Roku Hits A Home Run With MLB

Dave Zatz —  August 13, 2009 — 19 Comments

As you may have read earlier this week, the Roku Media Player ($99, Amazon) has a new channel in the form of Major League Baseball. Which is monumental as far as I’m concerned. Because it allows folks to subscribe to premium, live television programming without going through a television operator. And unlike Boxee, which also landed MLB.TV (and $6 million), Roku is truly a hack-free set-top device. (Which also travels well.)

As you can see in the video I shot above, MLB on Roku allows subscribers to watch all out of market games. Not only can you join a game in progress, you can optionally start playback from the opening pitch. Given the buffering, similar to Netflix video streaming, using the transport controls to jump around could be frustrating. But, overall, video looked good enough – I imagine most baseball fans will be quite pleased.

As the season is winding down, a new MLB.TV subscription runs only $35. While existing MLB.TV Premium subscribers are entitled to access at no additional cost. If Roku were able to work a similar deal with say the NFL or SEC for live football, I’d be willing to overpay for access. No doubt about it.

Bonus coverage: Towards the end of my video, watch the menu flip around as I work my way into a hidden service menu Super Contra style. (home x5, rw x3, ffw x2) Here you can override Roku’s analysis of your network and force it to stream at a specific bitrate and/or turn on debugging to see what those observed speeds and issued streams are. Practically, these may not have much use. But when was that ever a requirement for an interesting hack?

Click to enlarge:

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19 responses to Roku Hits A Home Run With MLB

  1. I received a Roku email newsletter yesterday, which included a blurb on this… and at least 8 exclamation points. Why do the folks who write these things insist on that? Over-effusive enthusiastic marketing impairs credibility. Speak to me like a human – surely they wouldn’t talk that way in a cafe. Or would they?

  2. I have the online (PC based) version. Does one subscription work on either my PC or the Ruko. (I realize probably not both at once.)

  3. For straight playback, how was the buffering issue over an extended time period? Not bad?

  4. Ryan, if you have an MLB.TV Premium subscription you’re entitled to Roku access as well. Visit http://mlb.com/roku to enable it. (I also updated the post to cover this – thanks.)

    Mari, once it was playing it seemed fine. I didn’t watch an entire game (baseball puts me to sleep), but the streaming was pretty consistent. Rob at the Post (linked up top) did mention his video dropped out a few times (he’s on DSL), and I’ve seen Netflix rebuffer now and then. But it’s never been a major problem or distraction. What is somewhat jarring are the commercial breaks – while the local affiliates run their TV ads, folks using this service (on the web or Roku) are hit with a static graphic and complete silence (pic above).

  5. forcing to play at a certain bitrate is awesome. at my old apartment it would often try and stream at 3 bars, decide that was too hard and rebuffer at 2, five minutes later it would get it’s confidence back and rebuffer to try to stream at 3 (inevitably failing after a short while). most days i just wished i could force it to stay at 2 (or even 1).

  6. I’m so tempted to pick up a Roku. I’m amazed at how well they’ve done adding new content to the box.

  7. David Van Benthuysen August 13, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    MLB.tv is a great addition for Roku, however the big knock against MLB.tv has always been their blackout policy. I am a huge Phillies fan, but I live 3 hours away from their stadium. I don’t have cable and therefore can only watch one game or so a week OTA. I would subscribe to MLB.tv Premium in a heartbeat, especially now that they are on Roku, if they found a suitable resolution to the blackouts.

  8. I love the Roku, but have zero interest in this new channel. Does Roku allow me to not show the MLB icon at the top level? So that today, it would just look like NetFlix+Amazon?

    What happens when we start getting lots of new channels, some that each of us individually might have interest in, and some not?

    I’m afraid it’ll start looking like TiVo’s “Showcases…” menu, with lots of crap like “Order Pizza Now” and “Build Your Own Range Rover”.

  9. This is a nice video preview. Unfortunately, the MLB package is more than I would like to pay for baseball, but this is a very nice addition to the Roku box.

    I remember discussion of another secret screen, how do we get there?

  10. Brent, I’m really looking forward to the Mediafly podcast stuff since it can all be managed online and synced with iPhone, etc.

    George, Good point on the clutter. Right now it’s fine but as these other services start showing up we’ll need a way to hide or shrink things we don’t use.

  11. Any reason to think Tivo access to MLB.com won’t follow?

  12. At $99 this thing is pretty hard to beat. Thought about getting Playon to use Netflix on the PS3 but this seems a lot more fun.

    My only debate – Is there a Gen 2 Roku box on the horizon??

  13. NFL package and I am in. I refuse to pay DirecTV for the right to watch the Denver Broncos (I live in New York)

  14. I’m getting one today, do you have an Amazon link or something I can use since your columns have convinced me to pick one up (I was gonna get it for my parents for Xmas just because of the Netflix, but this inks it).

  15. nevermind, i found it in the text there

  16. Big John, I don’t throw too many commissioned Amazon links in. Roku is one of the exceptions. I think it’s a great value at $99 and have no qualms promoting them (and taking a small cut).

    Gregg, I’m not aware of any new hardware on the horizon although companies frequently refresh devices befor the holidays. Roku seems most focused on adding content partners.

    Tom, I’ll assume then that Swarmcast is the live video streaming tech powering this service behind the scenes.

  17. I watched the Red Sox/Tigers game this afternoon via ROKU. It was HD and without one glitch the entire game. VERY impressive. ROKU is a fantastic device, and MLB via ROKU is wonderful. THANK YOU…THANK YOU to all the nerds that made this Possible!!

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