BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2008

  

 

BOOT CAMP 520 (15/04/08)

Internet TV and the BBC iPlayer part 2

 

In the next two episodes of Boot Camp we’ll be focusing on iPlayer, a rather neat way of catching up with BBC TV and radio programs that you might have missed the day before or up to a week previously, and for dipping into the BBC’s vast archives.

 

Basically there are two ways to use the iPlayer service. You can pop along to the iPlayer website at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/, click on a programme that takes your fancy and watch it there and then on your computer screen. Alternatively you can install a piece of software and download programmes onto your PC’s hard drive and watch them on your PC, or a TV at a time that suites you – more about that next week. 

 

So lets begin with everything you need to know about the instant playback or ‘streamed’ service; next week it’s the turn of downloading.

 

To watch a streamed program all you need is a PC with a broadband Internet connection, and a web browser that can run the most recent version of Adobe Flash (currently v9). Almost any PC will do if it runs Windows 95 onwards (98, SE, ME, NT, 2k, XP, Vista and Windows Mobile), Apple Mac OS and most distributions of the Linux operating system. Most popular web browsers support Flash and in addition to Windows Explorer and Firefox, you can also use Avant, Opera, Netscape and Safari. It helps if the PC has a decent graphics card, some older PCs or laptops with basic or low spec video cards may have trouble rendering video smoothly, but in general any PC or laptop made in the last 5 years, say, should be okay.

 

Ideally your broadband connection will have a download speed of 1Mb/sec or faster. It will work on a slow 512Kb/s connection but you can expect frequent interruptions, as the data stream struggles to keep up. Don’t even bother trying if you have a dial-up Internet connection,

 

By default the picture is displayed on a small ‘screen’ in the middle of your browser window (around 360 x 220 pixels on a 1280 x 1024 display). Picture quality at normal PC monitor viewing distances is very acceptable indeed and it looks sharp and well defined. Colours are bright and natural looking and, depending on your Internet connection, motion is reasonably fluid.

 

You can increase the size of the picture, to completely fill the screen, by clicking an icon on the iPlayer toolbar. Needless to say this results in a fairly significant reduction in quality with a drop in sharpness and motion becomes quite jerky, even so, it is still just about watchable on a 17-inch display.

 

Apart from a volume control and ‘Share’ button, which lets you send a link to the program by email, or to a blog site, the only other controls are for the Flash player, for enabling hardware acceleration (recommended on most PCs) and changing the size of the ‘buffer’, which can help reduce stutter on slow Internet connections. Flash settings are accessed by right clicking on the display window.

 

The only one significant limitation to iPlayer streaming is that it only works in the UK. The BBC knows where you are thanks to the Internet Protocol (IP) address assigned to your PC by your Internet Service Provider. If you try to access iPlayer abroad you will be politely told that the service is unavailable. Now, as I mentioned last week there are ways of getting around this particular restriction, but it’s not easy, so don’t get too excited.

 

The iPlayer website can, in theory at least, be accessed through a proxy server. This is computer or web site situated in the UK that connects to the iPlayer website on your behalf, relaying the streamed data to your PC, which can be anywhere in the world, but as far as the iPlayer website is concerned, the connection is coming from a PC located in the UK.

 

However, the BBC has that one covered and it blocks access from most of the popular free and paid for proxy services but there is a workaround, using a personal proxy server. This involves setting up a PC in the UK with software that lets you access it remotely. It is like the Windows XP and Vista Remote Assistance facility, which lets someone take control of your PC, over the Internet, to fix problems. The obvious drawback is that the computer in the UK has to be left running, which clearly isn’t a good idea if you are going to be away from home for any length of time, and not much use for ex-pats or anyone else who wants to watch BBC TV programmes outside the UK. The situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future but there’s always satellite TV, and gadgets like Slingbox.

 

Next Week – Internet TV and the BBC iPlayer, part 3

 

JARGON FILTER

 

ADOBE FLASH

Web page technology for displaying animated graphics and illustration, movies and interactive features

 

BUFFER

Memory space set aside to temporarily store streamed data to help reduce interruptions in the flow

 

SLINGBOX

Device that lets you remotely connect a PC or mobile phone to a TV tuner or digibox, via a broadband Internet connection

 

 

 

 

TOP TIP

The BBC is by no means the first mainstream broadcaster to go on line. All of the UK’s major terrestrial and satellite channels have web TV services.

 

ITV.com (http://www.itv.com/CatchUp/default.html) streams ITV1, 2, 3, 4 and CITV programmes from the previous 30 days. 

 

Channel 4’s 4oD (on demand) website (http://www.channel4.com/4od/index.html) carries a mixture of free 30-day catchup programming and paid-for programmes.

 

Channel Five Download (http://download.five.tv/) is a mainly paid for service offering a selection of popular US imports for between £1.50 and £2.00 per episode, plus a number of free showings of new episodes, shown 7 days before broadcast.

 

Sky Anytime (www.anytime.sky.com) includes a mixture of free and pay to view TV shows, movies and sports programmes, however, these are only available to Sky subscribers, though a free trial is available for non-subscribers. 

 

Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk

 

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© R. Maybury 2008, 2603

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