First Impressions: ABC Playback Beta

I’ve been playing with the Beta of the new ABC Playback service for about a week now, and thought I’d post some of my thoughts up here for you guys.

Firstly though, the service is still in beta, so some of the things I’ve encountered could be a result of that. I think that there’s a lot of potential here, but there are also a lot of things that will need to happen before the site hits the mainstream.

The service is broken into three main sections: ABC catchup, ABC Real and ABC Shop. Catchup is where you can go to watch the latest episodes of programs that have been aired on ABC1 and ABC2 in the past week. ABC Real lets you watch documentaries and factual programs on demand, and ABC Shop lets you preview DVDs that you can buy at ABC shops. All fairly self-explanatory, really.

The catchup service is, realistically, the one that most people are going to go to. At the moment, it offers replays of Good Game, The Bill, At the Movies, and a couple of other programs. Obviously, that’s not a lot of content, but being in Beta mode will do that to a service.

I started out by trying to catch the last episode of Good Game. The swish menus swirled around and the interactive display was intuitive to navigate. Pressing play automatically launches the plyer into full-screen mode, which is nice on my 20-inch iMac.

However, that’s when the joy ended – although the program started playing back audio, I got no vision other than a spinning “loading” arrow. After trying several of the other Catchup programs, the same thing occurred. As a side note, I’m on an 8Mbps ADSL connection, which is well above the recommended minimum of 1.1Mbps.

Thinking that my broadband may have been the problem, I checked out the ABC Real service, which at present is peppered by documentaries of “Sex in the Bush”. This service worked fine, although the video playback was slightly jagged and pixelated on my big screen.

Finally, the ABC Shop service also worked – you get a couple of minutes of highlights from a selection of DVDs, although at the moment there’s no purchasing within the service. Instead you click a link to the ABC hop’s web store and order it that way.

It still has a fair way to go, but if they can fix up the video problem on ABC Catchup and add a heap more content, I can see myself using this service frequently. Plus, hopefully it will inspire the commercial networks to do something – anything – online.

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