By Charlotte Males
SportTechie

At first there was just one, but now, there are four major competitors for video streaming platforms for people wishing to extend their television options. So which one is best for the Internet-savvy sports fan?

It was only eight months ago that we wrote a comparison between Apple TV and Google Chromecast. That's how quickly the market has grown for these video streaming platforms. But, to compare all four equally, we need to define the areas of comparison. For the average sports fan, the three most important areas are generally video quality, what sports channels are available and price. So let's dive in.

Apple TV
First up is the original, Apple TV. Released in 2007, it has grown ever since with roughly 50 channels or apps. Some are only available in the U.K., but most are only offered in the U.S. Unfortunately, most of the sports channels do require a paid subscription. These include ESPN, MLB TV, MLS, NBA Game Time, NHL and WWE Network. All offer free highlights and scores, but if you want to watch a whole match or game, you will need a subscription.

There are only two completely free sports channels: Red Bull TV and ACC Sports. Added in March, ACC Sports is a video-heavy channel focuses on Atlantic Coast Conference sports, namely college basketball, football, baseball, soccer, volleyball and swimming.

Although many of the sports channels are subscription only, you are able to stream 1080p HD quality videos from your iOS device via Apple AirPlay. This means you are able to stream whatever is on your Apple Mac or other iOS device straight onto your TV via your Internet connection. Plus, you can access anything that's stored in your Cloud and show it on your TV.

Apple TV is great for the sports fan, but a negative is that as an Apple product, it only supports iOS devices. You can get an Apple TV for around $99.

Google Chromecast
Chromecast is the cheapest option on the market at $35. But with the small price tag comes small options. Sadly for U.S. sports fans, ESPN is not supported on Chromecast. But the good news for sports fans in the UK is that BT Sports announced its partnership with the device. However, UK fans will need a subscription with BT Sports to be able to watch the channel.

A supported channel for both U.S. and U.K. is the Red Bull TV, which is free. Although the major sports channels are not available officially, like the Apple TV, Chromecast lets you stream what's on your on computer or tablet via your Wi-Fi onto the big screen. So there is a potential shortcut, but just remember the video quality is dependent on the speed of your Internet connection. Google Chromecast does support 1080p crisp quality and will adjust the video quality to the speed of the Internet it receives.

Amazon Fire TV

Not a company to shy away from making a grand entrance, Amazon released Fire TV on April 2, and it has already made a splash in the market. It's a lot faster than any of the other set top boxes on the market and has great picture quality. Amazon Fire TV has a set remote that comes with the $99 price tag, but it does a have a voice control feature. So you are able to search for TV shows, movies or even games by simply speaking into the remote control.

Amazon Fire TV provides access to WatchESPN, Red Bull TV and the ACC Digital Network, as well as a whole range of sports movies from Amazon Instant Video. Amazon has said additional services including WWE Network and MLB.TV will be coming soon. Again, most of those will need a subscription.

Roku
Last but certainly not least is Roku. Just like the others Roku boasts a great 1080p video quality streamed via your Wi-FI network. Its top model has the same price tag as the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV at $99. Although it is at the high end of the market, Roku should not be written off.

Roku has the most sporting channels or apps compared to any other video streaming platform. (You can find a full list here). Roku has the more common channels like ESPN, MLB TV, MLS, NBA Game Time, NHL and WWE Network. But it also has the UFC, surfing, Lakers Nation and even fishing channels. Although a lot of these channels provide highlights and scores, Roku has by far the most varied sport channels. Roku also gives good news to U.K. sports fans, as it streams Sky Sports through Sky's Now TV service.

The biggest difference separating Roku from the other platforms is the variety of hardware. There are four different types of Roku box sets with the top of the line being five times faster than the least expensive. There is also an option to purchase one with a headphone jack so user’s can have a more private experience if desired. The boxes range from $49.00-$99.99.

Breaking It Down
After considering all four platforms, just for the variety and amount of sports that is available, Roku would be the most suited to sports fans. Although it has a high price tag, the amount of sports you get is superior to the other streaming options. However, watch out for Amazon Fire TV, with the introduction of their own app store, plus music and video provider.

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The NFL recognized more than two years ago that technology was making it easier and cheaper for fans to get a great game-day experience by staying at home rather than buying tickets.

To reverse that trend, the league looked to leverage technology as a way of luring fans to the stadium while also devising a new revenue stream for the teams.

The latest development is a new app that the NFL has approved, and it will allow fans to be closer than ever to the action on the field ... as well as the cheerleaders. Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Daily reports that the NFL has launched a partnership with the app developer Experience. The collaboration will allow fans to upgrade their seats, score pre- and post-game on-field experiences and even, if they so desire, order cheerleaders to their seats.

The Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tested the program last season. The app itself won't cost fans any money because its functions will be embedded into the team's app. But experiences such as seat upgrades and time with cheerleaders will require a fee, which is the revenue opportunity for the clubs.

These app-activated experiences varied by team. Seahawks fans could kick field goals after the games while the Falcons allowed users to avoid long waits to get into the stadium. The Falcons branded each experience a "Memory" and said they sold about 800 per game.

As many as half of the NFL's teams may be onboard with the app during the 2014 season.

"Anything from pregame on-field, to a birthday message, to cheerleader visits, to mascot visits, to the fly-by pass, which is a dedicated lane where you don’t wait to get into the stadium," Jim Smith, the Falcons' chief marketing officer, told Kaplan. "All the experiential things sold out within the first four hours they were made available."

This partnership is in sync with the NFL's push to make the in-stadium experience more enjoyable for fans by encouraging teams to increase the reach of stadium Wi-Fi. Another mandate was that clubs install cameras in the home team's locker room.

The average NFL ticket price last season was $81.54, and the cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game was nearly $460, according to the Fan Cost Index. This cost is based on four tickets, plus two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, two game programs, two adult-size adjustable caps, and parking. There are more frugal ways to attend a game than the basis of the index, but it is still another reminder that the NFL is running a business.

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If you're looking to connect with other fans of your school to catch games during March Madness but aren't a regular at the designated watch sites, here's an app that can get you clued in. It is called Fanatic, and it works on a crowd-sourcing concept where fans can figure out where to show up for the action. Or you can start your own watch party.

The key to the app is that it goes beyond the FourSquare mentality of just taking a head count. Based on fan participation, the app can begin to function like Evite in terms of sending announcements and tracking RSVPs, and includes Facebook functionality to help spread the word.

So if you're a Wichita State alum in New York, the app would tell you that Riviera Cafe in Greenwich Village is to place to gather with fellow Shockers fans. But the app isn't limited to just college sports. It handles the pro leagues and even European soccer.

Here is a short demonstration:

The app is free and available on iOS and Android. (SportsFanLive, the sister site of ThePostGame, developed a similar app called FanFinder that was named a Top Ten iPhone App by Time magazine when it was released in 2009.)

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One MLB team has taken the trend of advanced statistics to an entirely new level.

According to a recent report in The Economist, a mystery MLB team has purchased a Cray supercomputer to use during games. These devices, which can crunch enormous amounts of data very rapidly, range in price from $500,000 to $60 million.

The team was not identified by Cray CEO Pete Ungaro, but Ungaro did provide a hint. From The Economist story:

"The team, which declines to be named, exemplifies an organisation that, five years ago, most people would not have dreamed would need, or even want, a supercomputer, he says."

That would appear to rule out clubs like the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A's, which have been known for their embrace of advanced statistics.

While it remains unclear what type of Cray computer this is, and how exactly it will be used, it would appear to provide a team a significant strategic advantage to be able to use during games.

Hopefully this team's foray into technology will go over better with MLB and the government than the Washington Nationals' use of drones at Spring Training.

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One day in the near future robots may overcome humans and actually beat us at the sports we invented. Thankfully, that day is still far away.

In a new trending video, German ping pong star Timo Boll faces off against the KUKA robot. The match has been highly anticipated ever since KUKA announced the pairing one month ago.

The video appears to be as much commercial as it is actual match (Boll is, after all, a spokesman for KUKA), and thus the spot has disappointed some, but it's still neat to get a look at what the future of sports technology my look like.

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