Why is BBCi so slow?

Posted on 5 July 2004 in BBC red button, Interactive TV, Television (2 comments)

Mention that you work for BBCi, the BBC's digital text service and you may regret it as you'll get told 500 things that are wrong with what you work on.

And the big gripe is speed.

Funnily enough it's never cable users who have a problem - they seem to live life resigned to the fact that everything is slow and unreliable anyway, so why worry if it takes BBCi a while - after all, the box is crap anyway.

And for anyone with digital terrestrial television (DTT or Freeview if you must), it's generally only users with old OnDigital boxes who complain - get yourself a decent DTT box and you'll find it flies. The latest Sony set top box box will load the service in less than a second - when it comes to speed, it's pretty damm close to Ceefax. And when we add page numbers, it will be even faster.

Nope. The people complaining almost always have satellite.

So because I get moaned at about this a lot, I thought I'd explain.

The boxes

Quite simply, one of the big problems with speed of BBCi satellite is the set top box. That little thing that Sky give you just doesn't cut the mustard - even the newest models are pretty slow on any text service. Try it for yourself - go to Sky News and press TEXT and see how long it takes for Sky Text to load. See what I mean?

Now I'm not saying it's all down to set top boxes - the BBCi service is very complex with video options, loads of different content and a variety of templates. That all adds to the complexity of the service and does slow things down a little.

Then there are certain things that we have to do which slow the service down - you might have noticed those big static screens that you sometimes see telling you to "Please wait" - they are there because Sky say we have to have them there, and because they're big images, they also slow things down a little.

But ultimatly a huge chunk of the 8 seconds or so it takes to load up BBCi is down to the boxes. After all, if it can be done in less than a second on DTT, then a satellite box should be able to get close!

Thing is, in the last 2 years, DTT boxes have just got faster and faster - a Thomson box from 2 years ago takes about 2.5 seconds to load up BBCi, where as the aforementioned Sony takes about 0.7 seconds. I've timed them myself.

In comparison a Sky box from 3 or 4 years ago, takes roughly the same amount of time to load up BBCi as the very latest model - things just haven't progressed. In fact when the first Sky+ box arrived, things got slower...

Now I'm not saying that BBCi is as fast as can possibly ever be because there might be ways to help things along, but unless the satellite set-top boxes improve, then you're going to have a battle on your hands.

The jump

The other problem with speed is caused by having to go through that whole 'Please wait' screen thing - very annoying, but hard to avoid because there's a lot of content that you can't view without seeing it.

Why, I hear you ask?

The BBC has a hell of a lot of channels on satellite. There are 18 versions of BBC One, four versions of BBC Two, plus BBC Four/CBeebies, BBC Three/CBBC, BBC News 24 and BBC Parliament.

That takes up a fair wack of space on the satellite and this lot sits across several transponders. In simple terms - a transponder is a way of splitting up the satellite space. Like file dividers or somet.

For BBCi to work with each channel, you need a copy of it on every transponder. Unfortunately there isn't currently the space on each transponder to put the whole of BBCi on - which means that a slimmer version is broadcast.

When you want other content that's not in the slim version, you go to a central version of BBC which has all the content. Unfortunately this isn't a particularly fast thing to do technically, and even worse, means you go away from your channel as well.

This bit is where the page number project will help - it will still be a bit slow, but at least you won't have to wade through several menus trying to find what you want.

Right. Stop moaning at me now!

So that's why on satellite, it is how it is. Somehow I doubt it will stop people moaning at me, but hey, if you want speed, go and get yourself a nice DTT box. It will be zippy and lovely and you'll like it.

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Nigel fudge said:

Why can't you people just give us a text service with NO BELLS, NO WHISTLES and NO WAITING, just text, the news with no pictures no colours, no nothing apart from the flaming text, I imagine a lot of people are like myself who check ceefax when adverts come on or in between programmes, and you might as well give up to try and get digital text quickly, even when you try and go back it's easier just to change channels and go back to your original channel than wait for the text to shut off, please just give us the old ceefax back.

Posted on 27 June 2010 at 7:08 PM

Andrew Bowden said:

I think Nigel you'll find the answers at the top of this page... And I hate to break it to you, but (and I must state this is not my decision) I can 100% guarantee you that Ceefax will NEVER come back once analogue is switched off.

Posted on 28 June 2010 at 9:20 AM

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