7 simple tips to get more from BBC iPlayer

Love BBC iPlayer? How to get the most from the Beeb’s catch-up service.

Are you getting the most out of the BBC’s iPlayer service? Possibly not.

We’ll show you how to watch shows from the beginning while they’re still on air, download programmes to take with you on holiday and record a whole series with one simple click. You can also tailor the service to suit your tastes, and avoid any issues such as buffering while streaming programmes.

[Read more: Streaming explained: What is it and how does it work?]

So put your feet up, and read on. We've focused on the desktop version.

Tip 1:  Live Restart

iPlayer tips Live Restart

This is a very clever little feature that will save you a lot of time. It’s for those times that you flick over to something you want to watch, only to see that you’ve missed the first few minutes. Normally you’d have to wait until it’d finished so you could watch it on iPlayer. But not with Live Restart.

Just select the channel in iPlayer, find the show, and you’ll be presented with two options: Watch from Start and Watch Live.

Click Watch from Start, and the programme will start at the beginning. You’ll never miss the start of Doctor Who again.

Tip 2: Sign in

BBC iPlayer sign in

Many services want you to sign in to access them, and usually it means you’re bombarded with marketing material. But iPlayer is that rare exception – signing in actually improves the service, and doesn’t mean drowning in a sea of spam.

Sign in, and you’ll get the weekly iPlayer newsletter, highlighting new shows and features. The Beeb will also know what you’re watching, which will enable iPlayer to recommend programmes you might like based on your viewing habits.

The result? A more tailored service, with more of what you do like, and less of the other stuff.

iPlayer screenshots Favourites

You can also save favourite shows. Click Add to Favourites and it will collate all new episodes. Once you’ve signed in you can view your favourites across devices.

Tip 3: Use the desktop app

iPlayer Tips 3 - downloads

Of course, you can watch iPlayer through your computer’s web browser – but you’re much better off installing the BBC iPlayer Downloads desktop app.

This lets you download programmes to your computer, so you can watch them without any annoying buffering (that’s when the show stops while the stream catches up to where you are).

It also means you can take them with you on your laptop and watch them where you don’t have an internet connection, like in the car.

Once downloaded, programmes can be watched for up to 30 days, so you should have plenty of time to find a half hour to yourself.

Tip 4: Stream if you prefer

iPlayer Tips 4 - Streaming

Streaming does have its advantages. You can start watching straightaway, without waiting for the programme to download. And you can watch live TV as it’s broadcast - you will need a TV licence to do this. You need a licence to download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand. This applies to any device and provider you use.

Buffering could be an issue, but as long as you have a decent broadband speed, it should be fine.

Buffering is less of a problem if you want in standard definition instead of high definition, as the files sizes are smaller. You'll also use less data, which is worth being aware of it you don't have unlimited broadband.

[Read more: Download vs Streaming - which one is best for you?]

Tip 5: Series Record

iPlayer tips 5

If you want to watch a whole series of something, this is the option for you. It’s only available through the BBC iPlayer Downloads desktop app.

When you start downloading a programme, go to the Settings menu in the top-right corner and it’ll give you the option of Series Record.

Click On, and it’ll automatically download every episode of the show to your computer as soon as it’s available. Hey presto – the whole series will be yours.

Tip 6: Don’t forget radio

iPlayer tips 6 - iPlayer Radio

Click ‘Radio’ from the top menu bar to go to iPlayer Radio lets you listen live to BBC radio stations, such as Radio 4 or Radio 1. 

Many programs can be downloaded, which means you can listen to them without an internet connection, typically within 30 days.

The BBC has a huge archive of programmes, including classics such Dads Army, Hancock’s Half Hour, Letters from America by Alistair Cooke and early Desert Island Discs. 

[Read more: BBC iPlayer opens up its archives]

Tip 7: Podcasts

iPlayer tips podcasts

The BBC has an extensive collection of podcasts available to download from iPlayer. You can find them at  www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts

Podcasts don't have an expiry date, so most episodes are available indefinitely.

Check out our article: 10 amazing podcasts you must download for some ideas.

[Read more: Make your mobile music with streaming and downloading services]