App Review: NBA League Pass Mobile

Category: Sports
Price: $39.99 (Updated: $19.99 as of 1/28/10)
TiP Rating: 4.5 /5 stars
Release Date: 12/30/2009
Version: 1.2
Languages: English
Seller: MobiTV, Inc
Rated: 4+
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone and iPod touch. Requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later.
Link to app (clicking launches iTunes)

App Store Description: Don’t want to miss a game? Now you won’t. Watch with a Wi-Fi or 3G connection, even up to 48 hours after the game. NBA LEAGUE PASS MOBILE is the perfect app for fans who can’t watch their team on TV, but want to follow all season long. This means you can:

-Watch over 40 LIVE NBA games a week that you’ll never see on local or national TV.

-View full game replays of every game shown on League Pass for up to 48 hours after the game.

Summary: A great alternative to the expensive cable/satellite NBA package for those who want to be able to enjoy every game. Well, almost every game. Blackout rules apply, and if you can get around the sometimes buggy audio performance, it is completely worth it for any true basketball fan.

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Review: Chick Hearn taught me the game of basketball. If you lived in Los Angeles for any time in the last half of the previous century, he probably taught you too through his play-by-play, or word’s-eye-view. Sure, I would watch games every weekend when I was growing up, with Magic and Larry, and later with Michael and well, everyone else. But only when I moved to Los Angeles and was able to watch every Lakers game with Chick (and Stu Lance, who never gets enough credit) guiding me through it. If you were like me, anytime a national game would be broadcast, the volume on the television would be turned down and the radio set to 570 KLAC to listen to Chick. Since he passed in 2002, my love for basketball has only grown with every season. Now that I have relocated to the greater Phoenix area, I don’t get nearly the same local and national coverage as Los Angeles. Enter NBA League Pass Mobile.

Let me first say this: it is not cheap. At $39.99, it is one of the more expensive apps out there, save for the TomToms of the world. It is expensive until you factor in that the television version of this package is north of $150 (as the season goes along, the package gets is price reduced). Also, when you factor in that a single ticket to an NBA game is going to be well above that when accounting for parking and food, the price doesn’t look so bad.

League Pass is designed so you can watch any game live on your iPhone or iPod touch (barring blackouts – those rules still apply). It accomplishes it’s mission in a spectacular fashion. Let me clarify: it does it in a spectacular fashion when hooked onto WiFi. 3G is good, but it does not give the best results. While the video is not to HDTV standards by any means, while on WiFi it looks nearly as good (about 80% of the quality) as when I play Iron Man from the iPod. On 3G, not so much. I was a passenger for a trip around town to test out the 3G quality, and while it never stopped streaming or cut out in any way, the video quality was just not there. Choppy, and more pixelated that I would have expected.  However, as soon as I walked in my door, my phone connected to my WiFi once more, and seamlessly transitioned into great quality again. The default video size is set to not-quite-fullscreen, like many YouTube videos, but a simple double tap takes care of that, as evidenced here:

These are two screenshots I took while watching a replay of the game from New Year’s Day, which brings me to the next key feature of the app: game replays.  You have an opportunity to watch replays of all the games on your device up to 48 hours after the start of the game. This is a potentially great feature, but one that comes up short. I have read reviews where others have complained about lag for the video portion, and I have to say I agree with that notion.  The audio on replays (and I’ve tried six or seven) is about a half-second ahead of the video. On the iTunes site, it states that the problem has been fixed, but not in my (short) experience.

This is about as close as the Mavericks would get all night on Sunday. The other teams in the Association are in a lot of trouble if Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic actually remember what it’s like to shoot the ball towards the basket and have it go in. I’m just sayin’. This is taken while on WiFi. Here are some others to give you an idea of the quality.

Instead of giving you local halftime reports and local advertising, the NBA has added this little bit of cool. It pops up every now and then during commercial breaks, and rotates between divisional standings, as well as gives live scores. Halftime is provided by NBA TV, with Eric Snow and Matt Harpring.  They are kind of like a less funny but maybe more informative version of Kenny the Jet and Sir Charles from TNT.

Overall, the NBA League Pass Mobile app is well worth the price for any true basketball fan. The power of this app will be truly judged once a video dock is set up, as to test the video quality on a television. The battery life went from a full 100% (according to iBattery) all the way down to 40% over the course of one game, so a controllable dock with charge capability will help quite a bit. The menus and interfaces are pleasing enough, and the app offers push notifications reminding you of tip-offs. The audio snafu is annoying some of the time, and it will be truly fixed I’m sure, but it’s still better than not having any games to watch at all, which is annoying all of the time.

It’s alright for Kobe to smile when the Lakers are up by thirty-eight.

It may not be with Chick Hearn, but at least now I can watch just about any game I wish, whenever I want. Which is worth the price of admission.

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