it with one of their tech guys, and he?s unable to explain the difficulty.

    Any thoughts or advice will be appreciated.

    Many thanks

  • Comment number 22.

    To TrevInTheUK - please email me at firstname.lastname@bbc.co.uk - with details of your issues and I will try to help.

    Alan Ogilvie

  • Comment number 23.

    James Cridland has now blogged about some of the difficulties being experienced by some users of the radio iPlayer here.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 24.

    As a bbc radio fan living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, im upset at the fact that im suddenly unable to listen online to most programming featured in Radio Four e.g BOOK AT BEDTIME, BOOK OF THE MONTH, etc.. As soon as I click on a date to listen to any of these programmes, the new BBCiREalplayer cookie console opens up with a notice asking me to first install real player to listen to the program in question. Of course, i have REAL PLAYER installed on my computer and I did disinstall it and reinstall from your own link in order to see if the problem had to do with my having an older unworkable version of real player.
    ON the other hand, just like the gentleman from Canada has pointed out, I can still enjoy listening again to programmes on Radio 7, but then those programmes seem to download directly onto my REal player you see. This famous Real player console that you use for Radio Four programmng is bypassed.
    I hope you can please do something about this so I that can go on enjoying fully your excellent programmes. Yours truly,
    Denis Horan

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi, it s me again, this time to thank you and congratulate you. I posted a complaint only hours ago - the thread right above this one in fact- that the BBCIPLAYER didn t seem to work for me when I tried to listen to Radio Four programmes and voila! now it works fine. Im so very grateful and impressed with your efficiency! Yours truly, Denis

  • Comment number 26.

    Denis Horan, you may be in the small minority who are happy with the current situation...

    you must not be a fan of shows like Edge Falls or Mark Watson -- the 7-day Listen Again period expires in less than half a day for Edge Falls and about a day for Mark Watson, but neither has been made available -- or Just A Minute -- there are so many audio drop-outs in the newest upload, the show is unlistenable...

    I don't know what the BBC technicians are doing, but it doesn't seem to be their top priority to make programming both available and listenable... what's the point of having a shiny new iPlayer when you can't use it for anything?!!!

  • Comment number 27.

    Is it not possible to make the mp3 streams http compatible, I find this a disappointment


    Pete
    http://www.bulgariasfinest.com

 

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