back to article Beyond video to interactive, personalised content: BBC is experimenting with rebuilding its iPlayer in WebAssembly

The BBC is researching a rebuild of its iPlayer catch-up service client in WebAssembly. Speaking at the QCon Plus developer conference under way online this week, BBC R&D software engineer Tim Pearce said: "We've used WebAssembly to... build an experimental version of iPlayer which can playback future experiences, and I'll …

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    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: This is all rather confusing

      Fifth it won't work because the current iPlayer can't play a single programme in its entirety without buffering at least once during playback. Every other video app works perfectly on my network except i-buffering-player.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is all rather confusing

        Conversely, iPlayer is the only on-demand application I've yet to see buffer or screw up - All4, ITVHub, and My5 have all been worse, in my experience (all on an Amazon FireTV).

        1. X5-332960073452
          Alert

          Re: This is all rather confusing

          Try the BT Sport App, then complain!

          Buffering aplenty.

          Best one, it's jumps back for no reason, longest 'repeat' I've experienced was 45 minutes

    2. illiad

      Re: This is all rather confusing

      'web Assembly' ??? this is used by Edge (MS) _ they may have some new staff giving them Ideas...

      If BBC is short of money it **could** sell the 'bank space' on channel 7 (was BBC 3 terrestrial)

    3. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: This is all rather confusing

      "trying to play in a space where it has neither the scale nor resources to compete and has no realistic view of its likely future."

      Or even maybe what it's doing technically? Your points are well taken, Warm Braw.

      This apparent loss of expertise is all the sadder because the BBC technical people used to be the very best - making some important advances in broadcasting technologies. But looking at the archive a while back I noticed a decline from high technical expertise towards broadcasting philosophy waffle dating already from around the '80s.

      1. razza

        Re: This is all rather confusing

        This is true throughout the old media - dumbed down, so much so that even I, with no journo experience got a job at the Indie back in 2002.

        Also abroad too. In Japan and HOng Kong pretty much the same - still talented people there but also an awful lot of 'cheaper' weakly linked professions - like mine (ex-mobile internet designer but a newspaper job was a big step down cause I fancied putting my feet up for a few years and doing an easy job), but worse like ESOL teachers.

        Defo at Sky. Worked at their HO for a few weeks and felt like I was in 'The CarphoneWarehouse' of the internet surrounded by booted and suited chavs! LOL.

        BBC pretty much the same, loads of wannabes thinking old media is cool, thinking they are they internet, when the are bit a tiny tiny bit of it and we, yes, we folks, we are the internet. On your knees!

        Kiss my face!

    4. richardcox13

      Re: This is all rather confusing

      > For a start, there's nothing (in principle) you can do with WebAssembly that you can't do with Javascript

      True of any Turing complete language: they are all theoretically as capable as each other. However I'll leave wearing a hair-shirt for the masochists. JavaScript is not a good choice where significant numeric processing is needed (eg. decoding a media stream).

  1. Mishak Silver badge

    Can they make the old one work first?

    Viewing on a Mac, it keeps switching to low resolution. My internet is more than fast enough (63/15), and this happens over wired, so it's not a WiFi issue (though that works just fine with PVR and the like anyway). Seems to be related to any other network activity (e.g. opening a web page). Refreshing iPlayer "fixes" it for a while, but not for long.

    1. mark l 2 Silver badge

      Re: Can they make the old one work first?

      I also experience that problem of it defaulting to stream in low resolution bit rate, even though Youtube, and Amazon Prime video are capable of HD streaming from the same device over the same network.

      Any annoying, unlike Youtube where you can manually select the stream quality, Iplayer does have that option.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jargon in rubbish out?

    That was a fun read. Got last pretty quickly, but I read it as 'we are building a new Iplayer that will incorporate many new buzzwords. Because we can, we will wrap it in an application. We will claim this is to give you a better 'experience' but in reality it will just be annoying, and probably won't work on half the devices you currently use to watch stuff. When you complain we will say 'we hear you...but sod off' (as happened when they borked their audio streams ability to lay back on smart speakers, replacing it with BBC sounds and losing 50% of the functionality.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: Jargon in rubbish out?

      Mmm, I'm still pissed off at the way they threw away all that was good about iPlayer Radio (not least its ability to work pretty much flawlessly on older devices, plus various things about the UI that made getting to what *you* wanted to listen to easy, as well as making it easier on the eyes of those of us with less than perfect vision) and ignored all resultant complaints in the process of lumbering us with BBC Sounds.

      Which, despite several years of development since then, is still a bit crap in places where it really shouldn't be if the developers would only control their egos long enough to learn some lessons from the past, and pay attention to the things that really were good about iPR rather than being so determined to reinvent the wheel once again that they end up producing something that has a smashing new logo on the side, but doesn't sit true on its axle so ends up giving the user a rather uncomfortable ride...

      And that was just the latest in the ongoing trend of BBC developers to take something that worked pretty well and really just needed a bit of polishing to turn it into something truly world-class, and instead throw all their resources into coming up with a completely new replacement which ignored the lessons learned from the existing product, as well as anything other than 100% positive feedback from users during the transition period where we could still use the old whilst evaluating the new.

      Still, they're in good company - it seems to be an annoyingly common trend for developers to now adopt a policy of "if it ain't broke, make up some other excuse for replacing it with something completely new anyway". I'm an R&D engineer earning a living out of coming up with new solutions for problems, which means I'm absolutely not opposed to change where change is justified. I just hate, truly hate, this modern concept of change for the sake of change that too many developers seem to subscribe to.

      1. iron Silver badge

        Re: Jargon in rubbish out?

        A BBC recruiter contacted me a few months ago about working on BBC Sounds. I laughed and said no, I don't believe in locking content that should be open away behind a specific app or the extensive user tracking they perform so it would be against my personal ethics. She sounded very confused, much like ad agency recruiters when they speak to me. lol

      2. Fred Dibnah

        Re: Jargon in rubbish out?

        Good call. All of that also applies to the BBC's TV weather forecasts. It took about a year and thousands of complaints before they would do something as simple as show the British Isles map in its correct dimensions.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Jargon in rubbish out?

          You mean use a different projection conformal projection from the conventional one to please a few anal retentives.

          We live on a near sphere. Lines of longitude converge at the poles. The view point of a satellite image will emphasise this. This is the way it is and no amount of crybaby wailing can change it.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Jargon in rubbish out?

            We live on a near sphere. Lines of longitude converge at the poles. The view point of a satellite image will emphasise this. This is the way it is and no amount of crybaby wailing can change it.

            But the Bbc is supposed to inform, educate and entertain. So yesterday there was a story about the UK's weather. Rather than being text and images, it was a video. In which the presenter basically said it's because it's Spring, and being in between Winter & Summer, we get a bit of both. Not an isobar to be seen. It did devote a bit to waffling about global warming, because obviously when low temperature records are broken, it's global warming.

            But then global warming is an area where the Bbc is incredibly biased. Possibly due to it's 'experts' not being scientists, just arts & (oh the) humanties grads. So we get stories about weather 'extremes' interspersed with stories about how we simply must build more windmills and solar that are most vulnerable to those extremes. But although watching the Bbc trying to explain how CO2, a 'well mixed' gas could lead to extremes would be entertaining, it probably wouldn't be that informative.

          2. Fred Dibnah

            Re: Jargon in rubbish out?

            The viewpoint of a satellite flying directly above the British Isles will show roughly correct shape, area, and distances. A satellite over the equator will see shape, area, and distances incorrectly, which is why it was a stupid idea for the BBC to choose that viewpoint. In any case, weather satellites are often in polar orbits.

            Next time you look at a paper map of the British Isles, think about where the view is from. It's not from the equator, and for a very good reason.

      3. X5-332960073452
        Megaphone

        Re: Jargon in rubbish out?

        Having read you post ChrisC, I think your use of the word developers should be replaced by manglement.

  3. Ross 12

    WebAssembly, rust, webgl, canvas... just missing the blockchain element

  4. teebie

    That's a lot of words to say "As requested by nobody, we're going to ruin iPlayer for TV, just like we did for radio".

  5. Dr. G. Freeman

    Will all this faffing about with the iPlayer mean that there'll be decent things to watch on it, or am I just getting my hopes up again ?

    1. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

      I have been a bit disappointed the last 2-3 years of BBC content. When they get it right - it's amazing and leaps ahead of the competition.

      When they get it wrong... it is like they hired some chimps to write the storylines, while the lawyers and HR teams mess up the script beyond a joke.

      The last thing I was watching is Line of Duty, which has been generally excellent. But the last season was hot garbage.

  6. Barry Rueger

    Disaster

    We're avid BBC viewers and have no doubt that we'll hate this. I cherish the increasingly rare moments when a service I rely on remains unchanged.

    1. hedge

      Re: Disaster

      Sadly, the glory days of the BBC have already ended because most of us will never buy another television or radio.

      So, as the BBC runs around designing new digital services to track us and to use to commercialise our data, many of us have already drifted off to consume entertainment elsewhere.

      Just remember the days when the BBC was a non-stalking public service.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Disaster

        Sadly, the glory days of the BBC have already ended because most of us will never buy another television or radio.

        Yet sales of ever more bigger, flatter and luscious screened TVs continue to be big business.

        TV will live on just like radio lives on. The live broadcast will always have certain qualities that dumbed down streaming content lacks and cannot supply.

        Streaming abstracts the viewer a few more steps away for real life and humanity and may will just not ever be excited by it. It's the sex-doll of media entertainment.

    2. razza

      Re: Disaster

      ""We're avid BBC viewers and have no doubt that we'll hate this".

      It doesn't look promising from the efforts they have shown on their demo site - BBC3 x10 times as bad and behind the times.

      Most disappointing again is that the BBC wannabe (who couldn't get a job at a proper internet company like Yahoo) seems to have been told something and not fully understood it.

      WebAssembly is nice - in a few years, basically Web2.0 again as it was a nice name for a group of emerging tech) - but it's the WebAI bit that he has missed. The next-gen is the WEB (only) and it will be hyper-customisation, but not like he is doing it.

      They are still thinking Web2.0 with multiple platform issues. That has mostly been solved. The next step is much greater automatic individual customisation and you need AI for that - not going to discuss merits or whatever, it's there, it works when used for the right things, it's getting better and fingers crossed it will get better than us at everything worth being best at.

      The lag time is reducing between generations. Personal web will take much less time to reach mainstream than WWW or mobile.

      We killed the vast majority of old media dead. Only the fittest, leanest and ones with the biggest begging bowels survive now. As is us.

      1. razza

        Re: Disaster

        "WebAssembly aims to execute at native speed by taking advantage of common hardware capabilities available on a wide range of platforms."

        Legacy apps is a bonus feature really. Faster PWA's is the real point as we are using this tech at the moment in some areas.

      2. bin

        Re: Disaster

        ......Only the fittest, leanest and ones with the biggest begging bowels survive now.....

        My first reaction was - don't you mean bowls?

        BUT - you know sometimes the keyboard tells the truth the eyes would rather not see.........

      3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Disaster

        They are still thinking Web2.0 with multiple platform issues. That has mostly been solved. The next step is much greater automatic individual customisation and you need AI for that

        Oh hell no! All you should need are some device profiles and a preference linked to the user. The user should be in control of their 'experience', not some pseudo-AI that thinks it knows what the viewer wants. YT's recommendations being a case in point. Or just simple stuff like hitting refresh should give a different selection of videos, not the same ones over and over again.

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    And then there was the One .........

    Of course, I'll have to use a VPN to check it out. The BBC doesn't like being viewed from outside the UK. ..... Pascal Monett

    I think you'll find, PM, it is much more the case that foreign administrations don't like/want BBC programming directly interfering with their own media hosted manipulation/remote audiotelevisual command and control of native subjects/home based objects.

    It is probably why it appears to be a gentlemanly reciprocal arrangement right across the globe so that there can be many Caesars doing their wannabe leader thing to audiences which might understand them and be encouraged and/or fooled into supporting them whenever shown recordings of what they/mass multimedia mogul operations have done/are doing/are planning to do on your behalf in their interests.

    It does create and exacerbate conflict in any bigger united picture programming though, all those silos and walled gardens/virtual gulags and private prisons, although if anyone anywhere were to begin broadbandcasting attractive imaginative creative programs which all can enjoy to experience the belief that beings just like themselves whenever all can see/hear/realise they are part and parcel and instrumental in the production, direction and presentation of a novel interactive future existence hosted via all manner of ubiquitous broadbandcasting devices displaying alternate versions of augmented virtualised reality in other domains/foreign lands/alien spaces, one imagines the program and project would be warmly welcomed as an advanced masterpilot for testing/copying/pirating.

    If IT is better than just good, it will be great and both practically and virtually ....... well, uncontainable and extremely exciting is certainly inevitable even right from the very beginning,

    Is that what the BBC are basically planning with their new iPlayer in WebAssembly rebuild/NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive ITERation ...... which in such a parallel dimension and metadatabase discipline is akin to an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject aimed at replicating the fusion processes of the sun to create energy on earth. ....... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER ..... for it would definitely be guaranteed groundbreaking and Earth shattering?

  8. xyz

    Can they just fix their website first...

    A) so it goes faster and B) get rid of all that tracking crap. Mind you I think their mission statement these days is "we don't do news, so just show pictures of puppies"

  9. Rob 15

    R&D

    I wonder how much the BBC spends on R&D, and is it still justified? Their hit rate seems quite low but maybe that's normal for R&D. But it seems like rebuilding iPlayer repeatedly isn't a particular problem that R&D seems to solve. If the BBC still need an R&D department it should be much more tightly focussed.

    BBC have done interactive TV / branched narrative stuff before (see Attack of the Graske, Test the Nation and so on). It's fun and gimmicky, but has high production overheads and little use. And the technologies it was built in have all disappeared so there's no longetivity to it. At the time, the BBC hailed interactive TV as a new medium, after TV and radio, but they eventually closed the interactive TV team as a waste of licence fee money. In pursuing this again (but with shinier technology) it seems that the BBC tech departments have no accumulated corp experience and too much cash to blow.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Independent R&D Subcontractors

      the BBC hailed interactive TV as a new medium, after TV and radio, but they eventually closed the interactive TV team as a waste of licence fee money. In pursuing this again (but with shinier technology) it seems that the BBC tech departments have no accumulated corp experience and too much cash to blow. ..... Rob 15

      Now that is very encouraging news, Rob 15, to that and those with the novel shinier technology know-how to make much more effective dynamic ACTive use of the likes of a BBC, and in a fashion not very dissimilar to fulfil wishes of their own, and with only as much flash cash as it is necessary to blow [as in invest in and donate to able and enabling drivers] for I would wholeheartedly and vehemently dispute and disagree that there is no accumulated corp experience available to such as BBC tech departments, although it may be the case that it is not essentially in-house incestuous and home grown by such businesses/corporations/organisations themselves.

      And have you any idea how much as a vital invisible export that Progressive Effective Dynamic ACTive IT Programming expertise would be worth to other mass multi media mogul operations scattered right around the globe? Methinks any digit followed by more noughts that can ever be spent would be prime indicative of it real value and true worth.

      1. Rob 15

        Re: Independent R&D Subcontractors

        Hmm, that's all a bit cryptic for me. It sounds like you're invested in it. Don't blow the cash on croissants. Good luck...

        In the mean time, something like surround sound on iPlayer would be more useful. It's a bit more tangible at least.

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: Independent R&D Subcontractors

          In the mean time, something like surround sound on iPlayer would be more useful. It's a bit more tangible at least. ...... Rod 15

          Whenever it is so obviously failing so spectacularly, Rob 15, quadrophonic stereo for British Brainwashing would be more considered as virtually useless and somewhat gratuitous.

          And to fix that international disgrace and glaring national security and secret intelligence service threat is a top down task via bottom up channels assumed and performed by chiefs and agents who actually know what needs to be done and how it is done. Does Blighty have any/many of those?

          I trust that very plain text is not ambiguously cryptic, Rob 15. It certainly shines crystal clear and transparent whenever viewed here.

          The government funding of the BBC to add a few greater bells and shrill whistles onto their crashing train wreck of an easily abused and cynically misused education and entertainment tool spewing programs and projects almost freely into the homes and minds of viewers and listeners, is not useful whenever the content is less than stellar and universally attractive.

          Having failed to live up to their motto ..... 'Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation' ..... [and the current Tony Hall/Martin Bashir fiasco/soap and Middle East war screenings and Far East nations and Russian State bashings are recent enough evidence of that offence and dereliction of duty in a government office?] ...... perhaps something more ambitious along the lines of "Per Ardua ad Astra" is much more appropriate given the spaces and places in which leaderships now work, rest and play with 0days today. And that is only one private/pirate/public sector and ACT*ive vector to exploit and explore/employ and enjoy.

          *Advanced Cyber Threat/Treat.

          1. Rob 15

            Re: Independent R&D Subcontractors

            Whenever it is so obviously failing so spectacularly, Rob 15, quadrophonic stereo for British Brainwashing would be more considered as virtually useless and somewhat gratuitous.

            Not really. Most drama, sport and films already created and broadcast in surround. Some of the music does, like Jools' shows. Despite having created or acquired the surround mix for broadcast, the BBC then chucks this away and uses a stereo mix for iPlayer. Multiple streaming services use surround and promote it alongside HD/4K as a core part of their service.

  10. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    > personalising content such as focusing on a favourite football team

    This coming from a firm that for decades has shown the football scores right at the end of the news proceeding Match Of The Day so that when you start the recording you have a reasonable chance of seeing the score for the game that you've been avoiding all day.

  11. TimMaher Silver badge
    Windows

    By the pricking of my thumbs

    “Something WASM this way comes.”

    I never liked the acronym “WASM” especially if it cums comes at you.

  12. dubious

    full HD

    Could I suggest they please get basic 1080 streaming working first before disappearing up their own arses in a cloud of techno-wanky?

  13. The obvious

    Chalk up another client for ActiveX 2.0...

    ...everything old is new again.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Optional sound mixes

    Something none of the broadcasters seem to be doing is giving viewers easy options for the sound mix. Many older viewers would probably prefer reduced effects and music and less dynamic range in the dialogue* - so they don't have to have it so loud to follow the story. Some viewers like the cinema immersive experience and can cope with and enjoy a large dynamic range. 4 basic choices would probably be enough - maybe something like 'Full range', 'Reduced effects','Music free','Dialogue emphasised' - manual controls for the geeks out there.

    I know they won't do it (having worked there for many years)

    *YES compressed - at the viewer's choice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Optional sound mixes

      What you ask for is possible, but I think levels of complexity in production, I had to do a web search to find this https://www.bbc.co.uk/taster/pilots/casualty-ae-audio, I remembered that some investigation had been do, shame they never took it further

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