BOOT CAMP 521 (22/04/08)

Internet TV and the BBC iPlayer part 3


Last week, in this short series on watching TV over the Internet we looked at ‘streaming’ TV programmes from the BBC iPlayer website. We’re staying with iPlayer for this week’s episode and focusing on the download facility.


Streaming lets you watch TV programmes straight away on your PC. The quality is okay when viewed on a small inset screen but it looks a bit ragged around the edges when blown up to full screen size. You have to stay online for the duration of the programme, it can get a bit stuttery if you have a slow Internet connection and there are no subtitles.


Downloading a programme overcomes these problems; once it is on your computer’s hard drive you can watch it when it suits you. The quality is much better – comparable with broadcast TV – in fact it is so good that it is worth connecting your PC to your TV (but more about that next week) and downloaded programmes have subtitles. It all sounds great but as you should know by now there’s a catch, or rather several catches…


Unlike streaming, where all you need is a PC or mobile device with broadband and a ‘Flash’ capable browser, the requirements for downloading are much more stringent.


To begin with iPlayer downloads only work on PCs running 32-bit Windows XP or Vista operating systems. According to the BBC Linux and Mac versions are in the pipeline but they won’t be available until later in the year. Additionally your PC must have Windows Media Player (v11 or above), plus IE6 or Firefox 1.5 or later and you have to install a Kontiki-based peer-to-peer file sharing program called iPlayer Download Manager.


You don’t get to keep downloaded programmes either. They are automatically deleted after 30 days, whether you have watched them or not. You can watch a downloaded programme as many times as you like, but once you’ve started playback the clock starts ticking and it will be deleted after 7 days. You can also take it as read that iPlayer downloading only works in the UK but apart from that…


Assuming that your PC qualifies then the first job is to download and install iPlayer Download Manager. The easiest way to do it is to click on the programme that you want to see then click the Download link on the right side of the panel underneath the screen. The download should begin; the file is around 6Mb so it shouldn’t take very long. After it has finished click on the file icon to run the installation Wizard. You may be asked by your firewall or security software to grant permission for it to access the Internet, if so agree, then accept the Terms and Conditions and the Download Manager will be installed. You may receive an alert message if you are using an older version of Windows Media Player, in which case click the links to carry out an automatic upgrade.


When Download Manager has finished installing will have to restart your browser, after which you can return to iPlayer and download your chosen programme. Click the Download button to start the file transfer, you will need around 600Mb of hard disc space for each hour or programme time, the size of the download in megabytes is shown next to the button.


Download times are dependent on a number of factors, including the speed of your Internet connection, congestion at your local exchange, how many other people are trying to download and share the same programme, and the time of day. In the UK the Internet is at its busiest from around 9am to midday and from 5pm to midnight, so it’s a good idea to avoid those times. It’s hard to give precise figures, but under ideal conditions and an 8Mb/s broadband connection, an hour-long programme should take around an hour to download.


You can play your downloaded programmes from the Download Manager icon on your desktop or in the System Tray. Alternatively you can play files directly in Windows Media Player. In Windows XP iPlayer downloads are stored in C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Shared Documents\Shared Video\My Deliveries\iplayer_live and in Vista you will find them in C:\Users\Public\Videos\My Deliveries\iplayer_live. The only point to watch out for is that WMP doesn’t have the subtitle option (the ‘S’ icon on the Download Manager playback window toolbar.


The iPlayer playback window is resizable and it has a simple set of controls, for pausing playback rewinding the program to the beginning, controlling the volume and a full screen button. One of the most useful features is the progress bar, just below the toolbar, and because the file is stored on your PC, you can instantly skip to any point in the programme by dragging the slider. You should also look at the Settings menu, especially if you have any privacy and parental concerns. Here you will find the PIN-coded Parental lock and options that allows others to upload programmes stored on your PC (set to share by default) and usage statistics (also on by default), which reports back to the BBC what you are watching.  


Next Week – Internet TV and the BBC iPlayer






Peer to peer (P2P) file-sharing software, used by the BBC, 4oD and Sky that downloads (and uploads) TV programme data to and from other P2P users connected to the Internet



Restricts access to programmes rated ‘G’ (Guidance) by password or PIN code




The area next to the desktop clock displaying icons of running programs that are usually loaded when Windows boots up




IPlayer has been hugely successful, so much so that there are fears that it could put the UK’s Internet infrastructure under serious pressure; it’s already causing high demand ‘spikes’ at peak periods. Those using ‘capped’ broadband services with a strict monthly limit should think twice about using iPlayer. With downloads running at around 600Mb an hour it doesn’t take long to blow a hole in a typical 2Gb monthly cap. You can’t rely on your ISP to warn you either and the first you’ll know about it could be a massive bill!  If you want to keep tabs on your monthly downloads install a free logging utility like NetMeter (



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