After months of wondering if we would even have an NFL season this year, NFL fans got ready to kick off the 2011 season over the weekend with a slew of great match-ups that were destined to make everyone forget about all the negative off-season events. For any true NFL fan, there’s really only been one way to watch the NFL in the United Sates and keep track of all your favorite teams: DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket.
Since 1994, NFL Sunday Ticket has been exclusive to the satellite giant’s programming packages, making it the only place where you could watch all of the out-of-market games on Sundays. For those not aware, Fox and CBS produce all of the local and regional NFL games on Sundays. Depending on where you live, one of these TV stations will carry your local team/teams and one or two regional games for that area.
If you are on cable, this usually works out to you getting around 3 or so NFL football games on Sunday. While this is good if you are a fan of one of the teams that is in your region, if you like other teams outside of the region, the only way to watch them is when they play one of your local teams, or when they play a national game on ESPN, NBC or the NFL Network. What this comes down to on cable is you end up missing around 11 of the 14 to 15 NFL games on Sunday.
This is where DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket comes into play. Sunday Ticket gives you access to all of the out-of-market games that are broadcast on FOX and CBS on Sundays. This means if you live in say the south east, instead of being limited to the 3 or so games on Sunday, you can watch all of the NFL games from anywhere else in the country on Sunday Ticket.
Now, your local and regional games will be “blacked out” on Sunday Ticket, which means the 3 or so games you normally get on your local FOX and CBS channels won’t be watchable on Sunday Ticket itself, but most people already get those games on their cable or satellites programming package anyway, so it’s not a big deal.
What has been an issue for football fans over the years is the fact that the only way to get Sunday Ticket is by subscribing to DirecTV and putting a satellite dish on the side of your house. This is not an option for everyone as you have to have a clear line of sight to the satellite in the sky to be able to get DirecTV.
Trees, buildings, etc, can all block someones’ line of sight from their house which makes it impossible to get DirecTV installed. On top of that, those who are renting a house or live in an apartment often aren’t allowed to get it at all, regardless of line of sight. That was until now.
Thanks to the recent deal between Sony and DirecTV, PS3 users are now able to get NFL Sunday Ticket from DirecTV right on their PS3.
To access the service, you need to go to the PS Store and download the DirecTV app and install it on your PS3. Once installed, you can access it in the My Channels category under the TV/Video Services icon in the PS3 dash. When you launch the app, you have one of two options, sign up for the service as a non-DirecTV customer or sign up as an existing DirecTV customer.
If you already have DirecTV, then all you have to do is sign in with your DirecTV log in and password and you can pay an extra $50 to use your PS3 as an additional receiver to watch Sunday Ticket. This is a nice option for anyone who already has DirecTV and just wants to add the Sunday Ticket service to another room.
Instead of having DirecTV install another receiver into a room, you can now use your PS3 for Sunday Ticket as long as it has a stable internet connection. You won’t however be able to get any other DirecTV programming on the PS3.
If your like me and don’t already have DirecTV but want Sunday Ticket, then you can buy the Sunday Ticket season package from the app through Sony without having to setup a DirecTV account. The full price of Sunday Ticket for the season is $339.95 USD. This is taken directly from your PlayStation wallet each month in 4 $84.99 payments.
The price might shock a lot of PS3 users, but this is the exact same price that DirecTV charges its customers for NFL Sunday Ticket, and you don’t have to get a satellite installed or buy any extra programming packages. NFL Sunday Ticket on the PS3 has all of the same features as it does on the satellite, including stat and player tracking, real-time score boards with red-zone coverage, and the Red Zone channel.
I spent all day Sunday testing the service on my PS3 and to my surprise, things got off to a very bad start. First a little background about my setup.
My PS3 is plugged into a wired connection directly to my router and my internet download speed is rated at 12 megabits per second. According to Sony, NFL Sunday Ticket only uses 3.5 megabits of downstream bandwidth. I preformed multiple connection speed tests from my PS3 before using the Sunday Ticket service. Both the built-in connection test in the PS3 dash as well as browser based speed test websites confirmed I was getting a full and steady 12 megabits/sec to my PS3 with no connection problems on my end. So at this point it was time for me to fire up the DirecTV app and give her a go.
Just like on the satellite, the NFL streams start broadcasting 15 min before game time with the Fox and CBS pregame shows. So at 12:45 pm EST I clicked on one of the out-of-market games and started watching the pregame show. At first everything looked great, it was crystal-clear HD with no picture artifacts and no buffering problems.
This lasted for about 30 seconds before major problems started to surface. The first signs of problems came in the form of brief pauses in the video every 15 to 30 seconds. As time went on these got worse and started happening more frequently and lasting longer. These appeared to be typical bandwidth related issues which I confirmed were not on my end.
Then, what happened next really blew me away. Major sync issues started popping up when you would be in the middle of the game, and then suddenly out of no where the video would go from the game feed back to the pregame show you just watched. The video would then seem to correct it self and get back to the live game, only to cut out and go back to a TV ad it just played on the last commercial break.
This, along with the other video problems kept getting worse, eventually making the stream completely unwatchable. These issues were not exclusive to just the game I was watching, but were also present in every other game being broadcast at that time. As time went on, most of the games would no longer even load and simply display a “video not available” error.
At this point I jumped online to see what was going on and quickly noticed I was not alone in experiencing these issues. Everyone, no matter what speed their internet connection was, also had the same exact problems as me. At this point I tried to place a call with Sony customer service and after a 12 minute wait I was able to speak with a rep.
She confirmed that this was a “known” issue and that they were trying to figure out what the issue was but she didn’t know if or when the service would be fixed. At this point there was no way to tell if this was a DirecTV issue, a Sony issue, or some sort of problem with both. By this point the 1 pm football games were already half over and there was still no official update from either DirecTV or Sony.
What was clear was there were major issues somewhere with this service and lots of very frustrated fans who were missing their games after having paid good money for a service that was supposed to allow them to watch them. By roughly 3:40 pm I went over to the DirecTV customer service Twitter page to see if I could gain anymore information on these problems.
To my surprise, there was a customer service rep giving out updates on the fly as to what was going on. They confirmed that it was indeed a DirecTV issue, and not a Sony problem, and that the problem was not limited to just the PS3, but all of DirecTV’s streaming services. The rep wasn’t able to provide any ETA on when they would get this fixed but said they were working on the issues and hoped to have it running again soon. By about 4:15 pm people started reporting improvements in the service and I was able to confirm this on my PS3 as well. Finally, at 4:30 pm the service was up and running again and fully functional for most people, my self included.
While the service was now working, DirecTV disabled some of the extra features, such as player tracking for the 4 pm games. The first thing I noticed when I started watching a game was how good the picture quality was. Sony states that these are streaming in HD, but I wasn’t able to confirm whether it was 1080p or 720p.
Regardless of the exact resolution, the picture quality was amazing. It was extremely clear, sharp and vivid. I never had any issues with the stream pausing or stopping for the rest of the day, everything ran perfectly smooth with no issues or loss of the stream. I switched between one of my local NFL games being broadcast over my cable and back to the NFL Sunday Ticket stream on my PS3 and most of the time the picture quality was so good there was no way to tell which one was being streamed. There were at times some areas here and there that would have a little bit of pixelation on parts of the screen but these were very rare, and in most cases hardly even noticeable. At least 95% of the time the stream was perfect with no noticeable artifacts.
Using the PS3’s left joystick, you can bring up the real-time scoreboards of the other games of the day. When you do this, they pop up over the live stream of the game your watching so you can still keep an eye on what’s going on. These are very handy as you can quickly check scores of any of the other games without leaving the one your currently watching.
You can also check all of the player and game stats of these game’, and those as well are updated in real-time. Switching between games takes roughly 20 to 30 seconds on average. While this is a bit slower than I would like, it never got to the point where it became an issue or an annoyance. Hopefully this will be an area where they can improve upon in the future, but as it stands now it’s really not a huge deal.
All in all, despite the rough start with the early games, NFL Sunday Ticket worked as advertised on the PS3 once all the issues were worked out. The picture quality was fantastic, checking stats and scores from around the league was a breeze, and for the first time you can watch NFL Sunday Ticket on your big screen TV with out having a satellite dish or even cable TV.
The price might be a bit steep for some gamers, but it’s a very fair price for the service being offered, and it’s also the same price DirecTV charges its regular customers. PS3 users actually end up coming out ahead as there is no equipment to buy, and you don’t have to order any other packages or services.
There are still some questions here with how the service will fair over the course of the season, and while it ran perfectly for the late games on Sunday, there is no way to tell if there will be any other speed bumps along the way. But the technology to stream HD video over the internet is nothing new and has been around for quite sometime now. It’s proven to work just fine, even on lower speed connections, and services like ESPN3.com haven’t had any major issues streaming live broadcasts. I see no reason why DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket on PS3 wont also be a complete success, and as far as the late games on Sunday go, it already is.
If you are one of the PS3 users who got Sunday Ticket this past weekend and were upset about the performance, Sony is issuing all PS3 users who got the service last weekend a $24.99 credit to your PSN account as an apology for all the issues. While it would have be nice to hear an official announcement about the issues from Sony quicker on Sunday, it’s nice to see them stepping up to the plate and compensating customers for all the trouble.
As it stands now, I am rating this 4/5 stars due to the network problems on Sunday and the unknown of how it will fair over the full season. Assuming there’s no other major issues with the service, than this is easily a 5/5 stars, especially for hardcore NFL fans and fantasy football junkies who don’t have DirecTV already.
DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket was released on September 6th, 2011 on the Playstation Network.