It’s only around six months since the iPlayer was launched, but the BBC has introduced a new beta version that aims to be more user-friendly.

iPlayer beta

The iPlayer has been an undoubted success since its pre-Christmas launch, with the online video player receiving over 100m requests to view programmes since December. It averaged 700,000 requests per day in May.

Despite this, there were some usability issues . The menus could be slow and cumbersome to navigate, and downloading the necessary software was troublesome.

In addition, finding a show to watch could be a slow process; apart from five or six featured shows, users had to search through an A to Z menu, or by channel.

This is something which seems to have been addressed with the beta version of the site, as the BBC has done a much better job of presenting its content and making it easier to browse through the programming on offer.

iPlayer menu

Users can browse by featured programmes, most popular, A to Z, by category, channel and by TV schedules, which is a useful new feature.

iPlayer - browse by category

Radio content has now been integrated into the iPlayer so users can listen to a replay of any programme from the BBC’s various radio stations.

As well as more usable navigation, the BBC has also tweaked the video player itself. The screen is now larger, making viewing more easy, while the quality of the streaming has been improved.

iPlayer video screen

The BBC is also making steps towards personalisation. If you quit a programme halfway through, the iPlayer will remember the point you were at when you return to watch it later.

Also, recently viewed videos are now displayed on the iPlayer homepage, and users are given suggestions of related programmes which they may also enjoy.

The BBC plans to extend this further and introduce personal channels based on previous viewing habits, though this feature will not be part of this update.

The new iPlayer beta version is a big improvement on the previous version, it is faster, more usable, and hence users will find it much easier to find content that interests them.

One drawback is still the fact that programme downloads are restricted to PC users. Owners of Macs can stream TV and radio shows, but the downloadable version is still a work in progress.

The BBC has broadened the iPlayer’s reach in other ways though, as the service is now available for Virgin Media subscribers, Nintendo Wii and PS3 owners, as well as on the iPhone.

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