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BBC iPlayer iPad review: Auntie Beeb on your Apple slab

The iPad officially launches in the UK today, and with it comes a shiny new iPad-optimised iPlayer experience. We go hands-on to give you the skinny on how it looks and how it plays

The iPad officially hits UK stores today. A little late maybe, but no use crying over spilt milk -- it's just not very British. What is very British is the always excellent BBC iPlayer, which now has its own very shiny iPad-optimised version. We love the iPlayer on the iPhone, but how does it translate to the bigger screen?

How does it work?

Just as with the iPhone, iPlayer is accessed via the iPad's browser, rather than with a specific app. If you navigate to the iPlayer site from an iPad, it will recognise your device and bring up the new optimised version of the site automatically.

The version of iPlayer the iPad uses is referred to as the 'bigscreen' iPlayer site. It's the same version you'll see if you navigate to iPlayer from a PlayStation 3 or Sony Blu-ray players, and as you can see from the image above, it rocks a pleasing chunky look.

Browsing content is handled via TV, radio and search tabs along the top, while highlights are displayed below. You can sweep through these by swiping your finger, just as you would if you were browsing photos on your iPad. We like this interface -- it's different to the normal iPlayer site or the mobile version, but it's no less intuitive to navigate, and searching or browsing video works very smoothly with the iPad's touchscreen.

How does video look?

It looks very tidy indeed. The iPad doesn't support Flash, so video and audio is implemented using the HTML5 video tag, and is served up with the H.264 video codec. There are two different quality options, and while you can't toggle between them during playback, you can adjust which one you want to use in the settings.

High-quality video streams at 1,500kbps, while the lower-quality option streams at 800kbps, and having the option to drop the bit rate should make watching video content over a lower-bandwidth connection much smoother. Both versions played very well in our testing, however, and a high frame rate meant playback was impressively smooth.

What's missing?

There are a few features absent from the normal iPlayer service we'd have liked to see here. The iPad-optimised version won't remember where you were in a video, for example -- if you stop watching you'll have to go from the beginning again, with no option to resume from where you were before.

Neither is there a proper full-screen option. You'll have to put up with the iPad's navigation pane along the top of the display, hanging around with its highly distracting silvery sheen.

Even worse, you can't view content in HD. Streaming high-definition video is a bandwidth hog, but if you've splashed out on a really fast connection, it would be good to have the option at least. Hopefully we'll see this implemented across the board before too long.

The verdict

We're huge iPlayer fans, and this particular iteration of Auntie's video-streaming service is every bit as good as we'd hoped. A few niggles here and there, but nothing that couldn't be ironed out with a little tweaking in the future. Those desperately looking for a reason to splash out on an iPad may finally have the excuse they've been searching for.

If you feel like checking out the iPad-optimised site for yourself but don't feel like splashing out on Apple's magic tablet, just click here.