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Summary:

Updated: Watching the World Cup at work is easier than ever, thanks to free live streams from ESPN3 and Univision. However, is the online soccer experience also enjoyable? We tested both sites, and struggled with pixelated pictures and a live feed that was anything but real time.

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Updated: Countless soccer fans tune into the World Cup from work these days, utilizing free live streams from Univision and ESPN. However, as the goals pile up, so do the complaints. Feedback on Twitter shows than many users are struggling with low bit rates and pixelated pictures, while significant delays of the online feeds turn integrated Facebook feeds into spoiler widgets. Here are just a few comments from Twitter, as seen during today’s game between Brazil and North Korea:

Our own Liz Shannon Miller, who has been following the World Cup via ESPN3′s live stream, described her experience as “dramatically fluctuating in quality.” The ESPN3 player would sometimes go from full HD quality to three bars (indicating an average bit rate) to barely watchable with one bar in two minutes. She also provided some choice screen shots, showing how bad things can be when they’re bad:

However, the ESPN3 stream can actually be quite clear when things go well:

I’ve been following the Cup through a live stream provided by Univision.com, and I found its quality to be consistent but mediocre. Most of the times it’s watchable, but never good enough to watch it any bigger than the standard 640 x 360 player (Univision allows users to switch to a larger player, but doesn’t have any full screen option available). As you can see, at times it was quite pixelated and washed out as well:

However, my bigger issue with the Univision stream is its Facebook integration. We’re usually a big fan of combining Facebook status updates with live video feeds here at NewTeeVee. However, today I had to force myself not to pay any attention to the Facebook chatter, simply because the Univision stream lags close to 20 seconds behind the TV feed most of the time – and reading how someone had scored a goal when I hadn’t even seen him give it a try was a huge turn-off.

We’ve contacted Univision and ESPN3 for this article, but haven’t heard back. We have been told by the web performance management company Alertsite that the ESPN3 site itself has shown “nearly impeccable performance since the World Cup began,” with availability currently being at 99.96%. However, those measurements only take into account the site itself. It seems like it’s now time for ESPN to improve its stream as well.

Update: ESPN EVP Damon Philips told me during a phone conversation that the network takes reports of any shortcomings serious, but that it has overall been “very pleased” with the World Cup so far. He said that ESPN3′s site tries to offer end users the best available bitrate based on the user’s bandwidth and computer, starting off with 400kbps and then quickly boosting it up to 1.8 Mbps. Philips told me that ESPN3′s users watched today’s games with 1.5 Mbps on average. He declined to say how many people exactly have been watching the World Cup via ESPN3, but that the site is “seeing record usage right now.”

How has your World Cup online video experience been so far? Let us know in the comments!

Related content on NewTeeVee: Where to Watch the World Cup Online and on Your Phone

Learn more about web and broadband infrasturcture challenges at our Structure 2010 conference next week.

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  1. I’ve been watching all the games on ESPN3.com, and the performance has been excellent so far. Once during halftime of the Portugal-Ivory Coast game today the screen froze and I had to reload, but other than that it’s been perfect – far better than I’ve seen with the NCAA Tournament or the Masters.

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  2. I’ve had a great viewing experience on ESPN3. Maybe for a couple of minutes over 4 games I’ve watched it has been less than crystal clear but fantastic otherwise. Not many people are going to tweet that things are going as they should, so it’s no surprise that complainers are being seen more often

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  6. What CDN are they using?

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  7. Aren’t some of these sites using the Conviva technology? If so it appears to be failing miserably.

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  8. JasonEndavoMedia Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Univision live feeds are performing extremely well even on my crappy cable DSL connection. Vive la Univision.

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  9. [...] only be accessed by some 70 percent of all broadband households, but is available with bitrates of up to 1.8 Mbps. Univisionfutbol.com, on the other hand, is free, but lacks a dedicated HD option — plus the [...]

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  10. The fluctuation in quality is likely deliberate. It’s called adaptive bitrate or multi-bitrate. It tries to match the most appropriate bitrate stream to your available bandwidth and resources available on your client to render the video. So if your bandwidth fluctuates, you may see a drop in quality, or an increase in quality. Or if your machine doesn’t have enough horse power to render the highest quality stream, it may drop you down to a lower bitrate stream. Dropping you down to lower quality stream is preferable to the alternative, which is you’ll probably experience a lot of rebuffering which result in an even poorer experience.

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