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BBC iPlayer on Wii: new BigScreen interface

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Anthony Rose Anthony Rose | 09:00 UK time, Friday, 24 October 2008

Six months ago, we made BBC iPlayer available on Nintendo Wii.

This was our first foray into TV-connected gaming devices. We didn't know what the uptake would be, so we adopted a "keep it simple, get it out fast" approach. This meant encoding our content in a format compatible with the Wii's Flash 7 video playback capabilities, but playing back within the standard BBC iPlayer website, which is really too big for the Wii screen.

In other words, we made a new video stream for Wii, but we didn't optimise the user interface for the Wii's screen resolution or Wiimote remote control.

Strategically, this Wii release was extremely important, signalling the arrival of internet-delivered on-demand services direct to your TV set rather than to your computer.

However, as a user proposition, it was very much a first-pass product, something we knew and recognised at the time. In fact, one of the reasons why we didn't create a custom Wii interface was because our user interface team was hard at work on the new-look BBC iPlayer 2.0 site, which was to launch in June.

Back then, people also wondered why we made BBC iPlayer available on Wii but not PS3. The reason is simple: there are twice as many Wii units in the UK than PS3s, plus the PS3 browser had some odd quirks which have increased development time.

Good news: we have an all-new BBC iPlayer user interface designed for the Nintendo Wii.

This release is important for us because it adds to our list of BBC iPlayer user interfaces, which now comprises:

  • a mobile version, as used on iPhone, Nokia N96 and other mobile devices
  • a regular version, as used on your PC, Mac and Linux computer
  • a set-top box version, available through Virgin Media
  • and a big screen version, now for Wii.

We hope, in time, to make suitable modifications which enable users of other gaming consoles and set-top boxes to use this user interface.

The new Wii version has a simplified user interface that presents just a few options on screen at a time and nice big chunky controls - easy to aim at with a Wiimote.

bigscreen_home430.png
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The new interface gives access to both TV and radio programmes:

bigscreen_mostpopular430.png
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Our users told us that, when playing back BBC iPlayer programmes on Wii, they always wanted to play back in full-screen mode, not in a window within the browser as is often done on PCs, so the big screen interface is designed with that in mind:

bigscreen_itempage430.png
View larger version

Choosing the most appropriate version of BBC iPlayer for your device is taken care of automatically by our servers. Head over to www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer and our server will take care of the rest.

If you don't have a Wii or run the Opera browser, you can still have a look to see what it's like: www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/bigscreen (no guarantees that it will work with your browser if you're not on a Wii, though).

Finally, it must be noted that while we're providing an all-new user interface for Wii, the video stream is still the same video quality that we've been using since we went live back in March.

That's not ideal - but, alas, the Wii ships with Flash 7 which uses the older Sorenson Spark codec that gives lower video compression and poorer quality than the more recent On2 VP6 and H.264 codecs used in later versions of Flash found on your PC. We're very much looking forward to better quality video options on these devices - stay tuned for possible further developments on this front over the coming months.

So, if you have a Wii, why not try it out? Simply connect your Wii to the internet (you may need to also install the Internet Channel) then head over to www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer, then let us know your thoughts and ideas - we always welcome ideas and we try to take them into account when designing future BBC iPlayer releases.

PS: We're also working on bringing BBC iPlayer to Sony PS3, but we're not quite there yet as the PS3 uses a slightly older version of Flash which doesn't support some of the features used in our media player, and the very promising Flash 9 update now available on PS3 has some compatibility issues. Our Flash developers are working on it - stay tuned for updates.

Anthony Rose is Head of Online Media Group, BBC Future Media & Technology

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It would be great to get this officially supported on Windows and with the higher resolution video. We have our computer hooked up to our wide-screen TV to use as a media player and this would mean we could stop squinting when sitting on the sofa!

  • Comment number 2.

    That's good to know.

    What are the compatibility problems with the flash 9 on the PS3? Are you planning on just having the interface like the full computer version or build a PS3 specific one? I'm guessing it will have to be used through the browser though (Sony doesn't let you build your own apps for the PS3 does it?).

  • Comment number 3.

    I hope you go the Flash 9 route so you can use the latest codecs. Of course in the meantime there is http://www.ps3iplayer.com/ which wraps around your Wii iplayer site and works pretty well (assuming it's not just broken with the latest updates for the Wii)

  • Comment number 4.

    The quality limitations on the Wii are due to its browser only coming with Flash 7 as standard, but that needn't be an end to it. The Wii supports downloadable software, so would it be possible, technically or politically, to make a dedicated iPlayer application for the Wii, distributed over WiiWare, that could include a higher quality codec?

  • Comment number 5.

    @_Ewan_ - Back in the original iPlayer on Wii announcement, Anthony said:
    "As iPlayer usage on Wii takes off, we'll consider creating an optimised version of the iPlayer for Wii. Hopefully, this won't require people to shell out for the Internet Channel, and which will provide an optimized browsing and playback experience, perhaps even as a dedicated BBC iPlayer channel on Wii.

    Stay tuned for more on this."

    So it looks like that could be a possibility.

  • Comment number 6.

    Fingers crossed that with the recent 2.50 version of PS3 and Flash player 9, that iPlayer on PS3 is not too far away...

    Sony should really be pushing this themselves, they want it to be a real media device, and with playTV on the PS3, users are already watching TV on it, so iPlayer would be a good way to add 'on demand' content to the PS3 as well.

    Sony should get sorted before all the other devices can support it.

  • Comment number 7.

    And what about the Xbox 360?
    It's been said before (by me, too) that it makes sense as the platform supports DRM, WMV and time-restricted content.

    It also natively plays stuff that can be "acquired elsewhere". So please give us a legit/legal method of watching shows on a device connected to our TVs instead of making us disconnect computers that live elsewhere.

    You'll gain viewers. Me, for one. I tend not to torrent homegrown shows. I also won't use the iPlayer. As a result, I'm missing lots of BBC content. I'd really like to be able to catchup on shows I've missed, and preferably legally.

    Thanks.

  • Comment number 8.

    I originally heard that BBC contacted both Sony and Microsoft, but that Microsoft would not allow the BBC to use thier own design and interface, so they could not proceed, as the iPlayer branding would need to be applied.

    Not sure if this is still the case, maybe an official reply from Anthony Rose?

  • Comment number 9.

    Are there any plans for the new Flash 10? Does that give you any extra capabilities that you didn't have before?

  • Comment number 10.

    I've asked elsewhere, but had no answer, but I'd really like to know when iPlayer will support keyboard controls - space to pause/resume etc?

    chrisbloe: I don't think Flash 10 really adds much benefit as far as video is concerned. It adds various features like 3D effects and filters/shaders, but that's really just eye candy, it won't improve the video quality. Flash will support HD video even, but iPlayer will need to provide the bandwidth if they want that. I imagine the new iPlayer downloader based on AIR will be the only way to get HD (assuming it's P2P'd)...

    Darrenj1: I heard the same thing, though I've no idea where. It might have been when I heard Anthony talk a few months back...

  • Comment number 11.

    I've been trying to work out why there is no 'BBC box' to watch the iPlayer on TV or even a "advice" frame on the iPlayer site about the five or six "easy' ways to do it without having a grey box in the living room. Do none gamers have to buy game players to do this?

  • Comment number 12.

    cping500, I use my iPhone with a video-out cable and can watch on TVs or Projectors... Works very well. The same would work for an iPod Touch.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Anthony,

    This morning I tried the iPlayer on the Wii and noticed a couple of issues.

    First of all each program I tried to watch crashed out after, approximately, 5 minutes. I tried The Streets at the Electric Proms and Never Mind the Buzzcocks and they both did the same.

    Secondly, when I navigated back to the home page the program selection changed and was displaying programs to watch from last week rather than this week which it was initially displaying. This also happened with the TV Date selection. There were no programs available form yesterday on BBC1 where there should have been Eastenders, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, etc.

    However, when I tried listening again to the radio it did not suffer from either of these issues.

    Lastly, a couple of questions...

    Is it possible for the time bar, at the bottom of the display, to disappear, in the same way that it does on the web?

    Also can the zoom fill the whole screen rather than have a border around the left, bottom and right of the screen.

    Other than that it's great!

    8-)

  • Comment number 14.

    Great idea guys but having major problems,

    I navigate to the iplayer page with the wii but unless I watch the homepage favouraites It does not work... ie if I click > TV> BBC1 > And then click any of the days it comes up with a Error Page can not be found!! - anyone else getting this...??

    Cheers

  • Comment number 15.

    @darrenj1:
    "I originally heard that BBC contacted both Sony and Microsoft, but that Microsoft would not allow the BBC to use their own design and interface, so they could not proceed, as the iPlayer branding would need to be applied."

    This sounds like yet another one of those corporate decisions that do more harm than good.

    As a viewer I care very little about branding. I do (oddly?) prefer to get my content through legitimate means wherever possible. Yet the idea of it being branded apparently is more important than giving a legitimate alternative to the P2P methods?
    The reasons behind avoiding a platform matter very little to end-users. All I see is that I can either avoid missed content altogether (current choice: but you're losing my mindshare here), faff around moving a computer to the TV (not gonna happen) or go the torrent route (copyright infringement).

    Why should the only method to get the content to the machine already attached to my TV be via P2P?
    I'd really love a legal option. It just makes sense to make sure that iPlayer beats out dodgy downloads in terms of convenience. That really should be a matter of urgency.

    Until then, I'll mostly avoid programs I miss. But that means I'll be far less likely to buy the DVD box set, as I tend to mainly purchase stuff I've seen before.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Back then, people also wondered why we made BBC iPlayer available on Wii but not PS3. The reason is simple: there are twice as many Wii units in the UK than PS3s"

    What a total crock..

    How about this statistic: The vast majority of Wii's are not connected to the net, wheras the vast majority of PS3's ARE connected.

    The likelihood is that the console userbase is:

    Wii 20%
    PS3 80%
    X360 0% (no browser)

    Talk about having your head where the sun don't shine...

  • Comment number 17.

    @mgillespie

    What has "no browser" got to do with it?

    I have an Xbox 360 connected to my TV. So I'd say that the userbase cannot be 0%. As that would imply no users whatsoever.

    There may be no browser, but there is online content and online gaming. And a definite need for iPlayer content on it.

  • Comment number 18.

    @TiggsPanther

    Clearly by userbase, I don't mean console userbase, I mean potential iPlayer userbase.

    The fact remains no Xbox owner can take advantage of iPlayer, most Wii's are not connected to the net (due to almost total absense of any online games), and the PS3 is the only real viable iPlayer platform right now, with a very large online connected community, and it's the only one actually with a browser than supports Flash9...

    For Anthony Rose to simply use numbers of consoles sold, as the basis for what platforms they support is meaningless, when you actually:

    a) need to be online with the console.
    b) in the case of the Wii, actually buy Opera Browser for it (it now costs on the Wii)

  • Comment number 19.

    You seem to be implying that only consoles with browsers are a viable method of using iPlayer. Actually, I'd hope that any (all?) console versions would eventually support direct download.

    I'm not sure about the Wii, but as both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 have hard drives then it makes far more sense to actually provide proper downloadable content.

    I've never been a fan of streaming media. I'd much prefer to download a file overnight (where it's either cheaper or it's not competing with other online usage) and then play it later knowing full well that it's not going to suddenly need to buffer up at an inoportune moment.

    That and the Xbox 360 natively supports WMV, so it really makes a prime candidate for being able to use iPlayer, as it already supports the default file format used. And even with the apparent move towards H.264, the Xbox supports that already, too.

  • Comment number 20.

    Please, please help bring iPlayer to the Boxee media player software. Its currently in alpha, but its incredibly good at this stage. There is an unofficial iPlayer plugin pack for the XBMC software, which Boxee is based on, but it needs more work and could surely use valuable insight from the iPlayer team.

    Please take a look at Boxee:
    http://www.boxee.tv/

    ...and please get in contact with the them about integrating iPlayer. They have a similar setup with Hulu now which is proving very popular, is paid off well for Hulu.

    Thanks.

  • Comment number 21.

    P.S - I should add that I am not afiliated with Boxee in any way, I'm simply someone who uses it and loves iPlayer!

  • Comment number 22.

    @TiggsPanther: If you download Orb for your PC, you can use that to stream video- including that downloaded from iPlayer- you your xBox over your network.

    You'll still have to download to your PC, but you won't have to do quite so much in the way of unplugging.

  • Comment number 23.

    Orb sounds cool, up to a point. But it still requires the PC being switched on at the time?

    What I like about my Xbox 360 is that (when used with an external USB drive, or uPnP software - or even the Live Marketplace downloads...) I can watch video files without having to have an actual computer switched on at all.
    Which is better for the environment (and my electricity bill...).

  • Comment number 24.

    "I'm not sure about the Wii, but as both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 have hard drives then it makes far more sense to actually provide proper downloadable content."

    Dont forget, the PS3 comes with hard drive as standard, on all models, XBOX360 does not.

  • Comment number 25.

    I agree with #14, I'm finding that the new iplayer doesn't work on my Wii, content doesn't appear, and if I click on a channel, then click a day down the left side, I get a page not found.

    Hope you can fix this soon!

  • Comment number 26.

    Still holding out for a non-browser based solution for the Wii. The recently launched Nintendo Channel shows just how good quality and intuitive streaming video playback can be on the Wii; hopefully the BBC can hook into whatever they're doing.

  • Comment number 27.

    Great development! I, like the topmost poster use a media PC (running linux and mythtv) to access iplayer content. I've been pleased to finally be able to do this effectively in my browser using flash 10 which actually works unlike its predecessor.

    This large interface suits remote control based usage very well and opens up doors on other platforms as well as the wii. I know there are willing mythtv contributors who could make this a great portal for using iplayer in the prescribed browser based manner rather than using iphone streams which I believe has previously been attempted.

    Having the high quality flash stream here would make iplayer a step closer to having much wider linux adoption where it could be easily integrated (with your lovely new interface) into a mythtv browser plugin and using the known safe flash distribution rather than people trying to pick apart iphone streams.

  • Comment number 28.

    I am using it on the Wii without any technical problems. The only problem I have is a usability and aesthetic one. Anybody know if it is possible to minimise the large menu bar at the bottom of the TV while a program is playing?

  • Comment number 29.

    I have the same issue as post 14 and 25, not much about the new version of iPlayer works on the Wii. Generally anything from the "most popular" section works but any search or any time I try to click on a particular day of the week results in a "page not found" message!

    Is anyone looking at these comments and seeing that people are having these issues? There must be a reason why it doesn't work for some people??

  • Comment number 30.

    I must confess that I haven't been using iplayer through my wii much recently since I got Sky+ and just record everything instead, but on the odd occasion that I forget to tape something or Sky+ fails, it's an absolute godsend for me as I like to use my laptop for other stuff while I'm watching the telly on the big screen.
    However, not a fan of the new setup - I'm sure the quality has gone down or something since the 'optimisations' since now the video frame appears tiny and you have to zoom to almost 200% to get it full screen (and my TV isn't even that huge) and everything ends up pixellated.
    On the plus side, I can say that I haven't encountered any of the problems that the other commenters have come across, technically everything seems to be fixed/working, just not at the quality I remember it to be last time I used it, and compared to what I can get on my laptop screen.

  • Comment number 31.

    any plan to make iPlayer available on Apple TV? There was a posting earlier this year on here about that but since then nothing seems to have happened.

    It would be a real KILLER application that's for sure!!

  • Comment number 32.

    Re Post 2828
    "At 8:42pm on 07 Nov 2008, eldisturbio wrote:
    Anybody know if it is possible to minimise the large menu bar at the bottom of the TV while a program is playing? "

    If you go into the 'settings' menu in the start page of the Wii internet channel you can set the menu bar to auto-hide. Sorry for a late reply but only just enabled our Wii for the iplayer.

    Incidentally, does anyone know how to enable the Wii parental controls for the internet channel so that our children cannot access the iplayer or anyother internet conentn without us being there? We have this on all PCs and other Tvs and Freeview boxes but the Wii does not seem to have this.



  • Comment number 33.

    Any news on the iplayer for Apple TV? There were some noises from the Beeb about this back in January but not a lot since...

  • Comment number 34.

    Ref WII vs PS3 etc.

    In our house, with teenage kids we have an xbox, but it's in a kids playroom - somewhere for the teenagers to hang out.

    In the living room would be a WII as it's a family oriented console. That's why (for me) it's an excellent platform for iPlayer.

    The WII's success has been phenomenal. It also comes with wifi built in ..

    We have PCs, N96s, xbox, PS2 also, but having iplayer in the living room will be super.

    Still be good to have it on xbox, ps3 of course.

  • Comment number 35.

    The only issue that I have with iplayer on the Wii is that the screen 'freezes' approx every 15 seconds during playback - this happens for about 5 seconds - but basically makes watching programmes very frustrating!
    Can anybody suggest why this might be? - I dont have any similar problems with youtube etc.

  • Comment number 36.

    Any chance of iPlayer on the PSP?

  • Comment number 37.

    Just got iplayer up on my wii browser and am disappointed. The resolution of the Yahoo home page is terrible and the text almost unreadable and yet the iplayer home page is extremely sharp and clear. The programmes however, come out with vertical lines down the screen, like a frosted bathroom window. Was hoping to give up the cable TV on the back of this but it's just not watchable at the moment and the method of making it full screen is clumsy with zooming and moving the screen rather than one click.

  • Comment number 38.

    mahutchisson - you might want to try discussing this on the BBC iPlayer message board

  • Comment number 39.

    I have heard the latest update to the Wii Internet browser stops the IPlayer from working. Apparently this is due to a flash update. Are the IPlayer team looking into this?

  • Comment number 40.

    The Wii update has certainly broken iplayer. I'm hoping that once its fixed the quality of the live stream will be improved, the question is, how long will the fix take?

  • Comment number 41.

    First I'd like to say how much I appreciated the bbc providing iplayer for wii - it was the only reason I got the internet channel. Now it's knackered. It sounds like there could be a simple fix. How about if the beeb gave wii users a choice of linking to the flash 9 version instead of going straight to the f7 version?

  • Comment number 42.

    Is it possible for the BBC to specify/design their own hardware video player - a bit like Blu-ray players but better? And if so, will they be doing that ever?

  • Comment number 43.

    Thank you.. http://www.gelsesli.com/ sesli sohbet

  • Comment number 44.

    My Wii played iPlayer fine for several days after the browser update, then unexpectedly, up comes the message about iPlayer being currently unavailable for Wii. Humph! Then I thought - I kept the old browser on SD card. I'll just use that. Still no joy - as the iPlayer system detects the Wii browser and bumps to the unavailable page. Bother bother bother! Really grumpy now. The worry I have is with the push for higher quality in the stream my ratty broadband won't have the speed to stream anything from iPlayer. I've been mostly ok with watching the low resolution streams, except from obviously peak times, when the feed just chokes and dies. The hi-res feed to the pc breaks up so much it's not worth trying. I'd rather have a pixellated images than nothing at all. What I've got now is NOTHING AT ALL.

 

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