The much anticipated BBC iPlayer has gone live as a public Beta and Pocket-lint got an early peek ahead of the official launch.
In a nutshell, the BBC iPlayer lets you catch up with all the BBC programmes you've missed (or want to watch again) during the last 7 days, by downloading them to your computer and then watching them when it suits you.
The pink and black-themed BBC iPlayer pages are super-easy to navigate through, and anyone who has even the most minimal web knowledge, or experience of other VOD offerings, is going to find this site easy to use.
The BBC iPlayer Library is the software that you need to download, manage and watch the programmes, and this is a simple click-and-it's-done download that initiates the first time you try and download a programme.
The downloads themselves are managed through a peer-to-peer networking system (Kontiki from Verisign) which also manages the DRM.
Your downloads are only on a rental-type basis and will be deleted from your system after a set amount of time (usually 7 days).
The home page gives hot links to popular programmes, and the options to explore via "Last 7 Days", "Categories" and "A to Z", as well as by BBC channel or the usual key-word search functionality.
Categories gives you the options of: Children's, Drama, Factual, Music, News & Weather, Entertainment & Drama - and - Religion & Ethics.
Once you click through to a category the nine programmes are displayed per screen, each as a clear thumbnail visual helping you make an at-a-glance selection.
If you rollover the programme with your mouse, it will tell you how many days you have left to download that option.
Clicking on to a particular programme gives you a brief synopsis of that option and the choice to download.
We chose to download a 45-minute episode of Doctor Who, which (a 151MB file) took around 15 minutes to complete.
Once downloaded the episode appears in the library along with info on how long you have to watch it before it is erased.
In another Windows-based move, to play your selections, you must have Windows Media Player 10 or above. You can watch your chosen TV in the iPlayer Library software, or launch it in WMP.
We don't want to be overly harsh at this stage as we did get early access to a Beta product, but there were times the iPlayer seemed a bit buggy, not letting us click through to download programmes choices and throwing up an error message about incorrect licence when trying to play some choices.
Content wise at the moment with the catch-up angle, there are some BBC obvious, rather than any classic choices from the archive, but clearly this will improve as the service is expanded.
The fact the iPlayer only works for those running Windows XP, using Internet Explorer as a browser and with Windows Media Player 10 has been well debated and does not need rehashing here.
However, this is a good-looking, promising service that should free us up from the constraints of a TV schedule and must be open to all BBC license-fee payers, not just those who have a specific Microsoft OS.