updated 03:25 pm EDT, Wed August 13, 2008
BBC upgrades to H.264, AAC
Later this week, the BBC will update its iPlayer streaming service with H.264 and AAC+ compression schemes, the UK broadcaster has announced. The move is aimed at supporting open standards, and additionally improving steaming quality, jumping bitrates from 500 to 800Kbps, according to Macworld. The compression schemes will offer improved visuals and sound for users streaming over Flash, currently the only way to access the BBC's media on a Mac. The network has already been broadcasting in non-Flash H.264 and AAC for its iPhone and iPod touch streams.
"The BBC has always been a strong advocate and driver of open industry standards. Without these standards, TV and radio broadcasting would simply not function. I believe that the time has come for the BBC to start adopting open standards such as H.264 and AAC for our audio and video services on the web," says Erik Huggers, the BBC's Director of Future Media & Technology.
Prior to the new codecs the BBC had been relying on On2 VP6 for its video compression. "Compared to On2 VP6," says Anthony Rose, the BBC's Head of Digital Media Technology, "H.264 delivers sharper video quality at a lower data rate, but requires more CPU power to decode, particularly on older machines, and the user needs to have the latest version of Flash installed. Back in December of last year, relatively few people had installed the Flash player needed to play H.264 content; now almost 80% of BBC iPlayer users have it. More machines now have graphics cards with H.264 hardware acceleration."
Rose notes in this regard that iPlayer now supports hardware acceleration in fullscreen mode, improving image quality while reducing CPU usage. For the next several weeks people will also be able to choose between H.264 or On2 VP6, after which time iPlayer will automatically detect bandwidth and switch to the appropriate option.