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The latest on our audio improvements

James Cridland James Cridland | 16:28 UK time, Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A few weeks ago, I posted about the audio bitrates for iPlayer beta, which is now the regular iPlayer.

In it, I mentioned: The future for live streaming is firstly to significantly improve the bitrate, and in parallel, that we were working on a Flash-based stream.

Well, as Robert Burns once said, 'the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry'. A few technical issues have transpired to push back our plans to do this a few weeks... which has magically coincided with a little thing called the Olympics. Any large organisation will sensibly have a code freeze during a big event, where no changes to network configuration or public deployment of code can take place - and we're no different. The upshot of all of that is that our changes to live audio quality will probably happen at the beginning of September.

Separately, I also ought to update you on radio's move to iPlayer, which has been very well received. You might have noticed that up until today if you visited, say, 1Xtra and clicked "listen live" you got the old radio console. We're slowly moving our networks over - and you'll spot more and more of these links now pointing over to the new iPlayer. (All your links will still work.) Our aim is to move nearly all of our networks over by the end of this week, with the biggest of them all, Radio 4, moving over on Monday. These times are subject to change, but I'd like to be as open as I can.

Finally, those of you with wifi radios may notice a temporary reduction in listen-again programmes. Rest assured, we plan to properly support wifi radios for listen-again going forward, and some of my team are working hard on new code to make manufacturers' jobs rather easier. Our apologies if your favourite show goes missing from your wifi radio in the next few weeks; we're working very hard to bring them back.

Once again, a reminder that this blog, and this post, normally deals with the BBC's UK-national radio stations only. In fact, I'm off to our colleagues in the BBC World Service this afternoon to tell them more about our plans.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Do you have any information on wifi radios that support Listen Again? Alternatively what technologies do wifi radios need to support to tune-in to Listen Again programmes?

    All the wifi radios I've researched seem to tune to live streams only.

    Thanks
    John

  • Comment number 2.

    @jwfrancis, the following Wi-Fi radios definitely support Listen Again: Revo Blik, Revo Blik RadioStation, Intempo GX01, Roberts Stream 202, Roberts WM201, Tangent Quattro, Acoustic Energy Wi-Fi Radio.

  • Comment number 3.

    jwfrancis, anything with a Reciva chipset. Visit http://www.reciva.com for some examples.

    Right now this one here: http://www.ebuyer.com/product/134633 is fluctuating around the £40 mark.

    James, I was more concerned the other day when an entire station vanished from the Reciva directory - live, listen again and all. (BBC London, since you asked).

  • Comment number 4.

    Seriously? I can't add a pound sign to a comment on a BBC site?

  • Comment number 5.

    James, you say that the reason why the live streams won't be improved in quality is due to a code freeze, and you then say:

    "Our apologies if your favourite show goes missing from your wifi radio in the next few weeks; we're working very hard to bring them back."

    How can there be a code freeze yet you're also saying that your team will be changing software over the next few weeks?

    And could you say why you're prioritising making Wi-Fi radio manufacturers' jobs easier when your team could be working on providing the live streams at higher quality? It's 9th July today. The Olympics starts on 8th August. It's very difficult to believe that it wouldn't be possible to move a few live streams over to using another codec (Radios 1-5 make up the lion's share of all listening, so you'd only need to move 5 streams over to make a big improvement), and it's hard to understand why you're trying to make Wi-fi radio manufacturers' lives easier when Wi-Fi radios will make up a small percentage of all the listening to the BBC's Internet radio streams.

    Also, could you justify why you're prioritising work on 1Xtra's live stream ahead of improving the quality of the live streams for Radios 1, 2, 4 and 5 which each account for between 10 to 20 times the listening hours of 1Xtra's live stream?

  • Comment number 6.

    @digitalradiotech and @handelaar

    Thanks for the info. It's still not entirely clear to me how these devices would tune into a Listen Again stream. Do they have a menuing system that reads metadata from somewhere to display the available Listen Again programmes? E.g. could I choose when I would like to listen to the last Jonathan Ross show?

    I assume the Real Audio streams will be retained for the foreseeable future to ensure that devices like these don't become obsolete?

  • Comment number 7.

    @digitalradiotech - Hello, Steve. Answers to your two questions below...

    "How can there be a code freeze yet you're also saying that your team will be changing software over the next few weeks? And could you say why you're prioritising making Wi-Fi radio manufacturers' jobs easier when your team could be working on providing the live streams at higher quality?"

    The code that we're working on for the wifi manufacturers should be completed within the next seven days. The team that write that code (lots of fun SQL and XML) are not the same team working on the infrastructure for our audio streams; so, rest assured, the two workstreams are totally separate.

    "Also, could you justify why you're prioritising work on 1Xtra's live stream ahead of improving the quality of the live streams for Radios 1, 2, 4 and 5"

    We're not. I've said that 1Xtra was the first station where the links from /1xtra go to the iPlayer and not to the old Radio Player, so that 1Xtra website visitors benefit from our improvements in on-demand quality. We've since switched 6music, and two more have been done this morning (I'm actually away from the office today). Of course, all our improvements are available right now on the main iPlayer site.

    In terms of the links from radio station websites, we're moving the stations with lower audience over first, to ensure that we iron out any last-minute snags before we move the more high-profile stations. It's standard practice to minimise the risk to our audience.

    Hope this restores your faith in what we're doing - I look forward to a Register article saying "BBC doing something right again!" (grin)

    @jwfrancis - wifi radios have a menu, and some do exactly as you suggest. This has been unsupported until now. And, as I've said previously, RealAudio streams will stay, precisely for the reasons you outline.

    Finally, could I just apologise for my name being "james007" in these comments... I set this name when I first used H2G2 in 199-something, and I've no idea how to change it.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi James, while the increase in audio quality of radio programmes through the new iPlayer beta is great, I'm experiencing a great deal of lag with the broadcasts repeatedly getting stuck buffering with the spinning dots (although my connection speed is fine etc) . Reloading the page takes me back to the beginning of the programme and it plays fine then gets stuck again. I also frequently get error messages telling me that the programme is no longer available. However on refreshing the page it's still there and playable.

    Are you aware of these issues and is the player still being actively updated?

    Thanks,

    Andrew

  • Comment number 9.

    James, any chance of the BBC developing a simple app for the iPhone program which would enable us to listen to live radio?

  • Comment number 10.

    Would the BBC like to given an indication of the what the Radio 3 bit rate will be when the improvements have been made?

    Listening to Proms at a bit rate of less than 40kbps (last year) was impossible and a disgrace to the BBC.

  • Comment number 11.

    Pira - for the Radio 3 bit rate see this blog post

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC internet blog)

  • Comment number 12.

    I think Pira Beresford was referring to the live stream for Radio 3, which was using 40 kbps Real last year (and R1, R2 and R4 were using 32 kbps - in the same year as the iPlayer TV streams were launched, which use 500 kbps!).

    I too would like to know what bit rates the BBC is planning on using for the live streams once the promised bit rate increases have happened. And if the BBC isn't going to provide bit rate levels that match the on-demand streams, I'd be very interested to know what their justification is for this, because for the life of me I can't think of any legitimate justification for doing this.

  • Comment number 13.

    James, can you comment on whether the xml feeds for wifi radios will be available for community supported activites. There is an rss/atom feed on the iplayer pages, but it does not give a complete feed for the page so can't be used for this.

  • Comment number 14.

    iPlayer on my new iPhone 3g is fantastic... but where are the radio programs? I'd love to listen again to my Radio 4 favourites but I can't :-(

  • Comment number 15.

    Thought I'd drop a comment re my experience with the new radio iplayer -

    On some radio programmes, upon playing the audio is of low volume and garbled and there are occasions where pressing pause (when listening to working stream
    ) does nothing. This is whilst using Opera 9.5

    Otherwise the improvements in quality are appreciated.

  • Comment number 16.

    1) Comment: Radio 2 and Radio Scotland appear to have moved to the new iPlayer today. The replay programmes I wanted to listen to, "Mary Ann Kennedy's Global Gathering" and "Mike Harding", appear to have been lost in the transition. Further debug info available on request.

    If this is just a case of not wanting to shovel over the audio files for the last few days of life, fine, I can live with it. But if you intended to retain replay shows in the move -- oops!

  • Comment number 17.

    2) Question: Could we have a clear statement of what technologies and bit rates will be available on the radio streams for non-UK users? I note that some people here have discussed improved quality, but I have not encountered it while trying the Beta.

  • Comment number 18.

    I've asked about streaming BBC stations (besides World Service) outside the UK, and was told it isn't available outside the UK on the new iplayer because of rights issues. However, I can stream those stations on my MacBook Pro at home and my PC at work. If the rights allow streaming on my home computer, they should allow it on my ipod touch! I only want to listen to Mark Church and Surrey cricket on bbc london anyway!

  • Comment number 19.

    Like many other people, i would love a way of playing bbc radio on my Apple devices, its a bit restrictive using real and windows media when my devices use mp3 or aac.

    Ideally we would have a native iphone iplayr app that would have all the fantastic iplayer content in, plus also all the live and listen again radio stations so i can listen anywhere.

    At the moment i dont have a dab radio, or want one as the signal is too poor here, but i have v fast internet. i would love to get radio 7 on a device i cab carry about and one i already own!

    One other thing that would make this fantastic fr me would be to have BBC radio available in iTunes as radio steams, and perhaps even have streams for listen again!

    Ive always wanted a Sonos multiroom audio system, but could never afford one. Now Apple have a free remote app for the iphone and ipod touch that lets you select anything from itunes and play it on as many airtunes speakers as you have around the house. so ihave speakers in the bedroom, living room and kitchen and can select any album i own and play it in any room, or all of them at the same time. Now how good would it be if this worked with radio too? i could select radio 7, and get it streaming to my main computer with itunes on it, which then steams to all my speakers around the house!

    please, please, please add an iphone iplayer app inc radio and add radio streams to itunes. thanks

  • Comment number 20.

    I am your biggest fan but what have you done? I have been merrily using the radio player on my Nokia N95 over WiFi at home and in hotels and it has proved to be an excellent digital radio. With the switch to the iPlayer I am struggling to make it work easily due to the size / weight of the page. Am I missing something? Is there a way round?

    JB

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm hanging out for access to the Pete Tong and Judge Jules shows on Radio 1 after upgrading my internet arrangements. Do you have a time frame for how soon I can use the listen again facility on these shows?

  • Comment number 22.

    Thanks to Nick Reynolds for pointing to a blog providing more information of future bit rates, particularly for Radio 3. But may I please ask a follow-up question?

    There is the implication in that blog posting that bit rates will be different for UK and non-UK users. Is this correct?

    From a non-UK listener.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'll echo the question about Radio 3 bitrates for us Radio 3 addicts who listen outside the UK. Will the bitrate/sound quality to us increase as well?

    And I'll add a plea for eventual BBC radio access via iPhone for those of us outside he UK, as well. That, for me, would be the iPhone killer app.

  • Comment number 24.

    In order to ensure good value for money for UK licence-fee payers (who pay for the BBC), you can expect different bitrates for UK and non-UK. We have no plans to remove radio for overseas listeners, however.

  • Comment number 25.

    Do you have any idea why I have garbled output from BBC iPlayer via my SKY broadband connection. It seems to start out OK but the bit-rate gradually drops down to less than 40 kbps, the sound quality drops and I then start to get dropouts and what seems like blocks being played in the wrong order/simultaneously, until after about 12-15 mins it is totally unintelligible.

    I'm running Vista with the latest version of RealPlayer, and in all other respects the broadband connection seems fine. I've tried all the suggested "fixes" in the FAQ's, all to no avail.

  • Comment number 26.

    i have been an avid overseas listener of bbc live radio for what must be close to ten years now. mostly radio 4. would like to express my gratitude to the beeb! ive used all sorts of devices from desktop computers, laptops, xbmc, and mobile devices. last year i been using an nokia 61i very successfully. having done a rather hasty reasearch and thinking it would also work on the iphone, i got the device a couple of weeks ago. to my great dismay i then learned it was not possible to listen the streams after all. now im using two telephones and would like to add my voice to those requesting the bbc to urgently offer a service that allows the streams to be listened on the handset. it is not a complicated thing to add.

    that or then someone please port vlc or mplayer to the iphone...

  • Comment number 27.

    I am in exactly the same position as sakalli. Please, please, add live radio streaming for the iPhone!

  • Comment number 28.

    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 29.

    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 30.

    In reply to post 24 where James Cridland said


    "In order to ensure good value for money for UK licence-fee payers (who pay for the BBC), you can expect different bitrates for UK and non-UK."

    OK then, I shall just have to stick to Australia's ABC which provides a much higher quality sound and does not introduce that distinction.

    I don't quite understand why the public-funded ABC can do what the BBC can't?

    Failing that, if it does all come down to money, then provide a high-quality sound to non-UK listeners on a paid-for subscription basis. It's not difficult if you have a little imagination - sadly that appears to be lacking at the BBC. God knows what Lord Reith would think.

  • Comment number 31.

    Now the new iPlayer has settled down and some tweaks have been done to the supporting webpages, I think it's really pretty good now.

    I have one question regarding bitrate on radio 3. If I Click to Play or Listen Live then on the screen it says that the bit rate is 65kbps. Is this the bitrate that the BBC is sending at or a problem with my ISP/network? I thought that radio 3 was going to be 192kbps.

  • Comment number 32.

    I have just invested in a wifi radio, and am getting increasingly frustrated with the buffering for radio 4 programmes - I am not a techy, but please can I have any advice on how to improve this as the endless stop/start is maddening.

  • Comment number 33.

    penshy - is your problem similar to mine - see 28 above? My particular beef is with the wma stream.

    If so, it's being investigated by Alan Ogilvie at the Beeb.

  • Comment number 34.

    I stream BBC radio while in Spain and have been experiencing a lot of problems over the past few days particularly on radio 4 but also 2. The buffering pauses are now so long that it is listernable. I have tested my download speed and it is the same as it always has been. Thought I heard some comment on Johnny Walker this morning about it but by the time I got back into the room he had moved on.

  • Comment number 35.

    I have just purchased an Imtempo GX-01 Internet radio and am having problems with all the BBC radio stations. It's because we have an Apple Airport and something to do with the Real Audio (so my husband says). All other stations are fine, but I bought the radio specifically to listen to BBC. Any help appreciated.

  • Comment number 36.

    My name is Sam England, and I operate http://www.bbcstreams.com

    You can stream all national BBC radio (not regional BBC radio) using the tutorial and streams at the website http://www.bbcstreams.com

    This is a great service for iPhone users, we need to spread the word! We are working on providing regional streams too.

    Please check the site out!

  • Comment number 37.

    Emprex do a great wifi radio i bought mine from www.telfordmedia.co.uk it works fine for what i want.

  • Comment number 38.

    "Comment: Radio 2 and Radio Scotland appear to have moved to the new iPlayer today. The replay programmes I wanted to listen to, "Mary Ann Kennedy's Global Gathering" and "Mike Harding", appear to have been lost in the transition. Further debug info available on request."

    Yes, this is totally true. Please fix the buffering problems. It hasn't gotten out of hand.

    Adam@pherlure.com

 

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