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The New BBC iPlayer review

John Archer




  • Recommended by TR

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New BBC iPlayer
  • New BBC iPlayer
  • New BBC iPlayer
  • New BBC iPlayer
  • New BBC iPlayer


Our Score:



  • New GUI much more effective for TV users
  • HD picture quality is good
  • New Favourites feature is excellent


  • Standard def pictures rather 'blocky'
  • FFwd and rewind practically unusable, esp with HD
  • Online 'chatter' suggests service results vary greatly between different users

Key Features

  • New HTML5-driven GUI
  • Favourites facility
  • Improved text search facility
  • Recommendations based on recently viewed shows
  • HD and standard def streaming
  • Manufacturer: BBC
  • Review Price: free/subscription

Brilliant and massively popular though the BBC iPlayer is, up to now it’s really been a PC-centric feature. As a result, the shift over the past two years to smart TVs hasn’t been particularly kind to the original iPlayer interface, making it clear that operating system principles that might work on a PC don’t tend to work on a TV driven by a simple remote control.

So it is that finally this week, after a typically protracted Beta testing process (the Beeb’s public service remit means it has to make absolutely sure something works properly before launching it - a sadly dying attitude in the AV world!), the new BBC iPlayer is here. And it’s been designed from the ground up to work on big-screen tellies rather than mouse- and keyboard-driven PCs. So we thought we ought to have a look at it.

Doing so requires us to fire up our PS3. For at the time of writing, the new service has only been approved for use on Sony’s console; presumably the usual banks of compatibility tests still haven’t been completed on all the different ‘smart TV’ platforms. The version of the new iPlayer that ultimately arrives on smart TVs, though, will closely resemble if not be identical to the one now sported by your PS3 (assuming you’ve applied the latest firmware update).

According to the BBC, the new iPlayer’s improvements are focussed around three key areas. First, the new service is supposed to be ‘just like TV’. In other words, its HTML5-driven interface has been redesigned to be highly visual and as straightforward as channel surfing.

New BBC iPlayer

Next, the new service supposedly makes it much easier to find the content you want, thanks especially to an improved search tool; favourite lists giving you quick access to your favourite shows; and a recommendations system.

Finally, the Beeb has tried to make the new iPlayer experience feel more personalised, with the new favourite programmes feature again to the fore in this respect.

As you would hope, signs of the iPlayer revamp become apparent as soon as you fire it up, in the shape of a new home menu dominated by a scrollable window showing five featured programmes, with a list of other search-aiding categories running along the bottom of the screen. Having five programmes at once visible and accessible on screen is a great improvement over the rather clumsy previous ‘home’ screen, which only showed one title at a time in full.

Choosing to play a programme on the Featured list is effortlessly achieved via your PS3 joystick or PS3 TV-style remote, using just the typical navigation and ‘Select/OK’ buttons. And once you’ve selected something to watch, you get a ‘header’ screen featuring more information on the show including its air date, running time and remaining iPlayer availability schedule. Plus, of course, there’s the playback icon, and options to switch between HD and standard def playback, and add a show as a favourite. Again, selecting between these latter options is a doddle, and it’s very clear which option you’ve got selected at any time.

The iPlayer menus respond well to PS3 joystick or remote commands, too. The sluggishness we frequently suffered when using the old iPlayer on various devices seems to have been ironed out, at least for this PS3 incarnation. It’s great to find, too, that if you hit pause during playback, you get the option to change the picture definition and the programme’s favourite status without having to quit back to the service’s header menus.

Matt G Baish

August 12, 2011, 2:57 pm

Don't think I have quite the latest version on my Sony Blu-Ray player but watched Torchwood hi-def on my 7 foot cinema screen last night & it looked amazing. I have no problem with fast forward or rewind on the Sony version & only ever get playback issues when my Thomson router starts to play up. I am on Be 20Mbit/s service although, being 2km from the exchange, actually only get bout 6MBit/s - maybe the better Be contention ratio makes for better quality playback in my case? Either way the Sony Blu-Ray version far outstrips the one on Freesat on my Panny plasma which drops out at least once or twice per viewing and used to become unbearable at times (suffice to say I no longer use it at all).


August 12, 2011, 5:07 pm

I've been using it for a few days and think it's leaps and bounds better than the old browser version. Best of all it works properly with the official PS3 remote! I haven't had any streaming issues and HD looks fantastic. I'm on O2 20Mbit, but I get 13/14Mbit in reality. I hope Channel 4 and ITV follow suite soon, as their browser based offerings on the PS3 are worse than the old iPlayer in my opinion.


August 13, 2011, 3:20 pm

Much better than the old version, especially now that the PS3 remote work properly. What we need now is for the other platforms to catch up, a bigger library, oh and access for license payers outside the UK!


August 18, 2011, 10:56 pm

@sctw "a bigger library". Here, here, here. I have written to the Beeb about them making their ENTIRE archive on-demand ever since I could access their programmes via cable. It becomes all the more desireable and of course is possible given the BBC iPlayer. They could rake in a fair bit of money by charging overseas viewers (non licence fee payers). The BBC could charge a subscription equivalent to the BBC tv licence fee or pay-per-view. Of course they could charge a lot more in richer countries like the EU, US, Canada, Australia and N. Zealand.

Please see my comments to the TR article:

BBC Unveils Redesigned iPlayer For The Living Room By David Gilbert, 08 August 2011


Of course the BBC are constrained by the Politicians and by their friends/associates/corporate lobbyists (Clue BSkyB). Just look at how the tv licence fee freeze was agreed: within months of the Tories coming to power!!! Look at how many times the PM Cameron met the Murdochs 26 times in 15 months - that takes to the time before the election was announced. Then look at what Mr Gordon Brown, former PM, said what Rupert Murdoch asked him to do regarding the BBC.

The Government and the BBC Trust have NO mandate from the TV Licence Fee payers to freeze it.

I do not expect the BBC Trust and/or the senior BBC executives to dare to challenge the Government by saying we will ask the viewers if they want a freeze or not? Self preservation comes first. Thus the viewers need to write in/e-mail/phone/complete an online complaint form etc.

Otherwise the BBC will become like the US Public Broadcast Service (PBS).


September 16, 2011, 7:35 pm

I've found the new version to be totally unusable even on standard definition due to constant buffering meaning I spend more time looking at the loading circle than watching the programme.

Gone back to using iPlayer on my PC where it works perfectly!


October 13, 2013, 3:25 pm

Sorry I hate the bbci player now. I want to be able to see what I missed on a particular night because I had to do something else. I do not know if I am going to miss a nights tv beforehand because of running my own business things just happen. I cannot find out what I have missed on a particular night as cannot get the tv programmes listing anymore.

As to mention the pictures of what you can watch I cannot see the writing of the programme title anymore, far to small I have poor eyesight and can hardly make out the pictures but I am wearing my glasses so how many others cannot see it.
I could see nothing wrong with the old iplayer.
So frustrating now keeps having to reboot. If I have time in the evenings to sit down I want to be able to find what I have missed and just relax now I have to squint stand up close to the tv. I don't just want what you have choosen I might want to watch something else. Maybe I am doing something wrong but I cannot find what I want.
Also not happy with the text style search. Yes I can see what I have texted on the screen but on the control I cannot see the letters that well. I am not a texter so it does not come quickly and easily to me and I am sure a lot of older people find this also.


November 17, 2013, 1:52 pm

The bbc iplayer is total rubbish compared to the commercial tv equivalents permanently buffering and you pause at your peril and to try to complain on the bbc website is a nightmare Itried and failed,Dismally...


April 3, 2015, 9:41 pm

BBC Iplayer is totally rubbish im connected to the internet and doesnt let me watch anything and ive tried everything so fix it because i dont think other people like it as well


April 3, 2015, 9:41 pm

but why doesnt it or on phones

mark shorrocks

January 1, 2016, 1:41 pm

Major flaws and very spasmodic playing make for a very poor service especially for a company so large and supposedly cutting edge.now top gear has gone its all down hill 2 stars only

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