- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - Soccer and balance beam gymnastics on the desktop. Swimming and badminton on the laptop. Boxing on the iPhone. Gymnasts’ floor exercises on the iPad. Vault routines on an Android phone. And rowing on TiVo.

Welcome to the Olympics of the digital age.

For the first time, NBC Sports is showing all competition and medal ceremonies live over the Internet in the U.S. The unprecedented online coverage addresses one of my biggest gripes with Olympics coverage in past years: NBC used to withhold the popular sports for prime-time television and show them on a delayed basis.

At one point, I had seven live streams going at once, plus NBC’s TV broadcast recorded on my digital-video recorder. I got flustered with all the choices in no time but I appreciate having the choice to view any event live. Tape delay doesn’t work anymore. It’s especially compounded by the five-hour time difference between New York and London.

Although the coverage at NBCOlympics.com isn’t flawless, it’s the network’s best effort yet and comes a long way from 2000, when “video” meant still images grabbed from television footage. It’s also the first time live video is extending to mobile devices, through apps for Apple and Android phones and tablet computers.

So get up at 4 a.m. EDT this Thursday to watch an elimination round in women’s archery. Or watch the woman’s marathon in its entirety this Sunday at 6 a.m. Some sports offer multiple feeds, so you can keep watching the javelin throw even if everyone else turns to Usain Bolt on the track.

All this is free, but there’s a big catch: You must have a TV subscription with a cable, satellite or phone company at a service level that comes with CNBC and MSNBC.

I was able to watch live video once I verified my cable account (for Time Warner Cable Inc., I simply had to enter the same username and password used to access bills). It’s something I’m supposed to have to do only once per computer or mobile device, though I ran into a few hiccups because of cookie settings on my browser. If you have trouble, you can get a one-time, four-hour pass for free while you figure it out.

If you still get television over the air or don’t even own a TV set, you’ll be able to access non-video features, including a prime-time companion app with trivia and quizzes. But videos will be limited to highlights, previews and other clips. Full-length video won’t be available until two days after an event takes place.

Dare I say I’d gladly pay $25, $50 or even $100 to watch the streams if I didn’t have the required TV subscription. I get most of what I watch through Hulu, iTunes or Netflix, and all I need cable for is the occasional big event such as the Olympics. I’d rather pay a one-time fee for that than a recurring cable bill.

That mentality is precisely the reason NBC isn’t making live video available for non-subscribers. NBC paid nearly $1.2 billion for U.S. rights to the London Games. Increasingly, it makes money from fees that cable and satellite companies pay to carry channels on their lineups. NBC and other networks get a good chunk of your cable bill each and every month and don’t want to jeopardize that for a fee you pay just once.

Of course, when NBC chose not to show the opening ceremonies live, even online, links to unauthorized video feeds quickly circulated. I was able to watch a feed from British television _ briefly, until my conscience and work demands got to me.

For the majority of Americans who do pay for TV, you’re in for a treat.

Most of the video steams allow you to rewind the action. Start from any point if you are joining late or after an event is over, or hit a replay button to go back several seconds.

The exceptions are with high-profile sports such as swimming and gymnastics. If you missed it, you typically must wait for television _ or the next day online.

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