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For all the bile and hatred Bud Selig and his New Media Goons invoked a few years ago with their DirecTV exclusive deal, you’ve got to give them credit for turning things around and winning me over with this year’s incarnation of MLB.TV.

This productivity killer app, created by the Advance Media arm of MLB, has come a long way since its first inception, and for 2009, there are vast improvements over last year’s not-half-bad service.

One of the major differences is the adoption of Adobe’s Flash technology over Microsoft’s Silverlight (which was used last year). It’s rumored that delivery glitches and installation issues are mainly what prompted baseball’s new media goons to make the switch, and it’s a no brainer. (It also sparked a war of words of sorts between MLBAM and Microsoft).

Although impressive, Silverlight was a newcomer to the web interactivity platforms (explaining the glitches), while Adobe’s Flash engine is by far the industry standard. A true cross-operating system, cross-browser, platform, Flash will no doubt continue to be adopted by more and more devices as they become available (read: smart phones, netbooks, and other portable gizmos).

The delivery is far more fluid than last year, and even though the fancy transitions from one screen to the next remain, they feel even more seamless. One major improvement this year is the focus on the game you’re currently watching, as the actual video screen rarely shrinks when you prompt for various in-game menus like box scores, tracker, highlights, etc.

boxscore-menusummary-menu

You also get a toolbar of sorts that reveals itself when you hover near the bottom-middle area of your window (I tested using FireFox on an Intel Mac).

jump-to-inning

Another major difference this year is the emphasis on the quality of the video (which, alas, is only available with the premium, more expensive package). Last year’s service was decent, but even though they promised “TV-quality” streams at a whopping 1.2 MB a second, the quality wasn’t there yet.

It is now. The screen looks crisp, colors are vivid, pixels are almost (almost) non-existent. The improvement is due to this year’s iteration of what MLB (along with their friends at Swarmcast) like to call “NexDef,” a “smart” video delivery system that adjusts to your bandwidth while maintaining video quality in real time.

There is also a “video quality” meter that reveals just how good of a stream your crappy internet connection is preventing you from watching.

The added video quality makes watching multiple games a better experience than in year’s past. A few years ago I decided to try that disastrous MLB.TV Mosaic Windows program and I gave up on it a few minutes after it didn’t load. The new set up is simple and elegant. You get four options on the bar directly above your video screen from where you can chose whether to watch two games (p-in-p style, or side-by-side), or watch four streams in a square grid. Selecting which games you watch is as easy as clicking on the new squares and then clicking on the available games from the menu on the right.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another new feature: DVR. Personally I haven’t used many DVR (digital video recorders) in the past, and have marginal experience with them, so I haven’t tested this feature too much. I did play around with “rewinding” but it took a few seconds for the stream to play back so I gave up.

I do see myself pausing and rewinding in the event of a nifty play or a big-time home run.

Overall I would give this year’s MLB.TV a 9 out of 10; there are still some technical issues that prop up every now and then, but the software feels and looks great. Let’s not forget that GameDay Audio is included in the regular and the premium packages (which you’ll need when the FOX Saturday restrictions kick-in – FU FOX). Also, MLB.COM set up a blog dedicated to news and updates about the service, offering a chance for fans to deride or praise these new media goons. Oh right, and it’s $10 bucks cheaper than last year’s price, so from now on I’ll use that term loosely.

» MLB.TV Premium is $109.95 for the year/$19.95 monthly, while MLB.TV regular is $75.95 for the year/$14.95 monthly

14 Responses to “Reviewing the new MLB.TV: Yes, it’s a winner”

  1. MLB.TV hasn’t been so good for me. I can only watch archived games, since live games are blacked-out here in Korea, and it’s taken MLB.TV a day or two to the archive the games after they finish, rather than the advertised “45 minutes.” The video stutters like crazy for me, too, even when I crank down the quality to like two bars. I’m actually kind of pissed off. Of course, I’m not nearly as pissed off as I would be had I actually been able to watch today’s Braves-Phillies Game.

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    yeah, all live games are blacked out in Japan too! Stupid.

  3. Alejandro Leal says:

    Oh, I almost forgot… MLB New Media Goons… take a drink!

  4. This looks incredible. Thanks for the review.

    I shall relocate to an area away from my beloved Phillies – and this will make the 15 bucks/month much easier to swallow.

    Anyone have any comparison to this and Extra Innings? What is the # of Extra Innings games in HD. The Phils had a classic issue where they would not let Extra Innings have their Communistcast Sportsnet feed – out of spite for DirecTV – I hope that is no longer the case.

  5. Sarah Green says:

    I wasn’t going to go back to MLB.TV this year after downloading it appeared to infuriate my laptop last year. But if they are using flash now, I see no reason not to! (Now if only I could get Silverlight uninstalled…)

    You’ve convinced me. Another hundred clams heading in the direction of the new media goons. (Take another drink.)

  6. Alejandro Leal says:

    Sean, I don’t know what options this year’s Extra Innings have to offer… I know that other leagues (like the NBA) used to offer web-tv service for subscribers, but I highly doubt that’s the case with Selig and MLBAM.

    But mlb.tv does seem to carry plenty of near HD games, and with the premium package you get a choice of either home or away TV feeds.

  7. Thanks Alejandro – actually – MLB.TV is cheaper than extra innings, and if you have HDMI out on your laptop – you can stream it to your TV. It’s not quite as turn key – but it seems MLB.TV is a better value than Extra Innings.

  8. I’ve got to tell, I’ve been impressed with it thus far. The image is crisper, the new extras are solid, but there is still one major problem with it; I still can’t get local blackout games. As a guy that has to rely on watching TV over the internet, the one thing I miss dearly about cable is being able to watch live baseball games from my local team, the Red Sox. I can still do the Gameday stream and listen to the radio broadcast, but its not the same. Still, if I wasn’t so cheap, it wouldn’t be an issue.

    Great post!

  9. Sarah Green says:

    I was about to go online to re-sign up for MLB.TV, when I thought I’d just pay my credit card bill first. Turns out, I’ve already been charged for two months of premium MLB.TV-age! I can’t tell you whether they’ll give me the refund for March that I asked for (which I didn’t use at all because, obviously, I didn’t realize that I was automatically resubscribed). But I can tell you that MLB.com has awesome hold music: the laid back tones of a steel-drum band. Seriously. I don’t know if it’s meant to calm the angry beast within every frustrated customer, but it worked. Also, the guy who helped me (Larry) sounded like he was completely stoned. So I went in all hot-headed and irate, and came out of the call thinking, “You know what? It’s probably not a big deal. And for some reason, I feel the need to just go have a mai tai.” Now *that’s* service.

  10. MLB-TV service has been a dismal failure for many subscribers – including me. Lots of freezes and stuttering. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of complaints on their support boards. Here is a email I receoved from them..

    “We have been working to help solve issues such as the one you are experiencing. The good news is, that it, more then likely, has nothing to do with your system. The bad news is that it is still a problem and it needs to be fixed. Please be patient and the problem will be solved as soon as possible. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.”

    I’d stay away from it. In fact, just canceled it and picked up Extra Innings. I’m a happy camper now!

  11. Alejandro A. Leal says:

    Kenstee

    I don’t doubt that people are having issues with it, but I’ve tested my account with three different setups and internet service providers and I can assure you, it is a night/day improvement over year’s past. Considering the quality of the video if you subscribed to the Premium package.

    Keep in mind this service is totally dependent on the speed of your connection, so if you subscribe to any ISP that delivers less than 500k a second, you’ll have a bad experience, no doubt.

    Two weeks into the season, and I have nothing but love for my MLB.TV.

  12. Alejandro,

    You’re lucky. My speed is fine. My reception is horrible. Still lots of freezes and stuttering even at poor quality settings. I’m on a Mac that meets their stated requirements and have tried both Firefox and Safari browsers.

    My bandwidth – according to their own test – is over 3,000k. Well above their minimums. Even SwarmCast admits there are issues though. I paid for Premium and can get marginally viewable quality only with NexDef disabled which also disables all the Premium elements I paid extra for. Sweet deal huh. I’m not alone though. there are many, many complaints on the Net about this.

    I’ve saved the best for last. I have been banned permanently from their MLB Support Forums due to “negativity.” Not just banned from posting mind you..but banned from even looking at it! It won’t display in my browser. My IP address was banned. And this is the same MLB who doesn’t ban players who have tested positive for steroids. Boggles the mind.

    So boys and girls all I can say is deal with these people at your own risk. If you feel you must have this service buy it only on a month to month basis AND disable auto-renew so you can cancel after one month. Better still, look into MLB Extra Innings if your cable/satellite company offers it.

    Me? I’m disputing this charge with my credit card company. MLB certainly has not delivered the product they promised and owe me a refund for non-compliance/non-performance. Oh, and be aware MLB states they will NOT give a refund after 5 or more days of their service. Luckily, consumer protection laws will trump this.

  13. Alejandro A. says:

    It certainly true that the service is far from perfect, and issues remain that need be addressed.

    Kensai’s example is a bit worrysome, actually, but little surprising. These are, mind you, the very same new media goons that tried to shut out a huge chunk of their fan base.

    Should you go out and buy it? Well… I see no reason for there to be an expectation that the service will be shitty. So if you can afford it and you’re online all the time, and obviously, you meet the system requirements, give it a try.

  14. A winner?! Unless you consider 10th place ribbons a win (Focker), this service is a bigger bust than Tony Mandarich.

    They are still treating subscribers like garbage 2 1/2 months later, after most accepted the MLB apologies for the numerous April blunders (incorrectly blacked out games, high def problems, etc). Worst off, the most recent problem is not even technical in nature (i.e. difficult to resolve) – they simply changed their game policy and chose not to inform subscribers.

    MLB is not aligned with the fan base and chooses to not address the issues and concerns of the paying subscriber.

    http://www.mlbsupport.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=8439&start=30&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&sid=45472298051076c838f643fff45d413a

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