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.
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).
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.