Archives for July 2011

HD streaming for the Hungarian Grand Prix

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Andy Armstrong Andy Armstrong | 11:41 UK time, Friday, 29 July 2011

As promised here's a follow-up to the trial of HD HTTP adaptive streaming we ran during Wimbledon.

The trial produced a lot of useful feedback and data for us. So much, in fact, that it's taken us longer than expected to digest it all and make plans for our next trial; more about that later.

The BBC's HD HTTP adaptive bitrate streaming experiment on three screens

The HD adaptive bitrate trail on three screens.

Our objectives for the trial covered two broad areas: we wanted to see how the HTTP Adaptive bit rate player performed in real-world conditions and we also wanted to gain a better understanding of how our infrastructure - the systems behind the scenes that supply video to the player - would handle the traffic generated by ABR streaming.

Many of you took the time to give us feedback about how the player was working. As we expected there were a few issues: some of you were not getting full quality HD; occasionally a fragment of old video would show up in the stream; sometimes the bit rate switching was not as stable as we would have liked. We read each of the 212 comments and categorised the problems into eight distinct areas so we could start work on fixing them:

  • iPlayer user interface
  • Variations in video quality
  • Delays / buffering
  • Old video fragments
  • Latency relative to live event
  • Switching performance
  • Jerky playback
  • Other

In general though the adaptive bit rate streaming seems to have been a success. Here's what A Poskitt wrote in a comment on the blog post:

Andy, I am at the end of the line here in Wales with max. speed 0.5MB. However your streaming is like I have never seen it before, continuous and clear as a bell even on the maximum 4 that I receive. I have seen real TV on my computer for the first time!

The feedback you gave us has already been put to good use; it's told us things we couldn't have found out in the lab. We literally couldn't have done it without you.

It's also given the programmers who are working on this a great incentive to make it work even better; I think a remark I overheard sums that up: "Isn't it amazing that people are taking so much time to write detailed, accurate feedback - makes it all seem worthwhile". It does indeed. Thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts and comments with us.

So, what next? One of the things that disappointed quite a few people was that we were only able to run the trial during office hours. That was disappointing for us too - we want to know more about how well HTTP adaptive bit rate streaming works on domestic broadband connections. When the trial is run during office hours, unsurprisingly, most of the traffic comes from office networks. So this weekend we're going to run a trial for the Hungarian Grand Prix. We'll cover the qualifying session from 12:10 to 14:20 on Saturday and the race from 12:05 to 15:25 on Sunday. See you there.

Andy Armstrong is the Technical Architect for Programmes and On Demand

5 Most Interesting Stories from the Fortnight

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Ian McDonald Ian McDonald | 18:00 UK time, Friday, 22 July 2011

Laura Kuenssberg outside 10 Downing Street

Laura Kuenssberg is taking her 65,000 Twitter followers with her as she moves from the BBC to ITV

  1. The fortnight began with a detailed account of redesigning the World Service websites for the new Global Experience Language from Tammy Gur. Because I was lucky enough to work with Tammy on a previous World Service redesign, I know well how each website is built for the output and audience of that service - and will admit to a little envy of Johnny Holland Magazine's scoop.

    The post gives a more general view than Kutlu Canliogu's excellent post about typography, but not quite as general as the Gelled blog about the BBC's "Global Experience Language" design framework.


  3. BBC News announced updated social media guidance on Friday 15th, drawing a clear line around offical BBC twitter accounts (which are prefixed with "BBC" and stick to a journalist's beat ).

    For example, Philippa Thomas's twitter account, which includes her personal observations, changed from @BBCPhilippaT to @PhilippaNews; and when @BBCLauraK took her 65,000 followers to @ITVLauraK, new chief political correspondent Norman Smith became @BBCNormanS.

    The guidance arrived 16 hours too late to make it into Jem Stone's quick history of the BBC and social media.

  5. The mobile mapping experiment which BBC News began on Monday 18th has taken off with 36,000 Android users downloading the application by the Friday. This project aims to crowdsource the mobile network strength around the UK, discovering the hotspots and the notspots.

  7. On Thursday 21st, Research and Development announced the results of Musical Moods - after 15,000 people listened to 56,000 theme tunes, they discovered how much they could tell about the genre and contents of a show from the music.

    Surprsingly, they found that they do not always go together:
    Total Wipeout is a program about people falling into water and yet it appears to have a serious theme tune to those who don’t recognize the theme.
    The intention is to help folk search the archive; to enable our search engine to listen to a programme and index the mood minute by minute.

  9. Today Friday, Justin Mitchell at BBC R&D explained how they were slipping a broadcast signal designed for cars and mobiles (DVB-T2-Lite) into the gaps in the Freeview High Definition signal (DVB-T2).

    This is important not just because of the areas of poor bandwidth the mobile mapping experiment is looking into, but - says James Cridland - 3G bandwidth is too expensive for even casual radio listening.

    The DVB-T2 signal comes with gaps called "Future Extension Frames", included in the standard as a future-proofing contingency, and the new DVB-T2-Lite profile uses those Future Extension Frames. This fortnight engineers put a test transmitter on the roof of BBC R&D London, just across the road from BBC News, testing out the new standard in practice. Find out how DVB-T2-Lite works at the Research and Development blog.
Graph of interlocking blue and yellow waveforms.

Oscilloscope showing how the mobile signal (blue) fits into the "future extension frames" or gaps in the Freeview HD signal (yellow)

Ian McDonald is the Content Producer, BBC Internet Blog

One word edit on 2nd August 2011 to describe the updated social media guidance as simply that.

BBC News and BBC iPlayer web icons arrive on BlackBerry PlayBook

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Abigail Khanna Abigail Khanna | 14:00 UK time, Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The BBC’s Director of Future Media, Ralph Rivera, spoke at a BBC Online industry event last month, and again during a keynote at last week’s Intellect Annual Conference about the strategy for BBC Online: one service, ten products, four screens.  We’re excited about the emergence of a post-PC world and opportunities to reach audiences on whatever ‘piece of glass’ they choose. 

To this end, I’m pleased to announce today the launch of BBC News and BBC iPlayer web icons (shortcuts) on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. From today, all new BlackBerry PlayBook tablets will come with the web icons pre-installed. Existing users will be presented with a software update notification on their status ribbon or can access the update at any time from the Software Updates item in the Settings Menu. The addition of these web icons provides more convenient access to BBC News and a wealth of BBC programmes on demand. 

tablet screenshot with a dozen software icons, including BBC News and iPlayer

The BBC aims to make its content available as widely as possible. In the BBC Future Media Business Development team where I work we’re constantly forging relationships with industry to deliver greater value for money for licence-fee payers, by repurposing BBC Online products for the widest range of devices we can. These partnerships have already enabled delivery of versions of the BBC News application for Apple and Android devices, and a version of the BBC iPlayer app for Apple’s iPad and Android mobile and tablet devices.

The BBC News shortcut will link to the desktop version of the BBC News website, and the BBC iPlayer shortcut will link to a browser optimised for portable devices. The growth rate in tablets is outstripping that of PCs so we’re pleased to be able to bring these products to a wider tablet audience.

Lastly, many of you will have already used the shortcuts we developed for BlackBerry smartphones last year. We’ve had to roll these back because of technical issues; we’re currently investigating these issues and will re-introduce the shortcuts when resolved.

Abigail Khanna is Senior Business Development Manager, BBC Future Media

What's On BBC Red Button 19th July - 1st August

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Lisa Dawson Lisa Dawson | 14:10 UK time, Monday, 18 July 2011

What's On Red Button banner


BBC Proms Maestro Cam and Solo Cam

This Proms season, BBC Red Button returns with a selection of services available alongside the regular broadcasts for selected performances.

Maestro Cam and Solo Cam will focus exclusively on the conductors and soloists respectively, giving viewers an alternative perspective on the Proms from amongst the musicians themselves. By pressing red, viewers can also listen to live commentary from an expert conductor and hear their unique insights into the music as the work is played.

The service will be available for six Proms, continuing on Thursday 21st July from 7:30pm with Prom 9 and, Thursday 28th July from 7:30pm with Prom 14.

Prom 9
Maestro Cam will feature Sir Mark Elder conducting the Hallé Orchestra performing music by Sibelius, Bartók and Janáček. Bartók's Piano Concerto No 3 will be performed by pianist András Schiff and feature on the evening's Solo Cam.

In addition, optional expert commentary will be supplied by conductor Matthew Rowe.

Available on all platforms
Thu 21st July, 7:30pm-9:45pm
Fri 22nd July, 1:45am-4:00am

Prom 14
Maestro Cam will feature Sir Roger Norrington conducting the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler’s Symphony No 9.

Once again optional expert commentary will be supplied by conductor Matthew Rowe.

Find out more at or follow @BBCProms on Twitter

Available on all platforms
Thu 28th July, 7:30pm-9:00pm
Fri 29th July, 2:55am-4:25am

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BBC News maps the Mobile Internet

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Ian McDonald Ian McDonald | 14:01 UK time, Monday, 18 July 2011


Mobile Mapping application showing 3G reception in Sheperd's Bush

The UK Mobile Mapping app at work in the BBC Online offices

BBC News are asking audience members to help build a UK mobile internet map. BBC News Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones blogged:

We're mounting an ambitious project to try to map mobile coverage across the UK - and, if you have an Android phone, you can be part of it. From today you can download an app which will record the signal you're getting on your phone - 3G, 2G or nothing - and feed the data back to our research project.

BBC News are working with Epitro, who surveyed mobile broadband for OFCOM.

As news spread across twitter, Open Signal Maps reminded everyone that at least one other mobile mapping project is available:

OpenSignalMaps @stephenfry Any chance you can RT our mobile signal crowdsourcing app also to help with the effort? Its a good cause :)
Mon 18 Jul 13:10

Rory updated his blog after talking with Brendan Gill of Open Signal Maps, who also use an Android app:

Like us, they've found that it's very difficult for an iPhone in particular to collect data such as signal strength from the phone. The open Android system seems to allow developers far more flexibility.

You can read and comment about the UK Mobile Map on Rory Cellan-Jone's blog post, or the BBC News article. You can also can download the Android app (warning: long license text) from the Android Market.

Ian McDonald is the Content Producer, BBC Internet Blog

Social media guidance for BBC journalists

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 13:45 UK time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

Regular readers will be interested in this blog post published today on the Editors blog at BBC News.

Chris Hamilton (Social Media Editor, BBC News) writes:

"The guidance is based on common sense, the section on personal activity starting with the phrase: "Don't do anything stupid". It goes on to say - among other things - that you shouldn't say anything that compromises your impartiality or sound off "in an openly partisan way".

Read more and comment at the Editors blog at BBC News.

Nick Reynolds is Social Media Executive, BBC Online

BBC Annual Report 2010/11: BBC Online headlines

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Ian McDonald Ian McDonald | 21:12 UK time, Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The BBC's Annual Report was released today.

Here are a couple of headlines relevant to BBC Online:

As Ralph Rivera announced at the BBC Online Industry Briefing, more than the target of 25% spent on BBC online services went to external companies.

Despite losing two video streams, more UK adults used BBC Red Button services in an average week this year than last.

The proportion of UK adults using in an average week went up from 38% to 42%:

BBC Online came third only to BBC One and BBC Two in terms of reach, being used by 19.5 million adults each week, up from 17 million in 2009/10. This represents 57% of adults online.

The text of the BBC Trust and BBC Executive reports is available under an open license:

The text of this document may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium providing that it is done so accurately and not in a misleading context. It must be accredited to the BBC.

You can read Mark Thompson's post on the About the BBC blog, and the documents on the Annual Report website.

Ian McDonald is Content Producer, BBC Internet blog

The Five Most Interesting Stories from Our Week

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Ian McDonald Ian McDonald | 17:00 UK time, Friday, 8 July 2011

view from above of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Venue Vu embeds live footage (eg the leftmost court) into a CGI Wimbledon

  1. The weekend saw Britain triumph at Wimbledon. Not at tennis, obviously, but in broadcasting technology. Not only did it see the BBC’s first ever 3D broadcast and CGI flights over Wimbledon, but thousands of you helped us by taking part in our trial of HD over HTTP. For audio, 5 Live trialled software to let you control the balance between tennis and commentary. If this inspires you (and you are an audio ubergeek) R&D are recruiting a senior audio expert.

  3. BBC technologist Richard Courtice raised wrote to BBC staff paper Ariel about headline-only RSS feeds for the BBC News blogs. The product manager of the BBC News Website confirmed:
    We plan to move to an RSS format that includes the full text of each item over the next few months.

  5. On Wednesday, BBC Trust chair Lord Patten told the Royal Television Society that the values of the BBC matched the values of the Internet.
    Both the internet and the BBC form part of the public realm. Both are fundamentally democratic. Combine the social and personal elements of the internet with the editorial and curatorial ambition of the BBC and we can create something exceptional.

    He expressed his concern (about which he might find Prof Tim Wu's NPR interview interesting) that the internet might lose its grassroots diversity

    The BBC also has to contend with the threats posed to the online world by the market. The history of all other media is of a fight for greater control, with a risk of oligopoly. We should do what we can to avoid the shrinking of the internet as an open, democratic territory.

  7. After a two-day delay to say goodbye, and three days after the BBC reply to a Freedom of Information request, the Ouch Messageboard closes today in line with BBC strategy to focus discussions around content. Some messageboard members set up a new community-run forum, Ouch Too.

  9. And finally, Phil Buckley revealed today in discussions about the new CBBC Newsround website that even being the product lead for CBBC and CBeebies is not enough to impress his children:
    they vaguely understand that their dad does something to do with CBBC and CBeebies but they don't think it's that cool; meantime I get loads of free user testing

(Confused reports on Monday about the BBC allegedly banning staff from tweeting do not qualify for this list because they proved to be inaccurate.)

Ian McDonald is the Content Producer, BBC Internet Blog

Audience Information Pack, January - March 2011

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Ian McDonald Ian McDonald | 11:07 UK time, Thursday, 7 July 2011

1960s TV audience laughing

David Jacobs warms up the audience for Juke Box Jury,1964

This morning, the BBC published its first Audience Information Pack, and Head of Audiences James Holden wrote about sharing the BBC's audience information at the About the BBC blog:

In December 2010 the BBC published its new strategy Putting Quality First and in this new strategy, the BBC Trust pledged to set new standards of openness and transparency for the BBC ...

The information measures the quality, distinctiveness, and reach of all the BBC's services from January to March. It tells us, for example, that BBC Online and BBC Mobile (scoring Appreciation Indices of 81.4 and 81.0) were as appreciated as BBC TV and Radio (AIs of 82 and 80).

You can read James Holden's post, "Measuring quality and reach at the BBC", comment, and download the Audience Information Pack at the About the BBC blog.

Ian McDonald is the Content Producer for the BBC Internet Blog

BBC HD TV: Winding Down from Wimbledon

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Andy Quested Andy Quested | 10:30 UK time, Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wimbledon was the BBC's first ever 3D TV transmission. Andy Quested writes about the technical details of BBC HD encoders going back to 2D mode.

This morning after a very successful 3D trial the BBC HD Channel encoders reverted back to their “2D” mode.  As a last word on the Wimbledon 3D trials, I am trying to get a series of blogs together from everyone involved, so hopefully more over the coming weeks.

From your comments I know the topic of 1920 transmission is something some of you feel very strongly about. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a post about it.  The whole topic is not straightforward or we would have been 1920 from the start of the HD Channel.  Although technology has matured the debate still moves between the science, the technology to produce it, the ability to deliver it and the impact when you see it at home.

As trevorjharris pointed out in the Gearing up to Deliver Wimbledon 3D blog post, the BBC’s HD strategy states we fully support the 1920 x 1080 standard for programme making.  This position has not changed but even though all programmes are delivered this way, not that many are yet made 1920.

In the BBC HD Channel promo for example there are only two programmes acquired and post produced in 1920 and during the time the encoders were set to 1920, the majority of programmes shown were not made in 1920.
One thing to remember is, two of the current primary production formats are not 1920.  Sony’s HDCam tape format is a 1440 3:1:1 format at around 140Mbs and DVCPro100 (DVCPro HD) well – that’s slightly more difficult to define.  It depends on the camera and whether it’s being used as a tape or a file codec.   As a tape codec it is often used in the Panasonic Varicam where it’s used to record 1280 x 720.

The Varicam is one of the very few 720 cameras we allow – its “CV” goes back as far as Planet Earth and Galapagos and it’s still being used for stunning Natural History programmes.  This was one the points I made during the picture quality debates last year.

During the trial we did take the opportunity to look closely at some of the differences on each platform and how some devices handled the change.  I will report back on the findings as we get more information. 
We’re also looking at the impact of the different scaling technologies used.   Good scaling is vitally important, especially when it’s used during programme making. 

If we don’t do it well it can cause aliasing – this was something we had to guard against when we made the Side-by-Side image for 3D.  Similarly up-scaling from 1440 to 1920 in domestic equipment, can also soften the images or a add edge ringing (or both!).  The degree of softening or ringing depends upon the interpolating filters which perform the up-scaling.

We are working on other improvements to the programme and transmission chain including more use of 1920 and hope to have news later in the year.

I will keep you up to date on the work as often as possible.

Andy Quested is the Head of Technology, BBC HD & 3D. He previously wrote to explain 3D TV and the BBC's Wimbledon 3D TV trial

What's On BBC Red Button 4th - 18th July

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Lisa Dawson Lisa Dawson | 13:00 UK time, Tuesday, 5 July 2011

BBC Red Button Blog

T in The Park

T in the Park takes place over the weekend of 8-10th July 2011 in the iconic setting of Balado, Kinross-shire. BBC coverage extends as always across TV, Radio, Online and Red Button.

The UK's liveliest festival crowd always makes T a spectacle to remember, and performances from Foo Fighters, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Beyoncé, My Chemical Romance, Coldplay, Deadmau5 and Leftfield are sure to make 2011 a vintage year. Primal Scream's 20th anniversary homecoming performance of Screamadelica should set the party alight on Saturday.

Red Button viewers will be treated to coverage across the weekend with performances from the Main, Radio 1, King Tut's and Introducing stages. Press red from any BBC channel on Friday at 7pm, Saturday from 11am and Sunday from 4pm (check variations on Freeview) for extended performance sets.

Also on Red Button, the very best from T in the Park in the form of daily highlights from Monday 11th July. Press red for fresh highlights each day; check Red Button and for the schedule.

Viewers can keep up to date with all the weekend's festivities on: BBC Three, BBC HD & BBC Scotland on TV, Radio 1 & Radio Scotland, on BBC Red Button and live on the T in the Park website at

Sky/ Freesat/ Virgin Media:
Fri 8th July, 7:00pm-2:00am
Sat 9th July, 11:00am-2:00am
Sun 10th July, 4:00pm-2:00am
Mon 11th July, 2:30am-6:00am
Mon 11th July, 6:00am-6:00am
Tue 12th July, 6:00am-6:00am
Wed 13th July, 6:00am-6:00am
Thu 14th July, 6:00am-6:00am
Fri 15th July, 6:00am-8:30am & 11:05pm-2:05am

Fri 8th July, 7:00pm-2:00am
Sat 9th July, 2:40pm-8:00pm & 9:10pm-2:00am
Sun 10th July, 5:40pm-2:00am

Mon 11th July, 2:30am-6:50pm
Mon 11th July, 11:00pm-7:50pm (Tue 12th July)
Tue 12th July, 11:00pm-6:00am- 4:35pm (Wed 13th July)
Thu 14th July, 12:10am-8:50am
Fri 15th July, 12:10am-8:30am & 11:05pm-2:05am

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