I am an NFL fan, and I don't have cable. For those reasons alone, I was incredibly excited about this year's addition of DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket to the PlayStation 3. Like MLB and NHL streaming apps before it, Sunday Ticket is an extension of DirecTV's NFL game-streaming package, which has already been available on the PC, mobile phones, the iPad, and Android tablets. The PS3, however, is the first gaming console to gain NFL game-streaming capability.
It sounds great, but be aware of the caveats. First, Sunday Ticket costs $340 to activate for one season. That's $90 more than the cost of a PlayStation 3. Second, Sunday Ticket does not work for all games: In fact, it's only for 1 and 4 ET Sunday games outside of one's local broadcast market (hence, "Sunday" ticket). Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, and Thursday night games won't play. As a Jets fan, I'd still need to watch games via over-the-air broadcast, as I normally do.
That's standard knowledge to anyone who's already used NFL Sunday Ticket, but it's useful disambiguation for newcomers, particularly cable cord-cutters hoping that Sunday Ticket will be a catch-all solution. It isn't, entirely, especially since ESPN and NFL Network are cable-only. For those, you'll either need cable TV or a local sports bar and some beer money. However, I was curious and extremely excited to see if DirecTV's PS3 app could vault the NFL to a new level of access for the cable-free.
The PS3 app works much like the iPad app, and has nearly the same exact interface. A prompter will ask for a login e-mail and password, much like services such as HBO Go. Activating the PS3 costs an additional $50 for DirecTV Sunday Ticket subscribers, but I was able to use my test account e-mail on my iPad Sunday Ticket app interchangeably.
Games are presented in a menu down the left side of the screen, and can be instantly streamed along with game stats and standings presented with interface buttons designed to work with the PS3 controller in mind. The NFL Red Zone Channel, which skips around the league looking at big drives like a remote control on caffeine, is also included.
Unfortunately, I was presented with a big problem in my inaugural Sunday test-run: games didn't play well at all. I got the Chiefs-Bills game to play for a few seconds before freezing and stuttering kicked in. After that, no games streamed at all during an hour and a half of attempts. DirecTV acknowledged this failure in a blog post, and many Sunday Ticket To Go users reported similar problems across the Internet. My communication with DirecTV hasn't revealed exactly what happened, but it was a failure on an embarrassing level.
Problems like the one that occurred on Sunday are most likely (we hope) rare, but it shook my confidence in streaming NFL games in a big way. If I were a Jets fan relying on my PS3 NFL Sunday Ticket to watch a game this Sunday and hangs like I experienced happened, I would have thrown my console against a wall. In the end, I resorted to old-fashioned over-the-air CBS and Fox HD to provide the rest of the Sunday action. Live sports needs to be served without a hitch, or it's useless for a true fan. (For the curious, I have broadband Time Warner cable connected via hardline Ethernet to my PS3.)
According to many reports, late-afternoon games fixed the issues. My test during the early games (I headed to the Jets Sunday Night Football tailgate after that) turned into a turnover on downs. DirecTV has promised a refund for disgruntled PS3 users, but that's hardly sufficient for a lost opportunity to watch a game that can't be seen again live.
I'll follow up next week to find out what a "normal" Sunday on NFL Sunday Ticket on the PS3 feels like, but hopefully in the meantime DirecTV's finding a way to refund users for last week. There are only 17 Sundays of football, after all. For better or worse, DirecTV is the NFL's provider of streaming NFL game service to the country at large, and DirecTV will need to step it up if it wants to be seen as a premium service worth spending money on.
Did you encounter any problems on Sunday? And, would you pay $340 for Sunday Ticket on the PS3? Sound off below.