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BBC iPlayer adds IM, sharing, opens up to other channels

A new version of the BBC's iPlayer online service adds sharing and recommendation options, as well as linking up with other video sites and even brings instant messaging

A new version of the BBC iPlayer has been unveiled, adding personalised sharing features, integration with other on-demand services, and instant messaging thanks to Windows Live.

Most of the features are in beta today, with external partnerships coming soon. New features are based around your BBC ID, which is the same as you use to log in to other BBC sites to leave a comment.

Once you've logged in, you can add your favourite programmes to a favourites section, which will then automatically notify you and even download new episodes of your stories. By logging in, you can watch across different devices and computers, with iPlayer remembering where you're up to if you pause a programme. The iPlayer Desktop application adds series downloads and live radio and TV.

You can discover new TV and radio via a recommendation engine, searching by genre or by looking at what other users are watching and sharing. The new features are all arranged in sliding tabs -- we'll have screen shots right here shortly, including a look at the features that aren't yet live.

BBC online chief Erik Huggers and iPlayer boss Anthony Rose also revealed some forthcoming features, which open iPlayer to integrate with external partners. You'll be able to search within iPlayer for all television, not just BBC content, and click to go straight to the relevant on-demand service. This includes ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five, while Sky Player is "considering" getting involved.

A new adaptive bit-rate feature constantly tests your line to make sure you're getting the best quality: the top-quality 832x468-pixel 1,500Kbps stream drops to 800Kbps or 480Kbps and back again as needed.

One feature noticeably missing is an iPad app. Huggers and Rose were cagey about the Apple tablet, which goes on sale on Friday. iPlayer should officially work on the iPad's Safari browser on Friday, but if you have an imported model it's possible to watch through a different browser.

The beta version is available to try now, by clicking a banner on the iPlayer homepage. We'll have screen shots and more details of the new features in just a jiffy. When you've had a look at the new iPlayer, tell us your thoughts in the comments.