BBC iPlayer supporting H.264 in Flash – what’s the point of downloading now?

The BBC’s streamed catch-up broadcasting, iPlayer, is about to be upgraded to the high-definition H.264 standard, according to this post, from the BBC’s Head of Digital Media Anthony Rose.

He says that the “Play high quality” option will be available “from this week”, though I couldn’t see any sign of it on a brief sampling of available content.

The question: where does this leave the download service, based on peer-to-peer file sharing? This is the thing that caused me considerable hassle this time last year, and which also drew criticism because it is Windows-only.

By contrast, the Flash-based embedded video seems to have performed as smoothly as Flash usually does.

When Flash streaming was introduced, the BBC said that the download option would remain for higher-quality viewing, but with H.264 Flash that argument has little force. It is still comforting to have a downloaded file, in case your Net connection fails or becomes congested, but other than that there is little advantage. My guess is that it will wither. Supporting both must be expensive.

It is unfortunate for Microsoft, whose technology is losing out to Adobe’s at the BBC, particularly since Silverlight would probably have worked nicely in this context. Unfortunately the old iPlayer is not Silverlight, but based on Windows Media Player, known to be hassle-prone as well as being single platform.

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2 comments to BBC iPlayer supporting H.264 in Flash – what’s the point of downloading now?

  • MrSoapsud

    Main advantage of downloading is still that you can view for 4 weeks rather than just one.

  • James

    Also, the iplayer does not show you how much is buffering which is most frustrating, as despite my 8meg line I often get freezes without any warning while it buffers again. Downloading ensures a smooth ride.