We’re coming upon the end of the first month of 2012 Major League Soccer season action. Heading into this season, MLS Digital decided to completely rebuild their MLS Matchday Live (MDL) setup, and rebrand the product to the simpler title, “MLS Live.” In this MLS Live product review, I will share my experiences with this version of Major League Soccer’s online gateway.
Wide Array Of Platforms: The folks at MLS Digital turned away from the Microsoft Silverlight framework that restricted delivery to additional platforms. Their new service is being streamed using Adobe Flash, which has enabled the product to be found through a few new portals. In addition to the web and Roku platforms serviced by MDL, MLS Live is now available through apps on the iPhone, iPad, and Panasonic televisions.
Most of my viewing has been through web browsing (live.mlssoccer.com), and I have enjoyed the ability to watch full matches easily, whether live or on demand. Blackout rules can apply for games in your local market, so if you expect to purchase this to watch your local team’s matches in lieu of cable, FIOS, or satellite, you are likely to be disappointed at least some of the time.
I’ve also used the iPhone app, where you can stream live matches easily from within the league scoreboard. One thing to note with the iPhone app – previously played matches are not available on demand (although you can catch individual replays of the important action). The stream is comparable to that of EPL/Champions League portal FoxSoccer2Go, from what I’ve seen thus far.
I also had a chance to check out the Roku app. A friend let me borrow his Roku HD, and it appears to be an excellent alternative to running an HDMI cable from your PC to your television. I never had the opportunity to try the old MDL app on the Roku, but I’m assuming all the functionality is the same. The quality looked great by my eyes, though I did see some Twitter reports that there were a few glitches early in the season.
I have not had a chance to use the iPad or Panasonic apps. Please feel free to drop a comment if you have information about the product on these platforms.
Versatility: If you are a fan of watching the entire league, this package really fits the bill in your case. Aside from the national TV broadcasts (ESPN/2, NBC/SN, and Galavision in the US, TSN in Canada) and those blacked out in your local area, the service will have every out-of-market match live and on-demand. Blacked-out matches typically have full replays available within 48 hours of the completion of the match.
In this regard, I find MLS Live to be a better option than Direct Kick. For one thing, it is cheaper ($59.99) than the television subscription plan (approximately $80 last I checked). Additionally, I subscribe to a satellite provider, and if I try to DVR matches through Direct Kick, the allotments for matches are usually 3-4 hours long. If you have another family member who records shows, this can create some tension – especially if you don’t have a whole-home DVR setup. With MLS Live, every match available is easily streamed without eating up your DVR’s precious hard-drive space.
Quality: I did touch on the quality of the iPhone and Roku, but not the web. The interface allows you to select between 4 different bandwidth rates (up to 3Mbps), or simply select “Best Available” if your service tends to fluctuate. When the streaming is at its best, it looks as good as any stream I’ve ever seen from FoxSoccer2Go. It doesn’t seem as stable as ESPN3, but that service has had a few years to work out the kinks.
If you want to compare this to the HD channels on Direct Kick, clearly Direct Kick is going to win out in the long run no matter your bandwidth. In my case, I have DSL, and MLS Live can’t consistently deliver an HD quality signal given my limitations – but it is good most of the time. It all depends upon your expectations. For my purposes, the picture delivered to my laptop suits my needs to a tee. If you have a Roku or Panasonic television and a cable internet connection, your high-def experience should certainly surpass my observations.
Interface: The features available on the web interface give the user a fair amount of control over their viewing experience. If you want to see a replay of that killer pass or amazing save, you don’t have to wait for the broadcast team to cue it up. You can back the stream up in 10 second intervals, and even can hit a “slow motion” button to examine the play until your heart is content. You can also fast forward 10 seconds at a time.
If you ‘re watching on-demand, there are some other options. If you want a little faster way to move ahead (or backwards), there is a timeline just above the VCR-type controls that allows you to jump within the match. At the top of the interface is your list of matches available, and you can jump from match to match if you wish. The only thing one could wish for might be the ability to stream multiple matches at once; maybe in future releases they will be looking to incorporate even more functionality into their service.
You can also set the interface to have the scores and statistics turned on or off. If you catch a match on-demand prefer not knowing the result, just make sure you leave the scores turned off and you’ll enjoy the match without the result being spoiled. Of course turning these options on give you a plethora of information about the match. Scores on also turns on some icons within the timeline allowing you to move to the point where a goal was scored or card was issued.
Lastly, they have also incorporated the rise in social networks into their interface. If you decide not to go full screen, you can watch the match and post observations using Facebook and Twitter, right in the same browser window. It allows you to interact directly with other users watching the match.
The Bottom Line: I personally find the MLS Live package to be a great alternative to Direct Kick, perhaps even better. It costs less, has sufficient quality given my bandwidth limitations, and gives me freedom from having to record a bunch of matches each week. I’m looking forward to using this product throughout the season, and I would encourage you to purchase this product if you are looking for a cheaper, more portable method to keep up with your Major League Soccer.
To learn more, visit the MLS Live website.