USL Live v The Video Wars

12 April 2009

With today being the start of the United Soccer League's season, we were privileged to have the opportunity to watch a league's matches live for free via an online platform. With the quality of USL 1 as good if not better than Major League Soccer, I was counting down the days from the press release to the opening night. Having gone against my better judgment and purchased the online video package, it makes the perfect opportunity to compare the two products.

USL Live
Obviously the word free is enticing enough to give anything a chance. I was semi-annoyed with having to register, but understand that USL and Umbro want to have a good idea of where people are watching from (and to track which matches you are following). So after a registration that took about two minutes, I clicked on the Minnesota Thunder vs the Carolina Railhawks.

Having done a quick check of the video quality, the stream is currently better than the best Setanta Broadband has to offer (Setanta's highest is only a 600 kb/s video stream. USL Live checked in at 650 kb/s). I just find irony in the fact that a free product is offering a better video quality at present (of course that could change with Setanta's new broadband package...I wait with fainted breath). While this isn't as high as the MLSNet video is, for free I can take only a 150 kb/s difference as a difference isn't that big between 650 and 800 kb/s. That is strictly from an eye test I did tonight while watching the two products side by side as I didn't notice a big enough change to make a big deal out of it.

As for the broadcast itself, the camera angles were standard fare. If I had to venture a guess, there were 8 camera angles being used and those in charge of production did a good job in using the correct ones. About the only complaint would be replays were a bit delayed, but once they were ready, you were quickly taken to them once there was a dead ball situation. There was a scoreboard with the current score, but getting the exact minute would have required using your own stopwatch from kickoff.

I did have a couple of complaints. I was not pleased with the commentary team used in Carolina (the Vancouver broadcast was much more professional in the booth) and I did have some buffering issues with the second game of the night. But overall, I was more than pleased with the product on offer and I would encourage everyone to give it a try.
Obviously the drawback is the 19.95 price tag when if you are patient, can more than likely catch the game on replay on the television affiliate. I know I have done that on a couple of occasions this season. This year they are using the tag "Featuring 800kb Streams in 2009" which tells me that they knew their product was inferior and needed a major upgrade. Having seen the product the first few weeks this season, the video quality has much improved over last season.

The biggest plus is you are dealing with a network broadcast, meaning you are going to get as close to a professional broadcast as possible out of the video you watch. Some teams like Seattle, Columbus and Toronto get it right while watching games from the New England, Chivas USA and Houston (despite having Glenn Davis in the booth) feed is like watching a broadcast that would require teeth to be extracted to get through it. Much better camera angles, quicker replays, and unless you were watching the Toronto/Dallas game tonight, a full scoreboard.

My biggest complaint about this product is the fact that despite giving one time that the stream will be live, at times it is not until after kickoff before you can get the game. In a case tonight, Seattle Sounders and Kansas City while acknowledged to be screened on, simply was not with no explanation given. Instead about fifteen minutes into the match the black screen that was up died and the listing was removed that the game was being shown live. That is simply inexcusable for a paid product to do that to fans.

Is the product worth 19.95? That's honestly a toss up for me. When there is a free product out there that is just as good a product you are charging for, why bother paying? I have no fan allegiance to any MLS side (I should not I do not as well for any USL side) and the only reason I purchase the product is so I can write about it (as I get back into the swing of things I will be more). However if left to a casual fan's perspective...I wouldn't pay.

If having to choose one as a winner, I would have to pick USL Live. Sorry MLS, but the word free when the products are pretty similar puts this war over the top.


US Soccer Fan April 12, 2009 at 11:33 AM  

The CONCACAF CL also makes MLS look silly. USL Live is free and their teams went further in the only real event where we can measure quality. Sorry MLS but ESPN hype alone does not create watchable soccer.

eplnfl April 12, 2009 at 11:59 AM  

Does USL live have a on-demand service? Missed their games live so I would like to tune in later?

The Third Half April 12, 2009 at 12:04 PM  

As of right now the games haven't been archived for on demand. According to the press release about the product, it did state the games would be available on demand. Let's see if they hold true to their promise.

Anonymous April 12, 2009 at 12:37 PM  

USL Live was a very good product the last few years and now for free, it's a no-brainer that it is superior.

Anonymous April 12, 2009 at 2:33 PM  

Both leagues are rubbish. The Sounders easy success early in MLS says alot about that league's overall quality and while USL produces some good football the use of turf and high school american football facilities makes it a difficult league to take seriously.

The Third Half April 12, 2009 at 3:20 PM  

To anonymous at 2:33 pm,

You are right that the quality between USL and MLS is pretty much the same. Seattle as an expansion franchise should not have had the success they had in the first month of the MLS season. I haven't seen the SSFC/KC game from yesterday (I have it currently recording on my DVR) but I have a feeling had Keller not been sent off, the result would have been much different.

As to your arguments with regards to USL. I am of the opinion I don't care where the game is played. If the football is acceptable (which it is more in USL than it ever will be in MLS), I'm going to watch. Would it be nice if every USL side had their own stadium, absolutely...and I think in time we will get there.

I don't want to hear the argument with regards to turf. As the MLS All Star game proved last year, if the caliber of player is there then playing on turf does not matter. Based on your argument, any league that plays on field turf cannot be taken seriously.

eplnfl April 16, 2009 at 8:57 PM  

As of today's date the archived games are available. so, it's another plus to the USL free site.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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