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It’s TV Jim, But Not As We Know It

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It’s been a while coming but there are strong signs that the Internet video revolution that we’ve all been waiting for is nearly here. After some time in the seedy neon-lit back streets of the Internet, video downloads have entered the mainstream.

The first to make that big push was Apple. With the release of its video capable iPod last October, it made available music videos and TV shows from its iTunes store, though for licensing reasons, only in America, which is frankly, a bit rubbish.

In this country, two of the biggest players in television have been experimenting with online downloads, the BBC and Sky TV, and recently I’ve been trying them out.

The BBC version is called the Interactive Media Player or iMP for short though it’s currently only open to trialists of which there are around 4,000. It’s an step on from the Radio Player that’s already available on the BBC web pages. The iMP is a small application with a neat, tidy interface that enables you to search for any radio or TV programme broadcast on the BBC over the last 14 days and download it to your PC. Excellent. Missed Doctor Who? No Problem. Click. Thank you very much.

It’s clearly a response to the various torrent sites that have sprung up and proved very popular. However, not surprisingly the iMP has DRM imposed limitations, to make sure you still go out and buy the DVD. While you can search 14 days back you only get a seven day window to watch your programme. If you haven’t watch them in that time – tough. If you go on a two week holiday and your programme is in the first few days then it won't be much use as a PVR replacement

It can be installed on two PCs though, so you can for example download at home and a work, so you’re less likely to miss anything. The iMP even enables you to copy content to a portable device; though at present it’s limited to Windows based Portable Media Players and Orange SPVs. This is because the BBC has gone with Windows Media Audio/Video as the format. Programmes are played back in Windows Media Player 10, but the first time it’s played it must to done from within the iMP to acquire the license.

In terms of download speed it’s not lightening fast, even on my 10Mb home connection. This is because it uses Peer to Peer technology, similar to Bit Torrent, so its speed is directly related to the how many people already have the content you are trying to download, rather than just the speed of your connection. As the trial is currently limited to a few thousand it’s not that big a pool, which limits the download speed.

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