Hands-On With the Brand New BBC iPlayer

By Gerald Lynch on at

A catch-up services innovator since first launching back in 2007, the BBC today revealed a brand new design for its industry-leading iPlayer streaming platform. Rolling out to mobile and desktop browsers today, I've spent some time playing with the new-look iPlayer in a desktop browser, and while its changes are subtle, they're all welcome.


The Homepage

The first thing you'll notice about the iPlayer revision is its responsive design. Drag your iPlayer window to any size you like, and it will rearrange its content to most effectively present information based on the space allowed. Images resize, text disappears, everything flows.

From the homepage (as seen in the top image), main navigation controls shift to the left-hand side in a wide screen view, or sit on top of the page if you prefer a narrower browser window. A search bar sits over an A-Z programme list and a recently watched tab -- clicking them reveals a pop out overlay that sits over the main homepage content. The search bar will eventually offer auto-filling predicted results based upon the first few letters you input, but doesn't seem to be working at present. Remember, the desktop update is currently an opt-in option, so expect to see some creases that need ironing out.

The whole look of the homepage is now much cleaner, and this is thanks to more text-based information being hidden away until a user runs a mouse over images. The "Most Popular" shows bar, for instance, has a stack of image screenshots -- mousing over them gives details on the show, such as name and the original channel it aired on. In a wide browser view, buttons let users scroll horizontally through editorially-curated shows, while in a narrow view, shows scroll vertically.

Further navigation options include shortcut links to the BBC's most-popular channels along the top (One, Two, Three, Four, CBBC and CBeebies), and a pop-out A-Z programme list. Categories also get a shake-up, offering more-intuitive demarcations -- "Food" breaks out from the now-defunct "Lifestyle" category for instance, while "Science and Nature" stands alone from "Documentaries", with "Factual" and "Learning" disappearing.

Interestingly, the large "Radio" tab currently appears to be missing. It seems the focus of the new iPlayer homepage will be very much on video content.


TV Guide and Channel Pages

iPlayer now comes with a fairly-traditional seven-day TV guide, scrolling chronologically left to right, giving you a look at what's currently on the BBC's TV channels, and what will follow later.

However, the programming guide takes a page out of the YouView set-top box's book, offering both seven days forwards and backwards programming information across the BBC's output. If a show has been broadcast already, and is available on the iPlayer as a result, you can jump immediately to the stream from the guide.

Individual channel pages have their own theme (those that worried about BBC3 losing its branding in the transition online will be pleased (?) to see it retains its purple look), but is otherwise similar to the homepage. Editorially-picked shows scroll horizontally, while scheduling information sits on the left.


The Video Player

The video player view perhaps changes the least of all in the new-look iPlayer. Again, it is responsive, scaling the video based on window size. A short description of the show sits below the video player, with links to a full description, the programme's website, and its credits sitting below. Again, it's a cleaner look, putting the show itself to the fore with additional details a click away for those particularly invested.

Original air date and show duration, as well as the amount of time left to watch the programme through iPlayer, also sits immediately below the player. To the far right sits options to download a show for offline viewing, to stream in high definition, to add a show to favourites and to share the page -- each more clearly visible than in the previous version of iPlayer. Hit the play button and, provided you're not viewing the clip in fullscreen mode, the new iPlayer will "dim the lights", slowly hiding the text and navigation buttons around the video if you don't interact with it, providing a distraction-free viewing experience.

Below the video player sits other recommended shows. While initially these will be editorially-curated based upon the show you have just viewed, this will eventually change to take into account shows based on your individual tastes (provided you've logged in to iPlayer).


Initial Verdict

It's a subtle and well-executed redesign. iPlayer on a computer browser was a needlessly-cluttered experience at times, and this redesign smartly pushes to the fore only the most pertinent details -- not to mention the video content itself. A responsive design is a great move forward (Giz's own is coming soon, promise!), and the selected navigation controls and -- crucially -- omitted features in the narrower view have been sensibly selected. While it will take some time to see how effective the Beeb's revamped recommendations system is, so far its a great browsing experience. Just like a good video player should do, the shows and movies are at the centre of the design, with the framing navigation doing all it can to be as helpful and unintrusive as possible.