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
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