BBC iPlayer on Nintendo Wii

iPlayer on Wii - Channel ScheduleLast night, or rather at midnight, the BBC iPlayer channel was released for the Nintendo Wii.

The iPlayer has been usable in the past using the Opera-powered browser channel, but has been of limited quality and, well, not very easy to use. Now we have a very specific channel just for iPlayer. And it’s been a long time coming – the BBC have been talking about it for a year and a half.

However, I can only assume they’ve spent this time time on development and testing because the end result is superb.

The download is quick and quite compact (I wonder if it’s using components of the browser – e.g. Flash – I didn’t have time to check if this was the case). It’s slick in use (although there is a delay each time you start it) and very polished. Most importantly, programmes are easy to find and, best of all, show in full screen without any obvious problems. Considering the Wii only has 512MB of memory and no hard drive, I thought that buffering would suffer and there would be delays during playback. During the (admittedly limited) time I had to test it this morning, I didn’t see any such problems.iPlayer on Wii

I headed towards last Saturdays Doctor Who episode – it looks good. A little grainy, but no obvious over-compression during fast moving sequences (such as the opening titles). Hey, it’s not HD quality, but then the Wii isn’t an HD console!

As I watch more on it, I’ll report back if I do come across any problems with stuttering or compression artefacts.

Overall, I’m damn impressed. I can see the Wii being used even more now – my wife and I missed a BBC programme at the weekend, and will be watching it on the Wii iPlayer tonight. Now we just need the other channels to do something similar…

Update: My wife used the Wii iPlayer during the day to watch a half hour show – 20 minutes in it stated “insufficient bandwidth” and wouldn’t proceed. This even we watched another half hour show and it froze 6 times during playback. There were also some sound sync issues as well. So, not so good. My broadband isn’t too bad either – usually about 2-3 meg and the wireless router is about 2 metres away from the Wii.

30 responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nitin Parmar, David Artiss. David Artiss said: New blog post: BBC iPlayer on Nintendo Wii – Review […]

  2. The CIbrarian avatar
    The CIbrarian

    I’m not impressed at all. No subtitles are available for deaf and hard of hearing people. What a waste of a download – an immediate delete

  3. Jamie little avatar
    Jamie little

    I downloaded it this morning and I’ve got to say I’m also very impressed with the quality of the video. Massive improvement over browsing with the Opera browser. I’m sure the lack of subtitles etc. can be addressed with future updates (or just use a PC?).

  4. Hello. I’m a Flash developer on the iPlayer team. I can tell you that the video plays out using the inbuilt video capability and not the Flash Player as the Wii only supports Flash Player 7 (which is why the Opera implementation wasn’t great).

    The lack of subtitles: The Wii is only capable of downloading limited amounts of xml at one go so it cannot receive an entire subtitles file and we currently do not have the capability to split subtitles files into chunks.

    1. Thanks for the response. That will explain the high video quality, and probably also the small download.

      And thanks also for the response on the subtitles.

      (And for those sceptics who suspect this chap may not be from the Beeb, his IP address checks out as coming from a BBC source!)

    2. gordon pugh avatar
      gordon pugh

      Hi why is the bcc iplayer virtually unwatchable on devices linked to the tv but fine on computers using the same internet connections this is applying to several people i know at present all with equipment and provders so it must be the iplayer as its the only common item


      1. Because TVs don’t have any storage and, hence, can’t buffer – basically it can only show what it’s recieving so if there’s a slowdown then it has to stop. A device with storage can store any extra data as it goes and if there is a slowdown will use this saved data to continue.

        This is the issue with the Wii – it has little storage so cannot buffer much. In comparison, the iPlayer on my PS3 doesn’t have an issue, nor does the iPlayer built into my Humax PVR.

  5. @Auntie, that’s not true any more, but I expect it was when you started the project. The current version of the Opera Internet Channel supports Flash Lite 3.1 – which is equivalent to somewhere between Flash 8 and 9, simultaneously breaking the BBC iPlayer website which expected 7 only.

  6. Oneronaut avatar

    Hi CIbrarian.

    I am on the development team for the Wii iPlayer product. We did attempt to get subtitles on the platform for the first release but had to abandon them due to problems with performance. We will be continueing to work on improving the performance of our subtitle rendering and hope to support them in the future.

    Sorry for the disappointment caused.

  7. I’ve updated my original post with some more information.

    Do either of the Beeb technical guys want to comment on my experience?

  8. @Auntie .. BBC iplayer work on old xbox *with* subtitles by a team of volenteers… that excuse does not sit with me.

    1. Well, in their defence, I thought they made the reasoning quite clear – because of the lack of a hard drive, they are unable to store a large subtitles file on the Wii. The Xbox in comparison – even the original one – has a hard drive for this.

      Or have I missed something?

  9. Oneronaut avatar

    Hi David.

    The size of the average subtitles file is about 1Mb. This could be stored in memory. It is more about the lack of processing power that makes passing large XML files and then displaying them over video difficult. We have a number of options we are looking at.

    Regarding the buffering you have seen – we expect to be optimising our network setup as we assess initial traffic. Hopefully these issues should be kept to a minimum.

  10. Thanks for the response.

    However, I was on your side until now! How can the processing of an XML file be an issue? As someone who writes WordPress plugins that often parse XML files (and not using any built-in parsing functions) I know it’s simple text extraction. And, as a friend has pointed out, wasn’t it stated that the video was done via the built in Wii hardware? In which case what is the processor being used for?

    Or, again, have I missed something?

    Of course, you could always give me a job there and I’ll help look into it for you…. 😉

  11. Oneronaut avatar

    No this is not the case unfortunately. I don’t want to go too far into the hardware details without clearance but we have a very optimised subtitling system online and have not been able to get it to anywhere near what would be required on the Wii. Yet.

  12. Sorry if I have caused confusion here, when I said “built in video capabilities” all I meant not Flash Player 7 via the internet channel.

  13. Have you thought about passing other then xml format to wii bbc iplayer?

    I know that XML will take up a lot more storage because of those . A simple tab delimited structure will take up far less space, won’t need such parsers and would use less processing power.

    A web app to convert from xml to tab delimited shouldn’t be too bad either. Obviously I can’t say “simple” because I don’t know the structure!

    Some possible ideas which you probably thought of, but no harm me saying it…
    1 – forget about transparent background – I am sure everyone would be happy with text on black line. I am sure this would take a lot less processing power because it just an overlay.

    2. Can you not take advantage of storing files onto SD card if required?

  14. I do wonder if the buffering issues are to do with the contention ratio your ISP provides and also how much backhaul capacity there is from your exchange back into their network.

    During off peak times contention won’t be an issue so everything works OK, but in busy times your 700kbps stream gets squeezed down to an unworkable level. There will be only so much the BBC can do to alleviate this, mostly will be down to your ISP and their contention policies.

    This will also impact the upcoming Canvas project, which will likely use higher streaming rates (1.5Mbps), so the industry needs to come up with a solution here. Potentially the ISPs could provide a special “Canvas Ready BroadBand” package, that fixes contention issues, also potentially applying QoS parameters to your line to guarantee the throughput. This might cost a few pounds a month – equivalent to an XBox Live subscription, or could be bundled into a higher Broadband package. Obviously this could also be used by PS3/Wii iPlayer users as well to guarantee their experience on the TV.

  15. Bought my Wii while on holiday in USA 3 years ago. Can’t access BBC iplayer through wii Shop. Is it because it is a US model and can I get around the problem?

    1. The Wii is “region encoded” which means that it knows which country it’s for. Combine that with the fact that the BBC can’t use the iPlayer outside of the UK and, yes, I’m guessing that’s the problem.

  16. frustrated avatar

    this is reaally annoying, i mean common, after the update i couldnt go on the i player, so i tryied to re download it but now i cant even connect to the internet, there has to be a problem with the update !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!(

  17. Updated to the new iPlayer for Wii today and changed my Internet connection to full wired solution rather than wireless so that speeds were improved.

    Unfortunately whilst there is a vast improvement on the iPlayer for Wii (which I like very much) I keep getting buffering pauses which are rather annoying. I know my ISP does not have issues as suggested elsewhere and my home network is fine and dandy.

    Any other ideas please?


  18. Chris,

    I suspect the buffering issues aren’t related to your connection. The BBC are still “tweaking” their side to try and ensure sufficient bandwidth as needed, but its still on-going. And don’t forget that whereas your PC or Xbox has a hard drive for storing buffered data, the Wii doesn’t.

  19. I’m not impressed with the “insufficient bandwidth” messages I’ve been receiving lately on the Wii.

    That said, I like it and support the dev team’s efforts in improving it. I would like to see 480p video, and perhaps a little more care over encoding of the streams (I just watched last night’s EastEnders and in a few static scenes there are MPeg video blocks running across from left to right where the HDelta has obviously gone wrong in the encoding!)

    Being a developer myself, I can sympathise with the guys who posted here. What you other guys don’t know is the complexity and structure of the BBC’s systems or the design philosophy behind the architecture. Coding something like iPlayer is a lot more complex than writing a program that runs on a PC. This is essentially a software dumb terminal that has to interface with a potentially very complex database through various layers which may or may not be within the control of the Wii iPlayer developers. It’s most likely that the separation of concerns – at a software and management level – is such that it’s not a simple case of converting the XML prior to the downlink. I fully expect that the dev team we’ve seen here have been given a protocol to communicate with a larger system, and that the – potentially hugely bloated – XML is all they can get, and then the only software they’re allowed to put out is for the Wii, let alone anything that could be deployed on the BBC’s server farm.

    In response to the dev team: Have you thought about approaching the owner(s) of the XML-providing service regarding Binary XML? It would be a much smaller download and should be much quicker to process if you can find (or write) a decent library.

  20. joe Lambe avatar
    joe Lambe

    Dear Sir,

    I am running my Wii on an 801n wireless network, I know the network is working well enough, but on Iplayer, I am getting problems with buffering and the message insufficient bandswidth.

    Its not just me that is frustrated but my family as well, I am computer literate and my degree is in Computer Science, everything I have tried is to no avail.

    Is there an update that can resolve this problem, or would it help to plug in a portable hard drive to solve the problem.?

    Your help would be appreciated.



    1. The problem is not YOUR bandwidth, but what is available from the BBC. An external hard drive won’t help either, as the iPlayer channel won’t use it. No, I think this is a general issue, mainly as a result of the limitations of the software and the hardware.

  21. I really want to download the iplayer onto my wii but can’t find it in the shop channel.

    1. It should be there under the channels download section. If not, is your Wii configured for UK, as the iPlayer is a UK only download?

      Also, from the BBC site

      If you do not see BBC iPlayer listed within the Wii Shop Channel, you may need to update your console software. You can update your Wii by going to Wii Options in the main menu and then Wii Settings and choose Wii System Update.

  22. Just got wii iplayer through a wii system update. Mostly working but there is a bandwidth related pause every few minutes.

    Iplayer works fine on macs on the same wireless – unlikely to be bandwidth issue of ISP.

    Hope this is useful and wish this issue could be fixed.

    1. As has already been discussed, the main issue is that the Wii doesn’t have a hard drive to buffer to – it has a relatively small amount of memory and that is it. However, the rumour is that a Wii hard drive is imminent – in which case, a new version of the Wii iPlayer that can access this may be a solution.

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