Will the switch to higher quality video streams on the BBC iPlayer cause ISPs to bitch and moan, or take action? UK broadband users should prepare themselves for metered services.
The BBC iPlayer has been one of the most successful online video launches so far, with traffic increasing every month and the Corporation able to use its huge non-commercial presence to push the service.
But with success comes problems, one of which is the fact that British ISPs have expressed concerns over the amount of bandwidth the iPlayer is using. Some even suggested that the BBC should contribute to the ISPs so that they can pay for network upgrades.
Any chance of this issue going away quietly seems to be non-existent with the news that the BBC is planning on increasing the quality of content on the iPlayer.
H.264 & AAC+
This is being done by the adoption of the H.264 video standard and AAC+ audio standard, and an increase in bitrate to 800kbps. The BBC has indicated that variable bitrates could also be available in the future to cater for the different broadband speeds.
The reason for this move to higher quality video? Well, apart from annoying the ISPs, the BBC also wants to future-proof the service for big-screen HD ready televisions.
The timing of the announcement seems to have been influenced by a recent Adobe Flash upgrade. The iPlayer currently uses the VP6 compression technology.
The transition to the H.264 standard will also have the added benefit of providing Apple iPhone and iPod Touch video viewers with higher quality streams.
BBC director of future media and technology Erik Huggers told IT Pro Portal:
“The advantage for the audience will be a noticeable improvement in audio and video quality. Furthermore, it should become easier for the media to simply work across a broader range of devices. While it’s not a magic bullet, it certainly is a significant step in the right direction.”
A Good Move?
This is a move that will be welcomed by all but the ISPs themselves, which are likely to see a jump in bandwidth use of around 60% for the average iPlayer user.
As Web video grows in stature, the trend could force ISPs to switch to metered broadband service plans. Unlimited services are already being cut in America, and I suspect the UK will follow suit.
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