While I might have sounded rather critical of the Standard stream, though, the reality is that it’s actually only slightly flakier than some of the lowest quality Freesat broadcasts. It’s certainly perfectly watchable on a TV up to 32in across, maybe even a bit bigger where a TV has some decent video processing. And crucially it certainly thrashes watching the iPlayer via a PC, especially if you’re trying to expand the PC feed to fill a good-sized TV screen.
Obviously, this impression goes double for the higher quality feed which, hopefully, many of our readers will have sufficient Internet bandwidth to enjoy, and which can certainly be watched comfortably on a much larger TV than 32in.
A quick note next on the iPlayer’s audio. Which is actually perfectly fine. It’s only Nicam Stereo/Dolby Pro-Logic, of course, but this sounds decently clear and robust, with no obvious signs of compression distortion or ‘squeaking’.
Before wrapping up, I guess I have to say that it seems a bit of a pity that there’s no HD stream available on the Freesat iPlayer, given that the iPlayer is only available on HD receivers. But the BBC hasn’t written this off as a future possibility if the demand is proven, and provided, more importantly, that the UK’s notoriously retarded broadband network finally rises to the bandwidth challenge raised by streaming HD video.
I’m also bound to report that I have stumbled across a few bugs during the week or so that I’ve had the iPlayer running. The pause, fast forward and especially rewind functions seem particularly troubled at the moment - though it should be said that when they don’t crash the system, they do actually work surprisingly well considering this is a streaming system with no hard drive or buffer to work with.
The system felt a touch sluggish at times too, and I also had an initial problem with updating my Humax receiver, whereby I actually had to run the software update application twice in order to get the latest version safely installed. (Though according to the helpful Freesat techie types, I am in a minority of one for having this problem. Typical!)
But as I noted at the start of this review, the iPlayer build I’ve tested is a Beta version. So there’s every chance, indeed likelihood, that the bugs will be ironed out before the Freesat iPlayer is finally rubber stamped for roll out across all the Freesat boxes. And with the bugs gone, we’ll be left with a Freesat iPlayer that I’m happy to say surpasses expectations in almost every way.
Once it’s fully launched, I have little doubt that the surprisingly elegant, effective and, of course, free iPlayer will very quickly become one of the most watched ‘channels’ on the Freesat service - as well as helping Freesat hurtle toward its first million receiver sales.