Batter Up: The best ways to watch baseball on your digital devices
Editor’s note: This article originally ran in 2012. We updated it on March 31, 2014 to reflect updates for the 2014 season.
The 2014 season of Major League Baseball is upon us. And as in recent seasons, tech-savvy fans have multiple ways to stream high-quality video and audio at their command, whether it’s pulling out your iPad on the train home, checking your Android phone at the gym, or using your Xbox One for more than just late-night gaming sessions.
MLB's multi-tiered subscription model is largely unchanged from last year, with a simple-to-grok pricing structure. The mobile app version, called At Bat, is $20 across the board for the full season; the Kindle Fire, Android, and iOS versions also offer a $3 monthly option. One purchase works across all like-minded platforms (so $20 on your iPhone also gets you the iPad version). Android users can pay $20 for access on their compatible Android phone, tablet, and Kindle Fire. (There are also BlackBerry and Windows Phone versions of the At Bat app.) Every app purchase comes with real-time scoring updates and unlimited home/away radio streams throughout the season. Buying the MLB mobile app also gives you access to audio streaming on Macs and PCs.
iOS users will enjoy an iOS 7-inspired redesign for At Bat this season, highlighted by inline video playback. Android users can now pick multiple favorite teams, and the monthly subscription option is new as well. All platforms boast expanded push notification features, such getting an alert for every run-scoring play. And on Opening Day, Major League Baseball Advanced Media promised replay features in line with the new instant replay rules in use this year.
In addition to radio broadcasts from both the home and away teams, users of MLB At Bat get a free game every day, selected by MLB, that's available for video streaming as well. But what if you want access to video of every game? That's where MLB.TV comes in. Major League Baseball's subscription video service promises access to every out-of-market regular season game. A single subscription lets you watch games on multiple devices—phones, computers, TVs with a set-top box, and gaming consoles. All told, MLB says that more than 400 mobile and connected devices have MLB.TV access.
There is one catch to MLB.TV, and it's a notable one: You still can't watch local in-market games, if they’re being offered on a TV channel in your area. Red Sox fans in Boston, for example, wouldn’t be able to watch the Old Towne team defend their 2013 World Championship on MLB.TV. Fans living in more far-flung parts of Red Sox Nation, however, can tune in.
MLB is loosening one of the restrictions on MLB.TV for the 2014 season: Subscribers will now be able to watch live World Series games through the streaming service. The All-Star Game will also be available to MLB.TV subscribers for the first time this July. The Saturday blackout window is now a thing of the past, too: MLB.TV subscribers will get to watch any of the games being broadcast during the Fox Network's national broadcast window.
The Premium subscription to MLB.TV costs $130 and includes a free At Bat subscription as well as a choice of home and away feeds. The standard $100 subscription doesn't include portability to connected and mobile devices or a choice of feeds.
We could fill an entire page with the full list of MLB.TV-compatible devices. Just know that support has been added to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for the 2014 season. Those next-generation gaming consoles join the ranks of other supported devices including your PC, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, Android phone, Android tablet, Kindle Fire, and Roku. (If you're still using an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, those consoles also continue to have access to MLB.TV.)
Here’s a closer, hands-on look at some of the available platforms.
iOS: The new version of MLB At Bat for iOS picks up a lighter style inspired by iOS 7. There's now additional inline video support, and the MLB-wide scoreboard can expand to show more data on each game.
Android: As on iOS, a one-time app purchase gets you audio streaming on any compatible Android phone or tablet. Response time is pretty impressive, though we noticed some delays: Video on a Galaxy Note 3 on the Phillies-Rangers opener was about five seconds behind the same game on an iPhone 5c. The Gameday features for Android are more in line with what iOS users have grown to accustomed to—you'll now see a rendering of the home team's stadium in At Bat instead of a more spartan look. If you've paid up for MLB.TV, by default you get the home-team feed of a game; you can switch to the other feed once the game is streaming. Switching between televised games requires a few more taps as there's no scoreboard overlay as there is in the iOS version.
Mac/PC web app: For the most features, watching MLB.TV through your Mac or PC's web browser remains the best option. There’s a clickable linescore that allows you to easily go to any hitter’s at-bat from any point in the game. You can also input the names of players on your fantasy teams so that when they do something noteworthy—even in a game you’re not watching—you’ll get an alert bubble that will let you pull up a video highlight. And the split-screen, picture-in-picture, and “quad” views, which allow you to watch two or four games simultaneously, are also almost exclusively available on Mac/PC.
The biggest hangup with using your computer is that’s all Flash-based, so streaming can consume a lot of your computer's resources. Video playback typically isn’t as smooth as on portable devices or consoles.
Apple TV: Apple TV’s MLB interface is more or less unchanged from previous years. You can sign up for MLB.TV Premium or buy a subscription directly from your Apple TV. From there, the spartan Apple TV interface offers access to the day’s full slate of games, updated standings, and video recaps of completed games. It even offers up who the current pitcher and hitter is in each game before you click to watch.
PlayStation 3/4: Sony’s PlayStation 3 and 4 remain the gold standard for MLB.TV viewing. The main navigation page is a little busy and a bit cumbersome for those unfamiliar with the PS3 controller, but the video quality is stunning. Most impressive is the embedded data about a game—it's easy to jump to the next major event in the game, like an RBI double or a home run, without scanning through video hoping to find it. The audio overlay option, which lets you pipe in the radio feed over the TV broadcast, is cool.
Xbox 360/Xbox One: Don't expect the rich experience you'll get from the PlayStation on Microsoft's gaming console. You get home and away videos and the ability to pause and rewind action, but no audio overlay. In some brief Opening Day testing, we were able to use the Xbox One's Snap feature to multitask with MLB.TV, just in case you wanted to play a little Ryse while the Cubs and Pirates carry on elsewhere on your TV screen. Note that video streaming for either the Xbox One or 360 requires an Xbox Live Gold account.
Best of the rest
TiVo: TiVo's line of DVRs support MLB.tv, and the interface is straightforward. Video quality is good, too. But otherwise it's a pretty straightforward implementation without a lot of bells and whistles.
Windows 8: The Windows 8/RT version of MLB.TV didn't make much of an impression when it debuted last year. Sadly, the 2014 edition continues to lag behind other platforms, with just a bare minimum of features. You'll get live video and a scoreboard—and instability, if our testing on Opening Day for the 2014 season was anything to judge by.
There’s also an At Bat app for BlackBerry, as well as a Windows Phone version, but we didn’t get a chance to test either of them. Other supported devices include WD TV, Boxee, and TVs and Blu-Ray players from Panasonic, Samsung, and LG.
Philip Michaels and Jason Snell contributed to this updated story.
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