The recent arrival of Major League Baseball’s MLB.TV service on the PlayStation 3 was tailor-made for gamers like me.
Gaming is my “TV.” When people ask me, “How do you find time to play all those games?” my canned response is generally along the lines of, “I don’t watch TV.” The hour or two a day the average person spends watching “Lost” or “American Idol,” I spend playing “Final Fantasy XIII,” “Alan Wake” or, god forbid, another game of “Culdcept Saga.”
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy kicking back once a week or so for some TV, but, with as little as my wife and I watch, it’s hard not to feel like let down by the standard content delivery services — namely cable companies and satellite dish services, who bundle more than 100 channels we don’t want with the five or six we’re interested in. If all I want to do is watch the occasional baseball game, it’s hard to justify paying $70-$100 a month to do so, which is why, looking for ways to save money, my wife and I canceled our cable last year.
Luckily, my our video game consoles have us covered. Anyone with an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii and an Internet connection can watch thousands of shows and movies through Netflix’s Instant Queue streaming service, at no additional cost beyond what they already pay for Netflix and possibly an Xbox Live Gold membership.
Now, with MLB.TV, which is free for any PS3 owners who’ve already signed up for the service on their computer, Sony has taken a la carte programming to the next level.
MLB.TV, which came to the PS3 late last month, allows baseball fans to stream out-of-market games live over the Internet, for a flat fee of $100 or $120 for the entire baseball season, postseason not included. (There’s also a monthly option that runs $20 or $25.) The service has been around on the PC for a while. I last tried it out five or six years ago, with mixed results. An unwillingness to hook my laptop up to my TV, tying up both our living room set and our computer, kept me from coming back to see whether the service had improved.
Once I heard MLB.TV was available on the PS3, an announcement that arrived with almost no hype, I signed up within the week. At last, I could watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals while my wife surfed the Internet on our laptop.
So how does MLB.TV perform on the PS3? Way better than I expected. The last time I used it, the software was a buggy, low-res mess, prone to such frequent crashing that the service eventually locked me out for trying to log in too many times during one game and led me to ask for a refund. Now, the picture streamed through my TV comes through somewhere between standard definition and HD quality, with only the occasional hiccup. (And my DSL speeds aren’t exactly what I’d call blazing fast.)
Even better than the picture quality, though, is the PS3’s 16-megabyte application for running the software. Thanks to an intuitive menu system keyed to the buttons on your PS3 controller, hopping between different games and feeds (home or away), or jumping backward or forward in the action is seamless. (If you’ve got the PS3’s Bluetooth remote, you can control the action that way, too.)
The game you’re watching will even keep playing as you pop out to the main menu to see what else is available. Even better, you can hop back through an interactive calendar and watch any game from earlier in the season. The first “old” game I watched? The Cardinals’ 20-inning loss to the Mets, in which two position players pitched.
And it’s as easy to set up as it is to use. To get started, all you need to do is get your PS3 online — WiFi is built-in — and download the free application from the console’s online PlayStation store. Then, you head over to MLB.com and sign up for the service. Once you’re in, fire up the MLB.TV app from the “video” menu on your PS3 and enter the console’s five-letter code into your computer. Voila! You’re good. (The setup works nearly identically to the process from linking your Xbox 360 to your Netflix Instant Queue.)
The service isn’t perfect. As I said earlier, you can only watch out-of-market games, so no Giants or A’s until an hour after the game has finished airing on TV. Similarly, games that coincide with the national Saturday Fox telecast or ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” are also blacked out, thanks to baseball’s lame contracts with the broadcast networks.
But all in all, it’s not a bad little service. For a baseball nut who follows an out-of-town team, like me, it’s a heck of a deal. Plus, I know that if a Giants or A’s game is particularly good, I can watch it after the game’s over, as if I’d taped it.
There’s been no word yet on if a similar service is expected to launch on the Xbox 360 or the Wii, but I wouldn’t be surprised if MLB.TV showed up on Microsoft’s console, given that you can already buy classic MLB games via the 360’s online marketplace.
Hopefully, MLB.TV arriving on a game console will be the start of a great new trend. I’d love to see Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo form more contracts with sports leagues, TV networks, movie studios and other entertainment providers to continue to give us gamers alternatives to expensive cable or satellite plans. Cable companies have long resisted unbundling the channels they provide to their customers so that they can continue to charge high prices for channels few people want. The first company to let me buy the programming I want at reasonable prices gets my money, and makes a compelling sales pitch to households who never thought they’d buy a PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii.
(It’s worth noting that at least one nongaming device, Roku’s $80 set-top box, will also let you stream Netflix content and watch MLB.TV. Obviously, being a gamer who already owns all three consoles, I’m more interested in coming at this from a gamer’s perspective. But the Roku is definitely tempting for nongamers looking to stream Netflix and MLB programming while cutting the cord on their cable.)