Reviewing MLB.tv on the Roku

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my experiences with MLB.tv and the PS3, giving a pretty glowing review to the ability to watch baseball on my TV using that system as the intermediary. Interestingly, that post remains one of the most widely read things ever published on FanGraphs, so there’s clearly a pretty decent segment of the population that is interested in this topic. So, today, I’m writing something of a follow-up, because while I still use the PS3 to watch MLB.tv, it’s no longer my preferred option.

About a month ago, we acquired a second television to go in our basement (commence jokes… now), and so I was looking for a low cost yet effective solution for getting MLB.tv onto that TV. I had looked at some TVs that came with a built-in MLB.tv app, but the cost difference between buying a “smart TV” that had internet connectivity seemed to far outweigh the alternative — buying a dumb TV and just hooking a Roku up to it, effectively making it a smart TV. Instead of dropping $1,000 on a TV with the internet built in, I paid half that for the TV and another $90 for a Roku 2 XS.

My only regret is that I didn’t get a Roku sooner.

The experience of watching MLB.tv through the PS3 was generally pretty great once I actually got it loaded. That was the one thing that really held it back, though — getting it started. Pretty frequently, I’d be working on something with the TV off, and then Twitter would proceed to tell me that someone was doing something pretty awesome in a game, and that we should all turn it on and watch it. Unfortunately, it takes a good couple of minutes between the time you grab the PS3 controller, turn it on, login, boot up the MLB.tv app, login again, pick the game you want to watch, and then get the game to load.

The Roku eliminates this problem, and as a result, makes it far easier to just throw a game on at a moment’s notice. Because the thing is just an internet streamer and requires hardly any power, it is always on — it doesn’t even have an off switch. It just hangs out in the background, waiting for you to do something with it, and it responds nearly instantaneously. Now, when Twitter tells me that someone is throwing a no-hitter or there’s a high leverage situation in a meaningful game, all I have to do is turn the TV on, hit the one button that does everything three or four times, and within about 30 seconds, I’ve got the game on.

Maybe shaving 60-90 seconds off boot time doesn’t sound like a big deal, and maybe this is more of a sad commentary about the motivations that drive decision making, but I’ve found that the difference in getting to an actual game on a Roku versus on a PS3 actually makes a huge difference in how likely I am to turn the game on, and thus, my usage of MLB.tv has gone way up since acquiring a Roku. Before, the cost of getting into the app was high enough that I’d generally only do it if I was vested in watching a significant part of the game – now, the Roku lets me treat it like I’m channel surfing, just coasting in and out of one game or another depending on the circumstance.

The low barrier to entry is a huge plus for the Roku, but to be honest, I had concerns about how good the quality was going to be, especially because there are no fiber network options (like FIOS or U-Verse) available in my area, so our internet connection is fine but not spectacular. The PS3 is essentially a computer in a box, not that different from the size and scope of a modern desktop tower, while the Roku fits in the palm of your hand and weighs about three ounces. I was worried that a little plastic box with few pieces of hardware inside would struggle to match the video quality of the PS3, and the fact that it was intended for the basement meant that it would have to attach to the network via wi-fi rather than a wired connection. I went in expecting a lower video resolution and more buffering — instead, I think the picture quality is even more reliably great and the video almost never buffers. It’s actually even better in these regards than the heavier, larger, more expensive PS3.

That same lower barrier to getting into the internet applications means that I’ve also been more willing to explore the other options it comes with, even though my wife and I don’t watch a lot of TV. We have noticed, however, that instead of turning on the cable box, we’re more likely to just throw on an episode of Mythbusters on Netflix (yes, my wife likes Mythbusters – there’s a reason I married her), and we used the Pandora app to toss on some music in the background when we were having people over the other night. These are things we wouldn’t have done with the PS3, simply because of the time it takes to get into the system and get everything going.

Yes, the PS3 has a blu-ray player (and plays games, of course, which is important to those of you who want to use it for its original intended purpose), so for some folks, using it as your media streaming box is probably the best option. It was my primary way of watching MLB.tv for several years and I loved it. But, now, having one TV hooked up to the Roku and another to the PS3, the Roku is the clear winner for most of what we do. If you just want a fairly inexpensive easy solution to get MLB.tv on your TV, the Roku gets a hearty recommendation from me.

Maybe “smart TVs” will see their price crash through the floor in a couple of years, and the native apps will be as good as what Roku has built into their box, making it an irrelevant product, but given the current options on the market, I’d say that a cheaper dumb TV and a Roku make for the best baseball watching combination I’ve found yet. MLB.tv on the Roku gets my enthusiastic approval.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

55 Responses to “Reviewing MLB.tv on the Roku”

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  1. nik says:

    Now if only I could watch the local team on MLB TV, I’d ditch the cable box altogether.

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    • jpg says:

      Lol that’s exactly why the blackout rules exist. The teams wont stand to lose out on the local TV revenue that is changing the sports financial landscape. That said, I’m with you Nike. I’d probably ditch the cable as well.

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      • dl3mk3 says:

        you could just trick MLB.tv by using a proxy to indicate you are from another area of the country.

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      • nik says:

        kind of hard to setup a proxy through roku, no? Also you’d probably need to find an out-of-market billing zip code for your CC.

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      • fergie348 says:

        You don’t have to set a proxy up on the Roku, you set a proxy up on the router that delivers the bits to the Roku.

        I’m using Unblock Us (http://www.unblock-us.com/) which is a high speed proxy that you have to pay $5 per month for. You have to configure DNS settings either at the device level or at the router level or both. MLB.tv works perfectly on my computer, TV and iPhone and I watch in market games live with no lag. Comcast – begone!

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      • Wilj says:

        They dont use your CC info to calculate blackout only the location of the ip or phone you are using.

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      • nik says:

        fergie, I’ll have to give that a try, thanks for the tip! Could have just saved me hundreds.

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      • fergie348 says:

        All the proxy services offer a free trial, so if you’ve got the MLB.tv account already you might as well see if it will work for you. I love being able to watch live with about a 30 minute delay so I can skip the half inning breaks.

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      • comish4lif says:

        I understand local tv and black out rules, but shouldn’t the MLB.TV subscription make up for that revenue? Can they offer me a deal to pay an extra $20 (or whatever) for local games?

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    • Ryan says:

      Agree wholeheartedly! Living in DC, we can’t get Baltimore or Nationals games and sometimes even Pittsburgh games are blacked out live. Being a Cardinals fan it is tough to find out I can’t watch my team because they are playing 250 miles away.

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  2. Drakos says:

    Does the Roku have a splitscreen capability so that you can watch two games at once? I really like that on my XBOX 360 so that I don’t have to stare at that damn commercials are in progress screen.

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  3. soladoras says:

    I’m currently using a Boxee box to stream my MLB.tv subscription to my living room TV, and I’m somewhat disappointed with the features built-in to the app. For just live streaming the game feed it’s fine, but I wish the Boxee app for MLB.tv would include a number of the features that you get just for logging in via a web browser on a PC. There’s no PIP, no Pitch F/x, no easy jumping around within the game from inning to inning, no easy access to highlights. How are the actual features on the Roxu 2 XS, Dave

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    • Nils says:

      I actually have a Roku too, and I love it, but it’s very bare-bones. No Pitchf/x, no PIP. Though, you can rewind, fast-forward and pause very easily.

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  4. billy says:

    I’m not sure if the PS3 does this (since I’ve only used Roku), but the interface ability to go directly to each half inning is pretty great as well.

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  5. Jason says:

    I recognize that it is a pricey option, but I keep a Mac Mini hooked to my TV. It does everything; movies, streaming, I can even run analyses in the background….

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  6. ithrowplastic says:

    The Roku is awesome for everything it does not just the mlb channel. I dropped cable and stream everything though this little guy. Hulu plus, netflix, pandora, it’s got a few channels for skate and snowboard vids as well as hunting, fishing, and even cooking channels on it.

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    • props says:

      it is nice that you like hulu plus. I am frustrated by how much of their content is limited to computer devices only. I didn’t buy a roku to have this handicap.

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  7. KyleL says:

    Thanks Dave, I was looking into getting a Roku for exactly this purpose literally no more than an hour ago, but like you was a bit skeptical of how well they would really work for this. Now I’m off to go order one.

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  8. chuckb says:

    I, too, love watching mlb.tv on my roku but I was wondering if you or any other Roku users have the problem of the audio cutting out for a couple of seconds every now and then. I can back up the game and hear whatever I missed (assuming it was at all informative which is unusual considering the fact that I’m usually listening to the Cards’ blowhards) but this is obviously a roku issue and not one of my tv since it happens sometimes when using my roku to stream movies.

    Anyone else have similar issues and ideas on how to fix them? Thanks.

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  9. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    Heads up: the $50 unit works just as well as the $90 unit.

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  10. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    Roku also has Amazon streaming, for those of you with Amazon Prime. (most streaming devices don’t have Amazon yet)

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    • props says:

      So at first that was great but then amazon came along in 2014, issued their own device, and starting filtering what would be allowed through other devices such as roku. Sort of sucks, now.
      –2014 update

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  11. Greg says:

    All the game consoles are starting to aggravate me with their slow startup and load rituals, whether I’m watching something or playing games. They need some kind of sleep mode so I can pick up right where I left off in seconds, like the portables have.

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  12. Blackout Restrictions says:

    We’ve had some problems with the buffering or “loading” on our first gen roku (2 years old) this year. It often reverts to the loading page – restarting the roku has helped a couple times. Whatever the problem is, it does not affect Netflix so it isn’t my wireless connection or box, so it’s gotta be the mlb application. It’s frustrating. Anyone know if roku 2 is supposed to be smoother? Also worthy of note – the game is usually 1 to 2 minutes behind live – much slower than on the computer.

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    • Jon Sullivan says:

      I’ve had a first generation and second generation Roku, and there is significantly less buffering with the second generation player. The new remote is quite the upgrade as well, since it doesn’t need to be pointed directly at the unit.

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  13. yo-yo says:

    Where is the WAR per dollar estimate comparing the PS3 to the ROKU?

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  14. harpago17 says:

    Most Blu-Ray players have the MLB.tv app included as well, and are only slightly more expensive than a Roku (around the $100-$150 range). They take up more space and aren’t something you’d leave on all the time, but if the gaming portion of a Playstation 3 isn’t important to you it’s a much more economical way to get everything else.

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    • Jon Sullivan says:

      One thing to consider is that the Roku has the most expansive lineup of channels available on a streamer. I doubt any of the Blu-Ray players can touch the suite of offerings (Amazon On Demand, Netflix, Pandora, etc.) that you can get on the Roku.

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  15. Richard says:

    I bought our Roku after learning about it in the comments to your original article, two years ago. MLB.tv had not been an option for me because of my aging laptop (it couldn’t handle the video–I couldn’t even watch YouTube on it), so I was pleased to have an alternative. I’m pretty happy with it, but it does buffer constantly (rarely does this with either Netflix or Amazon), and there is a lag time that doesn’t exist when I watch games on my new-ish laptop. It can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 2-3 minutes behind. As a result, I spend more time watching on the laptop. But I do prefer watching on the tv, so I’ve been doing more of that lately…. I just can’t also follow stuff via threads or twitter, because people know about things well before it “happens” on my screen.

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  16. Monroe says:

    I have a Roku and find the quality of the MLB stream to be quite weak. Netflix, Amazon, etc come in full HD and look amazing and crystal clear, meanwhile MLB games look awful. There’s a smear of blurred pixilation when the there’s action, especially when the camera moves. I actually bought Extra Innings on Comcast because the games – even standard def – look better than Roku. If anyone has a fix and has had similar quality issues with Roku, I’d love to hear about it.

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    • JDanger says:

      Did you have a first generation Roku? Because I do and I have the same issues. The feed will also randomly cut off on occasion. It happens about once or twice per game. I’m not really complaining, it’s just something I’ve learned to expect. According to a number of reports I’ve read on forums, these may be problems on MLB’s side of things, however. But I’ll be the first to admit the performance seems to get exponentially better each year.

      Otherwise I’d give a huge thumbs up to my Roku experience as a whole.

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  17. TKDC says:

    I used a Roku last year, and this year I switched to a LG smart blu-ray player. So far, I like it more than the Roku. While it does take longer to load up (not 2 minutes, but longer), it allows you to switch home/away feeds instantaneously (as in, it goes to the exact same spot you were at in the other feed), it allows you to jump to innings without exiting, and most importantly the fast forward displays how much you are jumping forward in 10 second increments. I generally start watching my games after they start and with this, I can easily jump forward exactly 2 minutes to go from the inning exit to the inning entry. This is the main benefit.

    Roku needs to get on that. Currently, you are forced to either sort of guess or exit and click on the next half inning (and you see the other innings, so it can sort of spoil the game in that you will know what innings are longer).

    Roku also has this problem with the end of the game. If you’re watching the game afterwards, it often times shows you that the game is going to over after a half inning, because the little doo-hickey is all the way to the right. That ruins the 9th inning.

    Anyway, the Roku is awesome in all the ways Dave said, but it does have these annoying traits as well.

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  18. Scott_Hayter says:

    I’ve used the roku for MLB this season and love it… except I get fairly frequent buffering issues, which never happens on my computer. The roku seems fine for netflix/hulu/amazon and my connection is super fast, so i can only assume its the application itself… It’d be nice if MLB would get their act together and smooth out the code.

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  19. Steve says:

    I just ordered one through the link to Amazon you posted, do you get a commission off of that?

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  20. GB says:

    I still prefer the PS3 because I have the option of listening to the radio pbp team instead of the tv announcers, or muting the announcers altogether.

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  21. Jay says:

    Xbox 360 would be infinitely better if you could start a game from the top of the first. I have to mute my TV and squint while I skip back.

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    • TKDC says:

      Yes, all the devices need to figure out solutions for this, which doesn’t seem that hard. Is it so inconceivable that people want start watching a game from the beginning without knowing anything about what has happened thus far? My blu-ray player is better, but it still gives me the current inning (or that the game is over). I don’t even want that. Just list the games and nothing else and let the user start from the first inning. The technology is obviously there – get it done, nerds!

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      • James says:

        It would also be very nice if they someone got rid of the progress indicator on screen. When it is the bottom of the 9th and my team is batting and down by 1, if I can see how long until the game ends, it kinda takes the suspense out of the moment. I already know if they made a comeback or not.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        It’s been months since I set up MLB.tv on my roku, but I think they have that option. In the settings there’s an option to display game info or just show the teams that are playing. I chose the 2nd option, and it doesn’t give away the game situation.

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  22. LTG says:

    I’ve been using Roku for about 4 years, even before MLB.tv was available on it. The device is fantastic and has eliminated cable TV from my home.

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  23. wynams says:

    Not Roku related, but I just cancelled MLBTV today.
    The last two nights have had a 20 and a 10 minute total outage across the network: http://www.reddit.com/r/baseball/comments/un4d3/anyone_elses_mlbtv_not_working_im_getting_an/

    To boot, both PS3 and X360 buffer like hell on my wired 25MB cable connection that everything else snaps to.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      I was following Tuesday’s game on my phone and it stopped in a key situation – it was driving me nuts. However, I checked espn.com for updates and they were stuck as well. I’m thinking it was more than an mlb.tv issue.

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  24. mike wants wins says:

    Once I can watch a local game, I’ll get mlb.tv. Until then, no chance.

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  25. Jon Sullivan says:

    If you’re on the fence about getting a Roku due to buffering issues, one solution is to buy the XD (it’s the most expensive model at $100), which contains an ethernet port. If you have the option of setting up your router near your TV, you can run a wired connection that’s really smooth. It hardly ever buffers for us.

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  26. Tyler says:

    I have the Roku 2 XS which is the newest, “best” version, and I’ve still ran into a ton of issues with buffering and loading. It is hooked up via ethernet and I have the 12 mbps U-Verse, which is typically more than fast enough to run anything else. It was completely unwatchable most nights in April, but has been much better since. Still, there are occasional nights where I run into major issues. Has anyone else had these problems, and if so have you figured out any solutions?

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    • cobradc23 says:

      I have the 1st gen Roku and I have these problems off and on and not just with MLB.tv. The Roku goes from running all of the apps smoothly to buffering or cutting out altogether. Restarting the device sometimes works but not every time. I have my XBox 360 wired to the modem (Roku is WiFi) and experience none of these issues.

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  27. MikeS says:

    I use the appletv for MLB.tv and it sounds like about the same experience. I’ve got it hard wired and don’t have a ton of buffering issues which is surprising considering Comcast miami is crappy. The app doesn’t do pip on appletv, either. But overall I’d give it 4.5/5.

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  28. radicalhenri says:

    does the buffering have anything have anything to do with the roku? I thought that was only related to internet speed.

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    • cobradc23 says:

      It is definitely the Roku. Mine can run fine then start buffering everything but I can start up the laptop (WiFi) and have no issues or the 360 (wired).

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  29. Matt says:

    I think the buffering issue has to link back to MLB.tv apps somehow. With my ps3 10 feet from my router if I run MLB.tv over wifi it is unusable because of buffering. Meanwhile my iPad and laptop have never buffered once over wifi all over the house. I’m looking for a second device for another tv not accessible to ethernet and from browsing the Internet it appears ps3, Roku, boxee, etc all have the same buffer issue over wifi. Thinking of trying my luck with apple tv as I know it works great on the iPad.

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    • Joe Fan says:

      My Roku is constantly reloading MLB.TV. When this happens I connect my wireless PC laptop to the TV and it almost never reloads. Same TOD, same game, same router, same ISP (Comcast). The one common factor is Roku. My theory is that the Roku adds another layer of network software on top of an already marginal MLB.tv signal and it just can’t keep up.

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  30. brendan says:

    I know someone at roku, and I forwarded this post so that they can take in all the feedback here. I’m sure they are interested to address your concerns.

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