7 new killer features coming to BBC iPlayer

Near-TV quality streams, device synchronisation and more

BBC iPlayer

The BBC iPlayer now seems ubiquitous – almost like it's always been here. But the Beeb isn't resting on its laurels, with some kickass developments coming over the next few months. We bring you more detail on a list originally compiled by our friends over at the What Satellite and Digital TV blog.

Before all these enhancements though, you can already experiment with several new features (including a new Adobe AIR version of the desktop app) by going to iPlayer Labs. This will become the main version of the desktop app at some point very soon.

However, the new developments don't include the feature we'd like the most; a 'clippings' style list of programmes you have downloaded, as well as ones you're intending to stream as well as their expiration dates. Mmmm, lovely. Anyway, on with the seven…

1. Synchronisation across all devices
Our thirst to have a clipping or bookmark list would be in part quenched by this first development – the ability to synchronise iPlayer usage information (if not content) across several devices. Essentially that means that if you begin watching on one PC, you'll be able to resume watching on another machine, or maybe even on iPlayer on your TV. Coincidentally, iPlayer on Virgin Media has now had a ridiculously large 100 million views. Wowsers.

2. You'll be able to share with other users
The iPlayer team has made major improvements over recent weeks to the social side of things, with a better and easier to use message board, as well as better emails to tell you what's on. iPlayer Labs has also been experimenting with recommendations, too. Now it seems you'll be able to share what you're viewing with MSN/Windows Live Messenger contacts. You'll be able to see what your friends have been watching, while they can also be alerted when you start watching a new programme, as well as what you think of it.

3. There'll be better quality streams
According to the BBC, both high quality streaming and downloaded content make use of the same 800Kbps H.264 files. However, this soon won't be the case, with 1,500Kbps H.264 content coming very soon "that should be close to television quality," according to Anthony Rose, the Head of the Online Media Group at BBC Future Media and Technology.

Update 09/03/09: During a panel discussion at today's FT Digital Media and Broadcasting Conference, Director of BBC Vision Jana Bennett said that the iPlayer would be given an HD channel during the next month.

4. It's coming to Freesat
As What Satellite reports, iPlayer will launch an on-demand service on the platform in the Autumn. The service will still be provided online, by utilising the Ethernet port on the pack of the box. Other broadcasters' services could follow suite. Will Abbott, Head of Marketing and Communications at Freesat, told What Satellite that he believes on-demand has a big future. "I think we will start to see critical mass in the next 12 to 24 months as awareness of on demand grows and it becomes part of people's lives."

5. You'll be able to flick between channels
Like watching proper TV, but better, iPlayer will soon enable you to channel hop. According to Broadcast Now, you'll be able to tweak an EQ-style device to show their preferences for different genres of programming, with a Next button linking to shows suggested by the iPlayer. Rose says that "it's better than regular TV because programmes always start at the beginning." Fair point.

6. It's also coming to Freeview
We know the BBC has also been working on a new generation of free-to-air kit, dubbed Project Canvas. The idea is currently with the BBC Trust and would not only bring internet connectivity to set-top boxes, but also HD. Although the main focus will undoubtedly be on Freeview for the project, Freesat is also behind the proposal. The boxes would also have a standard EPG and would also probably include a PVR. The Beeb is set to hear the outcome of this in the summer. "The BBC Executive has estimated that initial devices (which would be set-top boxes) would cost consumers in the range of £100-200 at launch in 2010." So if it's approved, it'll all happen pretty soon.

7. Adobe AIR means there will be other enhancements – and soon
Anthony Rose says that Adobe's AIR platform has meant the corporation will be able to offer new services through the iPlayer. These will, "we think, produce a really seamless online/offline, browser/desktop experience," he says. You'll be able to download radio podcasts via iPlayer, as well as be able to pre-book downloads of your favourite programmes, including whole series. The system will also be able to alert you when interesting programmes become available for download, too.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You might also like Is Apple planning a DVR and web-enabled TV set?

Sign up for the free weekly TechRadar newsletter
Get tech news delivered straight to your inbox. Register for the free TechRadar newsletter and stay on top of the week's biggest stories and product releases. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register

Follow TechRadar on Twitter