Apr 042011
 
MLB_Ba1

Now that the baseball regular season is finally here, it’s time to take a look at all the ways you can consume as much MLB content as possible!

One great thing about the MLB is they make their content more accessible than any of the other professional sports in the US. Aside from watching directly on the MLB website, they have apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, PS3, Boxee, AppleTV, Roku, and probably your toaster oven. Only one other entertainment company comes to mind as being so widely available, and that’s Netflix. I find it refreshing that the MLB mostly gets it right, and I often find myself wishing the other pro sports would follow their lead. They don’t try to lock a customer into one source for watching or listening to games and reasonably price their content. This is in stark contrast to the NFL, which only provides access to all of their games through DirecTV at insanely high prices — not to mention having an exclusive video game deal which ensures that Madden will be the only NFL video game. Ever. Yes, I’m still bitter about the untimely death of the NFL 2k series.

MLB iPhone App

I have to admit, the MLB At Bat app for iPhone is one of my favorite apps. It was one the first apps I bought when I got my first iDevice, a second gen iPod Touch back in 2008. Through the years it has progressed and added more features. The app costs $15 and offers live game day audio for every game in every market, with both the home and away feeds. While it’s one of the more pricier apps I’ve bought, it’s great even for people who are only fans of one team, in that you can listen to the games anywhere, and provides a live game tracker that shows each pitch and the scoring. You’ll also get the latest news and highlight clips from every game, along with customized push notifications that can alert to game starts, end of game scores and highlights. As an added bonus, for the month of April, you get free access to MLB.TV in the app, which gives you live video of all games, however, the dreaded “blackout restrictions” apply, which means don’t expect to watch your local team on anything other than the actual TV channel that’s airing on. This year has a new feature, called “Live Look-ins” which provides a quick-look of a game where something interesting is going on like a late-inning rally. These live look-ins are blackout free, and are reminiscent of the NFL Red Zone channel. For full gameday video, anything outside your “market” is available. It’s worth noting that video quality is very good, even when viewing over a 3G connection. The app also has “check-in” abilities when you actually go to a game, which can sometimes offer special deals and other incentives.

MLB iPad AppTo go along with the iPhone app is a separate iPad app. When I say the MLB “mostly” gets it right, this is one area that is a bit disappointing. The iPad app is a separate app that also costs $15. It would have been nice to see it as universal app, even if they bumped the price to $20. The features are similar to that of the iPhone version, but with a different layout and accurate replicas of the real stadiums in their “Game Day” game trackers, using assets from Sony’s great MLB The Show game. If you’re a MLB.TV subscriber or a baseball junkie, you’re probably going to want both apps, but if you’re only interested in the game day audio, it’s probably best to stick with just the iPhone version.

I also had a chance to take a look at the free “apps” on Boxee, PS3 and AppleTV. These apps don’t do much aside from showing scores, unless you’re a MLB.TV subscriber. No gameday audio is available in a “lite” or free option. Being this is the first year I’ve subscribed to MLB.TV since I received it as gift subscription, I was excited to check out each option.

The PS3 version is definitely the most feature rich. Not only can you watch the games in HD, but you can rewind live games and zero in on highlights, as the video timeline is identified with markers and short descriptions of key plays like home runs, extra base hits, strikeouts, etc. While the interface is the nicest, I found the video and audio quality a bit problematic on the PS3. It frequently skips and stutters to the point where I didn’t want to use it, despite all the features it has that can’t be found elsewhere. It almost seemed as if the PS3 was struggling to keep up and acted like it was CPU stressed. Hopefully Sony and/or the MLB updates the app soon to fix those issues. Sony has a video tour of their MLB.TV app here — it’s very impressive.

MLB Apple TVIn checking out the AppleTV version, it’s not quite as robust as the PS3 version, but provided me with perfect HD quality, and timeline markers that indicate the start of each half inning, but no highlight markers. A very nice interface and a great way to watch the games, I can see this as my preferable way to watch MLB.TV on the big screen, at least until the PS3 version gets smoothed out. Lastly, I took a look at the Boxee app, which is probably the most stripped down, but provided perfect HD quality and worked well. After all, fancy features aside, watching the game in great quality is the most important aspect.

After opening weekend with an MLB.TV subscription, I’m enjoying it a lot. At a cost of $100 per year, it’s affordable when you compare it to other sport subscription and other entertainment options (i.e. Netflix is about $96 per year for a streaming-only sub). If you’re a fan of a team other than the local team or just enjoy watching games all over the country, then MLB.TV access is a must have. If all you enjoy is watching your local team and could care less about any other teams, consider the iPhone or equivalent smart phone app for the game day audio when you’re not at home and leave it at that. Being a bit of a baseball junkie and now having access to so many other games no matter where I am, I can definitely see myself being a regular MLB.TV subscriber.