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Test-driving the iPlayer pt 2

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 10 Aug 07, 07:11 PM

As I’m sure you know by now, the BBC is doing extended beta testing its 7-day catch up service – the iPlayer – that allows users to download programmes shown on TV during the last week and then watch at their leisure. We’re talking to people to find out what their early impressions are.

Alison Bryan, an active blogger on hearing impaired issues, has been testing the iPlayer since May. She welcomes aspects of the iPlayer, not least the BBC’s commitment to provide subtitles (or more formally, closed captioning) for all iPlayer content by 2009.

She does, however, have some critical observations of the trial to date.

One problem she has identified concerns the size of the captions for the programmes. Whilst she likes that the captions appear below the screen, and the white text on a black background is clear, she does feel that the default font size is too small, especially the standard sized screen. “I can't read a font that size and take in what's happening in the picture at the same time, or rather make it a relaxing experience,” she said.

Speaking to Andrew Strachan of the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Accessibility Team, he was able to confirm that adjustable text sizes are going to be incorporated into the iPlayer set-up. “The subtitles display facility to increase size of text will be a new feature in subsequent releases,” he said.

Another issue that Alison is critical of concerns navigation and finding captioned programmes.

Currently, it is only possible to see that a programme has captioning when clicking through to see the detailed description of it. There isn’t a “captioned zone” or symbol to make it easy to find suitable content.

This can make finding something to watch a difficult and time consuming exercise. “I don't have time to mess about and find a needle in a haystack,” said Alison.

Andrew Strachan was also able to reveal that improvements to search are in the pipeline. “The priority is to get the subtitles delivered to the iPlayer in the right way, then we can concentrate on adding new features such as the accessibility search facility.”

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