June 09, 2012, 7:25 AM — Cable sports giant ESPN offers a mobile app that lets you watch live sports and shows on your iPhone or iPad no matter where you happen to be. The app is called WatchESPN. And I would certainly love to, if I could get the app to dependably stream video.
WatchESPN has been available on the App Store for more than a year now, though the app originally was limited to select cable providers. When ESPN added Comcast to the ESPNWatch fold earlier this year, I finally got the chance to sample the app and its streaming options--not just the ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU cable channels but also sports being shown on the company's ESPN3 online channel. (An updated list of cable providers that support WatchESPN is available on the app's App Store page.)
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Getting started with WatchESPN is an uncomplicated process. You choose your cable provider from the list displayed in the app. The sign-in procedure may vary from there, but if you're a Comcast customer like me, you sign in using your Comcast ID from within the app. I was even able to retrieve my forgotten password from within WatchESPN. And I can remain logged in, so that I only have to sign in initially.
From there, you jump to a screen listing all the programs currently available for live streaming. Both the iPad and iPhone versions of WatchESPN have a carousel displaying featured programming, along with a scrollable list; the iPad uses its extra screen real estate to offer some different views of content.
It's once you tap on an event or show in the list that the magic--or disappointment--begins. After a short wait, the stream of your program begins playing. Whether or not it will continue playing, however, can be a hit or miss affair. I've put the app through its paces for the past week, and I can't claim to have gotten a consistent experience. At its best, WatchESPN will continuously pipe live sports action to your iPhone or iPad, with the occasional buffering hiccup. And at its worst? The app will lose the stream entirely, bouncing you back to the list of available programs. Sometimes in my testing, the picture would freeze and then speed up to catch up with the live stream; other times, I'd lose the video entirely (though the audio would continue to play), with no apparent way to bring it back.