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Oh My Tech!: At last, the Olympics live on your phone, but with hiccups

Published July 26, 2012 10:29 pm

Two apps bring streamed events, news, but there are some restrictions.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For the first time ever, the Olympics will be streamed live not only to desktop computers but to mobile devices. That means you'll be able to watch any event wherever you want, although there are some bugs.

That's a huge accomplishment, and it's been a long time coming. Ever since the rising popularity of the Internet and mobile phones, Olympics officials and television rights holders for the Games have tried to figure out how to bring live streams of the events to computers and cellphones without violating TV broadcasting rules. After all, TV networks around the world that show the Olympics, including NBC in the U.S., have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get exclusive rights to show the Games on TV. Before, eager Olympics fans had to resort to sites that pirated the live feeds in order to get their fix from the Web.

Now, both iOS and Android users will be able to download apps that allow them to watch the London 2012 Games, which begin tonight, live. The only requirement is you must be a cable or satellite subscriber that carries MSNBC and CNBC, two of NBC's sister cable networks that will be broadcasting the Olympics. To watch the Games on a desktop PC, which also requires a subscription to cable or satellite TV, go to www.nbcolympics.com">http://www.nbcolympics.com.

There are two official NBC Olympics apps that can be run on phones and computer tablets (such as the iPad) — the "NBC Olympics" app and "NBC Olympics Live Extra" app. Both are free. You can get the iOS versions through iTunes and the Android versions at the Google Play store.

The "NBC Olympics" app is the portal for all news and competition results for the London Games. With it you get the top news stories of the day, results, TV schedules, photos, short-form videos, athlete profiles and more.

The "NBC Olympics Live Extra" app is the one that lets you stream live video to your phone or tablet. But in order to do so, you have to use your cable or satellite subscriber login and password, assuming you haven't forgotten them (you'd be surprised how many have).

Once in, you can watch any live Olympics sport, even multiple concurrent streams of each event of the same sport (for example, a stream for each gymnastics apparatus). In all, NBC will be streaming more than 3,500 hours of live events to mobile devices and desktop computers, the most ever. It will cover all 32 Olympics sports during the Games' 17 days. Unfortunately, what NBC will not cover live are the opening and closing ceremonies. Those events will be tape-delayed until prime time in the U.S. because of the time difference in London.

Although the opportunity to watch the Games anywhere is an attractive idea, it's also not the best way, thanks to a very buggy app. On the iPhone version of the "NBC Olympics Live Extra" app, the live video of Wednesday's first soccer games was often poor, as if it were streaming through a slower 3G connection, even though I was connected to our much-faster office Wi-Fi network. And while testing the app on two Android phones, it rarely worked at all and often just froze up. It's clearly not fully ready for prime time.

Also unclear is why there are two separate apps instead of a merged one that is the go-to portal for everything Olympics. Having two makes it very confusing for consumers.

Another downside is you have to endure a brief ad before starting each video. It's usually the same Citibank or Gillette commercials, so you'll get sick of them fast. But it's a small price to pay for free access to live Olympics video.

Many people who downloaded the app on iTunes complained that they had to be a cable or satellite subscriber. But in defense of NBC, the broadcaster just wants to make sure people who use it are already paying the network for Olympics content. Live Olympics streaming on phones and computers is considered an additional benefit for being a TV subscriber rather than something that's free for anyone.

Because of the time difference between the U.S. and London (seven hours from Utah), many people will want to watch the Olympics live on their phones or computers while at work. For the first time, you'll be able to do that for any sporting event. It may not be a perfect solution because of the technical hiccups, but it's a step in the right direction.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.