BBC iPlayer goes mobile: Which player is best?

The Beeb has made its iPlayer mobile, and it's now compatible on a range of portable devices -- we've taken every compatible gadget we have for a spin

First it was available only to Windows users. Then it adopted Adobe Flash and opened up its streaming walls to Mac and Linux. Now, the BBC's iPlayer is available not only on all desktops, but on the iPhone, and now a plethora of mobile devices that support Windows Media DRM.

We've got almost all the devices the iPlayer is compatible with in our capacious desk drawers, so we thought it'd be awfully charitable of us to load up some BBC content and take our favourite players for a spin.

To get content on to your favourite PMP, you need to browse to the BBC programme you want to download, click 'Download', and choose the version for mobile devices. This will download a DRMed WMV file to your computer. You'll need to use Windows Media Player to sync this to your device.

We'll begin with the most recent MP3 player we've tested, and the most recently released: the Samsung YP-Q1 Diamond . -Nate Lanxon

The Samsung YP-Q1 has a decent combination of good screen quality and up to 16GB of memory, but it lacks built-in speakers, expandability or a particularly high maximum capacity for storing large TV files.

The Creative Zen is an ideal portable iPlayer player (can we get away with saying that?).

It comes with up to 32GB of internal memory and support for up to 32GB of additional memory with SDHD cards. It's got a superb screen, too, though again the lack of speakers subtract from it being the perfect package (you may not care). But it can now be snagged for significantly less than its SRP, making it our:

Best choice: Small portable iPlayer player 

The Creative Zen X-Fi is a more costly version of the Zen, but offers the same 32GB of maximum capacity and 32GB of potential expansion. Its advantage is in its built-in speakers.

Its excellent screen, superb capacity and decent battery life make this one of the most attractive flash-based mobile iPlayer devices we've seen, but the original Zen still pips it to the post for its sheer affordability.

The new Philips SA5285 offers little the other players in our round-up offer, but its design might be different enough to sway those of you sat on the fence.

We've only just unboxed this little guy so our opinions are so far limited. Navigation is a little clunky, and its screen only offers a 4:3 ratio. But it's an okay picture, and it's a slightly larger screen than the YP-Q1 offers, at 71mm (2.8 inches). It's not our favourite.

Samsung's other contender in the mobile iPlayer category is the YP-P2. Like the YP-Q1 it comes with up to 16GB, but adds a true 16:9-resolution screen for widescreen viewing without letterboxing.

Most BBC content is presented in 16:9, so this is a big bonus. Picture quality wasn't quite as crisp as on the Q1, so it's a toss-up between big screen or quality screen.

Is there anything that perhaps offers both?

Indeed there is: the iPhone and iPod touch. Both offer streaming access to the iPlayer library over Wi-Fi, using the H.264 codec for the best picture quality we tested. And with an aspect ratio of 16:9.

Unless you're after an even larger screen -- which we'll see in a second -- the iPhone and iPod touch are almost certainly the best portable iPlayer devices on the market, and both provide built-in speakers.

Although you're restricted to using iPlayer only over Wi-Fi (content cannot be pre-loaded), you can output any of it to a TV by using one of Apple's docks or cables. For these reasons we award both devices the highly sought-after title of:

Best choice: Mid-sized portable iPlayer players

Last on our list is also the largest: the brand-new Archos 5. With up to 250GB of storage and a 122mm (4.8-inch) screen, it's a beast of a portable iPlayer device.

The only issue is the resolution of the iPlayer video files offered by the Beeb. They're only available in 320x240-pixel resolution, meaning the picture is seriously stretched to fit on the Archos 5's display, and it results in the picture being less sharp than it appears on the smaller devices.

It's still a killer offering, and the integrated kick-stand and built-in speakers make it perfect for holidays, bedrooms and camp sites, as well as trains and cars. The old Archos 605 Wi-Fi is also compatible with iPlayer, but we love the refreshed design, the larger screen and the radically improved interface of the new Archos 5, earning it the prestigious title of:

Best choice: Large portable iPlayer player

 

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