Batter up: The best ways to watch baseball on your digital devices

The 2012 Major League Baseball season is now under way, and tech-savvy fans have more ways than ever 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 360 for more than just late-night Skyrim, you can always catch the game.

After taking stock of what’s available this year, it’s clear that MLB Advanced Media, which oversees digital development and app R&D for the league, concentrated more on tweaking and upgrading the overall user experience rather than throwing in more glitzy features. That’s not to say the developer should have, as the offerings were plenty impressive already, providing multiple video feeds, crystal-clear HD, access to a wide range of platforms, and so forth. But it’s the smaller aesthetic changes, combined with a revamped business model, that will benefit users the most.

MLB continues its successful multi-tiered subscription model, albeit with a slight uptick in prices. But the killer upgrade this year is MLB’s embrace of the “buy once, enjoy anywhere” mentality. By applying that thinking to its most invested users, many consumer will actually save some bucks.

The pricing structure is simple to grok and more universal than before. The mobile app version, called At Bat or At Bat 12 (depending on the platform), is $15 across the board; one purchase works across all like-minded platforms. So $15 on your iPhone also gets you the iPad version. Android users can pay $15 for access on their compatible Android phone, tablet, and Kindle Fire. (There is also a BlackBerry and new Windows Phone 7 version of the At Bat app.) Every app purchase comes with real-time scoring updates and unlimited home/away radio streams throughout the season.

If you want audio streaming on your PC/Mac, that’s separate and costs $20 for the year. But for those who also want unlimited video streaming, there are two subscription tiers. For $110, you get the basic home team video feed on your Mac or PC for each game that isn’t blacked out. (Basically, you won’t be able to watch local in-market games, since they’re theoretically 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 on their computer.) That’s all you get.

For just $15 more, the $125 Premium package gets you a slew of extra functionality: home/away video feeds, access to multiple connected devices like Apple TV and Xbox 360, and free access to the At Bat app. Aside from this being the better value, the app access is a much-welcome inclusion. Just log in to your browser, mobile, or connected device with your MLB.com account info and you’re good to go. You no longer have to spend extra dough for the mobile version, as in years past.

The MLB.TV prices are steeper than last year, when they cost $100 for the home team video feed and $110 for the premium package. But you still get live streaming of every game that’s not blacked out, whereas the $15 mobile apps only offer one pre-selected game per day. Plus, the more devices you have, the more cost-effective the investment becomes. A single $125 MLB.TV subscription would enable video streaming on your PC, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, Android phone, Kindle Fire, PlayStation 3, Roku, and Xbox 360.

Here’s a closer, hands-on look at some of the available platforms.

iOS

MLB released a slick, revamped iPad app last spring that cost $15 and featured actual in-stadium architecture and more fleshed-out PITCHf/x ball simulation. This season, a single app works on either the iPhone and iPad, and features some nice aesthetic improvements—specifically, a cleaner iPhone scoreboard and better placing of graphical elements on the iPad. (For example, when you’re watching the graphical real-time updates, the calendar now appears overhead and dead center, instead of tucked away in the upper left.)

Video streams buffer up quick and play without extended stutters. One noticeable change is that, while playing video, on-screen iPad graphics—instead of completely disappearing—revert to a translucent overlay when you bring up playback controls. It’s a small consideration, but one that may prove useful at times, especially when you want to stick with the game you’re watching.

Whether you run it on the iPhone or iPad, MLB.com At Bat for iOS is a joy to use. This season, the iPhone version also moves closer to its superior iPad counterpart by adding in a floating linescore at the top of video streams, so you can get a sense of what’s occurring elsewhere in MLB. However, switching video feeds on the iPhone still enables a clunky menu that envelops nearly the entire screen when activated.

Next page: On Android, your PC or Mac, Apple TV and more...

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