11.20.09

Watching NFL games online

Posted in Home Theater at 8:53 pm by mike

One of the upsides of having a Home Theater PC connected to your big screen is the ability to watch streaming media from the comfort of your couch.   With that in mind, I’ve been playing with various online streaming sites to watch out-of-market NFL games as well as been investigating streaming technology for my own business use.     There are basically three categories of service out there:  Legitimate offers with NFL licensing, pirate P2P sites and a couple offshore fraud sites after a quick credit card charge.   Let’s call them: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

Or the legitimate sites.     First of all, the NFL is streaming every Thursday night game on the NFL Live site.    The coverage of the game is a little different than the standard TV coverage, but I actually like it better.     In this format, they’ve decided to not be so concerned with realtime tracking of the game.    Instead, they will often cut away from the game to highlight the last touchdown drive or other interesting set of downs.   This includes detailed slow-motion/rewind/whiteboard analysis which football strategy fans such as myself are sure to appreciate.   It reminds me of post game film review back with the coaches in High School, just with better technology.     They then cut back to the game with the luxury of jumping back in time if something interesting happened, or simply catching you up on the current action.     Currently, there are far fewer commercials in the stream than you would see on TV (the stream is pretty heavily front-loaded before the action starts).

On the downside, the player does NOT allow you to expand the video to full screen.    It is also resolution aware, so decreasing your resolution will not make the image any larger.   The one trick that does work is using the Windows magnifier app, but you have to make sure not to bump your mouse.   Also, hit F11 to hide your browser bar and tabs.

NFL Live streaming of Thursday night football

NFL Live

As you can see, the quality is nothing special, but much better than you’ll get off the P2P sites listed below.   Also, definitely not a simple 10ft interface for the naive Media Center user, but easy enough if you have a wireless keyboard.

ESPN 360 has a streaming player  download which will expand to full screen mode.    The quality is definitely a step up from above.    It appears the player can handle HD video, but it appears most the content is in SD format.    On the big screen, you still get a number of lighting and compression artifacts coming through.

ESPN 360 Video quality

ESPN 360 Video quality

While they have plenty of MLB and NBA games, along with College and CFL football, I have yet to see any NFL games here.   They are also partnering with Comcast, who is exploring more streaming options for paying customers via comcast.net.   There may be some potential here, but given the traditional tight-fisted greediness of the NFL, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Finally, the NFL also offers Game Rewind.    This is actually an impressive service.   For $24.99 (mid-season price) you get access to the entire archive of 2008 and 2009 seasons.   So in order to write a complete review, I just had to order and try it…

The video quality is by far the best out of all the options.    It happens to use the same player as ESPN360, which means ESPN could be streaming this same quality if they wanted to.

Best Video quality by far

Best Video quality by far

Once again, the full 1920×1200 image.   The snapshot doesn’t really do the picture justice.   There may be some loss in the PNG compression as well.    So I’m pretty happy with the quality, but I suspect I won’t use this all that much.    There is a mode which will let you watch 4 games at a time, switching 3 small screens into the main one.    It seems like a great idea, but the fact none of this is available until after the game is over, it’s difficult to even justify the $25.     I probably should of done the $7.99 for one week just to check it out.   Not a bad option if there’s one game you missed and you just have to see it.

On my wish list for both of these is a Media Center plug-in and the ability to control the app with the remote.   I may hack something together to do this in my copious spare time.

The Ugly

So the truth is, you want to watch your game when its actually happening, and not after you’ve seen the score go by on the ESPN Ticker.    Well it turns out you can do this, but now we’re probably crossing some DMCA lines, especially as far as the NFL is concerned.    On the otherhand, these games are being broadcast over the air in other markets.   If I have a very powerful TV antenna which gets a signal from another market, who’s to say I’m violating any copyrights?    Well, if you want, you can think of the following as antenna extenders:

There are basically three or four sites out there that act as a central clearing house for users who happen to be streaming a particular NFL game. Unfortunately, the quality is extremely variable, if you can get the stream at all.      Here are some I’ve had some luck with:

MyP2P – Will usually show you a number of streams to choose from for each game.  All the streams require some sort of StreamTorrent player.  Quality is actually improved if there are more people near you watching the stream.    Most of the sites appear to be in the EU or Australia, which tells me the NFL cracks down on these when it can.  They also show various TV shows including some premium channels, but I really can’t imagine trying to watch those at this quality level given so many other choices.

Justin.tv – Justin.TV seems to have higher quality streams using a built in flash player.    Of course since they are a legitimate company based in the US, they need to be a little better behaved.   I don’t know if they proactively filter for the NFL games or not, but after the first quarter or so,the game is often replaced with a DMCA take-down notice.   Here’s a snapshot from this weekend’s Minnesota game.   Although the quality is low, the feed appears to be the Fox satelitte feed in that there are no commercials.   Probably coming from overseas:

Justin.TV Fox Football Feed

Justin.TV Fox Football Feed

ATDHE.NET These folks appear to be based out of France.   It’s also a clearing house, so you may get an mms stream which Windows Media Player can handle or sometimes it seems to redirect you back to Justin TV.

UStream.tv – UStream is another legitimate company which will probably take down an NFL game fairly quickly.   They are partnering with many content producers, so they will have other high quality broadcasts.

There are other similar sites as well, often they will point back to one of the three above.    The problem with most of these is that they take advertising from some very questionable players…

The Bad

So even a google search for NFL streaming will bring a couple of these shysters up in the ad blocks.    They basically try to sell you either a PC Satellite TV or a tag line like “Watch NFL & College Football Online Access All Games Live in HD Quality”.    In fact, I bet my AdSense plugin pulls a couple of them up right now:

What these slimballs do is charge you somewhere between $29-99 and then redirect you to the sites listed above. I’ve listed a couple of them here, with the names edited so they don’t get any free SEO out of my posting.

  • www the-honest-review com – gotta love the name
  • www live-football-now1 info
  • livefootballstream info/
  • www squidoo com/watch-nfl-online
  • live-online-now tv/ncaaf

I’ll try to keep this slimeball list up-to-date as I find more.   You’ll also find a number of BS blog sites recommending these services.     First red flag on these websites is you can’t find any “About Us” link on the page, and the Terms of Service mention a Bahamas or other off-shore country.    All their credit card processing and support is done through legit companies, so if you do get suckered by one of these, your credit card company will have no problem reversing the charges.

In summary, the options out there are getting better, especially as 10Mbit+ home connections become the norm.    It would be really nice if the NFL offered a pay-per-view for a specific game, but I believe they are still locked into an exclusive deal with DirectTV.    It would be interesting to know when that expires and whether they plan to keep it exclusive…

6 Comments

  1. Chris said,

    December 6, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for the info! very interesting!

  2. steve0 said,

    December 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I have a question about the NFL Game Rewind. I wouldn’t mind waiting until midnight to see the day’s games. *BUT*, is the score revealed to you in the links to access the game? That would ruin it for me.

  3. mike said,

    December 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    It’s a good point. If you just jump directly to the NFL rewind site, you don’t see the scores. I confess, I have little desire to watch when I know my team loses in overtime…

  4. steve0 said,

    December 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Thanks for the reply. That’s good to know! One final question about the Game Rewind. Their website says that the day’s games aren’t available until midnight (eastern time), but I have seen elsewhere stated that they are available 1-3 hours after the game has ended.

    I’m not sure if you tried watching a game on the same day, but do you know which is the more accurate figure?

    P.S. Would you happen to have a screenshot of the “4 games at once” layout?

  5. mike said,

    December 28, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    I’m not sure about the update times. Right now it says the MNF game will be available shortly, but I don’t know what the guarantee is. It also appears they’ve changed the player. Right now, I’m getting a much lower quality feed, which is pretty disappointing.

    Here is the 4 games at once view:

    http://mpsharp.com/images/Rewind2.PNG

    Note, there is a control to turn off and on the final score.

  6. steve0 said,

    December 29, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Hey thanks for the info and especially the screenshot! It will help me make an educated decision about whether the service is worth it.