One of the worst things about moving to another state is baseball season. You go from being able to watch or listen to any game to desperately hunting down nationally televised games. But with the growth of broadband connections and better video compression life has been getting a bit easier. Well, sort of. By subscribing to MLB.tv you can watch games that aren’t in your area with near-television quality video. And while the $90-$120 (depending on the package) purchase isn’t all that bad, getting it to work can be about as easy as bare-knuckle boxing a hippopotamus.
This year I bought an MLB.tv subscription for my Dad on his birthday, so that he could watch the Mets slug their way into the playoffs. The MLB gladly took my money, but for the first week it looked like a bill was the only thing I would get from the transaction.
Windows Media Player sucks. It’s true. I can’t count how many times I’ve been to one website or another that made the terrible decision to use WMP to share content only to have it not work for some arcane reason. MLB.tv is no exception. When my Dad went to watch a game he was first shown an ad and then nothing. He clicked reload. The same ad, then nothing. He open Internet Explorer and tried again. Same result. He tried a couple things and then he came to me, “you were able to watch the games on your computer?”
“I can only get the ad on mine.”
That gift was looking great so far. Ninety dollars so that my Dad could watch a deodorant ad whenever he wanted.
After trying the same things as my Dad with the same results I tried messing with WMP. I tried upgrading, downgrading, and all the other kinds of gradings. I got either the same results or worse. So I played with every setting I could, I messed with firewalls, multiple browsers, and a few promising voodoo rituals. Nothing worked. I scoured the internet for help, but found nothing except complaints without solutions along with still more complaints about MLB’s new premium ($120) service and it’s associated application MLB Mosaic (at least I dodged that bullet).
I had had enough, I held my beaten head between my hands and said, “Dad, I’ll fix it later” and then I avoided baseball for a week. Until that moment I had almost never come across a computer problem I couldn’t fix.
The thing is, I had tested out MLB.tv on my computer and it worked just fine. The other thing is, I own a Mac. Microsoft gave up on Mac version of Windows Media Player over a year ago, now they support a third party component called flip4mac that lets you view WMP files in quicktime. Unfortunately, they haven’t done the same favor for their own operating system yet. And that is when it came to me. All this time I was trying to make WMP do what I wanted, and failed. The real failure though, was my approach.
And then I finally had my solution: using a different media player. I decided to use VLC (VideoLan Client), on my Mac VLC has played just about every file I’ve thrown at it and works on *nix and Windows too. The next trick was getting MLB.tv to use VLC instead of WMP and that is where firefox and the power of plugins came in. A little bit of digging and I found the Media Player Connectivity plugin which let me open MLB.tv in VLC. Or to put it another way, it let my Dad watch the Mets on his PC.