BBC iPlayer has solved the most annoying problem with live-streaming football

The BBC has solved one of the most annoying things about live-streaming sport on iPlayer − lag. However, the fix isn’t yet ready to be pushed to the public.

Earlier this summer, the BBC gave football fans a chance to watch World Cup 2018 in 4K HDR by tuning in through iPlayer. Here are the five most interesting things we learned from its trial.

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However, the iPlayer streams were often 30 seconds or more behind the TV broadcast, and some online viewers said key moments were regularly ruined, for instance when they checked social media or heard their neighbours cheering before they’d actually seen anything major happen on-screen.

Remember that last-minute Belgium winner against Japan? Imagine if someone had told you what was going to happen before Japan even took their corner. Shudder.

“Latency occurs because of the way video is distributed over the internet,” the BBC has explained. “Portions of video and audio data are typically delivered over the internet in separate files. If these files − known as media segments − get too short, processing them becomes very inefficient. If the files are long, you get higher latency, as each segment needs to be generated in full before it can be passed on to the next step in the chain.

“Building upon work by standards organisations and others in the industry, the low latency techniques BBC R&D has been experimenting with work by either reducing the duration of each segment, or by creating the segments progressively as a series of chunks that can be passed through the chain immediately as they become available.

“The result means that, in the future, live streaming viewers watching over the internet will be able to see the action at the same time as they would see it if they were watching on TV.”

Unfortunately, it could be a long while before viewers actually get to experience the benefits of the breakthrough, which is currently being show off at the International Broadcasting Conference in Amsterdam this week.

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“Earlier this year, BBC CTPO Matthew Postgate said that the days when all media will be distributed over the internet are not too far away. With that in mind, we’re hoping that this work will help to make our internet-streamed live video as good as it can possibly be,” said Chris Poole, BBC R&D’s lead research engineer.

“What we’re showing at IBC is a prototype, however. To roll it out properly will take time, and it needs coordination with the whole industry, so viewers shouldn’t expect the lag to disappear imminently. But perhaps by the time they’re watching the next World Cup, viewers will be cheering at the same time, regardless of how they’re watching the match.”

Were you impressed with the BBC’s 4K HDR trials? Share your experience with us on Twitter @TrustedReviews.