BBC confirms Freesat iPlayer beta date
Wednesday, November 25 2009,
The BBC has confirmed that a closed beta of iPlayer will commence on Freesat on December 7, followed by a gradual rollout to all high definition users.
At a briefing held today, BBC controller of TV platforms Rahul Chakkara said that the catch-up platform on free-to-air satellite would carry around 450 hours of programming when it fully launches next year. He explained that the service will be available via the Red Button at first, but that could change in the future.
Chakkara revealed that iPlayer registered 97.2 million programme views during October, with 26% coming via TV platforms rather than the web. He said that the figure gives "validity" to the BBC's efforts to bring the service to Freesat and other suitable TV platforms.
The BBC and Freesat are taking a "cautious" approach to the launch, with a group of around 200 users being selected to participate in a closed beta. Users will have to connect their set top boxes to an internet connection via an ethernet port on the back.
All testers have been deliberately picked to cover a wide demographic of circumstances to ensure that the service is rigorously evaluated. Feedback will be gathered via email and an online resource.
Dependent on the success of the beta, the service will then be expanded before Christmas to a much larger group of users who have Freesat boxes manufactured by Humax.
When it fully launches, the on-demand platform will be available on all Freesat HD equipment, including integrated TVs, but standard definition receivers will not be able to access it.
Freesat managing director Emma Scott said that around 600,000 Freesat HD receivers have been sold to date, constituting 70% of the platform's overall sales.
She added that "entry level" SD boxes are generally used for second TV sets and so the firm is fairly confident that SD customers will not feel too slighted by the launch.
A demo of the Freesat iPayer showed that it is similar to the PlayStation Network incarnation, with a more compact user interface and functionality compared to the online offering.
The service offers two streaming options for content - 'watch now' to run at 800Kbph or 'higher quality' at 1.5Mbps. All 'trick modes' for fast forward, rewind and pause are enabled on the platform.
Despite the platform only being available on HD receivers, it will not support any HD programming. Chakkara said that the team is adopting a "crawl first" approach to getting the SD service right before looking into HD.
He said that any HD launch would also be dependent on available capacity on the UK's broadband networks due to the much greater bandwidth required for HD streams.