After cutting the cable and moving to free legal streaming via Boxee and other services, we really haven’t missed much programming at all. I was worried that the one sport I do follow, NCAA College Football – or American Football as the rest of the world calls it – would have to be dropped since I hadn’t heard of any feed to watch college football online from ABC or ESPN, which carries the majority of the college football programming since it holds the major contract with NCAA. This year I seem to be in luck.
Fortunately for most home high speed internet users in the US there is a great option, with a caveat. ESPN3 is the online ‘station’ from ESPN which has a wide variety of sports programming, even beyond NCAA football. They carry programming from all of the other ESPN networks and that includes NFL Football, Baseball, Racing, Soccer and more. The quality of the stream is actually pretty good and scales depending on your bandwidth and processing power.
The caveat, and it might be a major one for you, is that ESPN3 is available only to users who subscribe to an ISP which has already paid for the privilege of streaming it. Basically, when an ISP signs up ESPN whitelists your ISP’s IP address ranges only allowing access to their service to those ISPs who have paid for it.
If your ISP is not one of the cooperating ones, you will be forwarded to ESPN Player and prompted to purchase the college pass which is about $20 a month. The screen looks like this:
However if your ISP is one of the participating affiliates (some of the larger ones are AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Road Runner), visiting the player will bring up a list of currently live streaming games:
After opening the main site, click on a game and a new window pops up with the streaming player.
The quality of the video will automatically adjust based on your CPU and bandwidth available, and while not full HD (eg. 720p or 1080i) the quality is pretty decently and looks good at a normal television set distance. Click here to see a full screen screenshot of the feed at the 4 out of 5 level. I never hit 5/5 even though I should have plenty of bandwidth and a Core i7 CPU, so I’m not sure what the ‘full’ feed looks like but would be curious if anyone has a screencapture of it!
Not all College Football games are carries on ESPN/ABC, however. There are a few options although I have not found any of them to be as reliable, and of questionable legality, as the ESPN feeds. You can sometimes find your game on Ustream or Justin.tv – do a search for your team’s name. I also seemed to find a lot of games online at ChannelSurfing which may work in a pinch.
Also, if streaming online is not your cup of tea and if you live within the broadcast area of the major networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox, you may be able to pull in their video Off The Air (OTA) using a TV tuner such as the HD Homerun from SiliconDust or Hauppauge HVR line of products. This isn’t streaming or even watching it online, but it does provider a cheaper alternative than paying for Cable TV.
The Future of Sports Streaming Online
With more and more content providers offering live events online for stream (NCAA March Madness is another example), it is good to see such a high quality content available, even if it isn’t totally free (even though it technically is free to the end-user, you are paying or it indirectly with your subscription to high speed internet). With more and more people ‘cutting the cable’, we will see more content being offered to ISPs as a way to create more revenue from non-cable subscribers.
Finally a warning – some sites that I did find are definitely of questionable legal standing and also may install spyware on your PC. Make sure not to click on ‘OK’ if they want to install a plugin, especially Internet Explorer users. If they are looking for a credit card number, I would also shy away since there is a good chance these are scam sites trying to offer something for nothing.
How do you get your streaming sports online? Other major networks, such as Fox, do not yet offer online streaming as far as I know. Do you have any other sites you would recommend?