Monday, June 06, 2011
MLB.TV reviewPosted by David Wade
A decent review of Major League Baseball's streaming video package, commonly referred to as "MLB.TV," required a few months' usage. It probably also requires someone that's good at doing reviews, but until they show up this will have to suffice.
Let's take a brief look at the package and see if it's worth taking advantage of MLB's recently announced price drop for the remainder of the 2011 season.
A disclaimer—my local cable provider (Insight Communications) does not offer the MLB Extra Innings package. This is a travesty that has plagued some of the best baseball writers in this country. Apparently MLB's fee to Insight is too exorbitant for the cable company to fit in their budget despite charging nearly eleventeen hundred dollars a month for their HD package. It seems MLB Network and Extra Innings go hand in hand, so Insight customers miss out on both.
If your cable provider is somehow able to squeeze MLB's charge into their budget, the benefits of the live streaming video may be negated somewhat. Also, if you have satellite service, this may all seem funny to you.
The portability of laptops means the internet version of Extra Innings may still be of use to those with MLB-friendly television services.
The price back in March for their Premium package was around $120.00. As an existing customer, my account was automatically renewed with my approval at that time. I've been a long time MLB.radio subscriber, but 2010 was my first year with the streaming video package. In short, I liked it.
I was already accustomed to picking whichever audio feed I wanted on the radio application, and that option is a very basic feature of the MLB.TV package. So for those of you that have to work at a desk and have the luxury of a company that doesn't mind you listening to day games while you do it, MLB.TV still fills that need that used to cost 15-20 bucks by itself for radio.
The quality of the video is really only limited by your monitor and internet connection. With a standard cable modem, the picture is television quality, and available in high definition. On the other hand, some wireless connections may not be robust enough to provide HD.
Increasingly frustrated with the picture quality in my own home, I took a chance and downloaded Google Chrome on my Dell mini laptop to see if that would help. While the speed seemed to be only marginally improved, the Chrome browser actually displayed the streaming video in a much more manageable window. That allowed easier access to the menu at the bottom of the screen, which in turn lent the ability to more easily adjust the picture quality. A note: That problem likely won't be found on larger monitors.
For the slower download speeds, simply moving the picture quality off HD will give a smoother video feed, and the quality of the picture doesn't suffer too much on most broadcasts.
There are several features worth mentioning in regards to the game feeds. In addition to choosing your announcing crew, the user can select up to four games for picture-in-picture viewing with audio broadcasting on the game of your choice. You can also bring up a live in-game box score.
Last year, switching to and from games would often cause an error to come up. Once that happened, users would sometimes have to log out and back in to access the game they switched away from. In my experience, that annoyance is thankfully gone for 2011.
MLB offers a NEXDEF download that allows pausing and rewinding of live video. Without that particular download, subscribers can still watch archived games that have finished and jump to innings, rewind plays, etc. This function is useful when you want to watch a particularly masterful pitching performance, a historic inning, or some other situation where highlights just aren't enough.
I've also been a CBS Sportsline subscriber for a dozen or so years. Once the season started, I noticed that the two entities had partnered up for some cross-promotion. Live scoring in Sportsline has a quick link to MLB audio next to the players. One click gives the Sportsline subscriber access to MLB Radio.
On the other end, MLB.TV subscribers can upload their Sportsline fantasy players. This provides the user with pop-up notifications when their players are at bat and one click gives live look-ins.
The main drawback to the MLB.TV package involves something that also draws the ire of Extra Inning subscribers. Games are still subject to blackout. When Fox has the rights to national Saturday games, customers may miss every other game at that time.
Your market will also determine the number of blackouts you'll endure. For instance, someone living in New York may miss out (on their computer) on all the Mets and Yankees games, in addition to those that run at the same time as Fox's national Saturday broadcast.
So, should you get MLB.TV for the rest of the season?
If you can't get Extra Innings through cable or satellite, and you love baseball, then yes.
Even those with the Extra Innings option may want the MLB.TV package. A laptop not only gives users a portable platform for watching the game, but also provides the marriage-saving ability to watch baseball on your computer while your significant other gets to surf channels on the television that he or she may actually enjoy.
David welcomes comments below. You can reach him via email at david DOT wade AT insightbb DOT com.