We’ll explore how to install the desktop edition of BBC iPlayer on a Windows PC, though the process is similar on both Apple Mac and Linux computers. To begin, launch a web browser and visit the BBC iPlayer Desktop web page. When the website appears, click the Install BBC iPlayer Desktop button. In order to work, iPlayer Desktop requires a tool called Adobe Air to be installed – if this isn’t already installed on your computer a prompt will appear saying it will do so as part of the process. Select Yes to continue. When prompted to open or save the install file, select Open and then Install. By default, the Windows version of iPlayer will add a shortcut to the Desktop and launches automatically after installation: click to clear these tick-boxes if desired or click Continue to use them. The installation process should take a few seconds and then iPlayer Desktop will open.
iPlayer Desktop isn’t much use until some programmes have been downloaded, but now is a good time to make sure the settings are right for your computer. Click the Preferences button at the upper right to view. Here, iPlayer shows how much hard disk space the application will use: it’s around 10 per cent of the disk by default but it can be altered (just type in a new figure into the ‘Maximum iPlayer Desktop library space’ box). Downloads for Series Record feature – which we’ll explore soon – can also be scheduled to happen at set times, which should be when the internet connection isn’t being used much by other programs – overnight, for example. Click to place a tick in the ‘Schedule Series Record downloads between’ box and then choose an allowed period from the dropdown menu to the right.
BBC iPlayer also has some parental controls. This is obviously useful if the computer is used by children, as it gives control over what can and can’t be watched. Any content given an age restriction by the BBC cannot be played until a set password is entered. To use parental controls, first click the Parental Guidance link in Preferences menu on the left. Now create a password and then set up a secret question and answer. Click to tick the ‘Remember my Parental Guidance setting for the duration of this session’ box and then click OK. From now on, when someone tries to watch a programme on BBC iPlayer Desktop they will be asked to type in the password.
Confusingly, to browse through available shows it is still necessary to visit the BBC iPlayer website. Launch a web browser and visit the BBC's iPlayer website. Browse and search for programmes as you would normally. Programmes can be viewed by channel, genre as well as popular and recommended shows. Similar programmes are recommended below related content – so select Winterwatch and Natural World will be recommended. The process for downloading any programme is exactly the same across the site. First, move the mouse pointer over a programme on the iPlayer website and two options will appear just to the right of the show’s synopsis. Clicking the first, a star, will add the programme to a list of favourites for the website version of iPlayer. The option below, an arrow pointing into a box, downloads the show to iPlayer Desktop.
For more download options, click the programme synopsis itself to display the show’s own iPlayer page. Now click the Download options link beneath the show’s page and a dropdown menu will appear with various download choices. Clicking For iPlayer Desktop will achieve the same as Step 4 but the other options (For Windows Media Player and For Portable Devices) are useful if you would like to download the show for watching in a different media-player application. While you’re here, notice the Series Record option – we’ll come back to this presently. File sizes can be large, especially for high-definition (HD) TV programmes, so shows may take some time to download.
Back in the iPlayer Desktop application, click the Downloads link at the top followed by the Coming soon tab to see a list of downloads in progress. When a show has finished downloading, you’ll find it ready to watch within the Available now tab. To download episodes from a series automatically, as they become available, click the Series Record link above a programme summary: alternatively, click this as the download option in Step 5. Once done, when the latest episode of Eastenders or Panorama becomes available it will be downloaded automatically, according to the schedule set in Step 2. Select Series Record above the relevant programme and a notification will appear to say this option has been enabled. Items set for Series Record will appear under the Coming soon tab with the date when they become available and a short programme synopsis.
If an iPlayer Desktop library becomes quite extensive, there are two options that make browsing content downloaded a bit easier. The two tabs for A-Z and Expiring organise downloaded programmes alphabetically and by when they will no longer be available to watch. The Expiring option is particularly useful because, remember, shows will be deleted automatically after 30 days. If a programme is available to watch, it can be viewed by clicking anywhere on its entry to view it in the Now Playing window. Now use the controls and icons at the bottom to pause playback, rewind to the beginning, display or hide subtitles, change the volume or enter full-screen mode.
Some programmes aren’t available via iPlayer and, frustratingly, radio content cannot be downloaded to iPlayer Desktop. In some cases it is possible to stream films on the online version of iPlayer but not download them to iPlayer Desktop – this is typically due to licensing reasons. Also, though programmes are supposed to delete automatically after 30 days this doesn’t always happen – even if a show expires and becomes unwatchable. To delete a programme manually, hover the mouse pointer over the listing for the programme and click the small ‘X’ button on the right-hand side. Click Yes to confirm the deletion.
Unlike the web version, the iPlayer Desktop application will remember when you stopped watching a programme: the next time it is viewed, the application will offer the option to resume from where you left off. Clicking on a partially watched programme will open the Now Playing window but it will look slightly different: the main Play button will be labelled ‘Click to resume’. If you need further help with iPlayer Desktop, click Downloads followed by Preferences and then About. Now click the ‘Get support from BBC iPlayer help’ link to visit the iPlayer guide.
Finally, a topic perhaps noticeable by its absence in this workshop is iPlayer Desktop’s ability to tune in to live TV broadcasts. This is a very useful feature of both the website and desktop versions of BBC iPlayer. However, while no TV licence is needed if viewing only catch-up TV shows, one is required to watch anything live. Usefully, when attempting to watch a live show, the BBC iPlayer Desktop application asks for confirmation that you have a TV licence – at least the first time. The same is true of the website version of iPlayer. Either way, if you don’t have a TV licence, don’t use iPlayer to watch live TV.