I’ve been on the brink of ordering the NFL Sunday Ticket online ever since it became available to non-DirecTV customers (albeit very quietly) a few years ago. The cost, coupled with less than stellar reviews kept me from making the commitment. This year the price has dropped to $250. That’s still a lot of money, but I’ve always wanted to experience the NFL Sunday Ticket and I don’t have the option of getting DirecTV at my home. So, this year I finally took the plunge.
Beginning in 2011, NFL Sunday Ticket also became available through the PS3. Both the PS3 version and the standalone online package are designed for people who can’t get DirecTV at their current address for reasons such as line of sight issues, condo rules, etc.
For those that don’t already know, NFL Sunday Ticket provides live out-of-market coverage of every NFL game every Sunday. Out-of-market is a key phrase here. If the game is broadcast on TV in your area, it won’t be available through the NFL Sunday Ticket. It includes all Sunday early and late game, but night Sunday Night, Monday Night, or any other games.
The online version of the NFL Sunday Ticket also comes with NFL Red Zone Channel. If you aren’t familiar with NFL Red Zone it is a commercial free broadcast that literally jumps from game-to-game on Sundays with a focus on, you guessed it, teams who are in the red zone. You’ll see every touchdown and pretty much every big play during each game. And if nothing of real note is going on at a particular time, they just pick a game and show it. I’d probably pay $50 a year just to get the Red Zone online.
Signing up for NFL Sunday Ticket Online / PS3
One of my big questions was, if I order Sunday Ticket through PS3, will I also get access on my computer, iPad, etc? I took to the Interwebs for a search. Two of the commentors from a thread on the Buffalo Bills discussion board indicated that they were told by DirecTV support that purchasing one would give access to the other (scroll down to the bottom of the thread for the relevant comments). The commenters were apparently told that it was all part of the same system and their username and password would work for both. However, this thread on the DirecTV forums indicates that they are separate subscriptions and one won’t give access to the other. I called DirecTV customer support to try to get some clarity. The Customer Support rep I spoke with told me the same thing that appeared on the DirecTV forum: that PS3 and the Online NFL Sunday Ticket were two separate systems and thus I would have to purchase both packages to get them on both devices. With that information in mind, I decided to order the online version for $250 from the DirecTV website.
Ordering was simple and there really wasn’t any sort of verification other than clicking a few check boxes to certify that I have never had DirecTV at my address and could’t get DirecTV for one reason or another.
After ordering online, and creating a username and password, curiosity got the best of me and I headed to the PS3 to see if those credentials would let me log into the Sunday Ticket app on the PS3. And, I’m very pleased to report, they did work. I ordered the online version and got access to PS3 as well. Not to veer too far of topic, but this points to a reason why consumers get so frustrated with products like this. It’s so hard to get straight information. Plus, you’ve got customer support telling different people different things.
This raises a few more questions. First, is it the same if you order through PS3? Do those subscribers through PS3 (who pay $50 more) also get access online & mobile devices. Second, are you supposed to get access to all platforms regardless of where you buy Sunday Ticket online? In other words, is this a loophole that Sony/DirecTV will close? I wouldn’t think so, but I hesitate to advise people on which version to buy based on that concern. For that reason, I just mention what worked for me, and I would suggest calling customer support and trying to get confirmation if you are concerned. With all that out of the way, on to the review…
NFL Sunday Ticket on the PS3
My typical download speed is usually around 5Mbps, which is certainly nothing special. I have the PS3 physically connected to my router (as opposed to over WiFi). I initially had the PS3 connected with the composite cables that come with the device which I believe only delivers a resolution of 480p. It wasn’t until later that it dawned on me that I should change it to an HDMI connection to maximize the video quality.
My Experience (Week 1)
I logged in around 10:00 AM ET to test the system and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Red Zone Channel was playing NFL Network’s Gameday program. I watched that for about an hour or so and was glad to find that the stream was very good quality. Naturally at this time of the morning the servers are not seeing the same level of activity that they will during the games, but it was certainly promising.
At 12 Noon ET all the Game channels become active and stream either the CBS or Fox pregame shows. Again, the picture quality was good.
As the games began I immediately began excitedly jumping around the channels and found no issues connecting to or streaming any of the game. Keep in mind that local games are blacked out and those games just display a message to that effect. The picture quality doesn’t equal what I get from local over the air HD channels, but it certainly delivered a very nice picture. I was satisfied, but not blown away or anything.
Switching between games is not as smooth as changing channels on your TV, but that’s to be expected. There is a 5-10 second delay while the video stream to the new game is being established. Think of it as similar to switching from one program to another in Netflix.
I’m not very experienced with the PS3, so it took a little time to get the hang of using the controller as a remote. Other than just switching channels, you can pull up game and player stats, highlights, standings, as well as pause, rewind and fast forward the games.
So how do I rate it? I experienced only very minimal fluctuation in video quality and overall I found the picture quality to be very good. The downsides are that it doesn’t appear to give you high end HD quality, and it doesn’t include the Fantasy Football features or the Game Mix that you get with the regular NFL Sunday Ticket service. Overall, I was pleased with the performance on PS3.
Below I’ve posted a quick and dirty video that should give you an idea of video output, stat features, and the delay when switching between games. (Note: The black space at the top and bottom of the screen are due to having the PS3 hooked up with the AV cables. When I configured the system for HDMI the video it displayed fully on the screen)
NFL Sunday Ticket on the iPad
My Setup: iPad 2 over 5Mbps WiFi.
The Sunday Ticket iPad app delivered the best experience for me. First, the picture quality was outstanding on the iPad. I would get only a very occasional drop in quality, but when it did drop, it would last just a moment or two and jump back to high quality.
The UI is very nicely designed with the game channels along the left and tabs along the bottom for highlights, stats, schedule and standings.
Full screen mode deliver a crisp and clean picture.
Since most people who will plunk down money for such a product are going to want to watch on a bigger screen, I tested the Sunday Ticket app connected to a TV with an iPad Digital AV adapter (a small adapter that allows you to connect an iPad to an HDMI cable) and with AirPlay through an Apple TV. With the Digital AV converter, the app worked wonderfully. The image on the screen was every bit as clear as it was on the iPad itself. I could easily watch an entire game this way.
Unfortunately, AirPlay was hit and miss for me. During the pregame shows I tried switching to AirPlay and got “An error occurred loading this content” message. Later during the KC-Atlanta game I was able to connect fine and watch the game through the Apple TV. However, when I tried again during the later games, I received that same ”An error occurred loading this content” message.
During the Seattle – Arizona game I also experienced an issue with the audio becoming choppy. It was a clockwork-like cutting out of the audio. Almost.as. if. someone. was. talking. to. you. and. paused. after. every. syllable. But not quite as coherent since words and syllables were being dropped. When I switched to another game and then come back a few minutes later, the issue would be gone. But it did happen a few times. This was the only game where I experienced any quality issues at all.
If the AirPlay connectivity issue is one that gets fixed, or if I can determine it was an issue on my end, the iPad experience would be a clear and solid A grade in my book.
Week 2 (iPad 2 over cellular network)
I attended the Ravens vs Eagles games in Philadelphia this past week and was able to experience the NFL Sunday Ticket app over cellular network during the late Sunday games. The video was quite good, but perhaps not quite as good as WiFi, while we were in and around Philadelphia after the game. As we drove further from the city, however, the video quality fluctuated wildly. I suppose this is to be somewhat expected as you are bound to drive through areas with varying degrees of cell coverage. The video would jump from clear to terribly blurry and even froze a time or two for a few minutes. So, as long as you are in a good coverage area and don’t mind if your data plan takes a hit, you should get a good experience over cellular.
NFL Sunday Ticket on Computer
My Setup: Safari, Chrome, and Firefox browsers on a Macbook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion with WiFi connection and about 5Mbps download speed.
Viewing in the browser was where the Sunday Ticket experience became somewhat disappointing. The UI has a nice design and visual appeal, but that unfortunately doesn’t carry over to the video quality. In the smaller standard video screen the picture was generally nice and clear, but when I went to full screen the video quality really suffered. The quality would fluctuate greatly in full screen mode. Sometimes it was clear, but the majority of the time the video was what I would describe as low to medium quality…. and calling it “medium” might be generous on my part.
Below is an image of the NFL Sunday Ticket in Full Screen Mode on the computer browser. (Click for full size) The full size image gives you a pretty good idea of the video quality (or lack thereof) when in full screen mode.
As I mentioned, the video quality was fine (for the most part) in Standard mode and Mini Mode, which is really just a pop-up viewer that allows you to watch in a separate player outside the browser window.
The computer version also offers a Game Mix mode that lets you watch four games at once, along with a Picture in Picture mode. Both worked fine, but I couldn’t get the Game Mix to go full screen. Every time I tried it would revert to a single game. Perhaps that is a the intention of the design, or perhaps that is an issue that could be fixed.
One thing I did not test on the first Sunday (and will try to remember to test next week) is performance over a wired connection. All my experience was through WiFi. It’s shouldn’t matter either way, but sadly sometimes it does. If it does make a difference I’ll post an update.
If I dropped $250 and my only option was to watch via computer browser, I’d probably be pretty disappointed with the purchase right now. The full screen video quality is a huge letdown. By comparison, the quality of live games from NFL.com’s NFL Preseason Live package blows this one out of the water. Even NBC’s Sunday Night Football Extra delivers much better video quality in full screen. I’m sure most (if not all) people who drop $250 for the standalone product are going to want to watch in full screen on a monitor or TV. For what it’s worth, I didn’t experience any freezing or stuttering of the video, just reduced picture quality in full screen.
It’s also worth noting that you get only one login. Not one per IP address, but one login at a time. And it doesn’t automatically log you out which can get really annoying. I literally had to log out of Sunday Ticket on one device before it would let me log in and watch with another. This could be a real problem if you are watching on your PS3 and then head out with your iPad only to realize later you are still logged in somewhere at home and can’t watch the games.
Am I happy with my purchase? I’ll really have to wait until the end of the season to know for sure, but after one week I’d have to say yes. Both the PS3 and the iPad delivered very good performance. However, if the main way you would watch NFL Sunday Ticket Online is through the computer browser, I’d have real second thoughts about ordering.
Have you experienced NFL Sunday Ticket online or on your PS3? If so, we’re anxious to hear what you think. Has your experience differed? If you purchased through PS3 do you also get access online? Did AirPlay work for you?
If you’d like to order NFL Sunday Ticket for Computer, Tablet, and mobile you can do so online from DirecTV. On the PS3, it can be done by downloading the NFL Sunday Ticket app from the Playstation Store under Media & Apps, and then ordering through the app itself.