An iPlayer Virgin

The long awaited iPlayer version for Virgin Media has finally launched and it looks pretty good and paves the way for the future of television.

First we had iPlayer for the PC but it was download only, then we had iPlayer for most computers through streaming but you have to sit at a computer.

Then we had iPlayer through the iPod Touch and iPhone to make it portable which then led to DRM free H.264 downloads but they were stopped.

We then had iPlayer on the Wii which was the first, user friendly-ish way of getting iPlayer on your television but full screen didn’t work because it used Flash 7.

Virgin Media Television logoImage via Wikipedia

Now we have the first custom build, purposefully designed iPlayer on the Television solution but only if you’re a Virgin Media customer – there are about 3.5 million of them but with 35 million households in the UK that’s not a great percentage.

Also – I just phoned Virgin Media to see what it would cost to get the bare minimum package – the same channels as Freeview but with iPlayer built in and you can’t.

Well you can – but you have to have a phone-line with them first – otherwise you have to take our their premium package which is £25 per month.

So, unless you want a Virgin Phone line (if you do want a Virgin Phone Line it will cost you £11 per month but you’ll get basic TV thrown in for free) you’ll have to buy the main package.

You can’t just spend £5 a month and get their basic package, or even buy a Virgin Media box for £150 and get all the free to air channels for no monthly cost (like Sky).

So we still need a more open solution to the iPlayer on the TV problem.

The Wii solution requires the purchase of a games console and is horribly clunky and the Virgin option requires either for you to hand your telecommunications over to Richard Branson or spend £25 a month on television you don’t want (if you want it then go for it but it’s cheaper with Sky).

An eventual XBox 360 and PS3 solution would probably be similar to the Wii solution in that they would probably use the built in web browsers and offer the same interface as the web version.

So something better is needed and I think Freeview is the answer. Not Freeview as in the over the air television platform but the boxes its delivered to.

What we need is an iPlayer set-top-box – this could take the form of a specific box made by a BBC Worldwide partner for viewing iPlayer content on your TV or a specification that manufacturers can sign up to in order to offer iPlayer on their devices.

It could be a normal Freeview box but but with WiFi or at least network capabilities that can hook into your home Wireless network.

They could be built to a spec so that they all work with the iPlayer streaming service – it could even use the much better h.264 streaming instead of Flash.

Although it might be better to wait until Kangaroo is off the ground as they could then launch a spec that would allow manufacturers to build a box that could play shows from BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

I’d buy a box like that in a flash. Even though we don’t get Freeview here in Jersey (or Virgin TV for that matter) it would be a great device for watching TV and shouldn’t cost more than your average WiFi modem/router (about £80).

I know you can already get on demand stuff on your TV through the plus services offered by the big media providers but the problem with the ‘plus’ services from Virgin, Sky and on Freeview devices is that you still need to remember to set something to record and for that you need to know it’s on.

The iPlayer, 4Od and in contrast are discovery services – they let you watch great content you might not otherwise of known about – something essential in a media environment packed with so many channels and so much content.

I think this is the future of television and it’s coming about a LOT quicker than first thought.

Photo credits in this post go to a number of sources. Wikipedia for the Virgin Media logo, BBC Internet Blog for the iPlayer on Virgin screengrabs, manufacturer websites for the TV and Freeview Box and me for the mashed picture.