The Washington Times - April 7, 2009, 01:31PM

Full disclosure: I have been on record as proclaiming MLB.TV to be one of the greatest inventions ever produced by mankind. So take that into account as you read these thoughts about the 2009 version of the service that provides live streaming of all out-of-market baseball games.

Major League Baseball Advanced Media this spring announced that its MLB.TV. Premium product would have some new bells and whistles, including the ability to show games in high-definition and the ability to pause and rewind games in DVR fashion. Once again, fans will be able to watch more than one game at a time and have a live player tracker.

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MLB.TV Premium costs $109.95, or $10 less than last year. The basic MLB.TV service, which allows for only one game a a time and has fewer features, costs $79.95.

I use the premium service and played with it for several hours yesterday. It did not work perfectly, but operated extremely well given that it was the first day of the season. (It had been beta testing all spring.)

MLBAM decided this year to use Adobe Flash instead of Microsoft’s Silverlight player, and I think it’s an improvement. The interface is a bit cleaner, switching games is smoother and the overall experience just seems less choppy. The quality of video was generally pretty good yesterday, as I was able to get a near-HD view for most games; the Padres-Dodgers game looked particularly good. (The games that were shot in SD were obviously less sharp.) Occasionally, a game would drop to a lower quality if it felt my Internet connection wasn’t fast enough, and that was a bit frustrating because I’m supposed to get downloads at around 5 Mbps.

The service uses a program called NexDef to allow for HD video and there were times when it kept asking me whether I wanted to download it, even though I already had. That was slightly annoying.

There’s a special blog set aside to help with technical problems and it does appear that MLBAM is working to address things like choppy feeds and audio not in sync. And the DVR playback and archived games are something of a work in progress.

The comments on the blog suggest some frustration among fans, and a messageboard dedicated to the subject is also very active.

As someone who used the service last year, I can tell you that performance improved as the season went on. The people who are angry on day one of the service need to learn the value of patience. While I believe MLBAM should ensure a working product for fans who paid their money, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in the early going because it is new technology. The only way to really ensure it can work with a mass audience is to send it out there live and see how it goes. So we’re sort of live guinea pigs here, like it or not.

At this stage, I give my experience with MLB.TV a solid B, with an expectation that it will be a solid A in short order.