If BBC3 goes online only, what broadband speed will you need?
So the closure of BBC3 as a broadcast channel looks to be confirmed, unless campaigns to save it succeed, but given the size of the saving at £60m it looks like only money will talk.
It would appear that one of the reasons BBC3 was chosen for closure was that with its 'youth' audience there is the perception that viewers are more than ready to watch the content online and BBC iPlayer statistics suggest many millions do exactly that for specific shows, but it is not clear if many people actually use iPlayer for a whole evenings viewing.
The problem with moving content to online only is that age old complaint of my broadband not being fast enough. The timing to move the channel online dove tails nicely into the original Universal Service Commitment for us all to have 2 Mbps, but the changes to increase the proportion of the UK with access to a superfast connection from 90% in 2015 to 95% by 2017 appears to have also pushed back the USC.
So what speeds do you need for BBC iPlayer? Well we used an Asus RT-N66U cable/fttc router which has Quality of Service (QoS) built into it, allowing us to slow down a fast connection and see how iPlayer performed. We verified that the QoS was working by using our own broadband speed checker and the following refers to the experience when using an Xbox 360.
- At 500 Kbps (Kilo bits per second - 0.5 Mbps) the stream would play for maybe 5 to 10 seconds then buffer for a few seconds. So effectively unwatchable.
- At 750 Kbps (0.75 Mbps) the buffering was not so bad, but still enough to spoil any viewing.
- At 1000 Kbps (1 Mbps) the SD stream played back with no buffering, so this looks to be the minimum acceptable speed, but other activity on the connection would risk causing buffering.
- At 1.5 Mbps and 2 Mbps (Mega bits per second) we picked the HD stream and had substantial buffering.
- At 2.5 Mbps, the HD stream buffered occasionally.
- At 3 Mbps the HD stream played smoothly.
- Above 3.5 Mbps the iPlayer stream was smooth for playback, and with the way it buffers the stream there was gaps in the streaming sufficient to cope with some basic web browsing.
We also gave the streaming a quick run on a NOW TV box, and found the same sort of experience as the Xbox 360. There are changes that the BBC could make to allow the BBC iPlayer to run on slower connections, e.g. NOW TV was able to stream a Sky Movie at 600 Kbps, though the quality was blocky with lots of compression artefacts.