Looking next into all the other category ‘headers’ below the main programme selection window, first up is a Most Popular option which, as you would expect, gathers together the most watched shows from the iPlayer’s servers. At the time of writing the number one show was, of course, EastEnders...
Next along the list of header options is arguably the new iPlayer’s biggest feature: the new Favourites window, which populates with any shows you’ve chosen as favourites when new episodes become available. It doesn’t take long using this feature to realise that it effectively functions as series link on iPlayer - which is, of course, a Very Good Thing.
In fact, the favourites feature changes the iPlayer from being a mere tool for catching up with occasional programmes we’d missed to a device that could actually become a core component of your regular evening TV viewing.
This potential is further enhanced by the way that once you get to the end of a show, the new iPlayer recommends and provides direct links to similar programmes to the one you’ve just watched. Obviously the iPlayer is not nearly as sophisticated in respect of its recommendations as Virgin’s TiVo box, but there were numerous occasions while we were testing the system where we really did elect to move straight into watching a programme that the iPlayer’s genre recognition service had recommended.
The genre recognition system also gives rise to a fairly effective genre-based ‘Categories’ section, where available programmes are divided into Children’s, Comedy, Drama, Entertainment, Sign Zone, News, Factual, Films, Learning, Lifestyle & Leisure, Music, Sport, Religion plus Northern Ireland/Scotland/Wales sections. The usefulness of this section in streamlining browsing speaks for itself, with the Children’s section likely to be a life-saver for many parents who don’t have Sky boxes to entertain their kids with.
The next navigation header breaks the available programming down into channels, and its menu structure does a brilliantly efficient and elegant job of allowing you to easily navigate between BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC HD, Cbeebies and CBBC content, as well as picking the broadcast date for each channel in question. We used this new menu regularly to quickly track down programmes we’d missed.
Aside from a self-explanatory ‘last played’ header that lets you go quickly back to something you maybe only got half way through at an earlier sitting, the last tool in the new iPlayer’s locker is the text search feature. This lets you type in letters and numbers via a virtual keypad on the screen, and immediately starts to generate responses from the moment you add the first letter.
For example, type an H, and visual headers for all programmes beginning with H appear, stacked on top of each other. Add another letter, and the list of options reduces accordingly. The previous iPlayer did this too, of course, but introducing graphical headers for the search results instead of the text-only results on the previous system makes the new search engine feel more friendly and intuitive.
One final welcome touch with the new iPlayer’s operating system is that there seemed to be much more content available from well beyond the usual week previous than there was before. Some shows have whole series on there, including episodes dating back months.
Catch-up series are there on the previous iPlayer system too, of course. But it feels as if there are more of them on the new iPlayer, and the way series are now presented in a ‘tiled folder’ format rather than just as a text list like they were before makes it much easier to find and navigate through each episode.