The New BBC iPlayer - Performance

John Archer

By John Archer



  • Recommended by TR
New BBC iPlayer


Our Score:


The last thing we need to check out on the new iPlayer is its performance. Obviously it’s hard to offer an opinion here that will reflect every user’s experience, due to the massive differences in broadband speeds across the UK. Indeed, we’ve seen a lot of evidence in online ‘chatter’ to suggest that many people are struggling with the new iPlayer. Our personal experience, though, has been a mostly very positive one.

Standard definition streaming has been almost perfect throughout our tests in terms of not suffering with stutters or pauses, at least after the first few seconds of a stream starting. The picture quality of standard definition streams is a touch disappointing, though, suffering with some obvious MPEG blocking artefacts that can soften the picture, cause flickering over bright or detailed areas, and make skin tones look patchy. It’s certainly not unwatchable, particularly if your TV isn’t particularly big. But the slight mess on the standard def pictures will likely tempt most people with an HD TV to try their broadband connection out with HD streams.

We didn’t hold out much hope for such streams via our normal, rather rural 6000kbps (measured) BT service. But actually, it didn’t do badly at all.

New BBC iPlayer

On the downside, there was a lengthy pause - 15-20 seconds, usually - between pressing play and the HD streams actually starting, and the opening few seconds of what you’re watching fairly commonly stuttered. Once an HD stream had properly kicked into gear though, although there was a small amount of general judder, actual pauses and distracting stutters happened surprisingly rarely.

Or at least that was the case if we didn’t use fast forward or rewind. Shuttling forwards or backwards through HD streams caused them to break down so badly in terms of huge pauses and stuttering that we either had to quit the stream and re-enter it, or leave it on pause for as much as a minute before the stream settled down again.

It also has to be said that the fast forwarding or rewinding process with HD (and it’s hardly perfect with standard def either) is so imprecise that it’s almost pointless.

Getting back to the good news, the quality of the HD pictures is very good. The MPEG noise seen with standard definition feeds is massively reduced, while detail levels and the image’s general sharpness both increase dramatically. We’re not talking Blu-ray levels of perfection by any means, but the quality increase is sufficiently high that we suspect even people whose broadband connections can only handle HD streams with a minor pause or two will prefer that sporadic irritation to the general MPEG noise levels visible with standard def material.

During our tests the sound quality seemed better on HD feeds too; sometimes the audio accompanying standard definition streams sounded warbly and digitised.


The amount of trouble some people seem to be having with the new iPlayer makes us wonder if it’s as clever at adapting to different broadband rates as the previous iPlayer seemed to be.

However, if like us you’re lucky enough to enjoy a seemingly stable broadband feed, It’s hard not to be impressed by what the new iPlayer achieves. Its interface is far more intuitive, speedy and browsing-friendly for TV users than the previous one, and the new search, recommendation and especially favourites systems potentially turn the iPlayer from a mere convenience tool into a central part of some households’ daily TV routine. All for free. Um, except for what you already spend on your license fee, obviously...

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Image Quality 8
  • Sound Quality 7
  • Value 9

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 top gear has gone its all down hill 2 stars only

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