BBC1 & BBC2 now live online

29th November 2008


BBC1 and BBC2 are now being streamed live online at a bit rate of 500 kbps, with the video being encoded using the On2 VP6 video codec. This means that all of the BBC's TV channels apart from the BBC HD channel are now being broadcast live online:


Channel BBC iPlayer  
BBC1 Watch Watch  
BBC2 Watch Watch  
BBC3 Watch Watch from 7pm
BBC4 Watch Watch from 7pm
BBC News Watch Watch  
BBC Parliament Watch Watch  
CBBC Watch Watch 7am - 7pm
CBeebies Watch Watch 7am - 7pm


The live BBC TV streams are using the same bit rate and video codec as the 'normal quality' iPlayer TV streams, so the pictrue quality is similar to what you see on those streams.

The reason why the streams are using the On2 VP6 video codec rather than the newer and better H.264 video codec will be to provide the widest level of support, because there will still be a small percentage of people who haven't upgraded to the latest version of Flash yet, which is required for viewing H.264-encoded video. Back in August, when the higher quality iPlayer TV streams that are using H.264 were launched, Anthony Rose, who's in charge of the BBC iPlayer, said that about 80% of people had upgraded to the latest version of Flash. Hopefully the BBC will start to detect which version of Flash users have installed on their computers so they can automatically deliver H.264 streams to those with the latest version of Flash installed.


The streams are using a very small buffer size

One thing I've noticed about the live BBC TV channel streams is that playback starts very quickly — typically about a second or so after you've pressed play. It's obviously good that you don't have to wait long before you can start watching, but this also implies that the buffer size is very small, because for live streams the number of seconds-worth of video and audio stored in the buffer is equal to the delay before playback can start (the situation is different for on-demand streams, which can start playing quickly and have a large buffer size).

The reason why the buffer size is important is that it determines how robust the streams will be, because with a small buffer size the bit rate received only has to fall below the average stream bit rate for a short period of time before the buffer will empty, which leads to the stream pausing, so there's a trade-off between playback delay and robustness.

The BBC can control the size of the buffer using the ActionScript function SetBufferTime(N), which, as its name suggests, sets the user's Flash Player client to store N seconds-worth of video/audio in the buffer, and in my opinion it would be better if they provided a larger buffer size than they're using at the moment to make streaming more robust.

In my opinion, the BBC should also allow people to control the buffer size themselves via an 'advanced options' page on the BBC iPlayer website. People can change the buffer size themselves in stand-alone media players, so if the BBC is going to insist on using Flash then it should still give people the option of controlling important paramters for streaming such as the buffer size.


BBC has been criticised about bandwidth again

Although the BBC had previously said that they were going to launch live online streams for BBC1 and BBC2, the BBC didn't even issue as much as a press release when the streams actually launched. The reason why the BBC was so uncharacteristically quiet about the launch of these online streams will likely have been because the BBC has been the subject of more unwarranted criticism from some quarters for the amount of bandwidth these new live streams are going to generate.

This criticism went along the usual lines of that if everybody started watching these TV channels online then it would bring the UK Internet grinding to a halt (yawn). The reality is of course that in the vast majority of cases people are not going to stop watching live TV on their TV sets in favour of watching TV online, especially when the quality of these live online streams is quite a lot worse than you get via the digital TV platforms.

The situation with the live streams isn't the same as it was for the BBC iPlayer, because the iPlayer provided additional functionality that wasn't available on ordinary TV sets, and once the iPlayer is available on ordinary TV sets (the BBC is working towards making the iPlayer TV streams available on forthcoming Freeview and Freesat receivers that have an Ethernet port on the back), most people will simply switch to watching iPlayer streams on ordinary TV sets instead.

The BBC was also criticised recently by the chairman of the Broadband Stakeholders Group, Kip Meek, for the amount of bandwidth that the forthcoming Project Kangaroo would generate. Kip Meek is an ex-Ofcom bod, though, so I suppose it shouldn't be any surprise to see someone associated with Ofcom siding with the ISPs and being against what consumers want when it comes to Internet bandwidth matters...


The ISPs should implement multicast

If the ISPs don't like the amount of bandwidth that the BBC TV channels' live streams are going to generate then they should implement multicast on their own networks, and they should press BT to enable multicast on its network as well. Once multicast has been enabled only one live stream for each TV channel needs to be carried on any Internet link, so the bandwidth that the big LLU (local-loop unbundling) ISPs would have to carry on their LLU networks would be minuscule — the bandwidth is simply the stream bit rate of each channel (500 kbps) multiplied by the number of channels (8 channels), which is naff all.

However, BT's network not supporting multicast is acting as a disincentive to the ISPs implementing multicast on their networks, because BT still operates 60% of all broadband lines in the UK, and the ISPs have to pay BT for any data that's delivered to these 60% of broadband users on exchanges that they haven't unbundled yet. So because BT hasn't implemented multicast on its network, BT will only deliver streams via unicast, so the ISPs wouldn't make as much of a saving as if BT had implemented multicast as well.

You might expect the regulator to step in and tell BT to implement multicast, but unfortunately this is the UK, and the only thing you can count on Ofcom to do is to do nothing, especially when it comes to regulating the monopoly that is BT.






20th December 2008, 17:13
nothing works. what a load of old CRAP!!!!!!!!!!

By Steve
20th December 2008, 18:22
I've just had a look, and BBC1 and BBC News are working okay, but BBC2 isn't available for some reason.

Remember that BBC3 and BBC4 don't start broadcasting till 7pm.


By mikes
6th January 2009, 10:03
The picture from all channels is OK

good; not crap

By Anonymous
24th January 2009, 16:38
"nothing works. what a load of old CRAP!!!!!!!!!!"
i don't think you've got a good net connection; and sometimes the BBC temporarily channge the link address so that the can carry out site maintanance!!!!

bbc live channels

By Chris
21st February 2009, 20:49
First time i have tried BBC live and quality good. Looking forward to watching more live tv in the future.


By Trev Moore
23rd March 2009, 20:41
Why is HD not available live on the internet?

When HD on terrestial happens when the bandwidth is increased, (more power) as the digital switchover over occurs, I am told that a new HD freeview reciever will be required. How much will they cost?

Why aren't all freeview channels available by satellite?

By Primal
24th May 2009, 5:36
Another "ice-to eskimos" offer from yet another clueless TV network. You can only watch BBC online in the UK, which is where it is already easily available...ON TV SETS ANYWAY.

Go to and you can watch unofficially streamed BBC News (there are a few options, with one offering live news at pretty good speeds. You will need to check either "news" or "UK" at the site and browse the various BBC news icons to find it.

BBc is like HULU: pointless.

By Anonymous
9th June 2009, 7:59
Great, BBC! Working well and very clear and.
Everyone: Beware of It is a trap and rubbish and might harm your pc.

By Lesley
25th June 2009, 12:09
am watching Wimbledon while I work (at home). Quality is fine on BBC1 and BBC2. Would like the pop out screen to have an option where I can keep it on top all the time.


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