Hands on with PremierLeaguePass.com - not yet perfect pitch
I want PremierLeaguePass.com to succeed - to demonstrate the potential of internet-delivered TV, and encourage Sky TV to get its A into G and beef up iSky.
The new service, owned by $650 million NBR Rich Lister Peter Cooper's Coliseum Sports Media, went live on July 30 with some same video, and pre-season games offered ondemand (it will start streaming games as the English Premier League kicks off on August 18; all 380 will be offered over the internet, with free-to-air partner TVNZ broadcasting one game a week plus a highlights show).
Sky TV has spoiled the launch, a little, by announcing it will show delayed-coverage of games by three marquee Premier League clubs (Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United Spurs), and further complicating the landscape for soccer fans, new Freeview channel Sommet Sports has bagged delayed coverage rights for Chelsea and Liverpool.
Acting a little mischievous (or threatened), Sky forwarded around a link to a Stuff article that quotes a Geekzone discussion bagging the quality of PremiierLeaguePass.com video.
The trade-off for PremierLeaguePass.com offering all 380 games live (with available for 250 ondemand repeating viewing), is lower quality than Sky TV's HD.
I watched PremierLeaguePass on my Windows laptop at work on a fibre connection, and on a MacBook Pro at home over DSL. With the MacBook Pro, I also mirrored it on my regular television (a 50-inch plasma; the process was pretty simple given I have a $149 Apple TV widget attached to my TV; I just had to click the Air Play icon on my MacBook's screen to make the video stream to the television. The various ways to get video from PC to TV are all pretty straightforward - but learning them is a minor hassle, and phrases like "mirroring" and "wi-fi" dongle cause some to be immediately put off).
Click any image to zoom.
The play bar appears or disappears when you mouse over it (or presumably with the coming iPad and Android apps, touch). It lets you live pause, rewind, split screen other games, or choose from four video streaming quality options: 3000Kbit/s (which I had it set to), 1600Kbit/s, 800Kbit/s or 400Kbit/s. You can also choose "Best available" and the software chooses for you. It's developed by NuLion in New York, best-known for NFL Pass.
Fast moving wide shots are where it's most obvious you're not watching HD -or anything close to it - but I never lost track of the ball.
I had a couple-three issues (keep reading) but for most part I found the quality fine. I would prefer if PremierLeaguePass did take up its option to offer a 4500Kbit/s stream as well (which should allow 720p HD), but when things are behaving it looked like standard definition video. Even with fast moving play I had no problem seeing the ball. I would be quite happy shelling over $150 if it was at that level all the time. (Coliseum CEO Tim Martin tells NBR a 4500Kbit/s could be added if enough fans demand it; start demanding.)
The live pause and rewind features are handy, and you can split screen multiple games - a feature I can imagine some hardcore fans taking advantage of (if only for short bursts) once the season nears crunch time.
It's hard to convey the quality of the video (or otherwise) in stills, since that's not how you watch TV, and the images are compressed a little for display on this site, but still they provide a rough guide to I've included a few below.
I had three problems:
1. While the video was fine at 3000Kbit/s (the highest of four video streaming quality settings),at times it seemed to chop right back to 800Kbit/s or 400Kbit/s and became very blocky for a couple of minutes. I've had no problem streaming HD video from iTunes on my very-average ADSL internet connection.
It often doesn't seem to hit the advertised 3000Kbit/s, evidenced by the fact if you chop back to the 1600Kbit/s option, there's no change in quality.
The problem with PremierLeaguePass.com seemed to be that the video wasn't caching (storing a few minutes of video on my hard drive so the video stream is on a slight delay that can allow for any hiccups in the broadband connection). A spokeswoman for Coliseum told me PremierLeaguePass is set to cache for up to a minute. Hopefully this will work more smoothly wants the season kicks off and streaming games are on offer.
[UPDATE: Internet streaming seems to remain a challenge in general, at least in the part of the world. On social media there were a couple of complaints about Sky TV's iSky cutting out at times during the Super Rugby final. "It was the slowest most disrupted streaming I've ever had on iSky," viewer Tommy Bates put it. A Sky TV spokeswoman told NBR there were some "buffering issues". Another viewer told NBR, "Anonymous source says: My iSky was so poor I turned it off. Five minutes later, Iwas watching rock solid (illegal) stream from the UK." Sky TV switched from Kordia to global operator Akamai for its broadband content delivery following the infamous blackout during the mens 100m final at last year's Olympics - but it seems to be a tricky beast this internet streaming.Or maybe everyone just needs to spend a few more dollars on it. Coliseum is also using Akamai for PremierLeaguePass].
2. The iPad and Android apps aren't live yet. "We are working on these Apps to go live before kick off," a spokeswoman said. That's cutting it fine with the season starting August 18, and Apple's approval process being open-ended. It's a pity since PremierLeaguePass.com and the apps offer one of the easiest ways to view games on a device, or with iPad (and an Apple TV wi-fi widet), one of the easiest ways to stream video to a regular TV.
3. The video on my TV stuttered or froze at times as I was streamng a game on PremierLeaguePass.com from MacBook to TV. This puzzled me. It has been an issue with iTunes movies or YouTube content streamed in the same fashion. It's probably something to do with my home's wi-fi setup rather than PremierLeaguePass - but that's the nature of wi-fi, it's prone to minor, infuriating glitches. Another option is to cable your laptop to your TV, but that's less convenient, and a bit naf. I don't want to have to kneel on the floor to reach for the keyboard and hit pause.
An explainer email sent to all PremierLeaguePass subscribers goes over a laundry list of issues that can affect video streaming quality, such as how many processes are running on your laptop at once. For me, it was possibly Adobe automatic updates butting in. Such is life when you're streaming from a PC, or viewing on a laptop - and it will be a life too complicated for many. The sooner PLP can get its iPad app approved, and its promised Apple TV app, the better.
So: there are a few issues, but most of them are resolvable. Fingers crossed.