Sunday, 30 October 2005

BBC iMP trial: review part 1

I've blogged about the BBC's pioneering iMP (Interactive Media Player) trial before (see the end of this post about the BBC and things digital), saying I'd signed up to be considered for the further trial.

For those who don't know, this involves testing a planned new BBC service called MyBBCPlayer, supposedly launching in 2006, to allow BBC programmes, TV as well as radio, to be available free via the Net (to UK users only) for 7 days after the broadcast date. After the 7 days the downloaded programme will be automatically deleted from your hard drive. (For more on that see the BBC press release in August 2005).

Well I've been accepted for the trial, so I shall be reporting on my experiences. The software is by KonTiki.

The first thing I have to say, though, is that the very long questionnaire they make you fill in about all sorts of things on yourself and your habits and your family etc, before you're allowed to download the software is way longer than they claim - it took me at least half an hour not just 15 minutes, and it was so long that I had to keep going back to it in between doing my work (I was naughtily doing it in the office because I had believed them when they said it would only take a few minutes) and it kept timing out on me. They've also been staggering the downloading (as in, letting people do it in batches - men first, apparently!) to ease the load on their servers.

And then as a triallist you have to fill in an online diary for one week each month, charting not just your TV and radio usage (and exactly which channels you watched or listened to when), but also your Internet use. Period. Not watching video or listening to audio over the Net, but ANY Net use, like shopping or browsing! Got to say I didn't see the point of that (and as I'm online virtually all the time, mine was pretty much full), but mine not to question their stats gathering.

Usability niggles with the online diary (as usability is a big bugbear for me): you can only fill in the diary for a particular day AFTER that day has passed; it's greyed out and inaccessible before that. Why you can't fill it in as you go along, on the SAME day, is beyond me. That would have been the most accurate and easy way for triallists to do it. Sure, we may not be online or logged in to the required page all the time while the TV or radio is on, but I usually am, and they should have catered for the people who are, rather than eliminated that option.

Plus, for each thing you do (watch TV, use the Net etc) you have to indicate whether you do it Live, or as a Replay. Including Net usage (which really should default to filling in "Live" automatically if you check that box). How can you use the Net on a "replay" basis, I ask, unless you're viewing a page offline maybe? (And I'll bet you anything that's not what they had in mind!). I also counted email as "Net usage", not just web browsing, as they gave no guidance on what they meant.

OK, on to the more interesting stuff. Some more info on iMP:
And I discovered that you can actually see some of the pages you get via their special iMP software, which clearly uses Internet Explorer behind the scenes, even if you don't have the software, so if you aren't on the trial you can still get an idea of what part of it looks like (the part which displays Web pages downloaded from the BBC site) just via your web browser (use Internet Explorer as that's what the trial is designed for). Here are some links, which will open in a new window - note that the page will be missing the tabs along the top and not all the links on it will work (nor will the search box, and you may get a popup box you have to get rid of if you try it in Firefox):
So far, it's been working well for me. You will have seen from the official page (including FAQ) that it's all very PC, Windows and Internet Explorer-centric, using Windows Media 9 Digital Rights Management. But " Should the service be approved, we aim to make it accessible for different platforms, like Macintosh and Linux. Our suppliers are currently working towards this."

You can even transfer downloaded programmes to your mobile or other portable device, though I've not tried it yet.

Initial impressions are that viewing (again hooking into Windows Media Player) is decent - clear pictures, good sound, a "full screen" view - but that the finding of programmes, particularly through browsing rather than searching, such as the filtering, leaves something to be desired.

I'll report further after I've been using it more. [Note: now see BBC iMP tips and tricks, thoughts on the major issues with iMP, and the BBC Trust consultation on bringing in what will now be called iPlayer in May or June 2007]

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