27 March 2010
With the launch of www.mlssoccer.com, Major League Soccer took the opportunity to also upgrade their match day viewing experience. On Friday, MLS MatchDay Live debuted, and while it was a ‘free trial’, you still had to use your credit card to gain access. At a cost of $39.95, I think MLS would have been wise to leave that step out unless you wanted to buy it already.
The reason I say that is because this product is going to go through some considerable growing pains before it is really worth the price.
Going to the new media player, the first thing one will notice is how much bigger the player is compared to the previous version of MLS Net. That is because the video quality is much higher compared to the old one. So far through one weekend, the highest bit rate I have seen is 2200 kb/s, a vast improvement over the previous 800 kb/s last season. There is an adaptive bit rate option you can choose which will adapt the speed of your feed to your internet connection; also another plus. Giving the thing a trial run on Friday night before the Chivas USA/Colorado Rapids game, being able to test the video quality on the Sounders/Union match was a pleasant surprise. It was crystal clear HD quality. As an on demand player, I wouldn’t change anything at all.
That’s about where my positives end and the problems begin. On Friday night, the first half of the Chivas USA/Colorado match was, frankly, unwatchable. Starting from the countdown to the live feed, there were long periods of buffering, the longest I experienced was 20 minutes early in the first half. It was clear that Major League Soccer was not prepared for the number of people who would be giving the product a try. The second half was a much better viewing experience, but there were still two to three minute periods during that time where I experienced buffering issues. If people wanted to cancel based on Friday’s effort, I would have understood completely. The product was that bad.
Now I will give MLS credit, Saturday was a much better experience. Granted, there were still problems, but you could tell they were trying to iron out some of the problems. The first half of the Columbus Crew/Toronto FC match was very smooth and the picture quality crisp. However, there were four periods in the second half where the picture just froze for over 2 minutes with no explanation. During one of those frozen periods, Columbus put the game out of reach 2-0.
By the time Kansas City/DC United rolled around, it was worlds better than the product I had tried to watch less than twenty-four hours ago. The biggest problem during this match was the video just freezing at random while you heard the commentary before latency brought the picture back to live. I would not have expected that to be the worst problem by the time the final match of the weekend rolled around.
The service claims to let you watch up to three matches at once, but this was not the weekend to try that as games that are available on national networks are blacked out live. I would expect a few growing pains when people try to use that feature. There is a chat available while watching the games, but I found most of the conversation too juvenile for my attention and didn’t even bother keeping it open beyond the hour I did during the Columbus match this afternoon.
One small suggestion for the games not available live due to national commitments would be to just name the network that the game is available on.
From where I’m sitting, I would give MLS a month to work out all the bugs before investing the money to watch matches live. If you’re interested in watching games on demand, by all means go ahead and buy it now. Once all the bugs are worked out by MLS and NuLion, this product maybe cheap at 39.99.