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BBC iPlayer on the Wii: technical details

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Gideon Summerfield Gideon Summerfield | 09:44 UK time, Friday, 20 November 2009

We have been bowled over by the positive response to the launch of the new BBC iPlayer for the Wii. Twitter has been abuzz with comments, such as "a revolution in TV watching" and "feels like how TV should be and just might be in the future."

Many people are also interested in the technical details of what we've done and how the BBC iPlayer service will develop on TV-connected devices. So here goes....

First, the video: we're using the H.264 codec at a rate in the region of 700kbit/sec. The quality is probably as good as H.264 can get on this device. We've worked closely with Nintendo and our encoding partner Red Bee Media to squeeze every last drop of video goodness out of the Wii. It's been a balancing act: too much resolution or data and the CPU struggles and drops frames.

Compare this to BBC iPlayer on the PC, where most boxes deal happily with our 1500kbit/sec for regular TV and even 3200kbit/sec for HD (assuming they can get data fast enough).

Needless to say you won't be seeing HD on the current Wii, I'm afraid. But with a more efficient codec and higher bitrate, our new version of BBC iPlayer is doing a lot better. The Flash plug-in available in the browser on the Wii, on which we used to rely, could only support the Sorenson Spark codec at around 500kbit/sec.

BBC Radio content - well over 2000 hours every week - is delivered in the AAC format at 128kbit/sec, the same as on the PC and better quality than DAB. And our Radio Station animations, delivered at the same time, give a hint of what visualised radio could be on IPTV platforms.

We've really been breaking new ground here. This is the very first application built on an all-new rich media solution from Nintendo. So, you will understand that we can't achieve all we want to right away. Subtitles, for instance, are not immediately available as the platform can't ingest and parse the feeds we have while playing video. As part of our development programme we are seeking other ways to deliver subtitles.

In response to JonathanExplorer's question about chapterisation, I'd like to say yes, absolutely - many of the exciting functions you are seeing introduced to BBC iPlayer on the PC will come to the TV, where they add value to the lean-back experience. Likewise we expect to add new functions on TV that enhance the 10ft experience that might not make sense on the PC.

And be assured - we're not stopping with the Wii. As Rahul said, this launch is just part of the "challenging programme to expand the reach of BBC iPlayer in the living room."

Gideon Summerfield is Product Manager, TV iPlayer

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