12 ways to get more from the BBC iPlayer

24th Dec 2009 | 10:00

12 ways to get more from the BBC iPlayer

Make the most of the BBC's fantastic catch-up service

1-6: Changing the interface and more

The BBC iPlayer has been with us for a couple of years now and it's a very powerful way to watch catch-up TV.

Here we run through some of its lesser-known features.

1. I closed iPlayer in the middle of a programme

Don't fret, the iPlayer is an intelligent piece of software. Even if you've ham-fistedly closed the window just as Strictly Come Dancing was approaching its giddy climax, iPlayer will remember exactly where you got to.

Simply open the programme again and it should re-start from the moment you stopped watching. There's no need to wrestle with the slider and risk accidentally seeing the results before you've fully absorbed the build up, so make sure you don't touch that when you load it back up, or you might end up undoing this convenient timesaver.

2. Can I watch more than just TV programmes?

Sure. For a start, there are often full-length films found on the service. They still only appear for the seven days following their broadcast on television, and the selection is nowhere near as extensive as the number of films broadcast across the BBC's various channels.

On the plus side, though, it'll be the full film, just as if you were watching it on DVD. Simply select the categories tab and look for the Film category.

In addition there are full-length sports broadcasts in the Sports category, including, for example, entire football matches and full three-hour broadcasts of Formula One races.

3. I'm deaf, can I still use iPlayer?

The iPlayer has excellent support for deaf viewers, with an entire category devoted to the Sign Zone programming that is often consigned to late-night slots on television.


There are options for subtitling on the majority of programmes on the service, though you have to begin the show to find out whether it supports them. There is also an Audio Description category that offers programming for those with impaired vision.

4. Can I re-watch programmes I have already seen?

Yes, programmes can be watched as many times as you like within the seven day time limit. If you want to find shows you've already watched, they appear on the right hand side of the iPlayer homepage.

5. Is live programming available to watch?

You can, though for TV it's not a finalised service so might not always be available. Radio is fair game, however, and all of the BBC's radio stations, including the wide selection of digital stations that are available, are streamed live. Many of them can even be listened to abroad.

6. Can I make the interface clearer?

The iPlayer has another version of its interface, designed for when your PC is plugged in to your TV. It's available from the at the site, and is much larger and less busy.


There's quick access to a carousel of the most popular and recent programming. There are also large buttons and a text entry system for ease of control if you're using a wireless remote to interact with your computer.

7-12: Downloading series, email alerts and more

7. How soon can I watch a programme?

While you used to have to wait until at least an hour after the event for videos to appear on the service, you can now begin watching items on iPlayer as soon as the programme has begun broadcasting on television. Simply click the Today tab on the schedule to the left of the homepage and you'll see items that have just been added.

8. Can I watch programmes in HD?

Selected shows are available in high-definition, and can be accessed from the link to BBC HD programming.

Because many people's broadband connections cannot cope with the amount of data needed to stream such high quality video, there is also the option to download these HD files using the iPlayer Desktop software. All HD shows on the iPlayer are also available in 'normal' quality.

9. Can I watch an entire series of programmes?

Some of the programmes available on iPlayer are designated with a "Series Catch-up" label and rather than being limited to seven days, the entire season is available to watch while that series is in progress on television.

As you'd imagine, as soon as the series is completed on television, the standard expiration after seven days is imposed. This feature doesn't apply to all shows, though, and you can find out if it's on offer by selecting the programme and looking at the filmstrip below to see if other episodes are available.

10. Can I be informed of new programmes?

Indeed. The quickest way to get updates is by subscribing to an RSS feed (do this in Internet Explorer, or use the news feed gadgets in your Windows Sidebar or desktop).

RSS feeds

The feeds can be found below the programme guide on the left of the main screen and are broken up into categories to ensure that you're only updated with shows that you're interested in. Click on the feed name, then click the subscribe button.

11. Can I download programmes?

Yes, there's a small button below every programme that allows you to download the video to your hard drive so it can be watched at your convenience.

You'll need to install the BBC iPlayer Desktop software, which is offered the first time you click the download button, and the video file will still be subject to similar restrictions to the streamed video on the website.

The programme can be downloaded up to seven days after broadcast, and then you have 30 days to begin watching it. Once you begin, the file will expire after seven days.


12. Is regional television available?

If you want to watch regional shows from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they can be found in the same Categories tab as the various genres of programming. You can even view the entire website in Welsh or Gaelic, should the mood take you.


First published in Windows: The Official Magazine Issue 37

Liked this? Then check out Beyond iPlayer: What's next for Video on Demand?

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