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BBC iPlayer on Freesat review

John Archer



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BBC iPlayer on Freesat
  • BBC iPlayer on Freesat
  • BBC iPlayer on Freesat
  • BBC iPlayer on Freesat
  • BBC iPlayer on Freesat
  • BBC iPlayer on Freesat
  • BBC iPlayer on Freesat
  • BBC iPlayer on Freesat


Our Score:


If I had a tenner for every time I’d written in a review the words ‘And there’s an Ethernet port for future BBC iPlayer functionality’, my wife would have got rather more for Christmas than a couple of pairs of fancy pants and some bobbled bed socks.

The idea of uprooting the iPlayer from its original Internet home and shifting it into the much more natural domain of your TV, without needing some costly extra non-TV peripheral like a games console in between, has been kicking around from pretty much the day of the original Freesat press launch. After all, we all wondered then, what else might the Ethernet port found on the Freesat HD receivers and TVs be for?!

That launch, however, was way back in the spring of 2008. So it’s a real relief that finally, as 2009 drifts sanguinely and coldly into 2010, the long-promised, endlessly talked about Freesat iPlayer is here. Well kind of.

What we mean by this is that the BBC has finally reached a point where it’s sufficiently happy with how its Freesat iPlayer is shaping up to roll out a Beta build to a select group of Freesat users. A select group that includes, of course, TrustedReviews.

The idea behind this Beta build going live is that it helps the BBC assess and iron out any bugs and issues that might arise from taking the iPlayer out of its Ivory Tower and into the big, wide, hostile world. So it should be said right up front that while the iPlayer functionality as reviewed will stay essentially the same, the few bugs we’ve come across during our tests - more on these later - should hopefully have disappeared come the real launch of the system in the course of the next month or two.

The Beta build has currently only been rolled out to Humax Freesat HD and Freesat+ boxes. Though we have been categorically reassured time and again that the final build will work equally well on any Freesat box with an Ethernet port built into it. Which effectively means any HD box; if you short-sightedly tried to save a few bob by going for a standard definition Freesat box, then I’m afraid you now have iPlayer egg all over your face.

Accessing the iPlayer Beta currently entails pressing the red button while watching BBC1, then punching in a ‘secret’ four-digit code. That’s it. This means that anyone with a suitable Humax box can actually try the Beta if they have the code number. And since the number has been leaked to various Internet forums in recent days, we might as well reveal it here too: 5483. Just don’t tell anyone it was us who told you! For instructions on how to use the iPlayer, visit: BBC iPlayer beta trial 09

When the final iPlayer version goes live, of course, there will be none of this four-digit code access nonsense. You’ll simply be able to access it as an option on the list of stuff that pops up when you press the red button while watching one of the BBC’s Freesat channels.


December 30, 2009, 6:05 am

Good to see the Beeb pushing out iPlayer on more and more platforms. Wish MS would fix up and sort out a 360 version.


December 30, 2009, 2:25 pm

When you say 'Cost, absolutely nowt', bear in mind that many people will have to pay a few pounds a month more to their broadband provider to upgrade their usage allowance. I am already using most of my allowance, so it would certainly cost me an extra £5 per month.

It would be useful to know how much extra usage would be represented by, say, a few hours a week of iPlayer.


December 30, 2009, 2:26 pm

I've been really impressed with the Freesat iPlayer, the main issue for me is the speed of the menus, which feel really clunky. Probably more a reflexion of the hardware it needs to run on rather then anything else as certainly the Wii iPlayer doesn't have that issue.

Certainly it gets 10/10 from my two young children who can now watch cBeebies' Dirt Girl World whenever they want. Joy.


December 30, 2009, 3:05 pm

Could you please clarify as I think I've missed the point somewhere. Is this streaming only, or does it allow download for later play like the iPlayer currently available to us mere mortals with 400kbps maximum speeds? I take my netbook into work and download there to watch later but its hardly convenient, still it allows me to watch the freeview stuff I currently dont get a signal for.

The current iPlayer allows both streaming and (for less programes, as per copyright reasons) downloading. What is the difference of this new one being over FreeSat, even thought it doesnt come via the satellite link at all?


December 30, 2009, 3:27 pm

Interesting - but either I'm missing something or you've failed to mention something. You keep talking about your broadband connection - so am I right in thinking that you need to connect your freesat box via ethernet to your broadband connection? I have no problem with that, but do think that it should have been specifically mentioned in the article that the user needs to make the connection. And yes, I did notice that you mentioned the ethernet port on the first page - you just didn't say that the feed was over the broadband rather than the satellite.


December 30, 2009, 3:56 pm

I am going to buy a new TV with freesat incorporated. Can you advise me how I physically connect this to my adsl to recieve iplayer on my TV.


December 30, 2009, 6:21 pm

@Sue, firstly check that the freesat TV is Freesat HD ready and also comes with an ethernet socket, if it doesnt have the port then it wont be able to get iplayer and you will have to get a set top box.

As to connecting to your ADSL that depends where your ADSL is, if it is close enough then just run an ethernet cable from the adsl to the TV, if it is not close enough (or the cable would have to run across the floor ect) then get your self some homeplugs that you can plug into wall sockets and essentially send the ethernet cable singal over your power lines.


December 30, 2009, 6:34 pm

As the feeds are streamed via broadband, I would assume they're reusing the existing streams that the browser based iPlayer can access. If that is the case, then it's hard to understand how a lack of demand or the state of the UK Broadband market can be used to justify the omission of a HD stream. They already have a HD stream (up to 3.2Mbps) available for some content (see the following BBC post for more details http://tinyurl.com/BBCTRHD ), so what is the big deal with accessing that existing HD stream from a Freesat box rather than a browser?

By the way, for anybody interested in an iPlayer desktop PVR, take a look at the get_iplayer and Web PVR Manager projects found here: http://tinyurl.com/iplayer-pvr .


December 30, 2009, 8:24 pm

bbc iplayer does not seem to be working outside GB on Freesat

I can access the choice of programs but nothing happens when I press the ok key of the humax foxsat HD to play them

I get beautful reception of all channels on the tv set

any way round this problem , like a vpn for the bbc iplayer on the web?

How do i go on about getting my router to feed a british ip into the humax if that is the reason why programs won t play? I pay for my tv license in the uk

thanks and a happy new year to all

David 37

December 30, 2009, 8:41 pm

Great stuff, this is what we've been waiting for!

However, to get over the streaming issue, wouldn't it be good to be able to record to the HDD so that it can then be played back without any qulaity concerns? I can record onto my Mac with iPlayer Grabber. Will there ever be any facility to do this with the Freesat boxes?


December 30, 2009, 9:09 pm

thanks aod but the newbir thay I am is at a bigbit of aloss about recording i player? is there a tutorial anywhere?



December 30, 2009, 9:15 pm

What is freesat?? We already have free-view, why do I need another one?

Tim Sutton

December 31, 2009, 2:54 am


Freesat *is* Freeview, but transmitted via satellite to a satellite dish on your house rather than by a broadcast tower to an aerial on your house. The two will co-exist so don't worry, Freeview is going nowhere.

Freesat is however superior to Freeview in terms of image and sound quality and number of channels available.

Nice to see TR is now reaching tech newbies. I think.

Andy 24

December 31, 2009, 3:56 am

Williamn: Because some of us still don't get freeview transmissions - two more years wait for us. Oh, and freesat does HD, the current freeview standard does not.


December 31, 2009, 7:13 pm

"Freesat is however superior to Freeview in terms of image and sound quality and number of channels available."

yes until it rains heavy when you will get nothing but stutter


December 31, 2009, 11:18 pm

So, the trials on-going, when are we going to get the full iPlayer service if we havent got a Humax box. Personally i think that only opening the trial to Humax owners is lame, so much for all those LG, Panasonic and Sony Freesat owners who must easily outnumber the small perscentage of Humax boxes in existence. A wider trial wouldve highlighted the services problems much quicker, and even now if it works on the Humax what is there to say that its going to work on all the TVs that have the ethernet ready connection.


January 1, 2010, 3:26 pm

I think Humax do the majority of Freesat HD boxes. Neither LG nor Sony do a box at all so far, and Panasonic's offering is good but v expensive.


January 1, 2010, 3:44 pm

Rather than go to great lengths to get the Iplayer etc on Freesat, why they don't they invest the time/money and effort in adding to the desparatly short of HD channels for this service?


January 1, 2010, 4:35 pm

@Mike: The two aren't really related in that sense. But if they were, I think there's a pretty strong argument for more people wanting iplayer than more HD content.


January 1, 2010, 5:19 pm

Biggles - I was not referring to Freesat boxes, I was referring to Freesat TVs, Panasonic, LG and Sony must be seriously peeved at having to include an ethernet port as part of the overall requirements of a Freesat system only for the bbc to completely ignore them. I know as a Panasonic customer I am not happy. Lets face it they are 3 of the largest consumer electronics companies in the world (samsung excepted), if the bbc do not get iPlayer working on Freesat TVs then that will be the final nail in the coffin for that format as the TV electronics companies will not invest in a format that has no support.

Mike as far as more HD channels go, yes it would be fantastic but it isnt going to happen, the Astra 2 satellite is full, no extra bandwidth even for Channel 4 HD so unless pressure is put on the broadcasters to ditch all the dross including all +1 channels (as most people have a recording device nowadays) then we are stuck with what we have.

Tim Sutton

January 1, 2010, 5:42 pm

@ jay

I live in North Devon, trust me when I say that if Freesat reception was affected by heavy rain, heavy snow or excessive cows I would know about it :-)

Colin Bell

January 1, 2010, 11:19 pm

I've got this working now (thanks John for the code) off my Humax Foxsat HDR, connecting via some Ethernet-over-mains plugs into the router. I don't have a particularly high speed broadband connection, so I'm limited to 'standard speed' rather than High Quality (which stutters badly at my home speeds). It looks bearable at that speed, and running it through an upconverting HDR box into a Samsung 1080 TV provides a reasonable experience. It's not HD, though. But watching an old BBC Jimi Hendrix clip has it's own rewards....

Simon Fraser

January 2, 2010, 12:41 am

I would agree with most of the article, except the sound. My HDR is has a digital connection to my amp and I have to say I have found the sound not so excellent. Applause on yesterday's TOTP sounded very phased, for example. Good enough probably, as I don't intend to use it that much - why bother with the excellent quality and ease of use of the HDR.

Great news that iPlayer is there, though - I'm not knocking it at all. I look forward to other possible networking functions, though. My Squeezeboxes are getting a little long in the tooth, these days...


January 2, 2010, 4:34 pm

Do I need a satellite to access this or can I just buy a freesat HD receiver - sod the dish - and watch iplayer?

In which case whoever is coming up with the next freeview HD boxes to be released in 2010 - remember to add the freesat ethernet port.....


January 3, 2010, 10:08 pm

Ed in response to your reply to my comment on 1/1/10, re: Iplayer and HD content, I beg to differ with you in respect of people generally preferring the Iplayer facility rather than more HD content on the Freesat platform. After all, if Freesat had a similar offering as Sky with regards to HD content, I wonder whether Sky's alleged Sky+ HD boxes/subcriptions would have had such the volumnous uptake that they perport to have had?!! Furthermore, in response to 'DangerousQ's reponse to my point on 1/1/10, I was under the impression that as Freesat was broadcast on a satellite system, that this was able to cope with these extra channels? After all, if Sky satellite can achieve it on the same wave length, then why not Freesat? or am I missing something here? Also with the slowly increasing PVR market and increasing size of HDD with these, then logically speaking, wouldn't people prefer the HD content as opposed to tv on demand? Personally, I'd much prefer to see HD content than the Ipayer facility, but hey, that's just me I guess! Plus surely other companies are going to hopefully follow Panasonic's example by producing a Freesat twin tuner PVR with built in Blue ray recorder to archive things.

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