Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement Update

An update from Mark:

In my previous post, How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement, I wrote:

Of course to get to that point you first have to have a Dish, so we have made the switch from the more expensive Time Warner Cable to Dish, and our new system is to be installed on Wednesday. In theory, therefore, I should be able to get up early on Thursday morning (5.45 a.m. ET start) and watch live cricket from Lords. It's a mouth-watering prospect, but I tend to be pretty pessimistic, believe-it-when-I-see-it, with exciting things like this, so I have made the decision not to look forward to it yet.

a hole in our lawnAnd what a good decision that turned out to be because it has, indeed, all gone pear shaped. We waited in this afternoon for the installation of our new Dish system and not long after 2 pm, just before the UEFA Cup Final was about to kick off (Middlesborough V. Sevilla, which I was going to try to catch on FSC), our Dish guy arrived and began surveying the property for where to put the dish. He decided pretty quickly on a fairly prominent spot on our front lawn. I didn't think too much of it, but realized I'd better consult Viola. As it turned out, she was not at all keen, and I became convinced too that it was not a great place. The Dish guy said that it was the only possible place on the entire property, though, because the trees blocked the signal everywhere else. An hour or so later, with the dish in place, I had to admit that it did look more ugly than I'd imagined and, moreover, it seemed likely that we'd soon be receiving a letter from our Home Owners Association about the newly arrived monstrosity.

Holes in our eaves
"Holy holes-in-our-eaves
But there was a further twist. The Dish guy found power lines and decided he could not put the dish there after all. He then went round to the back of the house and began knocking holes in our roof. A little longer and he announced that it was not going to be possible to get a signal there either and, after his boss came round to confirm the impossibility of the installation, he packed up everything and left. No new satellite system. No cricket for Mark. [But with a brand new poorly repaired hole in our lawn and several large holes in the eaves of our roof -- thanks Dish! (Ed.)]

And there, you might think, the story ends. No Dish, no cricket.

I started writing this update to my original post for Viola's blog and I was beginning to comment on the compensations -- the things I still had to look forward to in this cricket-free summer. I had heard that it would be possible to get the forthcoming Ashes series on broadband via Direct TV. On returning to their site to check up the links so that I could include this in the blog post, I followed a link to Willow TV, the distributors of the previously mentioned Direct TV Tour coverage.

And what can I say but "Eureka!"?

Emily caught a toad
During the kerfuffle Emily
caught a toad (inexplicably
named Mr Froggy)
It turns out that Willow TV, "a portal for broadcasting premier sporting events", are also streaming "England Summer 2006" from Dish. Goodness only knows how few subscribers they must have since I have spent an absurd amount of time investigating such things, and nowhere did I find reference to this service. I stumbled across it in the course of writing this post. So now I have subscribed to Willow TV's broadband service and though the quality is not quite as high as what I'd be getting from the satellite dish, it looks pretty good. And I'll be able to watch it on the TV by plugging my laptop in to it, or on one of our computers, even at work (shh!).

What a result! I get to watch the cricket, and we don't have the eye-sore dish in our front garden. And one further comment -- the good news on the commentary front is that I am reliably informed that one can pick up Test Match Special for home tests on the net, in spite of the fact that one can't for the tours. So I look forward to tuning in to Aggers, Blowers and co. tomorrow.

May 12, 2006

Good news. The Willow TV coverage was not at all bad. The broadband feed was about 340 kbps, though they promise the availability of a feed at 500 kbps. The quality was fine, about as good as, say, the better BBC News Player programmes (e.g. This Week, which we also watched tonight while doing chores), but nothing like as strong as a normal TV signal. I fed it through the TV without difficulty, but it was not a widescreen picture. I wonder if the Sky Sports feed is in widescreen in the UK? Channel 4 had such a glorious widescreen coverage last year. I also had it on on the laptop, of course, and later on the desktop. Watching cricket via broadband makes it much more portable.

The most entertaining thing about the Willow TV coverage, which is drawn direct from Dish TV, is that the feed is taken not direct from Sky but via India's ESPN Live channel. So the TV has the ESPN logo throughout and also the Dish TV logo. In other words, it is the basic Sky Sports coverage featuring Gower, Botham, Bumble et al, but at the end of the over, the advertisements are for Indian products and aimed at India. For once, I found myself almost as interested in the advertisements between overs as in the cricket itself.

As a big fan of Test Match Special, I was delighted to discover that it is in fact possible to catch the commentary on-line in glorious quality all day (and nice to see that they'd grabbed Boycott from Channel 4, and that Sky had grabbed Atherton. No showing for Mark Nicholas, though). I had the TMS commentary on alongside the Willow/Dish/ESPN/Sky pictures for some of the day, but it seems that the Willow feed is a good 10-15 seconds behind the live TMS commentary. In some ways, it's an advantage -- you hear Blowers announcing a glorious 4 hit by Trescothick and you can then scamper over to the PC to catch it before it happens. I wonder if there is the same time lag between Sky and BBC? Presumably, the time lag is increased on its journey from England to India to the USA to my PC!

Also quite peculiar was the feeling of a home test match happening at 6 in the morning our time. It made it feel like a tour match, but it was at Lords. Very disconcerting!

May 13, 2006

Several fresh things to report on this story:

(1) The exciting Indian feed that I mentioned yesterday, which saw the signal originating with Sky Sports, going to India's ESPN Live, then to Dish TV and finally to Willow TV, was today past news. Today it was straight from Sky Sports to Dish TV to Willow TV, and gone were the Indian advertisements in between overs. In fact all there was between overs was a holding page, "Summer of Cricket 2006; Dish TV Pay Per View". The time lag on the feed seemed much shorter too, now about a ball away from the TMS commentary as opposed to two yesterday.

(2) Willow TV also now have the 500 kbps feed available, mentioned yesterday. And they have the most remarkable interactive scorecard. You can click on anything on the card and watch the video highlights, e.g. wickets, boundaries, etc. Technology at its best!

(3) I had not realized that there is also a little fun to be had at the site of Five's cricket coverage. As many will know, Five now have the rights in the UK to show one highlights package a day, featuring the old Channel 4 team of Mark Nicholas, Geoffrey Boycott and Simon Mann. Of course one cannot view the highlights on-line, but Five has put together a good site including a 2 minute broadband clip of Simon Mann introducing the day's play, well worth watching: Simon Hughes Video Analysis.

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