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Roku Player Brings MLB.TV to the TV

Baseball fans have a new way to watch out-of-town games without padding out their cable or satellite TV bill: Early this morning, Roku added Major League Baseball's MLB.TV Premium Internet video service to its Digital Video Player.

That marks a big step up for Roku's $99.99 box. As a movie-viewing device, I found it disappointing last summer, but as a gateway to Web video (what the Apple TV could be if Apple would ever get off its duff and update the product), the Roku box now shows a lot more promise.


But the news also represents a major advance for sports fans -- myself included -- who are tired of being overcharged by TV services that insist on bundling sports channels with dozens or hundreds of unrelated channels they have no time to watch.

Current Roku owners should get the software update for access -- both live and archived games -- automatically over the next few days, but it should also be available through the "Player Info" item on its Settings menu. It took several tries for that to work shortly after midnight, but then I was able to watch the last half-inning of last night's Dodgers-Giants game. (I picked the away feed to hear Vin Scully call the game, of course.)

Even on a 40-inch HDTV -- and with a DSL connection too slow for high-definition -- the picture looked good. Faces appeared sharp and backgrounds didn't suffer too much from video compression, even if the grass on the field in San Francisco did look a bit like Astroturf. But I also had the video feed drop out a couple of times.

That did not surprise me too much. MLB recommends that MLB.TV customers have 1.5 Mbps of bandwidth just for standard-def video and 3 Mbps for HD streaming. My current connection, like most DSL services, falls at the lower end of that range.

But the combined costs of a faster connection and the $34.95 annual cost cost for the rest of the season's worth of MLB.TV Premium adds up to far less than MLB's "Extra Innings" package of out-of-town games -- "only $139!" a year on Comcast, for instance.

Should you have a computer hooked up to an HDTV, you can also watch MLB.TV in a regular browser. And since late June, it's also been available through the free, open-source Boxee player, which provides a simplified front end to your own and Internet multimedia that you can operate from the couch using the remote controls included with some Mac and Windows computers. But I've had lousy luck getting games to play through Boxee; the stream keeps stalling out, if it starts at all.

True, all the current MLB.TV options suffer the handicap of not letting you view your own team's games if you happen to live in its TV-broadcast area. That's an artifact of MLB's antiquated blackout rules -- but those rules are starting to crumble.

Earlier this summer, the Yankees' YES Network began allowing "in-market" subscribers of Cablevision or Verizon Fios TV service to watch games online for a small additional charge. Even with the somewhat illogical requirement that Verizon or Comcast subscribers first pay for YES on their TVs -- why not just charge other viewers a little more? -- that was a "breakthrough," as the Washington Times' Tim Lemke wrote at the time.

Not long after, the Padres offered a better deal: San Diego area online viewers need only subscribe to Cox's cable-modem Internet service.

What team will follow those two examples? How about ... hmm ... maybe the one with the worst TV ratings in all of baseball? It's hard to think of a better case than the Nationals, but Mid-Atlantic Sports Network spokesman Todd Webster would say on the record only that the network -- co-owned by the Nats and the Orioles, with the Baltimore team retaining a majority share -- is "currently reviewing" this issue.

What would online access to your home team's games be worth to you? And what would that do for the rest of your TV-viewing expenditures? The comments are yours...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 11, 2009; 2:38 PM ET
Categories:  Video  
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Can't you just register your account to an out-of-market town? Or a town where there is no baseball?

Posted by: rakeshlobster | August 11, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

The easy part would be entering a name credit card number and billing address from elsewhere when you set up an account. The not-so-easy part would be getting around MLB's geolocation technology... not sure that most readers are going to want to fuss with proxy servers.

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | August 11, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Couple of errors here; the $34.95 price is a special for the remainder of this season; the annual fee for premium is $110.

And the $139 Extra Innings fee is the "second half" price on cable as well; the full season price for EI is $179.

Still, the Roku is a one-time fee which will presumably work in subsequent seasons, and an premium subscription lets you watch on your computer, through Boxee, and on an iPhone as well, so it is a much better deal than EI.

Posted by: Eraysed | August 11, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Just wait, the Nationals will make you pay the equivalent of a seat behind home plate for this service. Worst attendance, worst TV ratings, hmmm, even with a good winning streak going.

Posted by: dj1123 | August 11, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Shame on cox in san diego for a lack of originality. On the other hand, I'd bet their customers aren't going to have to take third mortgages out on their homes, just to pay the cable bills for 'some' companies...for instance the one that started this whole business in the first place.

Posted by: Fragglerox42 | August 12, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

I am interested in this. I don't have cable or satellite. I do have a good DSL connection though that is fine for my standard-def TV.

I have a Roku box I use for Netflix. I guess it will work for this service also.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | August 12, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Eraysed: Thanks for catching the mistakes; I've corrected the post accordingly. (Where does MLB actually list the full-season price, though? I couldn't find a link to that anywhere.)

Bitter_Bill: Yup, your Roku box should get this update on its own in the next few days, but you can try to grab it now using the manual-update procedure I outlined in the post.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | August 12, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I tried last year on my PC to HDTV w/ DSL and HDMI. The display was acceptable but not HD quality. Maybe I'll try again w/ROKU. Before plunking down $ was your display 16:9 or 4:3? Thanks, Rob, for your terrific columns & chat

Posted by: Tomo51 | August 12, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm as big an MLB fan as there is, but it is the NFL that gets people juiced. Wonder if a similar approach could be an alternative to Sunday Ticket.

Posted by: gbooksdc | August 12, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

I believe HD TV will be the trend in the future.If you have a HD TV and you have recorded some HD videos, you can convert your TV programs to other video formats so you can watch videos on other facilities, here is a software for you to convert your HD videos:HD Video Converter for Mac

Posted by: softwaresoda168 | August 18, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

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