BBC iPlayer on Freesat - Freesat iPlayer

John Archer

By John Archer


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As we wait - don’t worry, we’re only talking about a few seconds - for the iPlayer to boot after typing in the access code, it’s worth reflecting for a moment on why, perhaps, it’s taken the BBC quite so long to get the Freesat iPlayer up and running. Obviously, it’s tempting to think that some of it might be down to the BBC being a largely public-funded enterprise that’s creating the iPlayer with no profit in mind, meaning it hardly has the same sort of resources to throw at the problem that the likes of Sony or Panasonic might.

But let’s not forget, either, that it’s had to be created using an MHEG ‘language’ that was very much developed first and foremost as a broadcasting standard. Any interactive wares that MHEG has started to peddle have been very much ‘bolted on’, and certainly don’t come naturally to it.

Then there’s the fact that the Freesat boxes - some of which are seriously cheap and cheerful - are hardly PCs in terms of their internal memories and programmability.

And finally, of course, the BBC has had to wrestle with the fact that the iPlayer really does have to work on all the Freesat HD boxes released to date. Freesat can ill afford any of the box breaking debacles that have befallen Freeview over the past year or two.

With the iPlayer now suited and booted, let’s have a look what it has to offer. The front end will be familiar to anyone who’s used the Internet version of the iPlayer, with the Beeb sensibly following the same core layout of having search options along the top of the screen, and a small, scrollable selection of highlight shows - represented by large stills - dominating the majority of the screen.

Of course, there are none of the huge amount of further options you get with the World Wide Web version, with the Most Popular list being particularly sorely missed. But of course, the only tool at your disposal for navigating the Freesat iPlayer is your trusty Humax (or whatever) remote control. So if you had many more options than those already provided, using the Freesat iPlayer would probably turn into a chore galling enough to put people off using it.

As things stand, the system really is very easy to use, and that’s the way it needs to stay if it’s to be the widely used success everyone wants it to be.

The search options I mentioned earlier consist of a channel-based filter, a genre-based filter, and even a text search if you know the title of a programme you’re looking for.

Once you’ve selected the programme you want from an estimated 450 total hours of material, you are taken reasonably swiftly to the playback screen. Here you get a little basic information about the programme - running time, synopsis, date of first airing, and date it’s due to be removed from the iPlayer - as well as, rather startlingly, a choice of two different playback qualities.

We’d really only expected the Beeb to provide one video stream option, inevitably specified to a pretty low level given the rubbish nature of the broadband connections still found in many UK households. So it’s really quite a treat that as well as the standard quality option - which carries an 800kbps bitstream - we’re given the option to watch a Higher Quality option that almost doubles the bitstream to 1,500kbps.

With my own broadband connection miraculously managing around 5Mbps these days, I was comfortably able to play both options - and found both to deliver markedly better picture quality than I’d expected.

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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 ), 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: .


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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