Hands-on with iPlayer downloads for Mac and Linux

The BBC has made public its new version of a desktop iPlayer client, enabling downloads of its TV shows for Mac and Linux for the first time.

Software

Mac and Linux users can now download programmes from the BBC's iPlayer Web site, thanks to the recent launch of a new desktop iPlayer application -- 'BBC iPlayer Desktop' -- that utilises Adobe's AIR technology rather than Microsoft's Windows Media format.

The Mac and Linux download service has been talked about for some time. Previously, programme downloads were only available to Windows users, or via compatible mobile handsets. Downloads were also available for many portable devices, such as Sony's latest Walkman, but still required Windows to transfer the content.

Mac and Linux users have had to settle simply with streaming programmes in their Web browsers, which used Adobe's Flash video format, but these programmes could not be saved for offline viewing. With the new desktop platform and Adobe AIR software, offline viewing is now a possibility.

Quality of the downloads themselves, in our tests, were not up to the standards set by their Windows-only counterparts. Typically, Mac and Linux files are half the file-size of the Windows Media version (an episode of Top Gear was 560MB on Windows, 350MB on Mac), and image quality is a little lower. In fact, they're very similar to the quality delivered by the Web-based streaming versions.

However, the download software itself is excellent, and we achieved download speeds on a Mac similar to those we achieved on a PC. And once downloaded, playing programmes was just as easy as on a PC. 

Since the service is not widely promoted by the Beeb, you'll need to sign up to be a beta tester if you want to explore the world of Mac and Linux downloads. A full roll-out is expected in February 2009.

Worth mentioning too is that downloads for Apple's iPhone and iPod touch are still not available, as the devices do not support Windows Media or Adobe Flash, and Apple is reluctant to license its of DRM system to anyone but itself.

To try the new service for yourself, head over to the BBC's iPlayer Labs Web site.

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